Ron Johnson’s Tax Rebellion – Wisconsin Examiner
On Tax Day this year, wouldn’t you love to be Senator Ron Johnson?
The senior US senator from Wisconsin paid just $2,015 in income tax in 2017, despite earning more than $450,000 that year. Dan Bice, columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who reported for the first time on Johnson’s tiny tax bill, pointed out the multimillionaire’s 2017 Wisconsin tax payment was two dollars less than what a married couple filing jointly paid on taxable income of $40,000.
Johnson also recently confirmed that he had personally benefited of the change in the tax code that he imposed in 2017. Johnson voted to rewrite President Donald Trump’s tax code, giving businesses $1.4 billion worth of tax cuts – but only after he twisted arm Trump and Congress to include special perks for so-called “pass-through” companies — companies like his own plastics company PACUR — whose profits are distributed to their owners.
A few months later, Johnson began the process of selling his business, reaping the benefits of the change in tax laws, which increased the value of intermediary companies and brought him more money on the sale.
Johnson won’t say how much money Trump’s “big, nice tax cut” was worth to him personally, but he casts his work on the tax bill as something of a populist crusade, saying the tax break was good for ” 90% of small businesses. That might be true of the sweeping, all-encompassing corporate tax cuts contained in the huge bill, but when it comes to the pass-through clause that Johnson personally introduced, an analysis of Pro Publica confidential tax records “reveal[s] that Johnson’s last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than nearly any other in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator’s biggest donors. Those two families are Liz and Dick Uihlien of Pleasant Prairie and Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who donated $20 million to groups supporting Johnson’s re-election campaign in 2016. Between them, according to Pro Publica, they have brought in $215 million in deductions in 2018 alone thanks to Johnson’s tax situation.
Johnson makes no secret of the interests he represents in the US Senate. He voted against federal pandemic relief, wrote a letter asking Governor Tony Evers to reduce unemployment benefits on the grounds that they make people too lazy to work, embraced outsourcing good union jobs from his hometown of Oshkosh – saying “It’s not like we don’t have enough jobs here in Wisconsin” – and opposite the 2021 child tax credit for couples who earned $150,000 or less and that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities valued would benefit 1.2 million children in Wisconsin. “In general,” Johnson explained of the anti-child tax credit stance, “I don’t like to use the tax code for economic or social engineering.”
But Johnson is willing to do a lot of reverse engineering when it comes to easing taxes on the wealthy and raising taxes on the less wealthy. In a Interview with Fox News he took a stand against progressive taxation, calling tax brackets “absurd” that allow people with less money to pay less tax. He approved “most of” a controversy 11 Point Plan by Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, who would raise taxes on the bottom half of Americans and open the door to cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling it a “positive thing.” According to an analysis of Institute on Taxation and Economic Policywho also estimates that 32% of Wisconsin residents would see their taxes increased under the proposal.
These ideas are so bad for the majority of Wisconsin residents that it’s hard to see how Johnson can use them. And, in fact, raising taxes on the poor and middle class is not the centerpiece of his campaign. This week Johnson posted an ad with the testimony of a COVID-19 patient who says he was near death and only access to an alternative remedy not approved by the FDA saved his life. The ad touts a bill promoted by Johnson that allows terminally ill patients to use drugs that have not been approved.
The use of off-label drugs is common practice, and accelerating the process of using experimental drugs for terminally ill patients was the centerpiece of the early movement to force action against AIDS. But Johnson’s advocacy for unproven COVID cures, one of his proudest accomplishments in the US Senate, is embarrassing.
Like a peddler pushing quack drugs, he aggressively promoted the horse dewormer Ivermectin, prompting the FDA to launch a public information campaign urging people to stop trying to self-medicate their COVID symptoms with veterinary drugs. And Johnson continued to go to great lengths to undermine trust in doctors and scientists amid a public health crisis.
His public promotion of outlandish theories, undermining trust in doctors, has very negative consequences in the real world. Just ask the Madison hospital staff who had to deal with the flood of unvaccinated COVID patients from across the state. These patients and their families, supported by internet conspiracies, have become hostile and confrontationaldemanding remedies they read online that are totally inappropriate, rejecting appropriate drugs, accusing doctors of withholding life-saving drugs and even trying to harm their patients.
Johnson’s press conference featuring people who were allegedly injured by the COVID vaccine at the height of the pandemic was the opposite of a public service announcement. But then, Johnson’s entire record shows he’s the opposite of a public servant. He is a civil servant who used his office to help himself.
Tackling the butterfly aspect of Johnson’s record – getting back to his questioning of MIT nuclear physicist who served as President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, on internet conspiracy theories regarding electromagnetic pulse weapons – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. But none of Johnson’s potential Democratic opponents seem very interested in pursuing that line of attack.
Instead, they point out how out of touch Johnson is — a multi-millionaire who complains he “underperformed” by simply doubling his net worth during his Senate tenure.
Johnson, a trickle-down economics advocate, responded to that criticism last Friday in Medford, Wis., saying: “Now, has my business benefited? Sure. Are some of my donors’ businesses? Sure. When you give everyone a tax break, everyone benefits.”
But a serious analysis of the 2017 tax cut shows the exact opposite.
Like Chye-Ching Huang of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities Explain in February 2019 testimony to Congress, the 2017 tax bill that Johnson helped craft has exacerbated inequality, weakened incomes and encouraged “tax avoidance and gambling”.
He also, contrary to the fiscally conservative posturing of Johnson and his fellow Republicans, punched a nearly $2 trillion hole in the deficit. Their response is to raise taxes for those who can least afford them, while proposing to cut essential services for most people.
No wonder Johnson would rather sell you snake oil than talk about his most important legislative achievement — making the rich more comfortable and sticking it to working people by making the tax code less fair.
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