WASHINGTON -- Poor Johnny Lunchbucket. He's been had.
President Trump promised to look out for the forgotten man and to fix a "rigged" tax system. Now he and congressional Republicans have proposed a tax cut that makes the rich richer and shifts the burden onto the working class.
The numbers don't lie, but if you need more evidence? Consider this: Billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Todd Ricketts and Charles and David Koch are paying tens of millions of dollars to persuade working-class Americans to support a tax bill that would net these billionaires even more billions. In a cynical twist, they're not even arguing, primarily, about trickle-down or rising-tide economics. These plutocratic populists are actually claiming the tax cuts would go to the middle class.
"What's in it for you?" asks a new ad, reportedly backed by $10 million, from the "45 Committee," founded by Adelson and Ricketts.
"The Republican tax cut saves middle class families more than $1,200 a year, according to independent analysis. The first $24,000 of your income would be tax free," the announcer says, over images of a factory floor. "It will simplify your taxes and close loopholes so everybody pays their fair share. More money in your pocket. A stronger economy. That's what's in it for you."
Then there's the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity ad in which a young woman speaks earnestly. "The powerful, the well-connected, the politicians -- they'll stop benefiting from a rigged system," says this ad, paid for by the powerful and well-connected.
"It means everyday Americans will have more to spend on what's important to them."
Finally, we have American Action Network. It doesn't disclose donors but big oil and big pharma acknowledge contributing.
Says a mom from her kitchen: "A simpler, fairer tax code with tax cuts for working families will give us some peace of mind, and closing loopholes means everyone pays their fair share."
Fair? The proposal cuts corporate taxes by $1 trillion, gives $200 billion to the richest Americans in the form of estate-tax repeal, and tilts the other $300 billion in cuts in favor of the wealthy. And that doesn't take into account the hit the working class would take eventually from reduced benefits -- health care, education and the like -- to pay for the up to $1.5 trillion the legislation would add in debt over a decade.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center of an earlier version of the bill found that it would reduce taxes by $660 for the typical family, but the richest 1 percent would get an extra $129,000 a year, and the richest one-tenth of 1 percent would get an extra $723,000 -- or about $1,100 for every dollar Johnny Lunchbucket gets. The share of taxes paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would shrink. The share rises for those in the middle.
If this works, we can surely expect these billionaires to try the same plutocrat-as-populist ruse on other matters. Let's consider how the Adelson and Ricketts "What's in it for you?" script could be adapted to try to trick working-class Americans into supporting other sops to the rich:
What's in it for you? The Republican health-care bill saves you from the inconvenience and wasted time of visiting doctors.
You hate medical visits -- all that poking and prodding, and hard-to-swallow pills. Health-care reform simplifies your life, because you know how to cure your illness. Not well-connected doctors. That's what's in it for you.
What's in it for you? The Republican Social Security bill saves middle-class families from the shame of retirement. You don't want to retire. You'll be bored. Retirement relief, by removing your retirement benefits, will help you work longer. That's what's in it for you.
What's in it for you? The Republican education bill saves middle-class families from more than 12 years of education. Education relief will put more workers into the workforce sooner. Less hifalutin stuff like "knowledge" and "skills." More workers.
That's what's in it for you.
What's in it for you? The Republican deregulation plan saves middle-class families from the humiliation of wearing hard hats and eye protection. Airplanes would arrive faster without air-traffic control, according to an independent analysis. If your coworker dies in a crane accident, there's more work for you, and smaller crowds in the lunchroom. That, Johnny Lunchbucket, is what's in it for you.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.
(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group