In front of Christmas trees and flanked by signs that said “Merry Christmas,” President Donald Trump on Wednesday made his pitch for a tax reform plan working its way through Congress.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore American prosperity and reclaim America’s destiny. ... But in order to achieve this bright and glowing future, the Senate must pass tax cuts and bring Main Street roaring back to life,” Trump said.
He spoke to a crowd at the St. Charles Convention Center that included people who were invited by groups and organizations such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Association of Manufacturers, as well as small-business groups. About 1,000 people were invited.
“Our focus is on helping the folks who work in the mailrooms and machine shops of America — the plumbers and the carpenters, the cops and the teachers, the truck drivers and the pipefitters ... all of the people who give their best each and every day to take care of their family and the country they love,” Trump said. “It is not enough for the middle class to keep getting by — we want them to start getting way ahead.”
Trump said tax cuts, including slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, will help stimulate the economy. He said the proposed tax cuts would also help small-business owners who file as individuals.
“We must cut taxes, reduce our government burdens ... If we do this, America will win again like never ever before,” Trump said. “A vote to cut taxes is a vote to put America first.”
He said high taxes, government regulation and trade deals have “turned our main streets into empty ghost towns.”
The U.S. House has passed its tax reform plan, which includes doubling the standard deduction. The Senate later this week is expected to vote on its own plan, which has passed out of committee. Republicans in Congress are hoping to have their tax reform plan passed before Christmas in order to have an accomplishment to campaign on during the 2018 election cycle.
During the speech, Trump threw in some side comments and referred to some of his old campaign themes. He referred to Hillary Clinton once, spoke about securing the U.S.-Mexico border and building a wall, spoke about saying “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season, and referred to the media covering the event as “fake news.” He even made a reference to Kim Jong Un when saying tax cuts would serve as rocket fuel to the economy.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, in a recent visit with the News-Democrat editorial board, said Republicans learned from their mistakes during the health care debate and laid out a process for representatives to offer amendments to the tax reform proposal.
He said there is an effort to correct a problem with the bill that would tax tuition waivers, which would hurt graduate assistants and students.
“I think it’s wrong, we need to do a better job at addressing it,” Davis said.
He said 75 percent of people already use the standard deduction, and he said that number of users would increase to 95 percent with the higher standard deduction.
“Percentage-wise, there will be more money going to middle- and low-income families,” Davis said.
There has been criticism that the tax cut would add to the country’s debt. Davis said the Congressional Budget Office does not make projections on whether there will be economic growth that will come from tax cuts.
“The CBO can’t score for the economic growth we’ll have,” Davis said.
In a letter on Wednesday to Illinois’ Democratic U.S. senators — Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth — the Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation urged the senators to vote for the tax reform proposal. The delegation included U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville; and Davis.
They said the state’s income tax hike from earlier this year hurt residents. They cited estimates from the Tax Foundation saying Illinois could see more than 37,000 new jobs and that there would be an after-tax income gain of $2,333 for middle-income families, if the federal tax reform proposal passes.
“From businesses on Main Street to middle-income families across our great state, everyone deserves a tax code that rewards hard work by allowing them to keep more money in their paychecks,” the GOP representatives wrote. “We urge you to reject the status quo and do what’s right for hard-working taxpayers in Illinois.”
Trump’s visit was met with protesters holding signs that said “tax scam,” “more Trump lies,” and “keep your tiny hands off my rights” outside the convention center. Among those outside protesting the invitation-only speech were members of Black Lives Matter and Indivisible Illinois 12.
Protesters and supporters had verbal confrontations outside the convention center prior to the speech and had to be separated by law enforcement several times. At one point, police in protective gear moved in to force people off the street and onto sidewalks.
Jessica Motsinger, of Swansea, a veteran with a disability who served in the Navy for eight years, was among those who came to St. Charles to protest Trump’s speech and the Republican tax proposal.
“This tax scam they have going through is absolutely going to ruin the country,” Motsinger said.
She said it’s wrong that Congress wants to take away deductions such as the one for state and local taxes.
“This is just absolute, naked stealing. This is a reverse Robin Hood of the worst order,” Motsinger said. “It’s wrong to tax people twice on their hard-earned income, and they should not have to pay federal taxes on the taxes they already paid to state and local taxes.”
Joyce Korobey, 49, of Millstadt, operates her own jewelry business out of her house and estimates that she earns about $40,000 a year.
Korobey was among those in the audience for the speech.
“I think Americans deserve a break,” Korobey said. “I think it’s about small business. I own a home-based business. I’m always wanting to grow that business and make it more prosperous.”
She said lower taxes would put more money in people’s pockets.
“People will be able to keep more of their own money to do what they want with,” Korobey said. “Whether it’s a new addition on their home or buy a new car, you’ll just have more money, and that grows the economy because you’re going to go out and buy jewelry, or go to the mall.”
At a separate event Wednesday with a teachers union group in Belleville, Brendan Kelly, the St. Clair County state’s attorney and a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 12th congressional district, spoke about his opposition to the tax reform proposal, saying people could end up losing money under the plan.
“Raising taxes on middle-class families right here in Southern Illinois and burdening our children with more debt to give even more to the elite, powerful few is not tax reform — it’s a con job,” Kelly said. “We need meaningful relief for hard-working families, not to rip away deductions that help seniors afford medical bills and allow school teachers to write off classroom supplies. This hustle is not what people voted for and it shows how (Speaker) Paul Ryan and his crew still don’t get it.”