Pluralistic: Here are just two of the corporate giveaways hidden in the rushed, must-pass, end-of-year budget bill (22 Dec 2022)

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Here are just two of the corporate giveaways hidden in the rushed, must-pass, end-of-year budget bill (permalink)

Yesterday, Congress finally voted through the must-pass, end-of-year budget bill. As has become routine, this bill was stalled right until the final moment, so that Congressjerks could cram the 4,000-page, $1.7 trillion package with special favors for their donors, at the expense of the rest of the country.

This year's budget package included a couple of especially egregious doozies, which were reported out for The American Prospect by Lee Harris (who covered a grotesque retirement giveaway for the ultra-rich) and Doraj Facundo (who covered a safety giveaway to Boeing and its lethal fleet of 737 Max airplanes).

Let's start with the retirement scam. The budget bill includes Rep Richie Neal's [DINO-MA] SECURE Act 2.0, which gives savers with retirement funds until age 75 to cash out their retirement savings – netting an extra three years of tax-free growth for the lucky, tiny minority with substantial retirement savings. This follows on Neal's SECURE Act 1.0 of 2019, when the age was raised from 70.5 to 72.

The tax-exempt retirement savings account is a Carter-era bargain that replaced real pensions – ones that guaranteed that you wouldn't starve or freeze to death when you retired – with accounts that let people gamble on the stock market, to be the suckers at Wall Street's poker table:

The market-based gambler's pension is a catastrophic failure. Half of Americans have no retirement savings. Of the half that have any savings, the vast majority have almost nothing saved:;demographic:all;population:all;units:have

All in all, America has a $7 trillion retirement savings shortfall:

But for a tiny minority of the ultra-rich, tax-free savings accounts like ROTH IRAs are a means of avoiding even the paltry capital gains tax that you have to pay if you own things for a living, rather than doing things for a living. Propublica's IRS Files revealed how ghouls like Peter Thiel avoided tax on billions in "passive income" by abusing tax-free savings accounts that were supposed to benefit the "middle class":

Meanwhile, Social Security is crumbling, thanks to a sustained attack on it by the business lobby and its friends in both parties. Progressive Dems had sought to amend SECURE Act 2.0 by inserting some clauses to shore up Social Security, and none of these were included in the final bill.

One of the fixes that died was the Savings Penalty Elimination Act, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown [D-OH] and Rob Portman [R-OH]. This act would have tweaked the means-testing for Supplemental Security Income, which supports 8m low-income disabled adults and kids. Right now, you can't collect SSI if you have $2k in the bank, a limit that hasn't been adjusted for inflation since the 1980s (adjusted for inflation, $2k in 1980 is $7226.00 in 2022).

The $2k savings cap means that you have to be substantially below the poverty level to receive $585/month in SSI assistance – this being the only source of income for the majority of SSI recipients. Means-testing is a self-immolating fetish for corporate Dems and in retrospect, this betrayal seems inevitable:

(Notice how no one proposes means-testing billionaires when they get PPP loans or hundreds of millions in IRS "refunds" – like Trump, who paid substantially less tax than you did:)

And it was a betrayal: progressive Dems bargained with Neal and co not to publicly condemn SECURE Act 2.0 if they could get some concessions for the 8 million poorest disabled people in America. In the end, Neal rug-pulled them. Of course he did! This is Richie Fucking Neal, the best friend the Trump tax giveaway ever had:

As with everything Neal touches, this screws poor people in multiple ways. First, it leaves the SSI cap intact. But it also creates a giant unfunded liability in the federal budget. Technically, there's no reason this should lead to cuts. The US Treasury can't run out of dollars, and giveaways to the rich are only mildly inflationary, since rich people put their money in the bank and mostly spend it on buying politicians, not goods.

But because of the delusion that currency producers like the US Treasury have the same constraints as currency users like you and me, Congress will need to come up with "Pay Fors" in future budgets to "make up for" the money they're giving to rich people with SECURE Act 2.0. Dollars to toenail clippings, they'll do that by hacking away at the tattered remains of the US social safety net.

Fear not, you don't need to be a desperately poor disabled person or child to get fucked over by late additions to a 4,000 page must-pass bill! If you can afford to get on an airplane, Congress has something for you, too!

Remember when Boeing (the monopoly US airplane manufacturer that squandered $43b on stock buybacks and had to borrow $14b from the US public to survive the pandemic) told the FAA that it could self-certify its 737 Max airplanes, and then killed hundreds and hundreds of people with its defective planes?

The 737 Max was unsafe for many reasons, but one glaring factor was the fact that Boeing sold some of its core safety as "extras" – like they were downloadable content for your Fortnite character – leading to multiple crashes in which all lives were lost:

Boeing was forced to take the 737 Max out of service, but it eventually brought the plane back, "fixing" the problems by renaming the "737 Max" to the "737 8":

Supposedly, Boeing has been diligently working on fixing the problems with its defective jets that can't be addressed by a rebranding campaign. This wasn't voluntary: the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act required Boeing – and every other manufacturer whose aircraft were certified by the FAA – to meet new minimum safety standards by December 27, 2022.

Every manufacturer met that deadline, except Boeing, and someone amended the budget bill to give the company three more years to meet these security standards. Critically, the new security measures, when they come, will be certified by an FAA that Republicans will control, thanks to the House changing hands.

Boeing is slated to ship 1,000 new 737 Maxes, which will fetch $50b for the company. Many of these planes will fly directly over my house, which is on the approach path for Burbank airport. Southwest Air flies dozens of 737 Maxes right over my roof every single day.

As Facundo points out, the FAA can ill afford any more hits to its credibility. It was once the case that if the FAA certified an aircraft, every other country in the world would waive any further certification, so trusting were they of the FAA's judgment. That is no longer the case: today, the European Aviation Safety Agency does its own aircraft testing, holding jets that enter EU airspace to a higher standard than the FAA does for US planes.

It's just another reminder that the US doesn't have "corporate criminals" because the US doesn't have any meaningful enforcement for corporate crimes. In America, we love our companies like we love our billionaires: too big to fail and too big to jail:

(Image: Ryan Lee, CC BY 2.0; Henry Wadey, CC BY 3.0; modified)

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Colophon (permalink)

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