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Protesters rally against tax reform; legislators offer support

By TIM COOK

The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. –It involved an arcane, political matter of who should pay what in federal taxes–and who should not.

It became a local topic during a grassroots political rally Tuesday evening in Martinsburg.

Candlelight Protest Rally attendees protested against the GOP plan to overhaul the federal tax code for the first time in three decades.
(Journal photo)

About 18 people turned out, including the speakers. Billed as a Candlelight Protest Rally, the event was a protest against the GOP plan to overhaul the federal tax code for the first time in three decades.

Undaunted by their few numbers, they huddled holding sparking votive candles while listening to a few speakers from among them.

After clearing the House of Representatives last week, the 429-page Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is perched in the Senate, awaiting a vote by lawmakers there after they return from the Thanksgiving holiday. The bill is expected to live or die in the Senate based on just a handful of votes.

If the legislation would become law, it would permanently lower the corporate tax rate. It would temporarily lower rates across the middle class. And it would dramatically reshuffle the welter of brackets, exemptions and deductions in the nearly 74,000 pages in the federal tax code that determine how much citizens (and corporations) pay in taxes.

For the various proponents of the tax reform bill, including the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, it would stimulate the economy and create jobs. For opponents of the same bill, such as the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy and the West Virginia Council of Churches, it would give tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest individuals that would widen the income gap.

“This bill makes no sense,” Stewart Acuff, a Martinsburg resident and a retired labor organizer with the AFL-CIO, said. “It only serves to take more and more and more from us and give it to fewer and fewer people. This is not less than a fight to save democracy in America.”

The people who attended Tuesday’s Martinsburg rally said they were affiliated with politically liberal and progressive groups, particularly the local chapters of the groups Vigilance and Women’s March.

“How much do we have to pay? How much do we have to sacrifice?” Acuff implored to the favoring crowd. “How much do our kids have to suffer? How much do our grandkids have to suffer? How far down the line in the eyes of the world does the United States have to go before we stop this madness?”

Tuesday’s rally in the Martinsburg parking lot was coordinated with others holding like-minded views across West Virginia. The people who participated did so on familiar ground–as constituents outside the Martinsburg offices of two Republican lawmakers of West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney.

Capito has offered her support for the reform and said it will lead to more jobs.

“The House proposal marks an important step to deliver the comprehensive pro-growth tax reform that our country needs. Speaker Ryan and Chairman Brady have done a remarkable job crafting the proposal, and I know they will continue to be effective leaders as it advances in the House,” she said in a press release. “In the Senate, we are hard at work on our own tax reform proposal that will put more money in the pockets of hardworking men and women and give our small businesses the resources they need to expand. “

After the bill reform’s introduction, Mooney said in a press release he supported tax cuts and reform for working West Virginia families. During an interview in Charleston Tuesday, he said he had not reviewed the most recent analysis of the bill, but opposes the idea of a middle-class tax hike, according to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Acuff estimated members of the groups had gathered in the same parking lot for rallies about 40 times since Trump’s election. They have assembled for issues ranging from defending the Affordable Care Act’s repeal to opposing budget cuts to the federal food stamp program.

After his remarks, Acuff said the smaller turnout for Tuesday’s rally was expected. It’s two days before Thanksgiving, he said. Many people are already busy preparing for the holiday, and some are traveling already.

People aren’t weary of politics, he said.

“We have a good core of activists across the Eastern Panhandle. Most of these folks have not been politically active in the past. … So these are folks who answered the call after Trump was elected.”

During the rally, Acuff said that the tax bill would blow a $1.4 trillion hole in the federal budget.

“And what will that cost us?” he continued. “It will cost us $25 billion dollars in claw-backs from Medicare. We’ve already paid for that! That’s our trust fund!”

“This is a class war, and finally we are determined to win,” he said.

In an aside after the rally, Acuff said he worries about what budget cuts to Medicaid program would do to West Virginians struggling with drug addiction.

“In terms of the opioid crisis, you can’t resolve it without Medicaid,” he said. “You can’t imprison the opioid crisis away. It has to be treated away.”

To create jobs and increase wealth more broadly, Acuff said, even in the wake of the successful road bond referendum last month he would like to see West Virginia invest in more public infrastructure spending, especially roads and bridges. That would help attract more tourism visitors to the state, he said.

“I don’t expect you to buy what I’m fixing to say, but I’m saying it earnestly: This is about defending democracy, ultimately,” Acuff continued. “This is a very dangerous thing that’s happening in America right now. And, quite, very honestly, thank God for the smart people on all sides of the political debate who are standing up and saying you can’t have a democracy built on lies. You can’t have a democracy where the citizenry doesn’t know what the truth is.”

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