Protests fail to slow tax bill, or Arctic drilling

A crowd gathered outside the Capitol to protest the Republican tax bill. Photo: Liz Ruskin

Republicans in Congress say they’ve reached a final agreement on their tax bill, and it appears to include a prize the Alaska delegation has sought for years: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. But Democrats say they don’t know what’s in the final agreement because they haven’t been allowed to see it.

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Outside the Capitol, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., fired up a crowd of protestors.

“Are you ready to stop this Republican tax scam? Let’s do it!” Warren shouted, to chants of “Kill the bill!”

But inside, in the basement of the Capitol, a conference committee was meeting over the tax overhaul. The supposed purpose of a conference is to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions. But Republicans had already announced they’d reached agreement among themselves, and Democratic objections were futile.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, tried any number of ways to throw off the proceedings. He asked for a delay until next week, so they could hear from the Treasury Department about the impact of the final bill. Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, gave no quarter.

“Thank you. That motion is not available,” Brady said.

“Mr. Chairman, I appeal the ruling of the chair,” Doggett responded.

“So, that motion is also not available,” Brady said, offering to review the committee rules.

“What are the committee rules?” Doggett snapped. “Other than we do whatever you want?”

It was all for show, anyway. As Brady explained, one of the few requirements for a conference committee is to hold one public meeting. This was that meeting. Brady made it clear Republicans don’t have to give the Democrats on the panel copies of the agreement, let alone an opportunity to amend it. Brady said they’d see the bill before final passage in the House and Senate, slated for next week.

Image: C-SPAN

But the committee meeting was a chance for speeches.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, when it was her turn, praised the bill’s inclusion of drilling in a portion of the Arctic Refuge. It’s a goal she has held her entire congressional career, as has every Alaskan elected to federal office since the refuge was created.

“We fought long to authorize a program for responsible energy development in Alaska’s non-wilderness 1002 area, which Congress specifically set aside for its evaluation for its oil and gas potential,” Murkowski said.

An anti-drilling protestor briefly shouted during the meeting.

Most Democrats used their speech time to call the bill a giveaway to the rich that would vastly increase the deficit. (The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation says the Senate version would ultimately add $1 trillion to the deficit.)

But Republicans, like Alaska Congressman Don Young, say the corporate tax cuts will create more jobs and fuel the economy.

“Thank God I’m wearing my cowboy boots today,” Young said during the conference committee. “You know why cowboys wear cowboy boots? To keep their damn pants clean from the horse manure that comes from people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

Young looked pointedly across the room at a Democratic senator who had just spoken. Young told her if the Republicans are wrong about the bill, if the tax cuts don’t help the middle class as promised, then Democrats get bragging rights.

“If we’re wrong, you ought to be happier than the devil!” Young said. “You ought to be real happy. You can say ‘Look what the Republicans did. Look what they did. They hurt you. They hurt your economy.'”

But Young says he’s convinced the Democrats are wrong and the bill will create more private sector jobs and more freedom.