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Congress urged to ‘fix fundamental flaws’ in final tax reform bill

WASHINGTON — In a new letter to members of Congress, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., outlined a sweeping package of changes in pending tax reform legislation to ensure the final bill is "morally acceptable."

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also addressed positive aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which members of both houses of Congress continued to hash out Dec. 6 to reconcile their respective measures for a final bill.

A vote on a final version was expected in the House of Representatives and the Senate before Christmas.

"Any modification to these important priorities of our nation should only be made with a clear understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the negative consequences of new policy. For the sake of all people — but especially those persons we ought, in justice, to prioritize — Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets key moral concerns," Bishop Dewane stated in his letter Dec. 6.

The letter called for a reversal of the bill's plan to gradually increase taxes on taxpayers in the lowest income brackets while maintaining tax cuts for higher earners.

"No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for families struggling to meet their daily needs in order to finance cuts for millionaires and billionaires. The final proposal must be amended to avoid this outcome," Bishop Dewane wrote.

He also called for restoring the personal exemption, which has been eliminated in both chambers' version of the reform package.

The letter welcomed the legislation's bid to double the standard deduction, saying it should be retained.

Among other things, the letter included calls for:

• Retaining the deduction for medical expenses; the deduction is included in the Senate bill, but not the House version.

• Retaining the adoption assistance incentive for employers; the provision was eliminated in the House bill, but remained in the Senate.

• Ensuring that employer incentives for paid family and medical leave do not end in 2019.

• Adopting an "above-the-line" charitable deduction that would be available to all taxpayers, whether they itemize on tax returns or not to encourage charitable giving.

• Restoring provisions that were cut in the House bill that assist working families such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit for people who retire on disability, and deductions for tuition and student loans, state and local taxes, employee business expenses and moving expenses; restoring other provisions cut in the Senate bill including deductions for union dues and expenses, clothing and uniforms and work-related education.

• Leaving in place the current alternative minimum tax and estate tax "to ensure that the risks taken in tax reform fall on those who stand to benefit most rather than on those who struggle on the margins of society." 

2,400 faith leaders ask Senate to nix tax cut legislation

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — More than 2,400 religious faith leaders, including hundreds of Catholic women religious and dozens of priests, asked the U.S. Senate to vote down tax cut legislation.

In a Nov. 29 letter to senators, the leaders called the bill "fiscally irresponsible" and said that it "endangers our country's economic health." The letter added that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act "disproportionately benefits the wealthy at the expense of vulnerable people and low-income families."

The letter expressed concern that the legislation, with its complexity, was "being recklessly rushed through Congress" without enough time for review by voters.

The correspondence was sent under the auspices of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs and the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition. It was addressed to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate majority and minority leaders, respectively.

"As people of faith, we view decisions about tax policy and the federal budget as moral decisions. Simply put, this proposed legislation is fundamentally unjust. If it becomes law, it will result in harmful consequences for those most needing support so as to the benefit of high-income earners and big corporations," the letter said.

Citing findings by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the faith leaders expressed concern with the bill's provisions to roll back cuts for low-income earners beginning in 2021, saying that by 2027, they would see a 25 percent tax hike. The bill calls for tax cuts to remain in place for upper-income earners.

The letter pointed to the bill's repeal of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act as a concern, saying that it would cause "catastrophic losses in health coverage."

Other apprehensions raised by the signers include the estimated $1.5 trillion growth in the country's debt over the next decade because of lost revenues and that they feared spending on social services for poor and vulnerable people would be reduced to compensate.

The letter's final point addressed the negative effect of the legislation on charitable giving. The signers contend that because tax filers would be less likely to itemize taxes under new rules, fewer people would benefit from making charitable donations.

Among Catholic signers were Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network; Sister Helen Prejean, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph; retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit; Patrick Carolan, executive director, Franciscan Action Network; and Lawrence Couch, director, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. 

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