Simply Unconscionable: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017


In his encyclical, Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII said that in “a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” (Sec. 132) [1] It follows that in devising a plan of taxation that there will be an injustice if taxes are raised on the working poor, while giving the rich a tax reduction. And it just so happens that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced in the House of Representatives does exactly that, as has been so ably pointed out by three Catholic bishops writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). [2]

The three bishops are the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; the Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces, and Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; and the Most Reverend George V. Murry, S.J., Bishop of Youngstown, and Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education. In their letter dated November 9, 2017 the bishops note that the tax “proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.” (Boldface in original.)

That certainly doesn’t comply with the requirement that tax “burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” Indeed it is, as the bishops point out, “simply unconscionable,” and they provide these details to illustrate just how unconscionable it all is:

“The nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) indicates that by 2023 this tax plan will raise taxes on average tax payers making between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. Taxes for this group will be raised again in 2025, and again in 2027. Taxes will also increase on average taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025. The federal poverty line is $12,228 for one person, and $24,339 for a two-parent family with two children. Nearly one in three Americans live in a family with income below 200% of the poverty line. Meanwhile, average taxpayers who make over $1 million experience dramatic tax cuts for the same periods.”

This, of course, is indefensible. As the bishops put it, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.” (Boldface in original) This is a truth so axiomatic that it is shocking that the point had to be made, but it appears that it will have to become a maxim for us to memorize.

And there is something else for us to remember.

The bishops point to many other features of the proposed act that are objectionable, and readers are encouraged to take a look at the bishops’ letter for themselves. But there is one in particular that bears mentioning here, and the bishops describe it this way:

“It removes the adoption tax credit which provides important and life-affirming assistance for families to adopt children desperately in need of love and support.

“The plan also repeals the exclusion for adoption assistance programs, which allows a family to exclude money paid by an employer for adoption costs up to the amount of the adoption tax credit as an alternative. This exclusion also allows those who adopt a child with special needs to receive the full value of the exclusion regardless of actual adoption costs.” (Boldface in original)

The political party currently in power has tried to sell itself to Catholics on the ground that it is pro-life, at least as far as abortion is concerned. And that is a worthy consideration. A Catholic citizen who votes with that in mind won’t be blamed in these pages.

But it must be made clear, also in these pages, that a party that proposes to remove the adoption tax credit is not a pro-life party. At all.

When women are faced with unwanted pregnancies we want to encourage them to go the adoption route if they are certain about not keeping their babies. That means we want to encourage people to adopt children. We especially want to encourage people to adopt children with special needs, because children like that are particular targets of abortion.

Whatever our political party affiliations one thing is abundantly clear. Preserving the adoption tax credit is the Catholic position to take.

Jack Quirk