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Tax reform cartoon

In a State Journal guest column last week, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos couldn't heap enough praise on the Donald Trump-Paul Ryan "tax reform" legislation pending in Congress.

It got me wondering once again whether the word "reform" means what the dictionary says it does: "to put or change into an improved form or condition."

It's another example of how Republicans have been masters at framing their pet crusades with catchy but terribly misleading sound bites that a compliant media accepts as the narrative. Efforts to undermine unions are couched in a nonsensical label called "right to work." Now any attempt to weaken unions with legislation that prevents them from collecting dues to help pay for bargaining wages and benefits is called by that misleading name.

The party's succeeded in labeling estate taxes "death taxes," connoting the idea to a naive public that anyone who dies pays a tax on their sometimes-meager estate when, in fact, it applies only to estates that are nearly $12 million for a couple, a threshold that applies to a handful of deceased millionaires each year.

And then we have the "reforms." The GOP's failed attempt earlier this year to repeal Obamacare, which would have tossed some 20 million people off health care coverage by 2020, was nevertheless called "health reform," and many in the media called it just that while covering the debate. Funny, I don't think taking health coverage away from millions of people qualifies as a "change into an improved form or condition."

And now Robin Vos, Scott Walker, Scott Fitzgerald and other Wisconsin Republicans — all former disciples of the political religion that the U.S. has too much debt — are gleefully pushing tax "reform" that will save big corporations and wealthy Americans trillions and threatens to add significantly to that already-burdensome national debt.

As Richard Russell, that prolific letter to the editor contributor to both Madison newspapers, wrote me the other day: On the heels of the health care debacle, the real description for this tax legislation ought to be "wealth care."

Like their national counterparts, the Wisconsin legislative Republicans would have us believe that the middle class will reap huge tax savings, when in fact those savings pale compared to the $1.5 trillion giveaway to corporations whose leaders won't even say whether they'll use their tax savings for more investment and workers' wages.

And while trumpeting the doubling of the minimum deduction, they shy away from mentioning that taxpayers in states with high income taxes (that's us, Wisconsin) won't be able to deduct those taxes under their bill. Nor will students be able to deduct student loan interest. School teachers will lose the $250 annual deduction for supplies they personally buy for their classrooms.

Nor will people with chronic illnesses be able to take health care cost deductions. Gone will be the tax break for buying an electric car or investing in alternative energy for your home. Nor will folks who take a better job in another community be able to deduct moving expenses any longer.

There are dozens of provisions like this, all aimed at freeing up money from the middle class to help pay for those big cuts for the rich.

Yes, this is wealth care, not "reform."

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.