If you’ve never heard of a small institution of higher learning called Hillsdale College, here are a few things you should know about it. The school decided after a 1980s Supreme Court ruling to forego all federal funds, which means it doesn’t need to follow the Title IX rules aimed at reducing campus sexual assault, let alone any guidelines on affirmative action. The college is thus mostly white — and its longtime president once referred to non-white students at a legislative hearing as “dark ones.” It also has a reputation as an unfriendly place for LGBTQ students — which was driven home when the school’s chaplain called for prayer against “evil” gay marriage.
And there’s also this: Hillsdale College is located in southern Michigan, some 280 miles west of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
All in all, to paraphrase the cliché of the moment, this was a bizarre Hillsdale that one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, Pat Toomey, chose to die on.
OK, maybe “die” isn’t the right word, but the state’s junior senator did reveal a lot about himself on the wee wee hours on Friday when — in a strange 11-minute debate amid the dead-of-night push for the GOP’s $1 trillion millionaire tax giveaway — Toomey tried to defend his amendment that would mean a $700,000 annual tax break for the conservative-oriented Hillsdale by exempting it from a levy on endowments that would hammer the University of Pennsylvania and several other schools in the state Toomey supposedly represents.
Under pressure from Democratic senators — “There are so many deserving schools in Oregon and Pennsylvania and elsewhere who don’t get this special treatment,” Oregon’s Ron Wyden observed — Toomey claimed Hillsdale’s not having to pay a tax on its endowment should be seen as a reward for not taking federal funds (the move that frees the school up to discriminate). He didn’t mention Hillsdale’s close connection with the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which has donated roughly $60,000 to Toomey’s campaigns over the years. Or its connection to the Koch brothers, the oil billionaires whose foundation has donated to Hillsdale and who also spent millions of dollars to help Toomey narrowly defeat Democrat Katie McGinty in the 2016 election.
Even in a time when politicians are often accused of working for their rich donors instead of fighting for their constituents, Toomey’s move was stunningly brazen. And it was all for a murky outcome — Toomey’s amendment was voted down (even some of his fellow Republicans thought this a bridge too far), although a later, broader amendment removed not just Hillsdale but also many more traditional universities from the endowment tax. What’s more, everything in this massive tax scam that passed at 1:51 a.m. on a Saturday is still up for grabs in a House-Senate conference committee. Toomey’s Hillsdale Handout maneuver only netted him bad publicity, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Sen. Toomey (R., Michigan) doesn’t really care what you think about it.
It’s a safe bet that Toomey doesn’t care because a politician who actually cares what Pennsylvania thinks would probably have real town-hall meetings — not carefully scripted and highly screened encounters on the telephone or in a tiny TV studio (where asking a startling question, as real Pennsylvanians do sometimes, can get you arrested). It’s a safe bet that Toomey doesn’t care because the Founders — convinced that six-year terms would make the Senate a “deliberative” body and not an unaccountable monster — ensured that voters won’t get another crack at our junior senator until 2022, and many suspect that Toomey is already planning to cash in his chips as a lobbyist on K Street by then. And it’s a safe bet that Toomey doesn’t care because Saturday’s tax vote — on legislation that the alleged Pennsylvanian played a key role in writing — was the ultimate fulfillment of the senator’s career dreams of corporate oligarchy.
It’s hard to say to say what was most outrageous about Saturday morning’s Senate passage of the $1 trillion wealth grab:
• The way that it was done, with the most sweeping changes not only to the U.S. tax code but also to health care and, eventually, the social safety net — which should have been debated for days and the subject of extensive public hearings, not rammed through in a matter of hours — tossed into a 548-page final bill stuffed with illegible scrawl in the margins and other pages Xed out, and handed to the Senate’s 48 Democrats only late on Friday night.
Any handwriting experts out there? I'd like to know what this says before they call for a vote. This is absurd. pic.twitter.com/6UkiJmuY9T
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) December 1, 2017
• The actual bill itself, which the GOP is selling as “a tax cut” — President Trump is taking credit for that framing — but is largely a wealth grab designed to punish the poor from Day One and throw a few trinkets at the middle class before the 2018 and 2020 elections before hammering many of us in the later years, all to the benefit of the very wealthy and corporations already enjoying record profits. “By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office,” the New York Times reported.
The handout to millionaires, billionaires, and corporations (who in GOP World “are people, my friend” as Mitt Romney pointed out) will rob the U.S. Treasury of $1 trillion that could have fixed our broken trains and bridges, among many potential uses of that money for the actual public good. Instead, the tax scheme exacts retribution against people that Republicans don’t like — residents of states like California and New York, grad students, students in general, the schools they attend, and elderly people needing health care.
• If that weren’t all bad enough, the entire thing has been sold on a bed of lies, some of them told by prime architect Pat Toomey. Indeed, the senator’s dishonesty in pushing this scheme as one that will benefit the middle class and everyday American workers — and not his donors such as the Kochs and the DeVos — is a worse sin than the Hillsdale Handout. On Saturday, Toomey declared in a statement: “Passage of this pro-growth tax reform bill brings hardworking Pennsylvanians one step closer to seeing a direct pay raise and better job opportunities.”
The truth? There nothing in this bill requiring corporations to spend their tax savings on either pay raises for rank-and-file employees or on hiring more workers. In fact, Toomey and his fellow Republicans rebuffed Democratic efforts to require that the tax savings be passed down to workers. And Toomey — who understands a thing or two about the economy, having made millions on Wall Street before he entered politics — knows any reputable economist, as well as past experience, has found that any dollar saving from tax cuts will be almost exclusively passed to wealthy investors, including CEOs, and not to workers. That’s how capitalism works.
“That says all these companies have figured out other ways — whether it’s offshoring or outsourcing to independent contractors — of making money without really having productive workers to get there,” Harry Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think [workers] should expect too much.”
So the bill’s GOP backers are praying that by the time American workers understand the magnitude of the Big Lie — that their wages didn’t go up, and that they’ll be stuck with the $1 trillion bill for this wealth heist — the 2018 elections will have safely passed. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still time to call and urge your Republican Congress member to kill the final reconciliation of the terrible bill that passed the Senate and the equally terrible bill that passed the House last month, and you should do that — even though the reality is probably that the only way to reach these morally deaf people is at next November’s ballot box.
And Toomey won’t be on that ballot. He’ll surely be basking in the knowledge that he’s already done the work of his real constituents — Betsy DeVos, Charles and David Koch, and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer. And no doubt looking forward to his happy retirement in 2023 — probably teaching his voodoo economics as a professor to the straight, white kids at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, safely far away from the angry Pennsylvanians he failed to represent.