03:50 - Source: CNN
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson to oppose tax plan

Story highlights

Jeff Yang: Tax plan makes it clear GOP only interested in policies that help rich donors

Asian-Americans may have even more reason to vote Democratic in future, he says

Editor’s Note: Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications and the co-host of the podcast “They Call Us Bruce.” He co-wrote Jackie Chan’s best-selling autobiography, “I Am Jackie Chan,” and is the editor of three graphic novels: “Secret Identities,” “Shattered” and the forthcoming “New Frontiers.” The opinions expressed here are his own.

CNN  — 

It says something about the present state of the Republican Party that some of the leadership are likely breathing a sigh of relief that the horrific distraction du jour – e.g., “traditional values”-focused US Senate candidate Roy Moore facing accusations of sexually predatory behavior toward minors – is stealing the spotlight from its disastrous plan for tax reform.

Let’s get the headlines out of the way: Under both versions of the plan, issuing from the House and the Senate respectively, the richest 1% in our country and big corporations will get an enormous windfall, which will cause the federal deficit to soar by as much as $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Neither does much to help the vast majority of Americans. But – depending on what mess emerges from the conferences that will weave the two versions into a common compromise – some groups will be disproportionately harmed. Among them are Asian-Americans, who have voted increasingly with the Democratic Party over the past few decades, and may have even more reason to do so in the coming ones if this bill passes.

Both the House and Senate plans eliminate many tax breaks, though they also roughly double the standard deduction, which makes it tricky to determine definitively whether someone’s tax bill will go up. An expanded child tax credit to go along with rate reductions across middle income brackets would also create, at least in the near term, some tangible benefit.

We do know the GOP House version of tax reform ends tax deductions for student loans, while taxing free tuition as if it were ordinary income. The plan would hit people with student loans with tax hikes of up to $625 a year on top of their already-onerous payments, and — by forcing them to pay taxes on free tuition – slam grad students with annual taxes reflecting as much as three times the income they get in actual salary.

The net result would likely be a major penalty for those who choose to go to college, and an even greater one for those who pursue advanced degrees. Asian-Americans would be devastated by this change as the group with the highest rate of college and graduate school attendance in the nation: More than half of Asians in the United States 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with about 28% of Americans in general, and 21% have advanced degrees, versus 10% of all Americans.

The impact on education may not limit itself to college either: The GOP House plan ends a $250 tax break for teachers who buy their own classroom supplies. The deduction is tiny in the grand scheme of things, saving just a few million, but considering that the average teacher spends more than $500 out of pocket for classes without reimbursement from cash-strapped schools, its impact on elementary and primary education would be substantial. The enrollment of Asian-Americans in public schools is projected to increase by 50% over the next decade, about the same rate of increase as Hispanics; all other groups are projected to see public school enrollment fall over the same period. The House and Senate are at odds on how to proceed: After the House’s tax bill drew outcry for removing the $250 deduction, the Senate bill was adjusted not only to restore the deduction but also to double it to $500.

Meanwhile, both the Senate and House versions of the plan hammer people who live in states that have higher income taxes, such as California and New York. The Senate bill eliminates SALT – state and local tax – deductions, which historically have been deductible from federal taxes to eliminate “double taxation.” (The House bill does keep one deduction of up to $10,000 for local property taxes but eliminates the rest.) As it turns out, states with the highest state and local taxes in the nation – California, Oregon, New Jersey, New York and Hawaii among them – are home to more than half of the Asian-American population.

Get our free weekly newsletter

  • Sign up for CNN Opinion’s newsletter.
  • Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    The impact of the GOP tax plan is going to be felt by everyone who doesn’t belong to the narrow, plutocratic segment of American society that includes President Donald Trump and many in his administration, the wealthiest in modern history. What’s ironic is that, just a generation ago, Asian-Americans voted in nearly equal percentages for Republicans and Democrats, driven primarily by the perception that – despite extreme positions on social issues that most Asian-Americans do not share – the former were more fiscally prudent, and more likely to protect small entrepreneurs and the aspirational middle class.

    This reform proposal makes it clear that Republicans are not interested in advancing policies that benefit anyone but their most deep-pocketed donors. Meanwhile, Asian-Americans watch as Trump and the party he leads continue to threaten trade war with China, nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula and a war on the basic American values of birthright citizenship and family reunification immigration. It doesn’t sound like they’ll be winning back the vote of the fastest-growing population in America anytime soon.