On the same day that the House of Representatives passed their version of the GOP tax bill, hundreds of lobbyists eager for tax cuts to the wealthy gathered in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. to celebrate. They were convening for the “Tax Prom” — the annual dinner hosted by the right-leaning Tax Foundation. As attendees, protected by the police, entered the soiree, they walked past a group of people chanting. The protesters were there to remind the guests that their partying came at a cost.
“No Tax Prom, no tax dance. Don’t cut our Pell Grants,” the group chanted. Despite the cold, the ralliers outside came replete with supplies to party. They cheered to a crowd-sourced Spotify playlist under the light of a multi-colored disco ball. A giant inflatable doll in a hazmat suit labeled “corruption cleanup” bounced in the wind. Lisa Gilbert, the legislative director for Public Citizen, waved her sign. “We’re out here showing them our party is better than theirs.”
Inside, the Tax Foundation was honoring Vice President Mike Pence, who had traveled across the country in support of Trump’s tax plan. At the gala, he thanked the foundation for their support, and Congressional Republicans who voted for the legislation earlier that day. Outside, Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs drew a clear picture of the atmosphere in the National Building Museum. “They’re in there singing the song of the self-satisfied man…we need to be singing a different song.”
It’s no secret that the Tax Prom caters to the wealthy: tickets start at $750, and premium tables at the gala go for $35,000. But money’s no problem for their audience. The sponsor list includes Fortune 500 companies like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and Caterpillar — many of whom move their money offshore to avoid taxes. An analysis from the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the evening’s corporate sponsors, who donated more than a million dollars to the Tax Prom, hold at least a collective $800 billion offshore in tax havens.
The protesters outside drew a direct link between the corporate backers of the event and the Tax Foundation’s support for the bill that just passed through the House. In exchange for funding events like Tax Prom, William Rice of Americans for Tax Fairness said, the Tax Foundation “puts out analyses that make the tax plans seem better than they are.”
For some at the protest, the tax fight has become intensely personal. Kelly Cuvar was diagnosed with cancer 19 years ago. She told the crowd of the difficulties she faced in finding insurance before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Now, she’s concerned that the Senate proposal to repeal the health care mandate that formed the backbone of the ACA will collapse the individual market where she buys her health insurance. “If they pass this bill, people like me will be left with nothing,” Cuvar said.
But protesters were insistent that organizing and action would continue and keep the bill from becoming law, despite the defeat in the House. “It’s even more well-timed that we’re out here talking about this heinous tax bill …what happened today is not the end of the road,” Gilbert said, referring to the upcoming vote on the Senate bill.
Rice was similarly optimistic. “There are senators who care about the deficit, senators that care about human services, senators that care about fairness,” he said. He had a message for legislators who were still undecided: “This is not real tax reform that you’re voting on. This is a massive giveaway to the rich that will hurt working people.”
Shortly before ending, the crowd marched to the entrance of the Tax Prom to ensure that their message would be heard by gala attendees. Then Weinstein wrapped up by reminding the group who they were fighting for. “We’re not the rally for the really rich. We’re the rally for the real people.”