That’s the sound made by coins pouring out of a slot machine that just paid off big time, and Sheldon Adelson knows it well.
Las Vegas Sands, the casino company owned by Adelson, last month reported that its first-quarter net income jumped by a remarkable 179 percent. Most of that gain came as a direct result of last year’s huge corporate tax cut, touted by Republicans as their landmark congressional achievement for the term. Adelson -- already one of the richest men on the planet -- and his company saved some $670 million thanks to that bill, with Adelson no doubt saving additional tens of millions of dollars on his personal taxes.
That’s no surprise, of course. Every serious analysis of that tax bill concluded that it would primarily benefit the already wealthy and would boost after-tax profits for corporations already reporting some of the highest after-tax corporate profits in history. It’s also no surprise what came next.
Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team flew to Las Vegas for an audience with Adelson. Their mission? To remind Adelson of the favors they have done for him, and to ask a favor in return. Ryan sat down in a room at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and made his pitch, outlining to Adelson the difficulties faced by Republicans in the current political climate and the need for money.
Ryan then left the room while others on his team made the official ask. (Under federal law, candidates or officials can’t directly request contributions of the size being discussed.) By the time the meeting ended, Adelson agreed to contribute $30 million -- a lot, but less than 5 percent of his corporate tax reduction -- to the Conservative Leadership Fund, a super PAC created to keep Republicans in control of the House.
A happy Ryan then got on the plane and returned to Washington, where he continues his campaign to cut Medicare and Medicaid, citing huge deficits created by the tax cuts he himself championed. At his urging, Congress is also cutting the food-stamps program, claiming that we can’t afford it, while President Trump is demanding that $15 billion already appropriated for the Children’s Health Insurance Program be rescinded.
Contrary to GOP promises about the impact of the tax cut, average weekly earnings for American workers declined slightly last month after adjusting for inflation. Over the past year, with corporate profits soaring, the average American has seen no increase in wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On health care, the percentage of Americans without insurance is climbing once again as a direct result of Republican efforts to undermine Obamacare. Tom Price, the disgraced former secretary of Health and Human Services, now admits that the GOP move to end the individual mandate “actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks.”
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Ben Carson is proposing rent increases for those in subsidized housing, calling the increase an “incentive” for the poor, while the Department of Education undercuts the federal student-aid program.
All this, in a country where the divide between rich and poor has reached historic levels and continues to worsen and where middle-income continues its decade-long stagnation. It's just nuts.