Outraged by the GOP’s tax bill, a local Electrical Workers (IBEW) president was among five protesters who staged a sit-in and ultimately were arrested Monday at Sen. Susan Collins’ (R) office in Bangor, Maine.
"This bill gives massive tax cuts to the rich on the backs of working people. It was written by the rich and powerful for the rich and powerful," said Nick Paquet, an electrician in his second term as president of IBEW Local 1253 in Augusta, Maine. "Sen. Collins knows right from wrong, and this bill is dead wrong for Maine."
Collins has bucked the GOP party line on occasion, and Paquet thought she might do it again. As a father of four children ages nine to 19, he certainly hoped so. "To be honest, I really thought she wouldn’t vote for it, especially because of who she represents. We’re not well-to-do," he said. "We’re a very scrappy part of Maine up here, and good-paying jobs are hard to come by."
Instead, Collins joined all but one Republican in voting for the bill, which passed 51-49 in the early hours of Dec. 2. The legislation has to survive a second vote once it emerges from a House–Senate conference committee.
If Collins and at least one other GOP senator can be persuaded to change their minds, the bill would die. Paquet urged union families to "call, aggressively call" their senators to demand they oppose it. "You don’t have to do a sit-in like we did, but we really hope we inspire other union households to get involved."
A nonpartisan economic analysis predicts the national debt will soar by $1.5 trillion under the bill, which hands hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations and the rich. Meanwhile, it ends or nullifies major deductions for low-income and middle-class Americans, including medical expenses, home mortgage interest, student loan debt and union dues. An estimated 13 million people would lose health care and—contrary to GOP talking points—the bill would destroy, not create, jobs due to tax breaks that give companies incentive to move Americans’ jobs to other countries. At home, the bill would have crippling effects on federal money for infrastructure, costing many workers their livelihoods.
The Economic Policy Institute called the bill "a scam through and through," warning that in addition to its immediate consequences, "the deficits it will leave in its wake will be used to attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."
Motivated by all of that, Paquet arrived at Collins’ office around 3 p.m. Monday with a nurse, a veteran [with disabilities], a retiree and an AFL-CIO mobilizer. They asked to talk to Collins by phone—she was in Washington, D.C.—but had to settle for an hour’s discussion with a staffer. Police arrested them peacefully several hours later when they refused orders to leave. They were quickly processed in and out of the county jail on criminal trespass charges. They have a Jan. 17 court date.
What upsets Paquet as much as the bill’s content is that Republican leaders wrote it in secret without public hearings or Democratic input, then pushed it through the Senate at warp speed. He doubts Collins and most other senators have read the bill’s 479 pages, let alone fully understood it before voting.
"Why this big rush?" Paquet said. "Our voices aren’t being heard—state level, federal, they really forget who they’re working for. They were elected to serve their constituents, just like I was elected to serve my members."
This post originally appeared at IBEW.