Like a lot of inland paper mill towns, my boyhood home of Rumford has seen better days, where nearly one-in-four residents lives in poverty. That's about twice the poverty rate for the rest of Maine.
With so many families struggling to pay their bills, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) has offered life-saving assistance. But Republicans in Congress want to repeal it. In the process, they would give big tax breaks to wealthy households in Portland and other communities along the coast.
I am one of those wealthy households. But I'm not celebrating. I believe making sure working families keep their health care is more important than giving another tax cut to the well-to-do like me.
But with Rumford's paper mill employing just a fifth of the workers it did when I was a kid, many families there depend on subsidies offered by the ACA to afford health insurance. Thanks to those subsidies, as well as an expansion of Medicaid (which Maine unwisely rejected), nearly 20 million Americans have gained health coverage since 2010, including tens of thousands in Maine.
But President Trump and the Republicans in Congress want to reverse that progress. According to a recent Congressional study, repealing the ACA would cost 32 million Americans their health insurance by 2026. Within just the first two years of an ACA repeal, 95,000 Mainers would lose health coverage.
Meanwhile, taxes on the super wealthy would go down. Families making more than $700,000 a year -- the famous 1 percent -- would see their tax bills cut by $33,000, on average. The top 0.1 percent -- with annual incomes over $3.7 million -- would get a $200,000 tax break, on average. The 400 richest Americans, with incomes averaging more than $300 million per year, would have their taxes slashed by $7 million, on average.
How does depriving working families' health coverage cut rich peoples' taxes? The ACA is largely funded by taxes on wealthy households and on corporations that benefit from wider access to health care, such as insurance and drug companies. If the ACA goes away, so do the taxes.
Taxing individuals and corporations who are thriving in our modern economy to extend a helping hand to families who have been left behind is good policy. It does more than expand health care coverage. It also narrows our nation's destabilizing wealth and income gaps.
That's because the increased taxes apply to wealth, not work. The kind of income targeted by ACA taxes -- capital gains, dividends, and interest -- is highly concentrated among rich households. The tax code generally taxes that kind of passive income at much lower rates than wages, contributing to economic inequality.
One of the ACA's targeted wealth taxes is helping to strengthen and expand Medicare. As the state with the nation's oldest population, Maine should be particularly pleased that ACA taxes are shoring up the health insurance system for the elderly and disabled. We should also be particularly concerned about those taxes being stripped away.
I'm proud that our senior U.S. senator, Susan Collins, co-sponsored a bill that would allow states to keep benefits from the ACA, including the federal subsidies that make insurance affordable. Her stance is important because she sits on a committee that will decide the ACA's fate.
Collins' bill is a welcome improvement over her GOP colleagues' drive to kill Obamacare outright. But under her plan, many state governments -- including Maine's, under the current administration -- would probably opt out of the ACA, leaving their citizens in the lurch.
I've served in the Maine state legislature and know how hard it is to create good law from scratch. Claims by Republicans that they will somehow fashion an adequate replacement to the ACA should be viewed with extreme skepticism. They still don't have a replacement plan now, after voting scores of times over the past six years to repeal the ACA. Much more likely, if the ACA is repealed, hard-working families in Maine and across the country will simply lose their health insurance.
And I'll get a big tax cut I don't want. The price is too high.
Beliveau is a resident of Portland, longtime figure in the Maine Statehouse and a founding partner of the law firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios, LLP.