Tax reform and net neutrality repeal spell failure in Washington

With the deadline looming to pass a spending bill to fund the government by week's end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, meets reporters following a closed-door strategy session, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Nearly every law or regulation passed in Washington has consequences. Lawmakers must balance the benefits with the consequences, and as with everything, this is not always successfully achieved. To state bluntly, two legislative bills coming out of Washington in the near future have done a poor job of weighing the consequences.

Net neutrality is a hot term lately. If neutrality is repealed by the FCC (which it looks like it will) internet service providers (ISPs) would gain great control over what their customers can see and do on the internet. ISPs could force users to pay extra to access content and would allow providers to change the speed at which certain sites load. One example of this could be Verizon slowing down customer access to Netflix while speeding up speed to Go90, a little-known competitor of Netflix owned by Verizon. Providers would also be allowed to sell users search history to the highest bidder.

This may all seem rather trivial and harmless but repealing net neutrality may have an even greater impact on how free information is received and accessed by the general public. Top searches on Google could be influenced by ISP’s beliefs. Certain websites that do not share the same opinion as the ISP may cost users a premium price to access or suffer from smaller bandwidth speeds. Some view this as the first step to a censored internet, when what the public is allowed to look at is limited. This system can be found on full display in countries such as North Korea, China and Iran. The vote seems completely dependent on lobbying money and you can find a list of all who accepted money from IPSs on The Verge.

In another congressional move, the recent tax plan that narrowly passed the Senate 51-49 is a 500-page bill laden with regulation. Unsuccessful in repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans took the route of changing funding for the program to effectively shut it down. We will not go into the pro’s and con’s of such regulation, but there are two rules hidden in the mass of papers that impacts many Americans greatly.

One such law was the elimination of tax credits to pharmaceutical companies who develop drugs for rare diseases, as Scientific American reported. From an economic standpoint, developing a drug is expensive and there is not much motivation for pharmaceutical companies to spend so much money if the pool of potential customers of the drug is small. A 1983 law called the Orphan Drug Credit gives pharmaceutical companies a tax credit if they actively create drugs that affect less than 200,000 people. It is reported that 500 drugs have been created because of this law and the loss of this tax credit would directly result in an estimated 33 percent fewer orphan drugs on the market, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) states.

Those attempting to attain higher education degrees are also affected financially by this new bill. Many tax credits were removed, making it even more difficult to pay off college loans, the most detrimental change to current students is the regulation that would consider tuition waivers as taxable income. While this provision is not included in the accepted Senate bill, it is part of the current House bill. Tuition waivers, typically given to those seeking graduate degrees, decrease the tuition of programs that can soar above $50,000 a year. Given the standard graduate student salary, if they are researching or teaching at the university, is about $30,000, tuition waivers are necessary to allow students to receive graduate education while being able to afford a bed.

The House bill would consider any fee waiver as taxable income meaning a graduate student with a fee waiver of $50,000 and income before taxes of $30,000 would have to pay taxes on an income of $80,000. If this law was passed, this would dramatically decrease the number of students able to achieve higher education and sharply decrease the skill and intelligence of America’s future workforce.

This combination of laws offers three quick punches to America’s future. By making unbias information more difficult for the standard Americans to access, higher education nearly impossible to achieve for all but the wealthiest and making it more difficult for those afflicted with rare, often deadly, diseases to ever have a hope of future cures; the system seems to be working against those it is supposed to support. The tax system needs to be overhauled, there is no mistake in that, but punishing those who are more vulnerable or by making decisions based on who donated the most to political campaigns is not the right way to do it.


David Csordas is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.