While the Republican Party’s tax scam continues being “worked” on, there’s always hope that a couple of GOP senators will come to their senses (like the entire Democratic delegation) and stop this monstrosity that benefits the wealthy at the expense of millions of Americans. But thanks to their incompetence, two wrongs might make a right.
One of the perks of this bill for the Religious Right was going to be the ability for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit without fearing the loss of their churches’ tax exemptions. This was better known as the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, and it was something Donald Trump had been promising them for years. He even said at a prayer breakfast in February that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” Then, months later, he signed an executive order purporting to do just that… even though it did no such thing.
To be sure, you could count on a single hand the number of churches whose tax exemptions have been revoked by the IRS over the past decade — and that’s after a horrible accident. The IRS just never acted on these violations even when baited by the Religious Right. But Congress was determined to make sure the IRS couldn’t take action even if they wanted to.
When the House’s version of the tax bill was passed last month, it included a formal repeal of the law. The Senate’s version did not. That made the Johnson Amendment repeal one of many issues that had to be ironed out in negotiations.
Reports coming out late last night said the final version of the bill does not include the repeal. It’s a huge victory for church/state separation and yet another loss for Trump and the GOP.
“I’m pleased to announced that Democrats successfully prevented the repeal of the Johnson Amendment from being jammed into any final Republican tax deal,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He added that he would “continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision.”
Wyden was exaggerating the Democrats’ power here. Because of congressional rules, if Republicans want to pass a budget bill with a simple majority vote, they can only include provisions that involve the budget. The Johnson Amendment repeal didn’t qualify, so the Senate’s parliamentarian nixed it.
Don’t throw a huge party just yet. Republicans may try to repeal the Amendment in some other way in the future. When that happens, they’re going to be ignoring the wishes of thousands of church leaders and millions of Americans who want religion and politics to remain separate.
But a small celebration is definitely in order.
As always, pastors will still be allowed to speak about political issues and conduct voter drives. They just won’t be allowed to tell the congregation who to vote for unless they want to pay taxes.