The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had urged Congressional leaders to consider the damage their legislation will cause to nonprofits. Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on Congress to adopt a charitable deduction that would encourage people at all income levels to donate. It didn’t.
In a statement issued December 20 after the bill’s passage, Dewane pressed Trump to remedy ”problematic provisions that will have dramatic negative consequences, particularly for those most in need.” He added:
The final bill creates a large deficit that, as early as next year, will be used as a basis to cut programs that help the poor and vulnerable toward stability. The legislation is also likely to produce up to a $13 billion drop in annual charitable giving to nonprofits that are relied upon to help those struggling on the margins. This will also significantly diminish the role of civil society in promoting the common good.
Republicans in Congress contend that since people will have more money, they’ll donate more. As with healthcare—virtually every facet of the industry appealed to Congress not to drop the mandate to buy insurance coverage—the politicians claim to know more than the professionals. It’s obvious that experts on charitable fund-raising believe the pitch “make your tax-deductible contribution” has a special appeal, especially now at year-end, when it’s omnipresent. About 30 percent of taxpayers itemize their deductions, a figure expected to drop to around 10 percent or possibly less under the new tax measure, which increases the standard deduction. For 2015, taxpayers deducted a total of $222 billion in charitable donations, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In the past, Republican presidents who wanted to shrink government and cut taxes looked to a healthy nonprofit sector to help fill in gaps in vital services. Ronald Reagan spoke of preserving the “social safety net” to protect the “truly needy.” George H. W. Bush took office aiming for community organizations to provide an alternative to “public money alone.” In his inaugural address, he spoke of working closely with the “thousand points of light,” saying, “The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.” George W. Bush offered his philosophy of “compassionate conservatism” and sought to engage the nonprofit sector, “rallying the armies of compassion.”
There has always been a debate about how much of that was real and how much was empty rhetoric, but at least it was considered good politics to speak about such matters. Now, in a rush to seek political safety through tax cuts, Republican leaders are willing to trample on charities in broad daylight.
And willing to call the resulting legislation, as Trump put it, “a big beautiful Christmas present.”