During the last year I have traveled to each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties to meet with workers, middle class families, seniors and small businesses.
While Pennsylvania has cities that are large and small, urban, suburban and rural, I heard one consistent message no matter where I was: that too many families are struggling to get ahead.
For too many families, their costs keep going up but their wages are not keeping pace. The central economic challenge of our time is to rebuild the middle class by raising wages and creating good-paying jobs.
The federal government has a basic obligation to put in place policies that promote wage growth and job creation.
There are a host of steps that Congress can take to make it easier for middle class families to make ends meet, from investing in our infrastructure to fixing bad trade deals that stack the deck against workers. Congress has begun a debate about how to fix a tax code that too often favors the very wealthy, corporations and special interests in Washington.
Changes to the tax code are never easy, but they are possible if both parties work in a bipartisan way. In 2015, I worked with Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, to provide tax incentives for small businesses so that they can invest in their companies and hire more workers.
In 2013, I worked with Republican Senator Richard Burr, from North Carolina, to make it easier for families of a child with disability to save for their long-term care.
The purpose of tax reform should be to help the people I met in Pennsylvania's 67 counties over the last year.
However, Republicans in Washington and the Trump Administration have not put forth a tax reform plan, just a giveaway scheme for the wealthy, big corporations and special interests in Washington.
Instead of rebuilding the middle class, this scheme would decimate it. The congressional Republican plan would raise taxes on the middle class, and cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and
Medicaid to fund tax cuts for large corporations, the wealthy and create new loopholes that would allow hedge fund managers and wealthy real estate developers to drastically reduce their taxes.
Our tax system must ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth have a fair shot at financial stability in today's economy.
The Republican plan only provides more financial stability to the wealthiest among us.
Instead of directing tax cuts for the middle class, it provides 80 percent of the benefits to the top one percent.The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that by 2027, 30% of Americans making between $50,000 and $150,000 a year will see a tax increase.
This is in large part because the plan eliminates the $4,050 personal exemption, eliminates itemized deductions, like the state and local tax deduction, and increases the tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent on family income below $18,650.
Under the Republican plan, a family of four would gain $11,300 in standard deduction, and simultaneously lose $16,200 in personal exemptions. As a result, a married couple with two children earning $70,000 could see a net tax increase of nearly $300 under the Republican plan. A family that itemizes deductions, as most homeowners and 1,776,000 Pennsylvanians do, could see an even greater net tax increase.
In addition to eliminating personal exemptions (which everyone can take), the plan also eliminates the state and local tax deduction.
The plan will also harm single parents, or a grandparent raising a grandchild, by eliminating the head of household filing status. In short, the Republican tax plan sells out the middle class, and provides a windfall for the wealthy.
Following the release of the Republican tax proposal, NEC Director Cohn said this was their "opening and final offer".
Despite statements that the Republican tax plan is focused on the middle class, it's full of tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. The plan gives a 4.6 percentage point tax cut to the wealthiest Americans - at a cost of $42 billion a year.
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates the average tax cut for those in the top 1 percent would be $146,470 next year.To put that in perspective, the size of the tax cut for wealthy Americans is nearly three times the median income for Pennsylvanians ($53,600).
An American working at the minimum wage for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year will earn $15,080. A Pennsylvanian earning the minimum wage would have to work for 10 years without a vacation to earn the same amount as it being given away every year to the wealthiest Americans.
Just as they did in the healthcare debate, Republicans intend to use "reconciliation" to pass their tax plan.
But tax may just be one part of the reconciliation bill. The Republican budget also calls for cutting Medicare funding by $473 billion and Medicaid by more than $1.056 trillion over the next 10 years.
Sound familiar? Republicans also tried to cut Medicaid in their effort to repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Republican budget will cut Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion to pay for the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.
The tax plan also proposes eliminating measures which encourage companies to make products here in the United States, like the section 199 domestic manufacturing deduction. That simply makes no sense.
The Republican tax plan claims to include a tax cut for small businesses, but it's really a massive tax cut for hedge fund managers and real estate investors.
Nearly 90 percent of the benefits of a pass-through rate cut would go to the top 1 percent of earners.It also includes a $269 billion giveaway to the top 0.02 percent of families in America by repealing the estate tax.
On average, that's equivalent to $27 billion a year to America's 5,500 richest families -- 150 of which are in Pennsylvania.This is not a provision for small businesses or farms.
In fact the National Farmers Union opposes repeal of the estate tax because the current system, which Congress fixed in 2013, works for our small farms and businesses by allowing the first $10.98 million in value of an estate to be passed along tax free.
The content of this proposal should come as no surprise given its authors -- the House and Senate Republican leadership and two former Goldman Sachs executives, Director of the National Economic Council (NEC) Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
After reading this proposal it is clear why my Republican colleagues have chosen to go it alone.
We have heard almost a decade of Republican cries for fiscal responsibility, with demands for cuts to programs like early childhood education, and the National Institutes of Health as a means to that end.
Under the Budget Control Act, Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement on $1 trillion in deficit reduction measures. Republicans are now proposing to wipe that away with a budget which will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10-years.
The message I heard from Pennsylvanians across the state is that our families are still struggling.
We have folks who want to work full time but are only working part time. We have citizens whose schedules are so sporadic it's hard for them to obtain reliable affordable childcare.
Every day expenses for families keep going up, while their wages are stagnant. These are the central economic challenges that the Congress and the President should be focused on --not tax cuts for the wealthy.
I hope my Republican colleagues will reverse course on this partisan proposal, and come to the table to work with Democrats on a bill which will spur job creation, increases wages for working families and makes it easier for companies to invest here at home.
Successful, lasting reform cannot be achieved through a Republican partisan, closed-door process driven by special interests. The American people deserve real tax reform that helps the middle class, raises wages and creates jobs.
U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Democrat, is Pennsylvania's senior United State Senator. He writes from Washington D.C.