Milbank: Abandoned by Trump, Puerto Rico hit by tax bill

The Republican tax bill, now law, incentives tech companies to leave the territory

By Dana Milbank

President Trump awarded himself a 10 out of 10 score two months ago for his response to Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico.

“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died,” Trump said as he toured Puerto Rico in October. “What is your death count, as of this moment — 17?”

“Sixteen certified,” the governor of Puerto Rico replied.

“Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” Trump said. “You can be very proud.”

How proud we are now.

Last week, we learned the truth. Some 1,065 more Puerto Ricans died in September and October of this year than in previous years, almost certainly storm-related deaths, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism. When all is tallied, the destruction in Puerto Rico will be very much on par with what Trump considers “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” which killed about 1,800.

Incredibly, a large portion of the island remains without power — three months after the storm. It was reported last week that power may not be fully restored until May. Puerto Ricans — American citizens — are still awaiting tarps and temporary roofs to shelter them after an untold number of homes were destroyed.

A new report from Refugees International said, “Thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep.” The group faulted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “bureaucratic and opaque assistance process” for leaving survivors with “enormous challenges.”

This, in the United States of America, in 2017. Ten out of 10, Mr. President. A-plus for you!

In October, when Trump was tossing “beautiful, soft” rolls of paper towels at Puerto Ricans, he offered lavish promises of aid and said Wall Street lenders were “going to say goodbye” to Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt. But the debt was not written off, and disaster-relief aid has been inadequate and piecemeal. Now, Trump and congressional Republicans are hitting Puerto Rico with an additional, man-made catastrophe.

The GOP tax bill, which Trump celebrated last week, treats Puerto Rico as a foreign country, imposing a 12.5 percent tax on the income that companies there receive from intellectual property — a big hit to its crucial pharmaceutical and medical-device sector. Rather than give Puerto Rico special tax treatment, which it urgently needs, Trump and his congressional allies gave employers a powerful reason to move jobs off the island.

You might recognize this pattern, even if you don’t care about Puerto Rico and the suffering of the more than 3 million Americans there. Trump comes in with razzle-dazzle and self-congratulation, promising great things to come. Then, when the cameras are off, comes the quiet collapse.

The prototype is the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. In April 1990, it opened with much fanfare as the world’s largest casino-hotel complex. Six months later, it defaulted on payments. Nine months after that, it filed for bankruptcy.

Now this happens on a world scale. Trump promises an easy peace in the Middle East but winds up setting off a new wave of violence. He promises a tax cut for the middle class and winds up with a giveaway to corporations and millionaires. He promises to improve upon Obamacare but ravages the program with no replacement.

In business, when Trump attended the ribbon-cutting and then moved on while deals went south, people lost their investments.

But when the United States walks away from promises, people lose rather more.

Nearly a million low-income Puerto Ricans are in danger of losing health care early in the new year because the territory’s Medicaid program will soon be unable to pay providers. Federal law restricts Medicaid reimbursements for Puerto Rico to not-quite 20 percent, about a quarter of what it would get if it were a state. Puerto Rico’s leaders have called for a few billion dollars to avert this latest crisis, but the request went unanswered as Congress rushed to complete the tax cut.

Puerto Rico’s (Democratic) governor, Ricardo Rossello, made a dumb mistake in October when, appealing to Trump’s vanity, he praised the president’s hurricane response. That gave Trump cover to do nothing for Puerto Rico. Now Rossello has apparently realized his mistake, and, in an interview with Politico last week, he vowed to mobilize the more than 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States. That includes hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens fleeing Puerto Rico since Maria.

They are eligible to vote, in 2018 and 2020. One suspects they might award Trump something less than the 10 out of 10 he gives himself.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, July 6

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Happy Independence Days, America

Linked by history and promise, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July should be celebrated together.

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2016 file photo, a man fishes for salmon in the Snake River above the Lower Granite Dam in Washington state. Three Republican U.S. House members from Washington state are criticizing Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for opposing their legislation that would prevent the breaching of four dams on the Snake River to help improve endangered salmon runs. (Jesse Tinsley /The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)
Editorial: Waiting could force bad choice on dams, salmon

Work should begin now to begin replacing what four dams on the Snake River provide.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Editorial: Court majority weakens church, state separation

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision does more to hurt religious liberty than protect a coach’s prayer.

State agencies must act quickly to remove car from Sauk River

I wish to thank The Herald and especially the reporter Jaqueline Allison,… Continue reading

Nate Nehring’s judgment on abortion isn’t superior to ours

Recently in The Herald, Snohomish County Representative Nate Nehring was celebrating the… Continue reading

Where was Herald’s coverage of Fourth of July?

Did you see the great coverage of Independence Day in Monday’s Herald?… Continue reading

Comment: Supreme Court showing little restraint of own power

The Roberts Court has now created what is in effect a one-way ratchet favoring deregulation.

Comment: Adoption often isn’t ‘perfect’ solution it’s sold as

For many birthmothers, like me, there are still regrets, feelings of loss and unfair comments.

Most Read