A couple hundred invited Republican guests waited expectantly to discuss tax reform at the Bayville Firehouse, but the first question came from uninvited Brick resident Jason Ireland, who burst in looking for Democrats.
There were apparently no Democrats and security expelled Ireland to join the three dozen other protesters standing in drizzle. Finally, Gov. Chris Christie proudly introduced the star attraction, White House Adviser Ivanka Trump, accompanied by Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin.
The pair each took a stool and spent a carefully choreographed half-hour promoting both House and Senate versions of tax reform bills and fielding scripted questions from their host, 3rd District Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur.
“How many lawyers do you hire to find loopholes so you can reduce your tax bill?” asked MacArthur. “That’s the problem that we’re trying to fix. It’s got to be fair, it’s got to be more transparent and it’s got to be simpler. So we are bringing rates down. We are eliminating lots of loopholes.”
“The president’s economic agenda is all about creating growth, bringing jobs back to America and making American business competitive again,” Mnuchin said.
Speakers noted both bills double standard deductions and both slash the corporate business tax from 35 to 20 percent, although the Senate version delays that cut for a year.
“The president’s primary objective is to ensure middle income tax cuts, so we are working to do exactly that,” said Ivanka Trump. “And we believe cutting the rate of taxes on corporations, medium size and small businesses is going to accomplish the goal of putting more money back in the pockets of American workers.”
Ivanka’s personal mission is to boost the Child Tax Credit from its current $1,000, to $2,000. The House bill bumps that credit up to $1,600, the Senate to $1,650.
“I realize how hard it is to balance the competing demands of work and family, and I am in a situation that is far more fortunate than most,” she said. “I have help. I have resources that enable me to do what I do every day, and too few families have the same support.”
But most New Jersey residents worry about losing SALT, so-called state and local tax deductions. The Senate bill dumps SALT deductions entirely. The House bill eliminates most of SALT except for a property tax deduction capped at $10,000.
“And I fought to get it back to $10,000 because that covers the vast majority of the people in this state and in this part of South Jersey,” MacArthur said.
At its conclusion the event veered off-script just a tad, when a protester, who had infiltrated the crowd, tried to ask a question.
“Everyone needs to be heard from, and this tax bill is not going to help the middle class,” Barnegat resident Marianne Clemente said.
“Well, I think they’ll do the right thing. Let’s hope they do the right thing, that’s all I can say,” said Jean Hopkins from Berkeley.
MacArthur says he’ll keep pushing to improve the measure, but a vote on the House bill is expected later this week.