Trump tax plan benefits the wealthy and the powerful, punishes the middle class
Barring some unforeseen reversal of fortune, the tax bill Republicans have raced through Congress will be completed and on President Donald Trump’s desk by the end of the week. The House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, with the Senate following suit on Wednesday; most of the original Republican skeptics seem like they will hop on board.
For Democrats, then, it’s all over but the shouting. But shout they should, in one way specifically.
The conventional wisdom among the punditocracy is that the tax bill is actually a slam dunk for Democrats, an electoral cudgel that they will be able to wield for years to come. The working theory that has gained the most traction in Washington is that Republicans are rushing it through not because they believe in it but because they think they need a “win” of any kind on the legislative front before the year is out, substance be damned. Or, alternatively, that they figure 2018 is going to be a wipeout election no matter what thanks to the president’s ongoing shenanigans, so they might as well pass a big tax cut for the rich and connected now while they still have the chance.
Either way, the widespread belief is that Republicans are barreling headlong into an political buzzsaw.
I’m not so optimistic – Democrats could still goof this up.
As I pointed out recently, there are a couple of tax traps for the left to avoid, assuming the GOP’s plan becomes law. First is focusing too much on the middle-class tax hikes it includes, since they won’t be felt for several years, and particularly not before the next election. A second mistake to avoid is turning into deficit hawks just for the sake of pointing out the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue.
So what should Democrats do instead? Make their critique not about how the tax plan is bad for those who receive scant support from it, but about who it lavishes money on and how little that cohort will do with their largesse that will redound to any national benefit. As U.S. News’ John Stoehr wrote here on Monday, Republicans seem to want a class war, and Democrats can give it to them, if they do it right.
Contrary to the popular characterization, Americans don’t inherently hate taxes. What they do hate, though, is tax unfairness. This manifests itself in many ways – some get mad at offshoring, while others get mad at people they think are lazy layabouts not contributing to the system – but there’s a common cord. Everyone wants everyone else to pay their fair share. The proper way to attack the tax plan, then, is to explain the many ways in which it allows the already enriched to further diminish their contributions to the common good.
If I were advising anyone on how to campaign against the tax bill, I’d have them point first to the fact that it gave corporations a giant tax break at a time when corporate profits are already near all-time highs and corporate contributions to the national coffers have plummeted. In an era of big corporate consolidation, with tech titans, banks and the like able to exert more and more power in our everyday lives, why again do corporations need more money in the bank when workers can’t get a raise? And won’t that money they save just be plowed back into campaign contributions for you know who?
Democrats can pair their critique with their flirtation with a new era of anti-trust enforcement to make the case that the right is selling the economy off to the highest bidder.
On the individual tax cut side, Democrats have received a gift in the kerfuffle involving Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. Corker initially voted against the Senate’s tax bill because it added too much to the national debt; now he’s voting for the final bill, even though its effect on said debt is, if anything, a bit worse. He hasn’t adequately explained the flip-flop. However, there is a provision in the final bill that seems like it would help folks who are in Corker’s line of business which activists quickly dubbed the “Corker kickback.”
There are, naturally, conflicting reporting about where that provision originated and how much Corker knew about it before committing to vote for the bill. It’s entirely possible he had no clue at all. However, most people who cast aye votes on this thing are very well-off and are going to benefit quite a bit from it, as is the president who signs it. There’s a hefty dose of “big tax breaks for me but not for thee” at work. Democrats can make the fact that Congress is a body of plutocrats work to their advantage thanks to the way the bill is crafted to explicitly aid the very richest among us.
Again, it’s not about how the tax bill hurts any individual, but what it means for a society already too dominated by the rich and powerful. This is a bit of a co-option of what Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said during his surprisingly successful presidential campaign, with a real piece of legislation as Exhibit A.
Of course, it’s way too early to really handicap future elections. Events between now and then are going to have a lot more say in the results than anything that happens this week. But in the interim, Democrats have an opportunity to ensure that the GOP’s terrible policy also becomes terrible politics.