Congressional Democrats plotted their political approach to stop the GOP’s tax reform efforts well before Republicans had conceived, much less introduced, their plan. In Democrats eyes the actual policy choices contained in the plan, and the reasoning behind them, wouldn’t matter. What matters is selling Americans on one simple, politically resonant theme: That Republicans’ plan would be a tax cut for the rich.
Here’s Sahil Kapur reporting for Bloomberg in December of 2016, well before Republicans introduced their framework, or even their guiding principles:
Congressional Democarats say they’ll try to thwart Republican plans to overhaul the U.S. tax code by portraying them as a boon for the rich that betrays President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to fight for working Americans.
Neal and others say they’ll zero in on upper-income tax breaks pitched by Trump and House leaders in an attempt to make it politically difficult for Republicans to support large parts of the emerging plans. Their initial comments suggest that the 115th Congress, which convenes Jan. 3 with a Republican-led agenda of instituting a broad tax overhaul and repealing Obamacare, will be peppered with debate over income inequality.
It wasn’t exactly surprising then that Democrats followed through on their long-held plans after Republicans released their tax reform framework this week.
“It seems that President Trump and Republicans have designed their plan to be cheered in the country clubs and the corporate boardrooms,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. “[Republicans are] going to be in for a rude awakening as the American people are going to rise up against this. It’s little more than an across-the-board tax cut for America’s millionaires and billionaires.”
To be clear, the GOP framework, which still has many details to be filled in, will be lead to a significant reduction in taxes for the wealthy. It will also lead to a significant reduction in taxes for the middle and working classes, which Schumer conveniently fails to mention. Indeed, across-the-board tax cuts for everyone is one of the foundational elements of Republicans’ tax reform proposals.
The problem is that Democrats decided to oppose the plan, and even crafted their #resistance strategy, before they knew what was in it. The sad fact is, Democrats’ opposition is more about denying the Trump Administration a policy victory than it is about the merits of the plan.
“It’s sort of perverse, but that’s the world we’re in,” Rep. David Schweikert, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, told The Washington Times.
“They understand the desperate need for the economic growth,” he said of his Democratic colleagues. “But they almost make it clear — they almost can’t say that in front of a microphone [that] what would be actually good for workers might also be good for this president. And anything that’s good for this president, if you’re Democrat you cannot embrace.”
The frustrating thing is not just that Democrats reflexively oppose Republicans’ ideas, it’s that they refuse to offer up any positive ideas of their own. Even some liberal pundits are becoming discouraged by the intransigence. Paul Bledsoe and Will Marshall write for the Los Angeles Times:
“When your opponents are fighting each other, why interfere? In fact, Democratic leaders in Congress are reportedly discouraging their colleagues from outlining their ideas for reform.
But that’s shortsighted. How can Democrats steer Congress toward constructive reform without a proposal of their own? And how can the Democratic Party rebuild its own credibility on economic issues if it has no vision on tax policy?
For Americans, and for the viability of their own party, Democrats need to offer a progressive road map for tax reform that clearly spells out what they would change in our existing tax laws, and why.”
The problem is, they can’t. It’s one thing to fudge the truth to paint any GOP tax reform plan as a sop to wealthy taxpayers, but it’s quite another to pull back the curtain on their own politically untenable ideas. The fact is that paying for their progressive agenda can’t be done without significant, if not crippling, tax hikes on the middle class. As European social welfare states have learned, there simply isn’t enough money to squeeze out of the upper tax brackets and so the middle-class is next in line.
Before Democrats throw stones at Republicans’ transformational reform plan, they should at least recognize the glass house they live in.