Too Soon

Can the Democrats Stop This Tax ‘Reform’ Scam?

In 1986, it took 16 months to pass a bill. House Republicans want to pass one in 14 days as the party that drove the breakdown of our government tries to take advantage of it.


Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Stop thinking about Roy Moore for a few minutes, will you, and turn your attention to Capitol Hill. The House is planning on voting on tax policy—I shall not write the word “reform” after the word “tax” in this grim and deceitful context—Thursday. If House GOP leaders are planning to schedule a vote, that means they think they have 218 votes. And let this sink in: They have not held one single hearing on this 429-page bill, the most sweeping tax overhaul in three decades.

The simultaneous shamefulness and shame-less-ness of this is staggering. You want to cry over something? Read this New York Times story from 1986. It’s a chronology of how the big tax bill of that year got done. You know how long it took?

There are two ways to answer the question. President Ronald Reagan first called for major tax changes in his State of the Union address in 1984. The law finally passed in late September 1986. So that’s one answer: two-and-a-half years. But it was late May 1985 when Reagan formally introduced a bill. So that’s probably a fairer answer: 16 months.

What happened after Reagan offered the bill was that the respective committees did their jobs. The House Ways and Means Committee held hearings for months and took testimony from 450 witnesses. The Senate Finance Committee held a full month of hearings. Then both committees spent months drafting bills. There were several points at which the whole effort looked like it was going to die, because that’s what the legislative process does sometimes to a complicated bill. It took a ton of dialogue and compromise, and 16 long months, to get it done.

This year? The House GOP unveiled its bill this month. Nov. 2. And now they want to pass it on the 16th. This is not because the current House leadership is so much more efficient than the 1980s version. No, it’s obviously because they want to pass this bill before people wake up to the act of thievery that it is. Sixteen months versus 14 days says everything you need to know about a) how our norms of governance have broken down and b) how one side, the side that largely drove that breakdown, is now trying to take advantage of it.

Can they be stopped? Honestly, I’m not sure. Democrats don’t have the votes, of course. So as with the attempted Obamacare repeal, some Republicans will have to vote with the Democrats. In the House, some will—Republican members from the high-tax states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois will face heavy pressure to vote because the bill reduces the ability to deduct state and local taxes (the House bill lowers the deduction; the Senate bill eliminates it entirely). There are 34 Republicans from those states, though not all are highly vulnerable. Paul Ryan can afford to lose 22 Republicans and still get the 218 votes needed to pass the bill. People I’ve spoken to mostly think at this point, the Republicans will get their 218. We’ll start finding out today. If you hear them start making noises about delaying the vote, you’ll know they smell trouble.

But if they pass it, action moves to the Senate. Five senators are thought to be possible “no” votes: Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nebraska, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and, for his own separate reasons, Rand Paul of Kentucky.

And now, let’s go ahead and think about Roy Moore for a minute. Mitch McConnell is desperate to get this passed before the Alabama special election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12.

Why? Because if Moore remains the GOP candidate, both possible outcomes are awful for McConnell. If Jones wins, wavering Republicans run for the hills—they’ll be terrified of what it portends for 2018 that a Democrat was able to win a Senate election in Alabama. And if Moore wins, that’s even worse, because then the Republicans will have welcomed a pedophile to the United States Senate, and the Republicans will be about as popular as, well, pedophilia.

So the job of the Democrats, and the liberal-leaning grassroots groups trying to whip up opposition to this effort, is straightforward: Make this tax bill as unpopular as Obamacare repeal.

It’s not there yet. It’s not popular. Have a look at these three polls, for example. Support for the Republican efforts is around 30 percent. But Obamacare repeal was below 20 percent. And the job between now and the time of the Senate vote is to move the bill down 10 points. At 30 percent, it can probably still pass—that’s a critical mass of conservatives. But at 20, it probably can’t pass.

Americans for Tax Fairness and American Bridge, among other groups, are trying. Americans for Tax Fairness is emphasizing the unpopular cuts for corporations and the wealthy, the possible elimination of state and local deductions, and the fact that these tax cuts will be paid for by things like $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts. American Bridge is focusing on the smaller but morally abominable changes like the elimination of the tax deduction for teachers who buy school supplies. Imagine that one! This, while the budget would cut $10 billion from various public education programs. Says American Bridge’s Andrew Bates: “Trump and House Republicans wrote their tax scam behind closed doors because they wanted to stop the public from knowing the truth, but these numbers aren’t disputable: this plan breaks their promises, raises taxes on 1 in 2 middle class Americans, and kills tax benefits that hardworking families need—all to cut taxes for the richest Americans, hedge fund managers, and the biggest corporations.”

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They’re being outspent by the other side. Liberal funders aren’t greeting this with the urgency they attached to Obamacare repeal. Well, it’s urgent all right, and they’d better. If Republicans pass this, they’ll have a win; they’ll appear to people who don’t know any better as if they’re functional. The negative impacts of this mess won’t become apparent for years. Between now and next November, all people will see is that the GOP delivered on a promise. It will help them make the case that they deserve to keep their majorities.

But if it fails, and if Doug Jones wins into the bargain, the logic of a 2018 bloodbath will be in place. The House may pass this monstrosity in 14 days, but it’s the job of Democrats to make them pay for years.