If You’re Against the Tax Plan, You’re a) in the Majority, and b) Not a Congressional Republican

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If You’re Against the Tax Plan, You’re a) in the Majority, and b) Not a Congressional Republican

"Simply put, imagine a president supported by a party that actually wanted to help the people who need help. Not pretending to help them, not lying about helping them, but actually helping them."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Let me give you a sense of how unpopular the Trump/GOP tax plan is with the public. The website fivethirtyeight.com features a result showing that this plan polls worse than two previous plans to raise taxes. From the 538 article by Harry Enten:

About a third of voters currently support the Republican tax reform package, according to an average of five surveys released this month. In a Quinnipiac University survey, just 25 percent of voters approved of the plan. Surveys from ABC News/Washington PostCNNMorning Consult and YouGov put approval of the plan slightly higher, but all are still at 36 percent or lower. Meanwhile, an average of the five polls puts opposition at 46 percent.

Here’s what I think is going on. Most people recognize this as the old trickle-down economics snake-oil sales job they’ve been hearing about since Reagan. You simply can’t find someone with a whit of common sense, and who’s not being paid to believe otherwise, who will buy the story that the best way to help them is to give corporations a $2 trillion tax cut over the next decade.

Then there are the facts of the case. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed today that the Senate version of the tax bill will “directly benefit all Americans.” No, it won’t. As my colleague Chye-Ching Huang shows, using data from the nonpartisan scorekeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation:

In 2025, when all the bill’s individual income tax provisions are in place, about 79 million households with incomes below $200,000 — or roughly 46 percent of households with incomes below $200,000 — would either lose or gain little from the Senate bill:

  • 22.5 million households with incomes below $200,000 would face tax increases, including 16.5 million facing tax increases of more than $500 apiece.
  • 56.4 million households with incomes below $200,000 would face tax changes (increases or cuts) of less than $100 apiece.

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of millionaire households would get a tax cut.

In 2027, the picture gets even worse because at the end of 2025, almost all of the bill’s individual income tax provisions — including all of its individual income tax cuts — would expire [Note: the corporate cuts and estate-tax repeal live on — JB]. About 149.8 million households with incomes below $200,000 — or roughly 70 percent of households with incomes below $200,000 — would either lose or gain little from the Senate bill.

Even right out of the gate, in 2018, some families get dinged hard by the plan, according to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal. They run the plan for a family in California that gets hit by the loss of the state and local tax exemption, and one in Iowa with high medical expenses (as this deduction is repealed in the House plan). The 2018 liability for the California family goes up $720; for the Iowa family, it goes up a whopping $2,600.

In other words, the senators selling this plan have no clue as to how it will really work.

Then there’s the part of the debate around growth effects. The administration continues to claim that the plan will generate more than enough growth to pay for itself, despite not even juiced-up models generating that result. New analysis by the JCT finds that after accounting for growth effects, the plan still raises our public debt by $1 trillion.

I guarantee you this: When this red ink starts pouring in, the trickle-downers will bemoan the higher deficits, rend their garments and feign surprise that their growth estimates were wrong. And after this short bit of drama, they’ll once again remember that they’re against debt and deficits, and insist that spending cuts must ensue. These cuts will target Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and safety-net programs.

In other words, the play here is to transfer resources to their donor base and shrink the government. As far as what the public thinks about that, who cares? Their funders have been crystal clear on this point: Don’t call us until you post a win on tax cuts.

Isn’t this a bereft political strategy? How could it be politically safe to vote for a supposed tax cut plan that people like less than a tax hike?

I have no idea of the answer to that question, but I wonder whether part of what’s going on with the politics here is a symptom of the post-fact-based era in which we’re living. Tables and figures of the type cited above don’t matter. Who really wins and loses is irrelevant. So is the price tag and the deficit effects (although the voting isn’t over and maybe they’ll surprise us; the faux deficit hawks — I call them deficit chicken hawks — in the Senate are particularly hypocritical). If facts don’t matter, you can say anything. That’s what the president does, and it’s working for him, right?

For now, maybe. But I take more than a little solace from the public opinion about this terribly nonrepresentative plan, and it does not seem to me much of a reach to believe that people’s hard-nosed disdain for this plan could be channeled into support for an agenda around taxes, jobs, wages, college, health care, housing, education and infrastructure that truly represented their needs and wants.

Simply put, imagine a president supported by a party that actually wanted to help the people who need help. Not pretending to help them, not lying about helping them, but actually helping them. Now that would be something to see.

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and previously served as an economic advisor to the Obama administration.

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