Is the tax reform glass half-full or half-empty? As the day of reckoning approaches, what exactly is the state of the Republican effort to pass the most sweeping changes to America’s tax laws in over three decades?
Remarkably, optimism and pessimism abound in seemingly equal measure as the Senate works towards a vote – which could be as early as the end of this week. Optimists note a unity, clarity, and confidence in the GOP writ large that was missing in the healthcare reform debate. But pessimists cite the presence of three Senators who are sworn enemies of the President of their own party – all lame ducks with nothing to lose and fully aware that their votes alone may well determine the outcome.
NEVERTRUMP TRIO HOLDS THE KEY
With Democrats determined to vote as a bloc against reform and 46 of the 52 GOP Senators almost certainly supporting it, the votes of NeverTrump Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are likely to determine whether this legislation in the upper chamber can stagger over the finish line. Flake and Corker quit their reelection races amid sinking poll numbers, and McCain is in just the first year of his sixth six-year term as he battles a deadly form of brain cancer.
These three lame ducks have made clear the disdain they have for not only the president, but what they view as the party’s capitulation to him and the Bannon-ization of the previously flaccid GOP. Or perhaps they are just bitter that their brand of republicanism was so overwhelmingly repudiated by GOP voters in 2016. But either way, they still wield sufficient power to obstruct – remember it was the vote of the transparently vindictive McCain which killed the latest GOP healthcare reform bill.
Would you want to rely on crucial support from politicians who have publicly and repeatedly attacked and undermined you – and will pay no price for their obstruction? Me neither.
WHAT IS THE END GAME?
The best hope here is that this trio views this more as a matter of congressional honor than a potential win for the president. But the best guess here is that McCain will not only oppose the bill – and all others supported by a president he despises – but will proselytize, among others, his apprentice Sen. Flake, who has learned at the feet of the master how to defy his own party.
To make matters worse, the elite media has been promoting and undergirding the “principled opposition” of this trio of nevertrumpers. They have been the focus of most discussions and are frequently interviewed by CNN, MSNBC, Washington Post et al. It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in Washington is between John McCain and a camera, and McCain’s tele-revenge against Donald Trump’s degradation of his hero status over two years ago appears to know no bounds.
So let’s boil it down to plain-speak. Do these three Senators care more about their country or their hatred for Trump? All three have campaigned and won their seats as conservatives. All three have claimed throughout their political careers to favor lower taxes. All three have claimed the mantle of free-market advocates. But now they would vote no on the first significant tax reform since Ronald Reagan was in the White House? This trio of self-proclaimed conservatives would vote with Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Barbara Boxer and the rest of the intransigent left to sustain the current disgraceful tax code?
At the same time, there are four other GOP Senators who have objections and have yet to offer their support. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are the most liberal Republicans in the Senate and are under pressure from their moderate constituencies. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and James Lankford (R-OK) want a better break for small businesses, but appear likely to work through their objections.
GOP ON TRIAL
But just as remarkable as the split between optimists and pessimists on tax reform is the degree to which the fortunes of the Republican party hang on the outcome of this single legislative effort. The GOP is already in a defensive crouch after their repeated and well-chronicled failures to repeal and replace Obamacare – a promise they hocked for seven years. Admittedly, puzzling public polls have concluded that the nation somehow opposes a bill which lowers taxes across the board (though not for all in the long run) and allows 95% of tax filers to fill out their return on a postcard. These same polls show little enthusiasm for the most radical part of reform which incentivizes businesses big and small to create jobs, return capital currently stashed overseas and almost certainly stimulate greater economic growth. It’s hard to understand how a nation which would roll the dice on Donald Trump would oppose exactly the sort of measure which was central to his campaign.
It may well be that Americans see or hear the words “corporate tax reduction” – which is undoubtedly the heart of this tax reform bill – and given the demonization of business by the left and their allies in the establishment media, view this as little more than a tax break for rich corporations which will produce little benefit for ordinary Americans. In reality, 75% of new jobs in this country are created by small businesses, which would certainly receive more favorable treatment in this reform than in current law, the question now being only a matter of degree.
In the end, despite this reported public opposition, there is little doubt that passing a tax reform package would at the very least remove some or most of the tarnish on the Republicans’ image as either liars who promise big things and never deliver, or cowards who back down at the first sign of trouble. Conversely, failure to close the deal would provide an understandable basis for voters to strip the GOP of the power in Congress they granted it in last year’s historic election.
And it all depends on a trio of Senators who are on the way out, who must decide if they want their legacy to revolve around putting their personal issues aside and casting the deciding votes for a historic legislative achievement or dooming their own party to an almost certain loss of power in 2018 and beyond.