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On the tax cuts, the information wars have only begun

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WASHINGTON • With one of the deepest tax cuts in U.S. history about to take effect, the long-term verdict on their popularity — and economic sustainability — will begin to take shape in a big way early next year.

In both macro- and micro-measurements, Republicans are staking their legacies and immediate political futures on a strictly partisan bill that, for now, is viewed unfavorably by majorities of Americans.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll taken Dec. 13-15 revealed that 32 percent of respondents thought they and their families will pay more in taxes, and that 66 percent felt that corporations would pay less.

It’s a major political risk for Republicans, and it could be a political boon for Democrats, who have warned that the tax plan will add dangerously to the national debt while favoring the rich.

On Wednesday, an average of polls measuring the “generic” ballot — whether prospective voters want Republicans or Democrats to control Congress — hit a high of 12.5 percentage points for Democrats, according to a RealClearPolitics survey. In political terms, that is the kind of advantage that creates huge political waves.

Republicans think reality will turn that tide when tax cuts show up in paychecks early next year, and that their plan, which was to be celebrated in a White House gathering Wednesday afternoon with President Donald Trump, will be a big spur to the economy and relief to economically pressed families.

That’s why the rate of economic growth, the job and stock markets, and other macro-measurements will also be lagging indicators of whether Republicans can sell this current tax plan as a good thing at the ballot box in congressional elections next year.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer predicted that the tax cuts will be an “anchor around every the ankles of every Republican” and that “if they haven’t learned it yet, they will learn it next November.”

Whichever worldview eventually wins out, one thing is certain: For the second time in less than eight years, Congress has passed on a strictly partisan vote transformative legislation that hugely affects the economy. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, which became unpopular during its rollout but more popular when more and more people benefited from it, passed without a single Republican vote.

No Democrat voted for the GOP tax plan this time; only a dozen Republicans, all in the House, voted against.

You need to look no further than Missouri’s two U.S. senators to see the vastly different worldviews on this legislation and how the two sides will talk about it going forward.

Trump and Republicans are touting the bill as historic and signature as the first year of Trump’s presidency ends; Democrats use terms like “catastrophic” to describe it. Some Democratic members of the House applauded and gave thumbs up when protesters in the House gallery shouted “liars, liars,” and “kill the bill” before being escorted out.

“Our friends on the other side seem to think that the louder they get the more believable they are,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., responding to Democratic claims that benefits will accrue mostly to corporations and the wealthy. “But what is going to happen in those first (pay)checks that come out for January … is that they are going to be bigger than before this bill passed. …

“When they see their check for the first work done next year, sometime in January or early February, it is going to be pretty clear that no matter what people are saying, they have benefited from the tax bill,” Blunt said.

But Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the strict party vote will doom the long-term popularity of the measure, along with what she predicted will be eventual pushes by Republicans to cut safety net programs to help cover a loss of $1 trillion or more in federal revenue that experts say the bill produce over the next 10 years.

“I don’t think there is any question that when you pass major legislation on a party-line vote you are guaranteeing that it become more political than it should be,” she said. McCaskill said she regrets that the 2010 Affordable Care Act became a “political weapon” because it lacked bipartisan support.

“I think we could have had a permanent bipartisan tax-reform bill,” she said. “Now we have a bill that will be very political.”

Its passage, McCaskill said, further demonstrates that the political middle “is on life support.”

The lessons from the Affordable Care Act?

Most claims and predictions made in the wake of major pieces of legislation turn out to be false. PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization, deemed former President Barack Obama’s declaration that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” its political lie of the year in 2013.

PolitiFact studied more than 1,500 claims and predictions about Obamacare, pro and con, and deemed only 11 percent were eventually proven true. More than half were either mostly false, false or they earned the ignoble “pants on fire” designation, a claim so divorced from reality that it’s worse than a falsehood.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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