Flies in Trump’s Ointment
By: Scott Jennings
Grassroots Republicans have no idea how close the GOP is to another profoundly disappointing policy collapse in Washington: failing to enact tax reform. Once again, the Republican Party finds its ability to fulfill a longstanding campaign promise in the hands of three Senators: Rand Paul of Kentucky, John McCain of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine.
All three have, heretofore, been flies in Trump’s ointment. Will they do it again on taxes?
The Republican tax reform plan is pro-worker and pro-growth. Before it can move, however, the Senate must take another vote that unlocks the door: passing a budget resolution. If all three flies descend and vote no on the budget, tax reform dies with it.
On Friday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming released the GOP’s budget blueprint, which reduces federal spending by $5.1 trillion, provides a surplus of $197 billion over ten years, and protects Social Security. As reported by Politico, passing the budget “sets up the special power of budget reconciliation GOP leaders can use to advance tax reform with just a 50-vote threshold in the Senate.”
In other words, Republicans can cut everyone’s taxes even if no Democrats want to.
If this were a baseball game, the budget vote is the set-up relief pitcher that needs to get the team through the 8th inning to make way for tax reform, the closer. And, as baseball fans know, the set-up man can sometimes blow it before the closer ever gets a chance. This is the predicament Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finds himself in yet again – corralling 50 of 52 Republicans so Vice-President Mike Pence can break the tie.
Manager McConnell’s bullpen has been shaky this season, to say the least; there are rumblings that the same Senators who tanked the most recent Obamacare repeal effort are not yet on board with the tax reform budget.
Paul has quizzically opposed or outright attacked President Trump’s agenda on several fronts. In January, he voted against the budget resolution to repeal Obamacare, on which Trump and virtually every Republican campaigned. Paul and Trump have since clashed bitterly over Obamacare repeal policy and tactics.
Paul called the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to fire cruise missiles into Syria “inappropriate,” unconstitutional, and not in our “national interest.” He voted against Trump’s debt ceiling deal that quickly moved billions in recovery money to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Paul even opposed the president’s nominees to lead our nation’s intelligence services.
While McConnell (who votes with Trump 96 percent of the time) toils to enact the Trump agenda, Paul (whose “Trump Score” is 87 percent), McCain (83 percent), and Collins (80 percent) have become real and present dangers to Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises.
It is easy to see why McCain and Collins are defecting. The Arizona warhorse has long cultivated and savored his reputation as a maverick (Bush 43 loyalists still smart over his opposition to W’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003), and Trump has repeatedly insulted him. Collins, who has voted with Trump less than any Senate Republican, is the most liberal member of her conference and mulling a gubernatorial run back home. She’s predictably unreliable.
For Paul, a libertarian-conservative who has long advocated for simpler tax laws and lower rates, opposing the tax reform budget resolution would be truly dumbfounding. Trump is overwhelmingly popular in the Bluegrass, where he scored 62.5 percent in the general election and even won the state’s primary caucus, a contest devised by Paul himself.
While Arizona and Maine were narrow wins for Trump and Clinton, respectively, Kentucky wasn’t close, and her voters expect their federal delegation to help the president succeed.
Even the usually incalcitrant House Freedom Caucus “has told leadership it will vote for the budget, even though they hardly love it, because they want to get moving on tax cuts,” according to reporting by Axios. For once, the so-called establishment and their tormentors are aligned on a mission critical issue. Paul should join them, even if the Senate budget isn’t exactly the way he would have written it.
There are good reasons to reform the tax code, not in the least of which is drastically simplifying a 10-million-word productivity-killing monstrosity. It costs the American economy 8.9 billion compliance man-hours and $400 billion annually, and restrains American businesses—large and small—from investing in workers and new jobs.
Reducing the corporate tax rate—now the highest in the developed world—will infuse money into small businesses, allowing them to pay higher wages. As policy analyst Adam Michel from the Heritage Foundation wrote: “Most of the recent economic research shows that workers actually pay a majority of the corporate income tax in the form of lower wages…U.S. labor bears more than 70 percent of the corporate income tax.”
A vote against the budget is, quite simply, a vote to stop President Trump from achieving a longstanding Republican objective favored by 89 percent of Americans, per the latest Harvard-Harris poll. The political consequences of failure will come for the Republican congressional majority in the 2018 midterm and for President Trump in 2020 before they come for Paul, who doesn’t appear on the ballot again until 2022.
But come they will, for all Republicans in Washington, if the flies continue to buzz around the president’s head.