The end of Lynn Jenkins’ career in Congress is nearing. Once seen as a possible contender for Kansas governor in 2018, she has already said she plans to retire from public service when her term ends.
Unless something changes, she’ll never again have to face questions on the campaign trail about why she’s said what she’s said, why she’s done what she’s done.
But in recent weeks she has found herself on the defense as she tries to distance her opportunity to pass federal tax reform legislation from the Kansas tax cuts that have defined Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure.
“This is no easy task,” said Jenkins, a Topeka Republican. “There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in 31 years. This is very complicated. Most people don’t understand tax law and all the intricacies.”
The GOP congresswoman from Kansas’ 2nd District serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which helped write the tax-cut legislation that has stirred attention and controversy for the Republican-dominated Congress.
While the Senate works on its own version, the House is expected to vote on its tax bill Thursday.
“I’ll feel better in 24 hours,” Jenkins said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Because I think we’re going to get it through the House.”
Her Twitter account has lashed back at critics of the GOP tax plan, including responding to state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican who frequently criticized Brownback’s cuts.
Jenkins has tweeted that as a CPA, she’s long seen reforming the tax code as a priority. She’s said it is “imperative we get this accomplished.”
“This bill is a tax break for all,” her account tweeted Wednesday morning. “For example, a middle-income family of four in (her district) would get an average tax cut of $1,823.”
But an analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that some people’s taxes would go up.
“Not all taxpayers would receive a tax cut under this proposal,” the analysis said. “At least 7 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes under the proposal in 2018, and at least 24 percent of taxpayers would pay more in 2027.”
Despite Jenkins’ best efforts, the tax-cut effort hasn’t been able to shed the tattered legacy of Brownback’s cuts in Kansas.
“We’ve kind of become, I think, the poster child for what can go wrong with that kind of legislation,” said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.
Brownback’s 2012 cuts slashed income tax rates and created an exemption for the owners of limited liability companies and other pass-through businesses.
The promised job growth never came. Revenue shortfalls and budget issues followed instead. The GOP-dominated state Legislature largely rolled back the tax cuts earlier this year, over Brownback’s objections and veto.
Kansas comparisons have dogged the GOP tax plan for months, including last April when Brownback welcomed President Donald Trump’s tax proposal.
Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican who chairs the Kansas House Tax Committee, said the state’s experience with the pass-throughs did give him pause.
“Could the actual implementation of that wind up driving bigger changes than we anticipate?” Johnson said when asked about the House bill. “And I think that that is possible and it’s enough that it would be a concern for me.”
But Jenkins continued to say the Kansas tax cuts weren’t a fitting comparison to the work being done in Washington.
“You see these reports and you don’t even know where to start,” she said. “Probably the best place to start is that the Kansas economy is a long way from being the world leader, the economy that is a driving force internationally. A federal government economy is not a small state economy.”
She said she doesn’t even know where to start with the differences.
“I guess the only thing similar that I see between the two is they both were called tax reform,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said Thursday’s vote is the first step. She called for Kansans to let her know what they’d like to see changed.
She also shook off the notion that the effort to pass tax cuts has moved too quickly.
“I just spent seven years of my life doing it,” Jenkins said. “Sure feels like a long, long road to me.”