Conservative Henry Olsen writes, “Republicans push tax plans that overwhelmingly benefit their donor and executive class,” even though traditional right-wingers (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example) lost with a trickle-down, anti-government message.
Olsen observes: “The traditional Republican policy agenda is a political zombie, a relic that once served our nation well but is out of touch with what Americans want today. It doesn’t have to be this way. (President Donald) Trump and some of his supporters had good ideas for a reformed Republican Party that fuses conservative and populist elements into an alloy stronger than either on its own.”
There is a smart way and a not-so-smart way to adopt populist themes. The not-so-smart way would be to fan the flames of xenophobia, create havoc with international trade wars and cut legal immigration, as Sen. Tom Cotton wants to do. That makes for rotten policy, and an emotional backlash, as we saw in the Virginia elections this month.
The smart way is to adopt tax, health care and job policies aimed at boosting middle- and lower-class incomes and promoting upward mobility.
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On taxes, Olsen would like to see personal exemptions restored and the child tax credit refundable against payroll taxes, with smaller cuts for corporations and no cut for wealthy individuals. (I’ve supported a reduction in the payroll tax, which is akin to Olsen’s plan.) In addition, expansion of the earned income tax credit to spur work should be a no-brainer.
“In general, higher income households receive larger average tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income, with the largest cuts as a share of income going to taxpayers in the 95th to 99th percentiles of the income distribution. On average in 2027, taxes would rise modestly for the lowest-income group, change little for middle-income groups, and decrease for higher-income groups.”
No tax bill is preferable to that tax bill, which will drag down the economy with a pile of new debt.
As for health care, Americans have let us know they want Medicaid to remain intact, protection for preexisting conditions and subsidized coverage for the middle and working classes. Sorry, libertarians, but that means spending more and not less on health care. Entitlement reform needs to be directed at those best able to shoulder the costs of retirement and retiree health care.
On the job front, infrastructure spending, streamlined and reformed job training, enhanced subsidies for those displaced by trade or technological advances (with an eye on enhancing skills and transitioning to new jobs) and financial incentives to relocate to job-producing locales should all be examined.
There is little public support for a libertarian approach to economic and health care issues. Republicans will get run over and continue to lose on one legislative battle after another if they continue to insist on you’re-on-your-own policies. We shouldn’t be shedding revenue through big tax cuts at a time we recognize that the middle and working classes need more assistance with health care, job training, college payments, and more. Tax reform, not tax cuts, should be the current focus. Virtually everything in the populist GOP agenda Olsen favors would be acceptable to — even welcomed by — a great many Democrats.
Conversely, if Republicans don’t drop their obsession with helping the rich and corporations and begin to focus on the needs of those Trump voters, Democrats surely will — either by these moderate approaches or by vastly more radical schemes.