The Buzz

Will Kevin Yoder’s tax vote hurt him in 2018?

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder

Every Republican congressional member from Kansas voted for massive federal tax cuts this week only six months after the state repealed a tax cut plan with some similar elements.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, could face scrutiny over his vote throughout 2018 as he looks to stave off a re-election challenge in a district that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the last election.

The bill has been widely compared to Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, which were repealed in June in the face of a budget crisis. Although the bill is not identical to Brownback’s plan, it does include similar ideas, including a tax cut for owners of limited liability companies and other pass-through businesses.

Kansas completely exempted pass-through business income from January 2013 until July of this year. The federal tax bill will create a 20 percent deduction for pass-through income, which critics say will disproportionately benefit the rich and enable tax avoidance.

Yoder said in a statement Tuesday that the tax bill would give relief to “Americans currently living paycheck to paycheck who have been suffering from a stifling economic anxiety and little to no wage growth over the last eight years.”

“Today’s vote was a vote for every family, every single mom, every entrepreneur, and every student fighting to climb up the economic ladder and achieve the American Dream,” he said after the U.S. House passed the bill.

The House will hold an additional vote on the bill Wednesday because of a procedural hiccup, but after the U.S. Senate vote early Wednesday morning, there is little doubt that the bill will head to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Democrats seeking to challenge Yoder in 2018 blasted his vote at a Tuesday night forum in Lenexa hosted by the Johnson County Young Democrats.

Brent Welder, a labor lawyer from Bonner Springs, called the bill an unprecedented giveaway to corporations. Other candidates offered similar criticism.

“This tax bill I see as a huge rip-off,” said Chris Haulmark, a deaf rights activist from Johnson County seeking the seat in Kansas’ 3rd District. “You have these white old men who are getting rich. It’s not fair.”

The Tax Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that 80 percent of households will experience a tax cut in 2018, while only 5 percent will pay more. However, the center also found that more than half of households will be paying more in taxes by 2027 than under current law, while the wealthiest 1 percent of households would experience more than 80 percent of the tax savings.

Tom Niermann, a Prairie Village teacher, said the federal government could have provided free college tuition for two-year degrees with less money than it’ll forgo on the $1.5 trillion tax cut.

“I don’t think there is anything salvageable from this tax bill,” Niermann said.

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said polling data show that the tax bill is generally unpopular but that most Americans don’t have a firm grasp on its contents.

“Here in Kansas you have that narrative that this is just the Brownback tax cut gone national, which could resonate with some voters. … That’s not something, I think, that is going to matter in any other state,” Miller said, noting the challenge Yoder will have selling the bill.

Johnson County voters ousted some of Brownback’s closest allies in 2016, electing a combination of moderate Republicans and Democrats who proved instrumental in overriding Brownback’s veto this session to enact a tax bill to balance the budget.

“I think in that particular district, linking Yoder to both Brownback and Trump could advantage the Democrats,” Miller said.

Bob Beatty, a political scientist from Washburn University, said Yoder’s tax vote will be “useful to any opponent because they can craft a message or TV ad pointing out the benefits to the wealthy.”

“Tying it to Brownback would also be very useful,” Beatty said. “As an election tool, the name Brownback will be useful for several years simply because he’s at 25 percent approval rating and any smart politician is going to use.”

The debate over state tax policy promises to dominate the race for governor in 2018. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican front runner, wants to bring back the tax cuts, while two of the leading Democratic candidates, House Minority Leader Jim Ward and state Sen. Laura Kelly, played key roles in reversing the tax cuts.

Miller said Yoder will have to reframe his support for the tax cuts “in a more palatable way.” But Miller also said that Democratic candidates could be vulnerable to attacks from the right that they’ll raise taxes, noting that while the district narrowly went to Clinton in 2016, it remains a Republican-leaning district.

“This is not a hard-left Democratic district,” he said.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3