Democrats are signaling that their strategy on the Republican tax overhaul plan is right out of the GOP’s health care playbook: Criticize relentlessly and do little to help make it better.
“Want to pass this tax bill? Want to hurt the suburbs? Make our day,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, evoking tough-talking movie star Clint Eastwood.
Of course, Democrats are not explicitly saying they’re giving up working with Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress.
“You have to tell us where the secret room is first,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “They’ve written the bill in secret with no input from Democrats. We’ve made it clear a million different ways we want to work with them on it, but they don’t seem to have any interest.”
Democrats witnessed a week of debate this week on the House GOP plan in the Ways and Means Committee, where countless Democratic amendments and ideas were consistently rejected. The committee Thursday sent the bill to the House floor, where it’s due for a vote next week, on a party-line vote.
Democrats expect a similar pattern to unfold in the Senate Finance Committee next week when that panel writes its version of the tax bill.
Republicans are bound to criticize Democrats for not appearing eager to help improve legislation the GOP negotiated behind closed doors. The current Democratic posture, however, is similar to the strategy Republicans employed in 2009 and 2010, as the Democrat-controlled Congress advanced the Affordable Care Act without GOP input.
Republicans’ ultimate decision to offer little or no constructive input, and instead yell from the sidelines, helped them retake the House in 2010. Every Republican voted “no” on final passage on Obamacare legislation that to this day remains disliked by the base.
Sen. Gary Peters, a moderate Michigan Democrat who isn’t up for re-election until 2020, was talking like those Republicans of the past on Thursday.
“If this is a bad bill and I vote against it, I think you get rewarded for that,” he said of the tax legislation
Democrats who are fighting for re-election next year in state President Donald Trump won were more circumspect. On Thursday, a few emphasized their independence and willingness to work with the GOP.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio said he had a proposal to increase the value of earned income and child tax credits, which Trump has praised. One problem, said Brown, was that “Republican leadership is not listening to the president on things he likes.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she would determine on her own if and how she’ll work with Republicans on rewriting the tax code.
“I’m looking at this as an individual senator,” she said. “Will it actually, permanently provide tax relief to the middle class? Or is this a total sop to wealthy people? And that’s all I’m looking at. I could (not) care less what the party line is. I could (not) care less what Chuck Schumer says.”
Ultimately, Democrats’ boycott will only be as successful as the Republicans’ tax overhaul itself. Democrats are counting on winning the messaging wars and the public’s perception that they are the heroes of the middle class — not the GOP.
Democrats might have some leverage. Despite spending the last week touting their “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” as legislation designed to help working men, women and families, House Republicans struggled to stay on message.
Just as the Ways and Means Committee was preparing to adopt its tax bill Thursday, it adopted concessions to quiet protests from the small business community that accused the GOP of shortchanging entrepreneurs.
House Republicans also sought to counter criticism of their bill’s cap on state and local tax deductions, which could hurt homeowners in high-tax areas. The Senate GOP is mulling eliminating deductions entirely, even after a Democrat won the Virginia governor’s race in part by wooing suburbanites.
“It will favor big wealthy corporations, wealthy individuals and do harm or nothing much for the middle class,” Schumer said of the Republican proposals. “That’s not what the American people want.”
There were already signs on Thursday that the strength of the GOP’s narrative had potential for erosion.
“Fundamentally, this is a corporate business tax bill. It’s what it really is,” Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., told McClatchy.
As of Thursday afternoon, he was still undecided on how he would vote when the House bill comes to the floor next week.
Lesley Clark and Emily Cadei of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.