Republicans Are Building Themselves a Political Trap with ‘Tax Reform’


Given how this year has unfolded, we should not underestimate Republicans’ ability to snatch legislative defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, it looks like Republicans will get their prized ‘tax reform’. Yes, the bill is horrendous policy on numerous fronts. But don’t ignore the fact that Republicans appear to be building a perilous trap for themselves to fall into. Yes, they’re jamming it through before anyone can get a good look at what’s in it. Even they don’t know what’s in it. But remember, they and we will have all 2018 to find out.

Let’s walk through this.

Republicans have not held any hearings on this legislation. They do not even have an actual text of the legislation. To keep the process moving forward they’ve disregarded basically all the technical analyses of the legislation. They’ve determinedly put their fingers in their ears when there’s any mention of the bad outcomes we know about pretty clearly in advance – like a big tax increase for most families in a slew of blue states which still have a lot of Republican representatives.

Consider just one example: Pennsylvania. It’s high on the list of states hit hardest by ending or dramatically reducing the deduction for state and local taxes. Pennsylvania’s House delegation currently has 12 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Even after Trump pulled off a very narrow victory in 2016, it is at most a purple state with a disproportionately high number of Republican representatives to Republican voters. That means there are a lot of seats to lose.

Those are the known dangers which Republicans are trying to avoid discussing to keep up their momentum. The unknowns are just as important. We shouldn’t be blessing this monstrosity with the label of “tax reform”, which it’s clearly not. But it is also not a simple tax cut. Unlike the fairly straightforward cuts in marginal rates that George W. Bush got through Congress in 2001, this bill will make massive changes to the structure of the tax system. That is why you really want to analyze closely what’s in the bill and get a lot of technical input on how it is going to act in the wild. Any big piece of legislation with so many moving parts will have unpredictable consequences, even more so if you make close to zero effort to predict them.

Right now it looks like Republicans are having the last laugh putting their metaphorical fingers in their ears and yelling “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you” as people point out all the terrible effects of this bill. But it’s not like that vetting and public discussion and analysis won’t happen. It will just happen with a lot more time after it’s law and Republicans have irretrievably lashed their political fates to it.

They are in the midst of hitching their political fortunes to a bill even they don’t know the contents or the consequences of. A lot of those will be bad for a majority of the population. Even now the bill is quite unpopular, with only about 1/3 of the public supporting it. Most see the bill as an effort to help the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. That’s the prism people will view it through as we learn the details. That’s a very treacherous place to be for the in party going into what looks to be a tough midterm election.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a great outcome. It’s a terrible outcome. Everyone who is calling and making noise trying to prevent it should give it every ounce of effort. It’s terrible. It will hurt the whole country. But these political consequences are just as clear.


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of