Moments after the Republican tax overhaul passed in the Senate in mid-December, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that if he and his party members couldn’t sell the cuts to the American people, they should find “another line of work.”
Four months later, some GOP lawmakers who hoped the law would save them from defeat may have to start dusting off their resumes.
Some recent polls show that the majority of Americans still don’t support the tax law, despite an uptick in sentiment since the end of 2017. And a special House election in a conservative district of Pennsylvania in March delivered an upset victory to the Democratic candidate, who’d framed the tax cuts as a giveaway to the wealthy.
“If they can’t run on tax cuts in a district Trump won by 20 [points] and win, where can they run on tax cuts and win?” said David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
After most individual taxpayers finish up their returns this week, all eyes will turn to what the tax code revamp means for next year’s filings and beyond. Part of the Republican party’s problem in selling the tax cuts is that the answer is murky for many. Variables like dependents and itemized deductions can complicate the picture, even though most — 65% — will see a tax cut in 2018. And even for voters who do see a cut, whether it’s enough to sway their decisions at the ballot box is far from clear.
“Most middle-class Americans got a little extra money, but it wasn’t life changing,” said Western Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist Mike Mikus. “They’d prefer Social Security and Medicare is protected.”
Every House seat and one-third of those in the Senate are up for grabs in November. For Republicans, promoting the tax overhaul — which is likely to be their only major legislative accomplishment under President Donald Trump by then — is considered crucial to keeping control of Congress.
NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Gallup and Quinnipiac University surveys show that the law started polling better earlier this year, but approval as of March was still below 50 percent. Sentiment was boosted when some companies announced bonus payouts to workers, as well as by bumps in take-home pay after new withholding tables were issued by the Internal Revenue Service. Still, only about a third of respondents have said they noticed an increase in their paychecks, according to surveys by Gallup and CNBC last month.
‘Continue to Brag’
“It will only play well if we continue to remind folks what the benefits are. People started getting more money in their paychecks in February — by November they may not remember that,” said Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas. “We’re going to have to continue to brag on it all year.”
Most voters say taxes aren’t a top concern. Among the issues they selected as most important to them going into the midterm elections, taxes ranked last, with just 8% of respondents choosing it, the Quinnipiac survey showed.
Republican leaders are aggressively touting positive stories of middle-class Americans who have benefited from the tax cuts, and are considering a second phase to make individual changes permanent, as corporate tax cuts are. The aim is to produce camera-ready material for television ads, attacking Democrats for opposing middle-class tax relief.