In the wake of their failure to repeal Obamacare, Republicans embraced tax cuts as their opportunity for redemption. To the eternal party conviction that tax cuts would unleash wild prosperity, Republicans added the faith that it offered them political salvation. A signed tax cut would be “the difference between succeeding as a party and failing,” announced Senator Lindsey Graham. “It’s the difference between having a majority in 2018 or losing it. It’s the difference between one term and two.”
Americans must be awfully eager for a big tax-cut plan! In reality, there is no evidence of this whatsoever. The Republican plan is unpopular, and likely to become more so over time.
A recent ABC/Washington Post poll shows where public opinions stand at the outset of the tax-cut debate. And 28 percent of the public supports Trump’s tax plan, against 44 percent opposing it. This does not reflect the barely revealed details about the proposal, but it is a useful baseline for gauging what Americans believe about Trump and his plans for taxes.
But that is only the beginning of the bad news. The poll finds that Americans support cutting taxes for middle- and lower-income Americans by large margins (78-19), and opposes cutting taxes for the affluent by nearly as wide a margin (33-62). The poll doesn’t even ask about a policy that would combine lower taxes for the rich with higher taxes for the middle-class — perhaps because the results would be so lopsided, or maybe because they worry voters would get so angry, they would punch the pollsters in the face.
Alas, this heinously unpopular outcome seems to be what the GOP policy is likely to deliver. Various iterations of the Republican plan have described ambitions for several trillion dollars’ worth of cuts for businesses and high-income earners. However, Republicans in Congress were only able to agree on a budget authorizing $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts over the next decade. That is not a trifling sum — adjusted for inflation, it is about four-fifths the size of the 2001 Bush tax cut. But it is a small fraction of the size of the tax cuts Republicans wish to fit into it.
While gimmicks could help close some of the gap, getting anywhere close to the level of tax cuts for the rich they desire will involve raising tax rates on the non-rich. Some analysts believe the still-cursory details of the Republican plan released today would increase net taxes on many middle-class families.
This stark reality isn’t necessarily going to prevent Republicans from passing such a bill. But the reason is not that they have some political need to pass one. You don’t help your party win an election by passing a starkly unpopular law. If Republicans pass their tax cut, it will be because the party’s ideological cadres and donor base believe it justifies the political cost.