Mick Mulvaney, who may soon take over a consumer protection agency he wants to eliminate, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning to defend the massive tax cuts wending their way through Congress. His primary tactic: confuse.
Jake Tapper read from a report put out by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, finding that while the very rich will see a more or less permanent tax cut under the Senate bill, those who make less than $30,000 will be hit with tax increases by 2021, and those making between $30,000 and $75,000 would be similarly afflicted by 2027.
In response to this point, Mulvaney insisted, “The president is not going to sign a bill that raises taxes on the middle class, period,” a definitive statement that may well come back to haunt him.
Ironically, the Senate bill’s biggest tax hike on low-income Americans comes in the form of a tax repeal: The legislation would eliminate Obamacare’s individual mandate, the tax penalty that Americans must pay if they choose to go without health insurance. This would lead millions of low-income people to forgo insurance. And since such Americans actually qualify for generous tax credits if they enroll in Obamacare, their overall tax bills (and, in many cases, medical expenses) would go up.
Now, as Mulvaney argued Sunday, these people wouldn’t be losing their tax benefits, so much as deciding that they’d rather be uninsured than collect them. But the bill’s tax hikes on the broader middle class would be far less voluntary: On order to comply with deficit-restricting budget-reconciliation rules, Senate Republicans have opted to sunset their bill’s middle-class tax cuts in 2026, meaning that the legislation will raise taxes on people earning less than $75,000 at that point — unless Congress makes the cuts permanent. This could happen; when the 2001 Bush tax cuts were set to expire, President Obama signed bills enshrining their cuts for non-wealthy Americans into law.
But that prospect would be unwelcome news to deficit hawks like Tennessee senator Bob Corker, who has promised, very publicly, to withhold his vote for the tax bill if it raises the deficit at all.
So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mulvaney must, in effect, promise certain senators that the middle class will eventually get screwed, while winking to other senators — and, of course, voters — that they don’t really mean what they say.
Will this fairly blatant two-facedness work? It all depends on whether a few lawmakers’ ideological consistency trumps the prospect of a legislative “win” lusted after by mega-rich donors. So: Yeah, there’s a good chance it will.