There are no real “reformers” in the GOP

There’s a lot of chatter this morning about the forceful speech Governor Bobby Jindal has delivered to the Republican National Committee on the future of the GOP — partly because he’s a possible contender for 2016, and partly because the GOP’s “soul searching” about the way forward continues.

The speech was directed towards conservatives (the Washington Examiner called it “dynamic”), assuring listeners that Jindal won’t compromise conservative values: “I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.”

It also positioned Jindal as a reform-minded outsider: “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” Jindal said. “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

But there’s just little in the way of “reform” here — after all, he has no interest in actually moderating the party’s conservatism. This highlights a larger problem: There aren’t any real “reformers” in the GOP.

Jindal himself embodies the same right-wing policies that sank Mitt Romney and damaged the GOP’s appeal to middle and working-class Americans. Under Jindal, for instance, Louisiana has made deep cuts to public services, slashing millions in spending from education and health care. Jindal has proposed a tax regime that goes far beyond the Ryan plan in its regressiveness. The Louisiana governor wants to abolish corporate and income taxes in his state, providing a huge windfall for wealthy, entrenched interests — corporate and income taxes account for more than half of Louisiana’s annual revenue.

The only other way to make up for this lost revenue is to raise sales taxes, which fall hardest on poor and working-class Americans, who consume a larger share of their income than their higher-income counterparts. For Louisiana to close the revenue hole, explains the Tax Policy Center, it will have to more than double its sales taxes, from the current joint (state and local) rate of 8.86 percent to a far higher 17.72 percent. And if the state wants to maintain its sales tax exemptions on groceries and other necessities, it will have to raise that number even higher. “For households that don’t pay income taxes and save little or no income,” writes the Tax Policy Center, “this amounts to close to a 4 percentage point drop in after-tax income.”

The fact of the matter is there are no real reformers among the leadership class of the Republican Party. Not Bobby Jindal. Not Marco Rubio (who, despite his feints in the direction of immigration reform, is hewing to the NRA line on guns). And not Paul Ryan (who will soon be submitting a budget that supposedly wipes away the deficit in 10 years, with no new revenues, which would require savage and deep cuts to government programs that help the poor and elderly). At most, these leaders offer a whitewash: Underneath all the new rhetoric of change and inclusiveness lurk the same unpopular policies and priorities skewed in favor of the rich and against the middle class and poor.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.

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