It’s a measure of our low expectations of Congress that the working assumption around Capitol Hill is that the gigantic spending bill will be the “last chance to settle dozens of long-running policy fights.” You see, there won’t be more chances to pass legislation of any consequence. (The Hill reports that “because the spending bill is also the last major piece of legislation likely to pass before the midterms, lawmakers are scrambling to throw in other measures.”)
Wait. It’s only March. They cannot find the time between now and the November elections to put together an infrastructure bill? A fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program? Legislation to protect our electoral system from sabotage or to protect the special counsel from being fired? Apparently not. Their work will be done if they pass the spending bill, they are telling us.
This alone should be reason to throw the Senate and House majorities out of office. No one else in America can tell their boss in April that they are in essence too busy to do their job through Thanksgiving.
What are Republicans planning to run on in November — the two-year mark after President Trump’s election? The tax plan! Well, they tried that in Pennsylvania and apparently got wiped out. They had to drop talk of tax cuts in the final stretch because it was such an ineffective issue.
Steven Rattner observed last week: “When President Trump visited the Pennsylvania-18 Congressional district on Saturday night, he talked at length about the tariffs that he had just imposed on steel but barely mentioned his signature tax cut legislation. That was not a coincidence — the Republican candidate Rick Saccone and affiliated organizations had begun backing away from the tax cuts weeks earlier.” He explained that a month before the election, “the vast preponderance of ads run by Saccone and his supporters mentioned tax reform as a reason to vote for the Republican.” That changed in mid-February, however, when “mentions of the tax bill fell rapidly, hitting zero by last week.” He concluded, “That paralleled a similar shift in public support for the tax bill. Wildly unpopular when it was passed late last year, the tax cut legislation grew in popularity in early 2018, ultimately becoming supported in mid-February by roughly the same percentage of Americans as those who opposed it.” He added, “But then opposition began to increase again. A Quinnipiac poll . . . found that just 36% of registered voters supported the bill, while 50% opposed it.” So now they are going to run on it all over the country?
Moreover, the tax bill has not exactly been a cure-all for the middle class, although the bill supercharged stock buybacks. (CNBC reported: “J.P. Morgan expects companies to dedicate $100 billion generated through tax cuts and resulting stronger earnings plus $200 billion from the repatriation windfall. During the nearly completed fourth-quarter earnings season, companies already have announced a record $151 billion in buybacks.” Tax-cut defenders say that eventually, the stock purchases will result in more capital investment and then higher wages. That’s the theory, but the evidence is thin. (“Unless the trickle-downers can provide evidence of the links in that chain — evidence that can’t possibly be in the data yet — then we’re left with nothing but upward redistribution,” Jared Bernstein has explained. “Remember, 84 percent of the value of the stock market is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households.”)
Consider, too, that the economy as a whole is producing jobs, but we aren’t likely to reach the 3 percent sustained growth that Trump’s treasury secretary kept promising. Bloomberg’s Steve Matthews observed last week:
The U.S. economy is beginning the year with a downshift in growth despite $1.5 trillion in tax cuts signed by President Donald Trump in December.
Unexpectedly weak February retail sales pushed down forecasts for the annualized pace of expansion in the first quarter, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow tracking estimate at 1.8 percent on Friday, cut from 2.5 percent a week earlier. Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Moody’s Analytics all lowered their estimates to 2 percent or less this week.
While strong job gains, rising industrial production and elevated consumer confidence indicate underlying health, the data as a whole suggest the tax cuts haven’t had a major impact yet.
In short, if Congress does virtually nothing but the tax cuts, ordinary voters — aside from feeling chagrin at Republicans’ unwillingness to check an increasingly out-of-control president — might conclude that its members have failed to address many of the issues near and dear to them, including a big infrastructure bill, reasonable gun control, relief from rising health-care costs and immigration. Republicans might consider putting their noses to the grindstone and solving some of these big issues. If not, they’ll hand Democrats the powerful argument that they’d get a lot more done than Republicans have. It wouldn’t be hard.