Why has it been said repeatedly that Republicans on Capitol Hill need to show that they can “get things done” when, last October, American voters decided to elect a president with no experience at all in getting things done in politics?
To answer that we can consider a related question: Who is actually demanding the tax overhaul package that Republicans will introduce on Thursday, and what clout do they have?
In August, Fox News conducted a national poll in which they asked respondents how important they thought it was that Congress pass tax reform legislation this year. A plurality of respondents said it was “extremely” or “very” important — but fewer than half.
For our purposes, the important split is on party lines. Nearly half of Republicans said it was “extremely” important; 7-in-10 said “extremely” or “very.”
Granted, that’s support for reform in the abstract. We can contextualize it in several ways.
When asked by Gallup to identify the most important problem in the country, only 2 percent of respondents in October said it was taxes. When The Washington Post and our polling partners at ABC News asked people in August to pick between cutting taxes and expanding health-care coverage for low-income people, more than 6-in-10 preferred the latter. Even among Republicans, it was about a tie.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health-care issues, asked a similar question in September. Respondents were asked how important various issues were for Congress to address. Tax reform performed only slightly better than the least-popular choice: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Among Republicans, it was tied with a push to renew a children’s health insurance program that lapsed earlier this year.
All of those questions, mind you, asked about tax reform in the abstract. When asked what people wanted to see from tax reform, their goals didn’t entirely line up with what’s expected from the Republican proposal.
For example, most Americans — including nearly half of Republicans — think that businesses pay too little in taxes, according to Post-ABC polling.
Nor do most Americans think that taxes on high-income Americans should be reduced. They do think that taxes on middle-income Americans should be lowered — but an early analysis of President Trump’s proposal shows that for some in that range, taxes might go up.
The big picture, then?
Most Americans do not feel as though tax reform is a priority and are not enthusiastic about what the initial offerings on tax reform actually include. Republicans think that reform should be a priority, in general, but are similarly lukewarm about things like cutting business taxes. (It’s also not clear which is the chicken and which the egg: Are Republicans supportive of pushing on tax reform because it’s a stated priority of the president and their party?)
To answer our original question, then, there are probably Republican voters who would be frustrated with Republicans on Capitol Hill if tax reform didn’t pass. They won’t likely then cross the aisle to vote for Democrats, but they might express that frustration by opposing incumbents in next year’s primaries or by staying home in November. But both of those are big “mights.” There’s little indication that this particular plan would yield such a backlash.
The other obvious candidates for those who care about tax reform, then, are campaign donors. And there we can find some evidence of an insistence on the need to move forward.
In June, the Associated Press’s Steve Peoples reported that big Republican donors were insistent that health-care and tax reform be enacted. One donor had stopped hosting fundraisers, saying:”You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”
The chief operating officer of Americans for Prosperity, a political group associated with the influential Koch brothers, said: “If they don’t make good on these promises … there are going to be consequences, and quite frankly there should be.”
In September, the New York Times reported that a new effort at repealing Obamacare was similarly being led by Republican donors.
One attendee at a closed-door meeting of Republican senators paraphrased Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the man in charge of keeping the Senate in Republican hands.
“Donors are furious,” Gardner said. “We haven’t kept our promise.”
That was about health care, but this goes back to Mike Allen’s point. Two swings and two misses is worse, not better.
There’s a broader question worth considering, too: Do donors actually have that much clout? Will Republicans move forward on legislation that doesn’t have strong support even from within their own party, just to make donors happy?
The answer to that may be obvious. The Republican House and the Republican Senate both pushed deeply unpopular health-care legislation earlier this year out of a need to demonstrate that they could get things done.
They didn’t — but they certainly tried.