“Trumpcare is really a tax break for the rich, not a health-care program,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a Thursday morning news conference outside the Capitol. “They talk like populists but act for wealthy interests.”
Flanked by 10 people who credited the Affordable Care Act with their coverage, Schumer and other members of the Democratic caucus repeatedly criticized the AHCA for its tax provisions, which would disproportionately benefit the wealthy. It would eliminate, for example, the net investment income tax of 3.8 percent on investments, a tax designed only to affect people in the top two tax brackets, and the 0.9 percent Additional Medicare Tax, which also affects only top earners.
“If you’re a millionaire, you’re going to get an average $50,000 tax cut,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “It’s great for the Trump Cabinet.”
Democrats, who’ve undergone months of debate about why they lost the 2016 election, have increasingly homed in on the idea that Trump stole their branding. Hillary Clinton was successfully portrayed as a creature of Wall Street and the Washington “swamp.” Trump, by opposing multinational trade deals, won over Midwestern voters and white union members who had come to see Clinton as a defender of “globalist” economics and outsourcing. This week, a study from Wesleyan University found what many Democrats came to feel intuitively — that Clinton squandered the party’s advantage on economic issues with an ad campaign uselessly focused on Trump’s gaffes and brashness.
With Clinton out of the picture, probably for good, Democrats have focused on Trump’s populism, describing it as a ruse, and describing the AHCA as proof.
“When you’re telling people they’re losing their health care to pay for tax cuts to the rich, that’s an incredibly powerful message across the spectrum,” said Adam Jentleson, senior strategic adviser at the Center for American Progress. “Sometimes the problem we run into is that people shake their heads and laugh when we say Republicans will take their benefits away to give more to the richest people; they’re now trying to prove what we’ve been trying to communicate for years.”
Democrats and progressive commentators have also noticed Republicans’ reluctance to defend the upper-end tax cuts in the AHCA. Since the bill was introduced, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has been asked twice whether it represents a giveaway to the rich. At a Tuesday news conference, he laughed at the question and advised reporters to read the legislation.
He didn’t laugh during a Wednesday evening interview with Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, one of several planned media hits intended to sell the plan to a skeptical right. Carlson spent about a third of the interview asking Ryan why it was important for the AHCA to cut taxes for the very rich.
“It’s kind of a hard sell to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to repeal Obamacare, but we’re going to send more money to people who’ve already gotten richer over the last 10 years,’ ” Carlson said. “So, I mean, that’s what this does. I’m not a leftist, but that’s true.”
“I’m not that concerned about it,” Ryan said. “We said we were going to repeal all the Obamacare taxes, and this was one of the Obamacare taxes.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who joined the Democratic leadership after the election, said Monday morning that Republicans struggled to defend “Robin Hood in reverse.”
“Millions of Americans are going to lose their health insurance; millions more, especially older people, will be paying more than they are right now,” he said. “And we have $275 billion in tax breaks going to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans over a 10-year period.”
And at the Thursday morning presser, Democrats deferred to one of their guests, a Maryland resident named Bob Matha, to paint the Republicans as Scrooge-like to people who were counting on robust health plans after they retired.
“Why do they want to take it away? Because I’m not rich enough?” Matha asked.