Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Republicans are bound to run into political trouble by trying to sell their tax legislation as a boon to the middle class when most of its direct benefits will in fact flow to corporations and wealthy individuals.
“In the old days you could give a crumb to the middle class and give most of the tax breaks to the wealthy, and people would say, ‘Okay,’ ” Schumer said in an interview with Washington Post reporters hours after House Republicans released a draft tax bill. “But with income distribution, sourness and populism where they are, that’s not working, so I think this bill has real trouble.”
“The more people find out about it, the less they’ll like,” he added. “This bill is like a dead fish. The more it’s in sunlight, the more it stinks, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Schumer’s comments came as Democrats coalesced around a message attacking the GOP’s tax plans, one that highlighted the bill’s benefits to businesses and high-income taxpayers. Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took a similar tack, calling the bill “a Ponzi scheme that corporate America will perpetrate on the American people.”
“The American people deserve real, bipartisan tax reform that puts the middle class first,” she said. “This Republican plan doesn’t do any of that. In fact, it’s a giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest.”
Republicans are selling the bill primarily as a broad-based tax cut for the middle class, touting an internal calculation that the typical family of four will save $1,182 on their yearly federal income tax bill. They also argue that the business tax provisions will grow the economy, create jobs and drive up wages.
“This plan is for the middle-class families in this country who deserve a break,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday. “It is for the families who are out there living paycheck to paycheck, who just keep getting squeezed. … This is going to help give people relief.”
An analysis of the House bill released Thursday evening by the Joint Committee on Taxation calculates the total revenue cut of the House tax bill at $1.49 trillion over the coming decade. Nearly 80 percent of that cost, however, is attributable to business provisions — including a lower 20 percent corporate tax rate and a new 25 percent rate for “pass-through” business income taxed on an individual basis — as well as changes to the estate tax that would benefit only the wealthy.
Schumer said that Democrats would work over the coming weeks to make sure Americans learn who will reap the bulk of the bill’s benefits, and he compared the effort to the party’s thus-far-successful push to defeat the GOP’s health-care agenda. He pointed to polling data showing that Americans are largely against giving tax benefits to corporations and the wealthy.
“When it started out people were for it,” he said. ” ‘End Obamacare, repeal and replace!’ Because they were told it would reduce premiums and increase coverage. As they learned what the bill was about, it became unpopular and that’s why it lost.”
Schumer also pointed, with no small amount of glee, to the opposition the bill has provoked from key industry groups — including associations representing home builders, real-estate agents and privately owned businesses: “Given today was rollout day, I think they had a pretty bad day.”
He predicted that any changes Republicans would make to placate dissenters — including the industry groups and lawmakers from states with high state and local taxes whose constituents stand to lose a key deduction — would only make passage harder in the Senate, where Republican deficit hawks are threatening to oppose the bill if it costs too much.
“They’re going to have to decrease or keep more of the deductions they’ve eliminated,” Schumer said. “But in the Senate, that will increase the deficit, and the way this bill will go down in the Senate is because enough deficit hawks will vote against it. It’s a dynamic that makes it difficult for them.”
And Schumer warned that those lawmakers in such high-tax states as New York, New Jersey and California would “pay a price” if they go along and vote for a bill that rolls back the current itemized deduction for state and local taxes and also caps the deduction for mortgage interest at $500,000 instead of the current $1 million.
“The people who probably end up faring the worst in this bill are their base constituents, which are middle class and upper-middle-class,” he said, adding: “To do such deep tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate America, big corporations, they’ve had to tie themselves in a knot in other areas. That’s why they’re in a pickle.”