Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms

Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms
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Republicans are brushing off questions about their plan to run on tax cuts in November after the issue failed to gain traction in the Pennsylvania special election, which some are viewing as a troublesome sign for the party.

The Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, and allied conservative groups ran hard on President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE’s tax cuts before largely abandoning the message to pivot to immigration and attacking House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiNancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Pelosi: GOP's 2019 agenda a 'nightmare' for working families, seniors Dem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ MORE (Calif.).

While the final result of Tuesday's special election has yet to be certified, it appears Saccone has lost to Democrat Conor Lamb in a district that Trump carried by double digits in 2016.

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Democrats see big implications for the November midterms at a time when Republicans are signaling that the tax law will be one of their top talking points.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.) on Thursday held the Pennsylvania race up as proof that Republicans' claims about the popularity of the tax bill are overstated.

“The American people are smart about this,” he said on the Senate floor. “They know the vast majority of this goes to the wealthy. They know the amount going to them is small. They know that their tax breaks are temporary and corporate tax breaks are permanent.” 

Schumer noted that two-thirds of the ads run by Saccone and super PACs backing him initially mentioned taxes. But after a week of testing this strategy, the percentage of ads focused on taxes dropped to 36 percent. 

“After two weeks of these ads, they tested it out, my Republican friends. They got rid of taxes as an issue. It wasn’t working with the fairly well-off middle-class Pittsburgh suburbanites or blue-collar members of Green County and Westmoreland County,” he said. 

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Colorado governor sets up federal PAC before potential 2020 campaign Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, shot back, arguing that Schumer's proposal to repeal the Trump tax cut in order to pay for infrastructure is a losing strategy.

"If I were Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE, I'd be terrified about a growing economy with people earning wages that are higher than they were and I'd be terrified that I came up with a plan to increase taxes," he said.

Democrats nevertheless feel emboldened on taxes after Tuesday's results. 

Lamb had called the tax bill signed into law by Trump in December a “giveaway” to wealthy individuals and large corporations while criticizing its impact on the national deficit.  

“Taxes as an issue is substantially less salient among voters than many other things including and especially health care,” argued Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who briefed Senate Democrats last week on the Trump tax cuts.

“What Pennsylvania 18 shows is that when you have a real back-and-forth on the tax bill and the cost and consequences, it doesn’t stand up very well in the political battle of ideas and messages,” he said.  

While Republicans are looking to highlight the issue, some vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents also view the Trump tax cut as an opportunity to play offense.

“The public is starting to see that after blowing this huge hole in the budget, the Republicans are coming after Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There’s no doubt that they are,” said Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ohio), who is up for reelection in a state that Trump carried by 8 points.

Republican officials argue they fumbled the Pennsylvania seat, a district that Trump won a year ago in a landslide, because they had a weak candidate.

Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, called Saccone "a joke" after the election, while Trump had reportedly knocked the Pennsylvania Republican in private as "weak."

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.) argued voters didn’t see Saccone as much more conservative than Lamb, who voiced support for expanded background checks instead of new gun restrictions and said he personally opposes abortion but supports the right to choose.

“They were able to pick a candidate who can run as a conservative,” Ryan said, noting that Lamb also said he wouldn't support Pelosi serving another term as Democratic leader.

Despite how the Pennsylvania race shook out, Republicans overall are leaning into the tax cuts as one of their best strategies come November, viewing it as a major accomplishment they can tout on the campaign trail while attacking vulnerable Democrats who opposed it.

Americans for Prosperity, a political group backed by billionaire donors Charles and David Koch, announced Wednesday it will spend $4 million on television and digital ads highlighting tax reform in Indiana and Missouri, two Senate battlegrounds.

The aggressive move forced Democrats to rally to the defense of Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Wyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls MORE (Mo.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world MORE (Ind.), two other Democratic senators up for reelection in states Trump won.

Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC dedicated to winning a Senate Democratic majority, has spent $3.8 million in both states defending the incumbents.

Chris Pack, the communications director for American Crossroads and the Senate Leadership Fund, two outside groups dedicated to protecting the GOP majority, said Democrats wouldn’t have poured millions of dollars into Indiana and Missouri if they weren’t worried about the potency of taxes as an issue.

“If Democrats were truly unconcerned about tax cuts being used as an offensive message, then Donnelly would never have set up a microsite begging Senate Majority PAC to come in and defend him,” Pack said, referring to a page on Donnelly’s campaign website stating his support for middle-class tax cuts and his vote for extending the Bush-era tax cuts in 2012.

Chris Hayden, a spokesman for Senate Majority PAC, said his group is using a message similar to Lamb’s in Pennsylvania to defend McCaskill and Donnelly.

“When voters find out that their health care premiums are going up and the health care company got a huge tax break and this bill adds $1.8 trillion for the debt and they find out there’s a plan to change Medicare and Social Security to help pay for it, we do really well on the issue,” he said.

A senior Republican aide said the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and allied groups are preparing more ads to attack Democrats for not backing the tax cuts.

“It is the clearest, easiest message,” the aide said. “This can be cut and played 18 different ways. We have so much information." 

The NRSC blasted Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Florida governor booed out of restaurant over red tide algae issues MORE (D-Fla.) for backing a proposal to repeal the Trump tax cuts to pay for an infrastructure bill. Nelson faces a tough reelection against a likely bid from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

“Bill Nelson’s re-election strategy seems to be voting against bigger paychecks, bonuses and more jobs, and instead supporting higher taxes for Florida families,” said NRSC spokeswoman Katie Martin.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday highlighted other areas of the tax law where Republicans may focus, such as its expansion of the tax advantage for college savings accounts to allow families to use them for private and religious schools.

He said that helped one family in Louisville, Ky., send their learning-disabled child to a private school with smaller classes and more individual attention.

Garin, the Democratic pollster, argued that linking the rising profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies — and rising costs for health-care consumers — to the tax bill is a strong strategy for Democrats.

“What we’ve been seeing in polling is that the biggest economic concern of voters is the high cost of health care and when you remind people that the tax bill gave huge benefits to drug companies and health insurance companies and those companies are going ahead and raising people’s health-care costs anyway, that’s a very powerful message,” he said.

Brown, meanwhile, is linking the tax cuts to Republican plans to reform entitlement programs as he gears up for a tough reelection fight in Ohio.

Ryan announced in early December that Republicans would aim to reduce federal funding on Medicare, Medicaid and entitlement programs, arguing that Medicare and Medicaid “are the big drivers of the debt.”

McConnell quickly dismissed the idea as a non-starter in the Senate, but Brown thinks it's still at the forefront of the GOP agenda.

“Of course they’re not giving up. They’ve never given up,” he said. “They don’t like social insurance. Anytime they’ve ever had a chance, they’ve gone after Medicare.”

“You saw Ryan did it right away. McConnell said no but McConnell has a three-times higher IQ when it comes to politics than Ryan,” Brown added.