Rick Scott agenda push baffles GOP
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), is pushing a bold but controversial agenda at a time when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is not laying out a governing plan ahead of the midterm elections.
Scott is not backing away from promoting his “Rescue America” agenda despite pressure from Senate Republican leaders, who warn that he’s muddling their election-year message and giving Democrats a target to attack.
And as McConnell feared, Democrat are pouncing on Scott’s plan with gusto and using it to deflect Republican criticisms of President Biden’s agenda.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) on Wednesday launched a new digital ad featuring “Fox News Sunday’s” John Roberts highlighting Scott’s “11-point plan to raise taxes on half of Americans and potentially sunset programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
When McConnell tweeted this week that Biden’s budget would “dramatically increase liberal spending and slap the biggest tax hikes [in] American history on top,” the White House parried by pointing to Scott’s plan.
“Actually, the biggest tax hike of the century would be the Senate GOP plan, which would be around $100 billion in 2022 alone,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted back at McConnell.
Republican senators say McConnell warned Scott at a leadership meeting in McConnell’s office on Feb. 28 that his agenda would become a political liability.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity said Scott’s insistence on touting his controversial plan despite warnings from the GOP leadership is “baffling.”
The senator said Scott was told by leaders that he risked “morphing” his controversial Rescue America plan with the carefully calibrated Senate GOP messaging strategy because he is chairman of the NRSC.
The senator speculated that Scott is simply growing impatient with the lack of progress in Washington on major domestic and fiscal issues.
“I think he’s frustrated. He’s been in office for a few years and hasn’t been able to move the dial,” the source said.
A second senator said by ignoring McConnell’s advice, Scott is “giving the middle finger” to his leadership.
“He doesn’t like being slapped around and maybe he feels like he has been,” the lawmaker said.
Scott says he’s running for reelection in 2024 and not angling for a White House run, contrary to his Senate GOP colleagues’ speculation that he wants to become president.
He also reiterated this month that he does not plan to challenge McConnell to serve as Senate GOP leader.
McConnell has consciously decided against laying out a governing agenda for the Senate if Republicans win back the majority this November. He wants to keep public attention on Biden, whose job approval rating has steadily fallen to 40 percent.
Despite pushback from his leader, Scott continued to tout his plan Thursday. He delivered remarks and held a question-and-answer session about it at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, where he told a roomful of reporters “this is not the time to be timid.”
“Now is the time we need to be bold,” he said. “Our nation’s future can be bright. We’ve got to have a plan to take this country back.”
The Florida senator also took a jab at Senate GOP colleagues who have criticized his plan for “parroting” some of the same attacks used by Democrats, who say that it would raise taxes on half of all Americans and end Social Security and Medicare.
“I’m not going to raise taxes. Democrats are lying about the plan, we got Republicans that are parroting what they’re saying,” he said.
Scott explained that putting together plans has been at the heart of his past success in business and politics.
“I’ve started a lot of businesses, I’ve built businesses. Every time we had a written plan,” he said. “When I ran for governor, I had a seven-step plan to get 700,000 jobs. Every economist said we couldn’t do it.”
“We won. I think we won because [voters] said ‘I don’t know that guy … but that guy’s at least got a plan,’” he recalled.
Scott said he helped turn around Florida’s economy during his two terms as governor because “we worked the plan every day.”
He then appeared to take a shot at Washington leaders by remarking on what he sees as the failure to clearly define problems and come up with solutions.
“I’ve been up here for three years. What’s the plan?” he said, noting the federal budget has increased by nearly 400 percent over the past 20 years while the U.S. population has increased by only 16 percent.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) on Thursday remarked that Scott is marching to the beat of his own drum.
“He definitely has his own way of doing things. I think he desperately believes Republicans need an agenda to run on. I think that there are elements of that agenda, obviously, that are very susceptible to attacks by Democrats,” he said.
“I think he’s aware of that but seems intent on charging forward,” he added. “In his case, when he speaks it has added weight because he’s the chair of the NRSC.”
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Scott compared himself to Ulysses S. Grant, the former Union general and president.
“I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that I’m always going to be perceived as an outsider,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not.”
His most controversial proposals are to require all Americans to pay some income tax, if only a small amount, and to sunset all federal legislation in five years. He points out that currently more than half of all Americans don’t pay any income tax.
That has given Democrats, who are weighed down by Biden’s weak approval numbers, a chance to play offense. The DSCC released a radio ad within 24 hours of Scott unveiling his plan to highlight how it would raise taxes.
Some aides say that Scott is harming Senate GOP incumbents and challengers in battleground states.
“If he thinks it’s helping him, it’s hurting other Republican senators,” said a Senate GOP aide, who requested anonymity to comment candidly about Scott’s Rescue America plan. “The Democrats are trying to wrap those tax increases around our necks.”
Scott on Thursday said these attacks are unfair. He says that middle-class Americans who already pay taxes and retirees who paid taxes throughout their working lifetimes would not see tax increases under his plan.
“I’m a tax cutter. But I believe that we all have to be part of what we’re doing. So the people that are paying taxes right now, I’m not going to raise their rates — I’ve never done it. I’ve actually cut taxes and fees a hundred times” as governor, he said.
“My focus is on people that either take advantage of the system, the billionaires that can hire lobbyists and figure out all the loopholes, or the person that can go to work, just decide not to and they want to live off the government,” he explained.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, McConnell insisted that he, not Scott, would be serving as majority leader if Republicans win back control of the Senate in November.
“I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor,” he said.
“Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years,” he added. “That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda. We will focus instead on what the American people are concerned about: inflation, energy, defense, the border and crime.”
It was an awkward moment, as McConnell made his comments after the weekly Tuesday GOP conference lunch, a press conference that is usually attended by his entire leadership team, including Scott.
Scott, however, walked away from the microphones before McConnell had a chance to comment on his plan — a maneuver that prompted chuckling among the reporters in the press scrum.
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