Mark Mellman: What GOP misses about its tax bill

Mark Mellman: What GOP misses about its tax bill
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Republicans in Congress and the White House have fully embraced the bizarre belief that passing legislation people hate is the pathway to earning votes.

“Forget whether people like the ACA repeal plan, just do it,“ GOP leaders exhorted, “Voters won’t care if they hate what you’ve done, as long as you’ve done something.”


The same cuckoo’s nest cheerleaders are making the same argument for passing tax reform.

There’s no doubt that the current tax bill, like ACA repeal, is widely despised.

Indeed, it’s the most unpopular piece of tax legislation in over 40 years.

Remember George H.W. Bush urging Americans to “read my lips, no new taxes” and then passing a tax hike? That tax increase was more popular than this bill.

George W. Bush’s and Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts were favored by average margins of 4 to 25 points.

This horrific bill is opposed by 19 points on average. The latest poll, by CNN, found 55 percent opposed and just 33 percent in favor.

“Don’t worry,” say GOP leaders, attempting to reassure the lemmings following them, “once people see their tax bills shrinking, their attitudes will change.”

Democrats said the same thing about the benefits of ObamaCare: Once people have experience with the law, they’ll like it.

Back in 2010 I reviewed the historical evidence and concluded: “Experience alone is unlikely to build majority support for health care [ACA] …” (Eventually, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE achieved what Democrats could not — he made ACA popular, but that’s another column.)

There’s even less reason to believe experience will be kind to the GOP tax plan.

A Monmouth University poll this week found just 14 percent saying the Republican tax bill will reduce their taxes. Half predict their federal taxes will go up under the GOP’s plan.

People tend to interpret their experiences to match their expectations, but history provides additional guidance on what we might expect.

Arguably, none of the tax cuts passed in the post-war period produced a “thanks for the extra cash” response from voters.

Pollsters have irregularly asked whether people consider “the amount of federal income tax you have to pay as too high, about right, or too low?”

Presumably, if voters felt the benefits of a tax cut, the number who feel they pay too much would tumble.

It almost never has.

After the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut was enacted, the number who felt they were paying too much didn’t decline at all. It apparently rose 4 points — certainly, not evidence people recognized they were paying less.

Republicans point to the Reagan tax cut as a model for their endeavors. The year before it took effect, 68 percent thought they were paying too much. Months afterwards, 69 percent said they were paying too much.

By 1986, Democrats Dick Gephardt and Bill Bradley were driving the tax-cut train.

Before Bradley-Gephardt, 60 percent felt they were paying too much. Afterward it was 59 percent. The number did drop to 55 percent in 1988, but rose again in each of the next few years, so ascribing causality to the tax cut is, at best, risky business.

Enacted in 2001, the Bush tax cuts may have had an impact on voters’ perceptions. Shortly before the bill passed, 65 percent thought they were paying too much. By the beginning of 2003, that number shrunk to 47 percent.

But there had been another, major, intervening event: The Sept. 11 attacks shook up a wide range of attitudes, increasing confidence in government and decreasing alienation from it. How much of the tax response was Sept. 11 and how much the Bush cuts is anybody’s guess.

This brief tour though tax-cut history demonstrates the consistent absence of evidence for public recognition of lower tax payments in the wake of tax-reduction legislation.

Republicans who expect a “thank-you” from voters in February, as Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Cohen reportedly questioned over Trump dealings with Russia | Trump hails economy | Tells workers to 'start looking' if they want a better job | Internal poll shows tax law backfiring on GOP Trump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods Trump: China tariff announcement to come Monday afternoon MORE predicted, or in November, are substituting hope for experience.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.