GOP authors of tax law double down in campaigns

GOP authors of tax law double down in campaigns
© Greg Nash

Republicans on the House’s tax-writing committee are clinging to the new tax-cut law in their reelection races, as the odds of a blue wave in November appear to be increasing.

The GOP is facing a number of obstacles in keeping the House, with some worrying that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism MORE’s (R-Wis.) decision not to seek reelection is a sign of trouble ahead.

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Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee who are in competitive races say the new law will be a key focus for their campaigns because it has directly helped their constituents. 

“This is something that is right at the heart of what I’m talking about in 2018,” said Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamIllinois New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses MORE (R-Ill.), a senior member of Ways and Means whose race is considered a toss up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Roskam’s campaign estimates that his district will get $1 billion in tax relief in 2019 for individuals and pass-through businesses, citing data from the IRS and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. 

While Democrats seeking to unseat the GOP tax-writers say voters have concerns about the new tax law, they expect that other issues are likely to be more important in November. 

“The bill was not structured to do anything of note for voters who are not extremely wealthy,” said Sean Casten, Roskam’s Democratic challenger. 

Of the 24 Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, eight are in races that may be competitive, according to the Cook Political Report, providing a test case of whether the tax law will yield electoral benefits for the GOP. 

Three House GOP tax-writers — Roskam, Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenThe 8 House Republicans who voted against Trump’s border wall Minnesota New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president MORE (Minn.) and Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloEx-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Hispanic Caucus boasts record membership in new Congress Chuck Todd says his show is 'not going to give time to climate deniers' MORE (Fla.) — are in races that Cook rates as toss-ups. The group rates Rep. Mike Bishop’s (Mich.) race as leaning Republican and rates the races involving Reps. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.), Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiWhile G-20 Summit was promising for US- China trade relations, Congress must still push for an exclusion process Many authors of GOP tax law will not be returning to Congress Election Countdown: One week from midterms, House battlefield expands MORE (Ind.), Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyBlack Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority GOP lawmaker Mike Kelly wins reelection in Pennsylvania WaPo fact-checker accuses Republicans of misleading voters about fact-checks MORE (Pa.) and George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingElection Day: An hour-by-hour viewer’s guide Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights The importance of advancing the U.S.-India partnership MORE (N.C.) as likely Republican. 

The tax law is the GOP’s biggest legislative accomplishment in the Trump era, and conservatives have encouraged Republicans to talk about it as much as they can on the campaign trail. 

“Tax reform is viewed positively in every competitive House district in the country and it’s only going to get more popular as people continue to see the benefits from it,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt.

Conservatives hope that the tax law can help them overcome the historical disadvantage that the party controlling the White House has in midterm elections, in part by highlighting the GOP’s strengths rather than controversies surrounding Trump. 

“The single most important thing Republican members should be doing is educating their constituents on the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” said Michael Byerly, a spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership. The super PAC has field offices in the districts held by Roskam, Paulsen, Curbelo and Bishop.

Polling has shown that support for the tax law has increased since it was enacted. However, surveys also indicate that most people don't think they are seeing bigger paychecks due to the law.

Ways and Means Republicans, who helped to write the tax law, say they’re not shying away from their accomplishment as they run for reelection. Some of the Republicans on the committee in competitive races frequently tout the benefits of the law on social media or highlight their work on the measure on their campaign websites. 

The homepage of Bishop’s campaign site mentions that he “had a key role in crafting tax reform which has put more money and higher wages in the hands of families and small businesses.” 

When asked if he plans to make the tax law a big part of his campaign, Bishop said, “Heck yeah, of course I will.” 

“It’s been such a positive thing in my district and across this country,” he added.

Curbelo said the tax law isn’t the only thing he’s talking about in his campaign but that it’s a topic of discussion.

“In my district, a lot of people are feeling more and more confident about the economy,” he said. “I don’t have a wealthy district, so these changes that people have seen in their payroll withholdings make a big difference.”

Walorski, who joined the Ways and Means committee last year, said she fought to get on the panel to work on issues such as a tax overhaul. 

“I really believe that our message is a message that’s resonating for the American people,” she said.

But Democratic challengers to Ways and Means Republicans think voters believe the tax cuts are mostly helping the wealthy and are concerned about the law’s impact on the national debt. 

“I think there’s a lot of uneasiness at best about what this means,” said Mel Hall, one of several Democrats running in Walorski’s district. 

“This tax bill will ultimately hurt the families in District 26 and across America as well,” said Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a leading challenger of Curbelo. 

Some Democrats said voters are focused on issues like health care and gun control rather than taxes. Several of the Democratic candidates have tweeted about guns frequently since the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February that killed 17 people. 

“I think pocketbook, kitchen table issues win elections” and people on both sides of the aisle are concerned about their current and future health-care coverage, said Adam Jennings, one of the Democrats seeking to defeat Paulsen. 

Democratic criticisms of GOP tax-writers vary by district. In some races, Democrats have noted that the lawmakers may have personally benefited from aspects of the new law. In Roskam and Paulsen’s districts — located in fairly affluent suburbs of Chicago and Minneapolis, respectively — some of the criticisms are focused on the law’s $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.

“The capping of the SALT deduction had a tremendous impact on a disproportionate amount of people in which I’m running,” said Dean Phillips, another Democrat challenging Paulsen.

Roskam and Paulsen said their constituents will benefit from the new law even with the SALT cap, due to other features such as the lower tax rates and the increased exemption amount for the alternative minimum tax. 

“People feel better about their future,” Paulsen said. “There’s definitely a positive psyche.” 

Even if all Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee win reelection, the committee's GOP membership will look different next year. More than one-quarter of the GOP lawmakers who were on the committee when the tax bill passed are running for another office, are otherwise leaving Congress or have already left office.