Good economic vibes fail to make GOP tax law popular
Americans are feeling upbeat about the economy and the state of the country, but that doesn’t appear to be translating into support for the tax bill — a worrying trend for Republicans seeking to keep the House.
GOP lawmakers and outside conservatives acknowledged the gap and give a variety of explanations.
They say taxpayers may not yet be seeing benefits from the law and that President Trump and congressional Republicans could spend more time messaging on the issue.
“We should be talking about it every day,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
By most standards, the economy should be bolstering the GOP’s midterm hopes.
The unemployment rate declined to 3.9 percent in April, the lowest level since December 2000, while the number of job openings hit a record high in March.
A CNN poll conducted this month found that 57 percent of respondents think the country is doing well, up from 49 percent in February.
A CBS News poll conducted earlier this month found that 66 percent of adults think the economy is good. The news outlet’s polls have found that at least 60 percent of respondents have rated the economy as good since Trump took office.
Polls on the tax law, however, keep finding that disapproval of the law exceeds approval. Several polls have also shown that few people have noticed an increase in their paychecks due to the measure.
The CBS News poll found that 43 percent of voters approved of the law while 46 percent disapproved. It also found that 62 percent thought the law would either hurt them or have no effect.
A Monmouth University poll conducted late last month found that 40 percent approved of the tax law and 44 percent disapproved. It also found that most Americans think they have been helped only a little or not at all from the growing economy.
Republicans frequently say public opinion on the tax law will rise as people see its beneifts, which they say will take time.
“I think there’s going to be a delayed effect on the benefits of tax reform because a lot of people, I think, until they file next year, maybe aren’t seeing it directly, particularly if they auto-deposit [their paychecks],” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Senate GOP leadership and the tax-writing Finance Committee.
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said that many taxpayers have just finished filing their tax returns this year under the old code. Most of the tax cuts in the law take effect for the taxes people will file next year.
“I think a lot of people are just unsure still how it affects them,” he said.
Several Republicans also say Democrats’ messaging against the bill has been effective.
“The Democrats uniformly voted against it, and they’re going home and messaging that and trying to act if there’s no relationship between what you legislate and what happens in the economy,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who still thinks the tax law will still work to Republicans’ advantage in the long-run.
Some supporters of the tax law say it would help if Trump would focus more of his energy on touting the economy and the tax cuts, rather than other issues such as the Russia investigation. Trump has veered off-topic during recent events designed to be about the tax law.
“I would love to see him focused on the benefits of the tax policy and the regulatory policy,” said Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) announced this week that the panel will hold a series of hearings on the benefits of the tax law.
Brady told reporters on Thursday that the committee wants to “to be able to shine a light” on the impact of the tax law on job creators and hear about the effects for businesses and individuals. Earlier in the week, he said he thinks “most polling is flawed” and that Americans like the law more when they learn about its contents.
But Democrats argue that the polls don’t show strong support for the tax law because people view the benefits as mostly going to the wealthy, rather to themselves.
Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said that Republicans “oversold the tax plan,” since many people are getting a fairly small tax cut and most people haven’t gotten more money or benefits from their employers.
Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he thinks the panel’s upcoming hearings are about messaging for Republicans, but that voters aren’t buying the GOP arguments.
“They’re trying to convince people that the tax cut for wealthy people is an achievement, and I think that it’s not going anywhere at the moment,” he said. “People overwhelmingly see that it contributes to more concentrated wealth.”
Republicans said that a smart way to talk about the tax law is in the context of the improving economy and Trump’s overall economic agenda.
“The tax bill is a means to an end. We’re not going to talk about the tax bill as a standalone,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“The tax bill and what we’ve done on regulatory reform is about economic expansion and growth, and it’s resulted in an economy with the lowest unemployment in 15 years,” he added.
The CNN poll showed that Democrats’ lead in the generic congressional ballot is shrinking, with the party’s lead falling within the margin of error. Even if voters aren’t attributing the good economic news to the tax law, Republicans think they can benefit from the strong economy.
“One piece of legislation doesn’t necessarily accomplish everything,” said former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye.
Still, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said that Republicans would be in even better shape if voters were crediting the tax law for the positive economic signs.
“Yes it’s good if people are just not grumpy. It’s even better if they attribute it to you,” he said.
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