The Koch Brothers Don’t Understand How Congress Works

To become a member of the Koch brothers’ elite, you must make a commitment to give at least “$100,000 per year to Koch-linked groups.” Among the resulting perks, you can attend strategy sessions like the one that was held at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan last Thursday and Friday. Elected Republicans will give you inside information and, for the most part, accept any kind of direction you want to provide for them.

At the Friday session, Vice President Mike Pence had a priority list that would look quite odd in any other setting.

“I truly believe the future of this Congress depends on them working with our president to pass the tax cut this year,” he said. “And honestly, our entire agenda depends on this Congress stepping forward and delivering on their promise to the American people.”

Pence, who has close ties to the [elite Koch Brothers’] network, said that “cutting taxes is the single-most important policy for the future of America.” “But we need all your help to get it passed,” the vice president added. “I want to thank this network for everything you’ve already done to support this plan. … We’re grateful for all of your support. … But I’m here today, on behalf of our president, to encourage you to do even more. To get this tax cut across the line … we need every ounce of your energy and enthusiasm.”

…“Use your voice,” Pence said. “Use the stature that you enjoy in your communities and your state and all across this country to share the opportunity that we have with this tax relief legislation. You talk to your employees, talk to your suppliers, your fellow business leaders to get them on board. And of course, we need you to talk to your elected officials about just how important this moment is in the life of this nation.”

It’s not clear if Mike Pence believes that cutting taxes is genuinely the single-most important policy for the nation’s future, or if President Trump is correct in thinking he’s more interested in overturning Roe v. Wade and “hanging” all the homosexuals in the country. What does seem clear is that Pence is happy to blame Republicans in Congress if they fail to deliver the tax cut that members of the Koch Brothers’ elite network are seeking.

A lot of recent polling has shown that the American people, and Republican voters in particular, are blaming congressional Republicans much more than the president for gridlock and inaction in Washington, D.C. The reporting on this has a certain flavor that tends to indict the voters for being misinformed about where the real responsibility lies. In truth, though, I don’t think the electorate’s intuition is too far off. Congressional leaders have failed the president through a combination of over-promising and lacking the courage to explain what they could realistically accomplish. They wasted Trump’s first year in office in a doomed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and that set them back in their effort to pass tax reform.

I have a hard time laying all the blame at McConnell and Ryan’s feet, however, because the president should have assembled a team that could tell him when he’s been bullshitted. He didn’t. And the donors just don’t want to hear the truth. Their behavior at the St. Regis meetings indicated that they still think they can bully through a tax reform and that the main resistance is “moderate” Republicans in Congress.

The network didn’t support Trump during the 2016 campaign but has supported his agenda this year. It was striking how little criticism there was of Trump, but the anger directed toward moderate Republicans in the Senate was palpable.

So they have a plan.

Koch officials briefed their benefactors on plans for a massive pressure campaign that will include television ads and events in the states of targeted members. “It’s the most significant federal effort we’ve ever undertaken,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the network.

Their problem isn’t really “moderate” Republicans, though. Their problem on health care was that a lot of states expanded Medicaid and didn’t want to give it up. Their problem on tax reform is that they can’t craft a plan that won’t hurt some states disproportionately, so it’s almost impossible to get unanimity from their caucuses in Congress.

But the Koch brothers’ elite is going to invest a lot of money to try to create unanimity. And they won’t blame themselves if it doesn’t work. If anyone tries to tell them ahead of time that it won’t work, they’ll take it as evidence of insufficient commitment. In that sense, they’re no smarter or better-informed than the president.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.