Will the GOP Tax Bill Survive?

The flurry of crazytown news coming out of Donald Trump and Roy Moore is overshadowing one of the most pivotal moments for the Republican Party in at least a decade. For years the Republican Party has gotten away with telling its donors and its voters that it couldn’t make good on its promises because they didn’t have enough power. But now Republicans hold the presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court and most governors and legislatures. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a party facing a near-future demographic disaster. It’s almost now or never.

Which makes it all the more interesting how little the GOP has accomplished since Trump was sworn in. They got a Supreme Court nominee and are pushing though a bunch of Federalist Society goons, but that’s merely the dirty payoff from McConnell’s democracy-destroying stonewalling during the Obama Administration. Trump is singlehandedly hobbling various government departments mostly through malignant neglect, but that hardly counts as action, either. Obamacare repeal fell flat on its face. The Muslim bans were mostly stopped up in the courts.

But that was merely the appetizer. The piece de resistance is the tax cut their donors have been desperate to devour for years. If the GOP doesn’t deliver at least on that much, they may face an outright revolt that starves them not only of turnout enthusiasm, but also of campaign contributions and third-party cash.

And that tax bill? It’s anything but certain right now:

Senate Republicans are seriously considering several last-minute changes to their tax legislation in an effort to mollify wavering members, four people familiar with the discussions said, as GOP leaders seek to keep their members from defecting ahead of crucial votes this week.

The lawmakers attracting the most concern from leadership and the White House are Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who say the current version of the bill favors corporations over other businesses.

There are numerous members demanding changes, and their needs don’t all overlap. Together, the requests put Republican leaders in a difficult position, as they attempt to accommodate individual holdouts on a one-off basis without losing other members or creating a situation in which the bill collapses under the weight of disparate demands.

This, of course, is deeply reminiscent of the battles over ACA repeal. There are a few Republican Senators who understand just how much of an atrocious policy portfolio the tax cuts are, and want at least a bit of protective cover to make it not quite as bad. But then there are the true believers, the ones who envision America as an objectivist city on a hill where only the greediest survive. Go too far to please the former and McConnell loses the latter–and vice versa.

That’s not to say that the tax bill will necessarily fail. As noted, Republicans almost have to pass it. Unlike with Obamacare repeal for which there was no real constituency beyond core conservative Obama-haters, the GOP donor class will insist on a tax cut. The Republican Party cannot walk into the 2018 election buzzsaw without one.

But its size and scope are still very much in doubt, particularly if a majority of Alabamans can refrain from electing a child molester to the Senate next month.

Unfortunately, until we get a new Congress in 2019, the best that progressives and Democrats can do is keep on putting pressure on Republican Senators not to explode the deficit by giving away vast sums to the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class. Hopefully their own self-preservation instincts and their consciences will lead just enough to them to do the right thing.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.