The Republicans are staking their precarious congressional majorities on a broadly unpopular $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that could advance to President Trump’s desk on Tuesday despite encountering skepticism from core suburban GOP voters.
Republicans are counting on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to change the minds of unhappy voters who would prefer to have the Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill by an 11-point margin and consistently rate Trump’s job performance at around 40 percent, according to polling averages.
That’s a tall order for a proposal that has been underwater for weeks and is viewed skeptically by upscale suburban voters in Republican strongholds who worry it will raise their taxes. A fresh Monmouth University survey pegs support for the package at just 26 percent; 47 percent disapproved.
“Step one is passing the bill. Step two is selling the bill,” said Corry Bliss, who runs American Action Network, a political nonprofit aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that has spent $25 million since August to promote tax reform. “It’s our responsibility to convince people that this bill is good for American families.”
Republicans have been under enormous pressure to accomplish tax reform.
After their bid to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed, GOP donors warned they might close off funding for the 2018 midterms and grassroots voters threatened to stay home if the party didn’t start delivering on Trump’s agenda and justifying its full control of government.
Now on the cusp of enacting a historic tax overhaul, the first such bill in three decades, Republicans face a new problem. They need to convince voters in electoral battlegrounds to like it. The GOP’s challenge is particularly acute in suburban strongholds that support tax cuts and have traditionally voted Republican.
The package caps federal deductions for state and local taxes, including county property and state income taxes, and reduces the mortgage interest deduction. Suburban voters in upscale communities and high-tax states that these provisions could impact the most are fretting that their bottom line will suffer.
Democrats could be the beneficiaries, especially since prosperous suburban voters, particularly women, long ago soured on Trump.
“There’s so much for voters to hate in this tax deal,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic pollster. “Republicans have a very steep hill to climb.”
Strategists for both parties expect the House majority and the race for control of the Senate to hinge in large part on the battle for the burbs. Democrats are looking at 27 GOP-controlled districts with a sizable suburban population; Republicans, defending a 24-seat majority, are monitoring at least a dozen.
Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District, where 70 percent of voters live in the suburbs; Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kanas’ 3rd, 78 percent suburban; Rep. Ryan Costello in Pennsylvania’s 6th, 48 percent suburban; Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s 8th, 61.5 percent suburban; Rep. Ed Royce in California’s 39th, 48 percent suburban; Rep. Mimi Walters in California’s 45th, 43 percent suburban; Rep. Erick Paulsen in Minnesota’s 3rd, 79 percent suburban; and Rep. John Culberson in Texas’ 7th, 58 percent suburban.
Republicans like Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, who represent other districts with significant upscale suburban populations, are among those opposed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Issa’s district; Trump beat Clinton in Zeldin’s district.
“I will be voting ‘no’ on the final tax plan,” Issa announced Friday on Twitter. “The bill agreed to in conference makes some improvements, but the changes do not go far enough to guarantee tax relief for constituents in my district.”
The bill’s supporters are promising it will generate high-octane economic growth.
The corporate and small business reforms will spark job creation and higher wages. Meanwhile, the bill also lowers income tax rates for most earners, with the bulk of the changes directed at the middle class and working poor, through simplifying the code and expanding deductions.
Americans could see benefits beginning in February, when lower tax rates result in less money being automatically withheld on workers’ paychecks. Republicans express confidence that public opinion of the bill will steadily increase as the economy takes off and voters experience it.
Privately, they concede that rosy scenario won’t come about on its own — that it’s going to take a concerted sales job on their part.
“Taxes have traditionally been very important in the suburbs. In fact, they’ve only been important in the suburbs,” Republican strategist Brad Todd said. “Democrats tend to lose any election in the suburbs in which taxes are the dominant issue.”
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner