Framing the Tax Law in 2018 Midterms
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the signature law passed by the current Congress and signed by President Trump. The law shows moderate weakness in polls but will not automatically hurt Republican incumbents. Democrats must respond to the law in a way that is credible and resonates with voters. We recommend the following message:
Our economy needs real tax reform to expand the opportunity to earn a good life. The GOP tax law failed to deliver.
- Republicans didn’t pass real tax reform. In a politically motivated bill, they borrowed $2.5 trillion from our kids, gave it mostly to companies, and promised it would trickle down to workers. It hasn’t. Jobs and wages grew no faster than they would have without the law.
- Republicans say families got tax cuts too. But taxpayers and their kids are on the hook for rising health premiums and $2.5 trillion in new debt. They’ll pay for the debt through higher taxes and benefit cuts in the future.
- Real tax reform would expand opportunity by simplifying the code, increasing good-paying jobs, rewarding investment in American workers, and permanently raising middle-class wages. There are many ways to achieve these goals.
There are four key reasons why Democrats should adopt this message or one like it:
- Voters believe our tax code is broken. They believe the code is too complicated and drives jobs overseas and that a modern tax code would grow the economy. Indeed, Republicans missed a 1-in-30-year opportunity to update the code for the digital age and raise middle-class wages in a big, sustainable way. Rejecting the idea of tax reform wholesale will make Democrats sound weak on jobs and the economy. Stating a commitment to a better approach will avoid that pitfall.
- Persuadable voters are highly suspicious of deficits. Swing and independent voters are highly averse to unpaid-for tax cuts. When reminded that deficits must be repaid by younger generations, voters are particularly skeptical.
- This message is economically accurate: Claims that the bill raises middle-class taxes will be contradicted by voters’ lived experiences. It’s true that the individual tax cuts expire in 2026, while the corporate cuts are permanent. But that nuance will be lost on workers who have noticed either no or modest reductions in their withholding. Plus, it’s better to point out the law’s failings than to deny the recovery has continued.
- This message is accessible: Some critiques of the bill center on technical and wonky claims; for instance, that companies are using the windfall for share buybacks. While true, this fact is unlikely to resonate with persuadable voters.