President Donald Trump is sure to get plenty of applause during Tuesday’s State of the Union address when he mentions the $1.5 trillion tax cut he signed into law in December.
But with polls showing Republicans have yet to make the sale on the tax bill, it’s not clear how much the new law will help them in November.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a group with close ties to House GOP leadership, recently found that voters in battleground districts are more likely to think Republicans raised their taxes than cut them. And a recent Pew Research Center survey found that only around a third of adults thought the tax bill would help them and the country as a whole.
“It’s hard to envision a positive outcome in November if the middle class doesn’t think we cut their taxes,” said Corry Bliss, the Leadership Fund’s executive director.
If anything, the fight over taxes is only about to escalate. Democratic lawmakers are holding “teach-ins” against the measure in their districts. As conservative groups prepare to spend tens of millions of dollars to sell the law, Democrats are preparing their own ad campaigns to portray it as helping only the rich.
Around 4 in 5 taxpayers are expected to get a tax cut this year, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, and workers will start seeing bigger paychecks within weeks. But one other problem facing the GOP is that an average worker could get only about a $30 boost every two weeks, leading to questions about how much voters will notice.
To sway public perceptions, Republicans and their allies are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on digital and television ads.
Groups affiliated with billionaire donors Charles and David Koch plan to spend $20 million this year to sell the tax changes to voters, on top of $20 million also spent to help shepherd the bill through Congress.
The American Action Network, a sister group to the Congressional Leadership Fund, has already spent around $29 million in defense of the GOP’s tax efforts and expects to spend millions more in the months to come. And another supporter, the Job Creators Network, announced a new multimillion-dollar campaign on Thursday that will include a nationwide bus tour on top of advertisements.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also expected to put extensive resources behind the tax bill, and that’s not even getting into the support that the Trump administration is likely to add. The president recently plugged the bill near Pittsburgh, where Republicans are trying to save a House seat in a special election.
That spending reflects not only the surge of donations Republicans received because of their tax-cutting efforts, but also how much work the GOP faces to build support for the bill.
“The tax bill has everything to do with the success of the American people. And if the American people are successful, they are going to show that at the ballot box,” said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, the chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm.
Democrats aren’t abandoning the airwaves to Republicans, though they will likely have less to spend. Not One Penny, a group that sprung up in opposition to the GOP’s tax-cutting efforts, has vowed to spend $5 million on advertisements this year, primarily on television.
Progressives are also relying more heavily on grass-roots events to stir up a base already strongly opposed to the tax bill. House Democrats held a series of teach-ins on the tax law this month, taking the party’s arguments against the tax bill directly to constituents, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged her rank and file to do more the first two weekends in February.
Pelosi appeared at a Not One Penny event in Florida on Thursday, and the group has already held similar get-togethers in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Not One Penny has a protest scheduled this week for White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., the site of the GOP congressional retreat.
Not One Penny’s Tim Hogan said he was confident that “the energy is on our side” in the tax fight, but also acknowledged that it’s “just a fact that the Koch brothers will have more money than us.”
Still, Hogan says he doesn’t fear the other side’s money advantage. “They lit a pile of money on fire to run a PR campaign, and everybody still hated the bill when it passed. They’re going to light more on fire, and I don’t know what’s going to change,” he said.
What has changed since December is that dozens of U.S. corporations — including companies like Apple, Starbucks and Walmart — have given the GOP tax bill a boost by offering workers one-time bonuses and pay raises. The companies have some incentive to play up the role that the tax bill played in their decision-making, including currying favor with the Trump administration and courting a public that has long believed that corporations paid too little in taxes.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have argued that average workers are more likely to get one-time bonuses than permanent pay raises out of the tax bill — or “crumbs,” as they like to put it — while corporate bigwigs are reaping the real benefits of the tax bill.
Schumer noted on the Senate floor last week that big corporations like Kimberly-Clark announced they’d use tax savings to restructure and shed jobs, while more than a couple others announced big stock buyback initiatives that will benefit major investors more than average Americans.
“A lot of nice announcements, a lot of bits of glitz, but actually, the condition of the American worker is not getting much better, and often many times worse,” Schumer said.
GOP strategists say Democrats have gone over the top in denouncing the tax cut and the bonus announcements, giving them at least a short-term advantage in the public relations war. But they also acknowledge the challenges of winning when voters generally believe the economy is in a good place, Trump’s approval ratings remain far below 50 percent and Democrats have had repeated special election success in traditionally GOP areas.
They’re taking heart from some poll numbers, which show that the bill’s popularity has risen in some places since December. The Pew survey reported that people who were better acquainted with the bill were more likely to view it positively, leaving Republicans to think the bill’s popularity has room to grow.
“The question on a lot of Republicans’ minds is whether the gravitational force of the current political environment will limit public opinion upside, or if this marks the beginning of a longer-lasting shift that improves GOP prospects in 2018,” said Ken Spain, a GOP consultant.
Aaron Lorenzo contributed to this report.
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