Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House Democratic leader, reduces the many problems with the GOP health care plan to this: “They have no idea how to explain stealing $600 billion from working families’ health care to give more tax breaks to the richest people in our country.”
Conservative political observers are also connecting the troubled GOP health care proposal to the Republicans’ longstanding promise to act on tax reform.
Once again, the most important tweet last week in conservative politics did not come from President @realDonaldTrump. It came from Matt Drudge, the proprietor of the Drudge Report.
“Republicans lied about wanting tax cuts,” he tweeted. “Can we get our votes back?”
Drudge is looking ahead on the political horizon and seeing that ObamaCare replacement and tax reform can’t be separated. Without a health care plan that cuts federal spending, there is no chance for tax reform.
President Trump stunned a lot of people with his honesty when he recently blurted out that he’d discovered that health care is “an unbelievably complex subject.” He added that he remained determined on health care for one reason:
“And for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he explained.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., acknowledged as much to my Fox colleague Maria Bartiromo last week, while begging for his House caucus to support the problem-filled GOP health care proposal.
“It makes tax reform a lot harder, it makes it more difficult…” without a new, low-cost health care plan, Ryan noted.
In fact, Ryan built the House health care plan on the bedrock promise that it contains “massive tax relief.”
But now with the GOP majority’s mash-up of an effort to replace ObamaCare, the tax reform plan looks like it is headed for the graveyard. The only hope for the GOP is to demand party loyalty to the ObamaCare replacement plan in the service of reviving the tax cuts. Ryan and Trump are twisting arms by telling GOP lawmakers that if they don’t pass tax reform, angry Republican voters will punish them in the 2018 midterms.
But high pressure tactics to produce tax cuts can’t hide the GOP’s health reform implosion. After seven years of campaigning against ObamaCare, including numerous repeal votes and acts of open sabotage, congressional Republicans have failed to come up with a better plan. They don’t even have an inferior plan they can agree on.
Voters have noticed. A Fox News poll showed 54 percent disapproval of the Republican plan. About two-thirds of those who dislike the proposal say their complaint is about “too many changes to ObamaCare.”
To save political face, Ryan is reversing course. He is signaling an openness to changing the failed GOP plan to buy votes from members of his caucus who are walking away from the fiasco.
Even with that SOS call, the speaker’s problem is that the Tea Party’s Freedom Caucus wants more cuts to ObamaCare programs for seniors and the poor. That kind of fix will not arrest the decline in public support.
Meanwhile, Republicans and their allies in the business community are having anxiety attacks at the prospect of tax reform disappearing. They are divided over tax reform proposals, too.
The biggest problem the Republicans face is the so-called “border adjustment tax.” Big manufacturers like Boeing support it, while big retailers like Walmart oppose it.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) is not upbeat about the border adjustment tax: “I don’t think it’s going to pass over here. There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for it. We’re already working on what we’d like to do.”
Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, raised the bar even higher when he told CNBC recently that any tax cut plan will be “deficit neutral over a 10-year period.”
To make matters worse, other fault lines in the tax debate are emerging amongst Republicans.
“The fight over a border-adjustment tax isn’t the only challenge for Republicans in their push for tax reform,” The Hill reported last week. “Notably, some business groups have criticized the proposal to do away with the deduction for businesses’ net interest expenses.”
As The Hill also notes, conservative interest groups are pressing House Republicans to oppose Trump’s campaign promise to eliminate the carried interest tax break.
It’s not like Trump and Republicans lack political cover to go bold on taxes. The problem is that the congressional GOP is unable to reach consensus within its ranks on even its most basic principles.
It is worth remembering that back in 2014, then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, put forward a reasonable tax reform proposal. It was revenue neutral and lowered rates on 99 percent of Americans. His fellow Republicans ignored him. They were busy demonizing ObamaCare.
In their talking points, congressional Republicans like to remind people that the nation has not seen comprehensive tax reform since 1986, when Republican President Ronald Reagan worked with a Democratic speaker, Tip O’Neill.
Republicans are learning there is a reason why it hasn’t happened in more than three decades. Perhaps they should have listened to Camp when they had the chance.
When it comes to a health care plan and tax reform, the GOP might as well echo the famous words of the comic-strip character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC’s “The Five,” where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.