The Corner

Politics & Policy

Rubio, Taxes, and the Frequent Stupidity of Political Reporting

Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, March 14, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senator Rubio gave what appears to be a wide-ranging interview to The Economist in which he made some comments about the recently enacted tax law that are unusual for a Republican. Some conservatives and some liberals interpreted his comments as much sharper criticisms of the tax law than his actual words warranted.

As I noted yesterday, everything The Economist reported him as saying was compatible with his thinking that the tax bill was on balance worth enacting and that it was right, in particular, to bring corporate tax rates down. But he also believes, based on those quotes, that a lot of Republicans are overselling the gains that will come from the corporate-tax-rate reduction. I argued that Rubio was right on all of his quoted points.

Rubio has written an op-ed for NRO that basically confirms my interpretation of what he said and adds some details about his views. For example, he argues that it would have been better to cut the corporate tax rate a bit less and done a bit more to let companies write off the costs of investment immediately. I think he’s right about that, too. (Probably the leading proponent of this view in Congress during the years leading up to the bill, incidentally, was Representative Devin Nunes.)

Naturally, nobody is saying, Well, I guess we overreacted to those Rubio comments because we didn’t take any time to try to understand them.

Instead, Politico‘s Quint Forgey is claiming that Rubio “is walking back some of the criticism he leveled against the new Republican tax law earlier this week, now claiming the measure ‘has been good for Americans’ overall.” Never mind that he hasn’t altered any individual point he made, and never denied that the measure had been good for Americans overall. (For all we know, he said it was good overall to The Economist and just didn’t get quoted on it.)

At CNN.com, Daniella Diaz quotes Rubio’s NRO comment that the law was worth enacting and then adds, “His arguments in the op-ed sound less critical than the comments he gave to The Economist, where he said there’s ‘no evidence’ the lowered tax rate has helped American workers.” Rubio didn’t quite say what Diaz claims: He actually said there’s “no evidence” that corporations’ tax savings are being “massively poured back into the American worker.” Which is entirely compatible with the view that the bill was, overall, to the good — whether or not it “sounds” that way to someone who isn’t paying attention.

Update, 7:32 p.m.: Since I posted this, I have read many more journalists who say Rubio has backtracked. I have also read a transcript of The Economist interview, which confirms 1) that Rubio praised the tax bill, 2) that he said it was right to cut the corporate tax rate, 3) that he said he thought it could have been cut a little bit less and other taxes cut a little more, and 4) that among the other tax cuts he would have liked would have been one letting companies write off the costs of investment in the U.S. immediately. He hasn’t backtracked from any of this. A lot of journalists are lazily going with a pre-existing narrative they believe about Rubio rather than thinking through any of these issues.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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