The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Democrats Have Hurt Themselves by Lying about the Tax Cuts

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads Democrats in introducing the “For the People Act” legislation, January 4, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Pretty much every major outlet has now noted that the Democrats have been successful in their attempt to cast the 2017 Trump-led tax cuts as a tax increase. Here’s the New York Times on the topic:

To a large degree, the gap between perception and reality on the tax cuts appears to flow from a sustained — and misleading — effort by liberal opponents of the law to brand it as a broad middle-class tax increase.

Per the Times,

The messaging stuck. In December 2017, polling for The Times by SurveyMonkey showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans — and three-quarters of Democrats — did not believe they would get a tax cut from the new law. In this month’s poll, three-quarters of Democrats again said they did not think they got a tax cut from the law, and the overall share of Americans who said they had benefited rose only slightly from the 2017 expectations.

This, of course, does not comport with reality:

The Tax Policy Center estimates that 65 percent of people paid less under the law and that just 6 percent paid more. (The rest saw little change to their taxes.)

This is a problem for the Democrats.

Electorally, there is perhaps some short-term advantage to be gained from neutralizing — or even reversing — one of Trump’s reelection talking points. But, in the long run, the approach the Democratic party has taken here will be a lot less useful, because, in the long run, the Democratic party’s long-term aim is not to stick it to Donald Trump but to advance its political agenda. By attacking the tax cuts from the right, it has made that aim much, much more difficult to achieve.

In addition to their ever-present complaints about “the rich!” the Democrats’ attack on the 2017 tax cuts had three major prongs:

  1. Taxes on the middle class were increased, and this is bad;
  2. Some wealthier Americans in higher-taxed states saw tax increases, and this is bad;
  3. Some of Trump’s tax cuts will expire in 2027, and this is bad

The first of these attacks is an explicit, deliberate, outright lie. The second and third are essentially correct. What all of them have in common, however, is that they are all anti-tax arguments. This is a big problem for a Democratic party that cannot achieve its vision for America without raising taxes and spending — not just on “the rich,” but on the middle class, too.

Structurally, Trump’s cuts present an obstacle to the Democratic agenda — an obstacle that, eventually, will need to be removed. Quite how the Democrats intend to go about that from their present position is unclear. If, as seems to have happened, Congress can broadly lower taxes and voters can still be convinced that they were raised, there will presumably be hell to pay if Congress actually raises them.

What, one wonders, would the messaging be? “Trump raised taxes, which was wrong, so we are . . . raising them more?” “Rich people get all the breaks, so we are reinstating the SALT deduction?” “Trump’s tax cuts expire in 2027, which is bad, so we aren’t renewing them?”

Sure, the lie has worked. Congrats! But when the cuts are extended come 2027, we’ll all know why.

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