Dems aim to turn tax plan into cudgel in 2018 midterms

Associated Press


A Democratic congressional candidate outside Philadelphia calls the Republican tax overhaul a “cynical bill” that will redistribute wealth upward.

While Republicans celebrate a massive tax overhaul they say will goose the economy and increase workers’ take-home pay up and down the income ladder, Democrats are aiming to turn the tax law into a cudgel in next year’s fight to retake control of Congress and to dent GOP advantages in statehouses.

Democrats hope to use the tax plan, passed without a single Democratic vote, to help reclaim their identity as the party of middle-class and working-class America. They hope Republican efforts to gut the 2010 health care law and President Donald Trump’s unpopularity will help that cause.

“It’s all a consistent message: This is not what you were promised,” says Chrissy Houlahan, a Democratic candidate in the suburban Philadelphia district of Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, who voted for the tax plan. He is one of Democrats’ top GOP targets as they try to flip the 24 GOP-held seats necessary for a House majority.

Republicans acknowledge dismal polling for their approach but count on a turnaround in public opinion as tax cuts for many take effect.

A Wall-Street Journal/NBC News poll taken Dec. 13-15 found just 17 percent of respondents expect to pay less in taxes, while a third thought they’d pay more. Two-thirds of those polled said corporations would get breaks; more than half said rich people would get cuts.

Indeed, the overhaul slashes the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent, and adds generous deductions for certain types of businesses. Yet the plan also lowers individual rates and alters various deductions and credits. Results vary widely but the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center calculates that every income bracket will see gains in after-tax income, at least until some of provisions expire after 2025.

Suburban Democrats such as Houlahan particularly object to a new cap on deductions for state and local taxes, along with limits on mortgage interest deductions. One provision limits a household to a maximum deduction of $10,000 in state and local taxes, including property levies. Interest calculated on mortgage debt beyond $750,000 also would not be deductible, down from the current $1 million cap.

Those changes fall disproportionately on the nation’s largest metro areas, particularly along the coasts, where median incomes are often much higher than the national benchmark but where residents also have considerably higher housing costs and local tax burdens.

Such House districts feature prominently on Democrats’ target list in 2018. Several are now represented by Republicans who voted against the final tax bill, such as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who represents New Jersey’s 11th congressional district. He cited the deductions cap in explaining his “no” vote.

Democrats beyond the higher-income, high-tax suburbs are bullish as well, leaning on more populist arguments values and priorities, such as the prospect that the tax cuts will increase the national debt.