SAD: What It’s Like Watching the GOP Handle Tax Reform

Brian Thomas reports that John McCain’s votes against the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare could replay in the effort to reform tax policies. 

As tax reform gears up in preparation for a vote, many wonder if McCain will stand with his fellow Republicans. If tax reform comes down to a decisive vote, it’s unclear where McCain will stand.

Republicans may have a majority in the Senate, but if more than two Senate Republicans vote no, then the GOP proposal for tax reform could tank by the end of the year.

McCain has said that he sees the current path the tax bills are taking as “encouraging,” but his record on Republican tax reform efforts sheds doubt on how the Senator will vote.

The Washington Post’s Tory Newmyer calls McCain “a moving target.”

The Washington Post reports:

The senator helped tank the GOP’s Obamacare rewrite by arguing in part that it hadn’t followed regular order — that is, there were no actual hearings on the measure before it was pushed to the floor.

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict party-line basis without a single Republican vote,” he said after his vote against the “skinny repeal” bill this summer. If Republicans can agree on a budget, it will set the tax package on the same path. And the spending blueprint would also strip some Republican commitments to transparency, including a pledge to post an official accounting of a tax measure’s budget impact more than a day before a vote.

But unlike the Obamacare rollback attempts, tax bills will be heading through committees — a development that McCain calls “encouraging.”The senator has said he is “confident that by moving through the normal legislative process we can produce a bill that reforms our tax system, boosts our economy, and improves the lives of the people we serve.”

On tax policy itself, McCain has proved a moving target. He opposed the 2001 Bush tax cuts — one of only two Republicans to do so — citing what he called the bill’s lopsided benefits for the wealthy. “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief,” he said. Two years later, he was one of only three Republicans to vote against the next round of Bush cuts, again citing its skew toward the rich but also the deficit impact of another round of breaks as the country faced mounting war bills.

McCain will be sure to judge the latest tax reform efforts as he did in 2001. If he decides, again, that the tax bills benefit “the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans,” he’ll be sure to vote it down.

McCain’s former economic adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, says McCain will “look at the package as a whole” when deciding its worth to the American middle class.

Republicans who think that sounds reasonable need ask themselves if they agreed with McCain’s assessment of the “skinny” repeal and replacement for Obamacare.

The Washington Post continues:

Now, Doug Holtz-Eakin — McCain’s top economic adviser in his 2008 campaign, currently president of the American Action Forum — said the senator will want to know first what a tax bill will mean for the middle class. It’s not clear whether that means the package needs to maintain the current code’s progressivity, and Holtz-Eakin noted he doesn’t speak for McCain. “Nobody gets everything they want,” he said. “He’ll look at the package as a whole and ask if its beneficial for the middle class.”

The deficit impact will matter, too. “He’s cognizant of the fiscal outlook, which is not good, and he’s never been fond of big spending, big government, or big red ink,” Holtz-Eakin tells me.

Finally, he says McCain will zero in on corporate tax avoidance, as he did in the 2013 hearing. “Does this reform take care of that problem? I imagine that conversation will happen.”

Is the man who helped save Obamacare twice to be trusted in deciding what’s “beneficial for the middle class?” If his assessment is as misguided on taxes as it was on healthcare, a nightmare scenario in which McCain reenacts his death blows to conservative health care reform could play out in the Senate chamber this December.

As the vote draws nearer, many Republicans who look on the GOP’s tax reform bills with optimism should keep in mind that McCain’s vote can’t be counted on.