- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2019

With the tax deadline looming next week, Republicans are trying to rescue the reputation of their $1.5 trillion tax cut bill, which Americans just don’t seem to think has helped them very much.

The GOP says it’s not true, and taxpayers have indeed kept hundreds if not thousands of dollars more over the last year — but that message has not broken through.

“We do a good job talking numbers. We don’t do a good job of telling the story,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, South Dakota Republican. “Dems just simply do a better job of sharing the story than the Republicans do, and it’s something we know we’ve got to work on. We’re just wired different. We talk dollars and cents, rather than emotion.”

The law passed in December 2017, meaning this year’s filing season is the first to be affected by it.

The Tax Policy Center has estimated that roughly 80% of American households should see a net tax cut under the new law, compared to 5% who would see their taxes go up.

But just 17% of Americans actually believe their taxes are going down, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week.

“I touted it at home, but I heard very little in the way of ‘attaboys’ at home,” said Rep. Charles Fleischmann, Tennessee Republican.

It’s a major hindrance for Republicans who’d counted on the law to be the crowning achievement of President Trump’s first-term agenda. They’ve argued the strong economy and record job numbers are a result of the tax cuts.

Mr. Fleischmann said the disconnect is “one of those political mysteries” and that he thinks history will look on the law kindly.

“But it’s odd — from the inception, and I don’t know why, I don’t know if it ever resounded with the American people,” he said. “And it should have, because households saw their paychecks get larger and things like that. But for some reason, it just never really got the full credit that I felt it should have with the American people.”

The law cut individual rates across the board, doubled the standard deduction, and slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

Those benefits accrued over the course of the last year, with savings showing up in each paycheck. But that may have lacked the spark of attention-grabbing tax cuts during the Obama and Bush years, where “front-loaded” economic stimulus packages saw the government cut checks directly to taxpayers.

“Doing it through paychecks just doesn’t get the same kind of notice,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. “Some of the best parts of the tax cut on the individual side, at least, showed up in paychecks, in relatively small chunks yes, you have a difficult selling job.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said the GOP did not do a good enough job selling the benefits of the law to the public.

“No. No. No. How many times do I have to say it? No. Take no for an answer,” the Nebraska Republican said and laughed.

He said one issue is that aggregate positive effects from the law on unemployment, wages, and the stock market don’t necessarily resonate with people day-to-day.

“When you’re trying to put groceries on the table, when you’re not sure how you’re going to pay for your kid’s piano practice at the end of the month, those things tend to become more important than what happened in an aggregate tax bill,” he said.

Republicans also faced a wave of rough press when the average tax refund was down at the beginning of this tax season, leading to stories suggesting the tax cuts had actually left people paying more.

Fact-checkers pointed out that year-end refunds aren’t equivalent to a taxpayer’s overall taxes — and the numbers rebounded anyway, with the average refund through March 29 running at $2,873, or $20 less than at the same time last year.

“By the time the reality of the data caught up with the wild claims, there was hardly anyone around to report it,” Mr. Sepp said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, suggested that the benefit taxpayers got might end up competing with other costs in their lives.

“I can assure you when they’re sitting there going over their personal expenses, I think they’ll recognize the 2,100 bucks,” he said. “But it’s all relative [to] everything else they may have to deal with.”

Democrats, meanwhile, said it’s tough to sell a law they say was flawed to begin with. No Democrats voted for the law, saying it was a giveaway to the rich.

“I don’t think it’s about winning a war on messaging. It was a terrible bill that added $2.3 trillion to our national debt and helped people that didn’t need any help,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, California Democrat and a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “The American people are a lot smarter than I think they gave [them] credit for.”

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