House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee are unveiling their “Tax Reform 2.0” plan this week. At the center of the proposal, which could come as a package of separate bills, is an effort to tie up the biggest loose end from the tax bill that Republicans passed along party lines late last year: making permanent the cuts for individuals and pass-through businesses, which are set to expire after 2025.
The bill is going nowhere, as most Democrats in both chambers of Congress won’t go for it without additional changes to last year’s reform bill. Late summer of an election year isn’t typically a fruitful time for serious legislating. Instead, the new proposal is intended to serve as a messaging device for House Republicans down the final stretch of the campaign season.
Will it matter?
To assess that question, consider the closing weeks of the March special election in Pennsylvania’s 19th District, where Republicans pulled their ads touting the glories of the tax law. As Politico reported at the time, roughly two-thirds of the ads from both the campaign of the GOP candidate, Rick Saccone, and outside groups supporting him, mentioned the tax law in mid-February. By the end of the month, that figure fell to 14 percent. The day before the election, Politico wrote, “tax ads have been essentially nonexistent.”
Instead, the Saccone campaign and its affiliates closed the race with ads about sanctuary cities and relentless efforts to tie Democrat Conor Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom Lamb had explicitly rejected in an ad of his own. Red meat. Lamb won anyway.
That pattern is repeating itself ahead of the Aug. 7 special election in Ohio’s 12th District, one that’s roughly similar, if a touch less red, than Pennsylvania’s 19th. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Republican leaders, had been running one tax-related ad in support of Republican nominee Troy Balderson. But even that ad, in a jarringly comical change of tone halfway through, transitioned into an attack on Pelosi.
As the Washington Post reports, that ad has been cycled off the air and replaced with ones like the below piece of work, about how Balderson’s Democratic opponent, Danny O’Connor, is in cahoots with Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren in wanting immigrants to flood the country and wreak havoc.
That doesn’t mean that tax-related ads have disappeared entirely, though: Democrats are running them. A pair of ads cite the $2 trillion “corporate tax giveaway” that Balderson supports, and they argue that the taxes cuts will be offset with higher taxes on the next generation or with cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
When I asked Republican members if they were concerned about the efficacy of the tax message, given that campaigns have cycled them out, I was mostly met with talking points of economic statistics.
“The lowest unemployment rate in 47 years. Over $50 billion dollars worth of new infusion of investment in the United States of America, and a GDP and stock market that are rising steadily,” Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a former National Republican Campaign Committee chairman, told me. “I’m not the least bit worried about that issue.”
You can make the argument that tax reform isn’t supposed to serve as the closing motivator. It is the foundation for House Republicans’ 2018 campaign, the issue they talk about in the early and middle months of an election before the frenzied final weeks, when the playbook instructs them to scream at maximum volume about scary immigrants with drugs or the satanic values of Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco.
That argument makes the introduction of “Tax Reform 2.0” now seem superfluous, as if Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady is just taking a walk by himself in the woods. Splitting Democrats on a resolution to honor Immigrations and Customs Enforcement last week offers Republican campaigns much more in the way of talking points than a bill to lock in tax rates for 2026. They might as well skip the perfunctory tax-messaging exercises and cut straight to the grievances.