Maybe Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell aren’t so bad.
In fact, their successful effort to pass the most significant tax reform in three decades show Ryan and McConnell to be, on the whole, remarkably competent, and solidly conservative.
Professional right-wing malcontents and crisis-mongers, and their legions of mantra-spouting followers, should now eat humble pie and give credit where it’s due. Without any significant public sales job from the White House, with only a narrow Senate majority and when Republican poll numbers are at a nadir, Ryan and McConnell got the job done.
But will the same Bannonite demagogues who declared war on the Republican “establishment,” and blamed congressional leaders for the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, now praise those same leaders? Will the fulminators whose idea of intelligent commentary starts and stops with endless repetition of jargon such as “RINO,” “swamp,” “cuck,” and “neocon” now interrupt their invective? Will the nattering nabobs stop nattering?
This tax reform is good, conservative policy. The top corporate tax rate will drop by two-fifths. Pass-through corporations will now exclude 20 percent of their income from taxation. Businesses will be able to immediately “expense” capital investments. Individual rates drop for almost everybody. Lower-income workers will vastly benefit from the near doubling of the standard deduction. Tax-return filing for a majority of Americans will become far simpler. Numerous “special interests” will no longer be able to game the system.
The “death tax” is greatly reduced. The awful Alternative Minimum Tax will fall on far fewer Americans. Millions of barrels of oil can now be produced from Alaskan tundra. And, lo and behold, a key linchpin of Obamacare, the philosophically odious “individual mandate” to purchase health insurance is now kaput.
And none of this was easy. In our Madisonian system, legislating is hard work. It requires careful policy analysis, painstaking consensus-building both within Congress and among fractious activist groups, and almost endless rounds of complicated number-crunching, all within strictures of unyielding parliamentary rules.
They accomplished all this even as the president of their own party kept dropping grenades within their ranks by repeatedly insulting Republican senators already most at risk of defecting, harming the Republican “brand” by endorsing alleged child molesters, and exacerbating political vitriol in ways that made it even tougher to attract even a single “crossover” vote from Democrats.
Despite those obstacles, congressional leaders won the day. Ryan, in particular, has been brainstorming and selling tax reform of this sort for years. Ably assisted by the brilliant and indefatigable House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, and by a solid leadership team now made whole by the heroic return to work of Whip Steve Scalise, Ryan relentlessly pushed the House to “yes.” (Of course, he had done the same, despite getting no credit from the right-wing agitators, with regard to replacing Obamacare, only to see the Senate and president fail to deliver.)
As for McConnell, he did yeoman’s work. It is just not easy to pull together centrists such as Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins with hardliners like Ted Cruz, deficit hawks such as Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, and a mountain of other egos – all topped off by a last-minute prima donna act by Marco Rubio pushing bad macro-economics while dreams of another presidential run dance in his head.
Mitch McConnell can be a ham-handed klutz when trying to dictate Republican choices in hinterland elections, but he is both a real conservative and a master of internal Capitol Hill maneuverings. Anybody who doesn’t understand what a legislative triumph this was for McConnell is just plain ignorant of how the legislative process works. Trump fans love to blame McConnell for Trump’s own belly flop on Obamacare, but they give Trump rather than the Senate leader all the praise for McConnell’s stalwart efforts to confirm appellate court nominees and to fashion a majority for these tax cuts.
(Lest someone accuse me of doing the converse by giving McConnell only credit while giving Trump none, let this be said: In two ways, Trump did help improve the tax bill on both substance and political viability. First, he gave key impetus to the inclusion in the bill of the Obamacare individual-mandate repeal. Second, he reportedly was effective, behind the scenes, at lobbying a few wavering senators to support the bill.)
Are McConnell and Ryan perfect? Of course not. McConnell, especially, can be imperious and tone deaf. But both of them are accomplished leaders who have contributed much to conservatism and country, with this new tax law being just the latest proof. The nabobs and demagogues can call the Republicans leaders enemies, but in doing so, paint only themselves as fools.
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.
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