Tuesday's election rout of Republican candidates is being seen by several GOP lawmakers as a sign that they need to quickly pass tax reform, or risk facing an even worse midterm election in 2018.
"If you don't get [tax reform] done, you're guaranteed a bad midterm," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I think this is something that will help us politically, but again, people give you majorities for a reason. If you don't use them and get things done, they'll take them away and give them to somebody else."
"The best way to get run over by this train is to stand still," Cole added. "So you need to actually produce if you're the majority, and I think this is a reminder that the American people are watching, that they are paying attention to what happens, and ... if they don't think you're productive, they're not going to hesitate to fire you."
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, argued the mass losses for the party are a clear reflection of voter anger over the lack of accomplishments and inaction by Republicans, who now control both Congress and the White House. The GOP failed to repeal or overhaul Obamacare early in the year, and now are pushing to pass a complicated tax reform bill by December.
"I think it's more lack of progress with Congress," Meadows said, when asked if he thought voters were mad at President Trump. "I can tell you that back home in my district in North Carolina, they're very supportive of the Trump agenda and the president, and they see them as one in the same in my district. But they're very, extremely frustrated at levels that I've never seen with the inability of Congress to put things on the president's desk."
"If we don't fix that, there's going to be a day of reckoning in the not too distant future that will not be pleasant," Meadows added.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is writing the tax bill in the Senate, agreed.
"We need to step it up," Hatch said when asked about the dismal GOP election results. "We need to do better."
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a former chair of the House fundraising arm, said Republicans should concentrate on passing an agenda rather than focusing on two state elections that did not revolve around the performance of Congress.
“What we have to do here is keep our focus and get our work done and then when the campaigns ramp up, we’ll have things to go talk about,” Walden said.
Others, like Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, don't believe the losses ratchet up the pressure to pass a tax bill, since the GOP is already pressuring itself to get it done.
“We didn’t need the election to communicate that,” said the second-ranking Senate Republican. “We understand that, and feel significant pressure to do that, and we will.”
But the election results have clearly spooked some GOP lawmakers from high-tax districts who fear the tax reform proposal could make it harder for them to win re-election because their constituents could see a tax increase. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of the most politically vulnerable Republicans who represents wealthy San Diego, has already pledged to vote against the bill in current form, as have other Republicans whose constituents would pay more under the GOP tax plan.
That fear is expected to make it harder to find Republican votes, and Democrats are playing up this division. Some Democrats are daring Republicans to stick with their plan to eliminate the state and local tax deduction that is popular in higher-income, suburban Republican districts like Issa’s.
“Where did they get clobbered? The suburbs,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday, as he noted that suburbs are where the state and local tax deduction has the greatest impact. “We are saying to our Republican colleagues, 'If you continue to try to eliminate the state and local tax deduction, you are going to kill suburban legislators who are already in trouble because the suburban voters tend not to like Donald Trump.'"
As Democrats hammer away at the GOP, Republicans are trying to negotiate with their rank and file on key elements of the tax bill. One key question is how to handle the state and local tax deduction, which is particularly popular in the high-tax states including New York and New Jersey, in addition to California.
Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., who represents Staten Island, said GOP lawmakers should vote according to whether the bill benefits their own districts.
“I support the president on many things,” Donovan said. “Border security and the travel pause, that may not sit well with people in other districts. The security of our country is very important to them, but so are equal benefits for the tax bill.”
Rep. Chris Collins, another New York Republican, described the post-election pressure to finish tax reform as “so intense, I don’t think you could put more pressure on us.”
He predicted Republicans will hold the House and Senate, if they pass a bill by the end of the year, in time for the benefit to have an impact in 2018.
Voters, he said, “are going to realize we’ve accomplished something historic and I believe that is going to carry us.”