Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Wednesday struggled to explain his opposition to the Republican tax overhaul, conceding in a local radio interview that it contains “some good things” that could benefit his state.
The $1.5 trillion package that cleared Congress along party lines on Wednesday is broadly unpopular, according to the polls, and could still cause headaches for Republicans in 2019. But Manchin is running for re-election in a red state where President Trump won overwhelmingly and remains popular, making the Democrat's opposition to the bill problematic.
“There’s some good in this bill. I acknowledge that,” Manchin said, when West Virginia radio talk show host Hoppy Kercheval asked the senator why he opposed legislation that will benefit the “vast majority” of taxpayers and businesses in the state.
“The things that you mention are correct. Initially people will benefit and see some changes in their taxes,” Manchin admitted.
Manchin blamed his opposition on projections from some analysts that the tax overhaul would increase the national debt, and that cuts directed at individuals and married couples is temporary and sunset in 2025 without further action from Congress, versus the corporate cuts, which are permanent.
He also complained of a coming increase in health care costs because the legislation repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate to purchase insurance. At times, it appeared that Manchin was wrestling with his answers, trying to justify his “no” vote without being too critical, and antagonizing Trump.
“Why did the permanency have to go on the big end, and not on the individuals who really got left behind?” Manchin said. “I think there is going to be benefit from the get-go, which is called the sugar high”
Democratic opposition to the formerly named Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the first federal tax reform in 31 years, was unanimous.
Most Democrats disagree with key policy aspects of the bill; and with Trump’s national approval numbers hovering near 40 percent and public opinion of the tax reform legislation under water from the outset, they aren’t second-guessing their “no” votes.
Manchin, and the few other Senate Democrats up for re-election in ruby red states, is in a different position.
Trump still has high approval ratings in West Virginia, a state he won over Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 42 percentage points. The senator could face blowback for voting against a measure Trump championed — and that was supported by the Republicans in his state.
If voters in the working class-dominated state come to embrace the tax bill, Manchin’s re-election challenges could intensify.
And it’s not just him. Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states facing similar potential hurdles over their opposition include Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Still, Democrats are optimistic that their opposition will pay off in 2018, even as some major corporations announced that passage of the tax overhaul was spurring them to raise wages and pay out bonuses to employees.
In part, that’s because they believe Republicans aren’t going to be able to change voters’ minds, including in suburban GOP strongholds. The GOP’s challenge is to convince voters in electoral battlegrounds that tax reform is going to improve their personal bottom line, something many didn’t believe it would do as it was on the cusp of being signed into law by Trump.
"Throw out all of the messaging against massive, permanent corporate tax cuts supported by increasing the deficit and making your personal tax benefit temporary,” a Democratic operative said. “The Republicans now are in part making the same mistake that [former President] Barack Obama did with the payroll tax cut.”
“The families that get a tax cut will see that impact in their paychecks, but like with Obama's payroll tax cut, it will give them more money but not so much more that they feel it, imperiling Republican efforts to run on the cut,” this operative added. And that's to say nothing of how it stacks up against, say, healthcare costs, which the Republicans have helpfully taken ownership of.”