Politics

Curbelo ties his political future in Congress to an unpopular tax law

Carlos Curbelo, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress, is doubling down on the nation’s new — and largely unpopular — tax code.

Nearly four months after Congress passed $1 trillion in tax cuts, polls show that less than half the country holds a favorable view of the legislation. And despite a late-February popularity boost, opinions appear to once again be on the wane.

That could spell trouble for Curbelo, who helped draft the legislation as a member of the congressional tax-writing committee.

But heading into a challenging mid-term election, the Miami Republican is undaunted. With Congress on a spring recess, Curbelo visited a West Dade child-care center Monday to meet with families and tout the benefits of the new tax cuts.

“What the tax bill is doing is, it’s pushing the economic recovery deeper into our society, which is why more and more you find Americans and small business owners expressing confidence about the economy. And people do relate tax policy to the economy,” Curbelo said from a Lincoln-Marti school on the Tamiami Trail, where he and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio spoke to parents and teachers. “So, while the bill itself, you’ll see the [poll] numbers go up and down because people have labeled it, people have lied about it, some people said that the tax bill would be Armageddon — and obviously this has an influence on public opinion — I think the fundamentals are good. People are seeing meaningful wage growth for the first time in a long time.”

It’s an important message for House Republicans, who hope to blunt an expected Democratic surge at the polls and the consequences of an unpopular and unpredictable president in office. As President Trump tweeted Monday about a Mexican border wall and Parkland students tweeted about gun control, Rubio and Curbelo sought to steer the conversation back to the economy.

Curbelo, who frequently appeared alongside House Speaker Paul Ryan to tout the bill in Spanish last year — and unlike other Republicans from competitive districts never wavered in his support — said people are still struggling but “feel like things are getting better.” He said he’d just stopped at a McDonald’s, which announced it would invest $150 million into tuition assistance for its employees. He said other, smaller companies are doing similar things, even if some of those actions aren’t covered by the media.

Curbelo’s messaging about the economy mirrors campaigning this week by the House Speaker. Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Paul Ryan, said that for Republicans, doing anything other than selling the new tax plan “is a waste of time and money.” The CLF opened a field operation in Curbelo's district nearly 18 months ahead of the 2018 elections, and has been touting Curbelo’s tax work on door hangers throughout the district.

“As people see the benefits of it, the [poll] numbers will get even higher,” said Rubio, who threatened to vote against the tax bill last year until last-minute changes were made to the child tax credit for families. “A lot of the benefits of the tax code will be evident next year as people file their taxes. The child tax credit is an example. It’s not something you will get during the year. It’s something you will benefit from next January, February, March or April when you file your taxes.”

But those benefits won’t be seen until after election day. In the meantime, Democrats plan to criticize the tax bill’s impacts on healthcare and the deficit. They’ll also attack Curbelo over a provision inserted into the tax bill after it left the tax-writing committee that allows certain owners of “pass-through” companies to deduct 20 percent of their profits from their taxes. Curbelo’s wife, Cecilia, owns a pass-through company called Capitol Gains LLC which could benefit financially from the new legislation.

“Congressman Curbelo is more than welcome to run on President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s tax bill that gives handouts to big corporations and jacks up healthcare premiums for tens of thousands of South Florida families,” said Cole Leiter, regional press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Right now, Curbelo faces a likely challenge on the left from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who said the legislation “cut taxes for the wealthy and big corporations” and will force Congress to “cut benefits like Social Security and Medicare or pass a trillion dollar debt to our children.”

Curbelo said Monday that “it’s easy for the tax bill to be politicized.” He’s confident that voters will be come to associate the tax legislation with the outlook on the economy.

“I think what’s a wonderful proxy for the tax bill is how people are feeling about the economy,” Curbelo said. “And without question, increasingly, more and more Americans are feeling like things are getting better.”

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