Republicans see tax cuts as a way to motivate voters when Democrats have enthusiasm

Republicans are likely going to lose congressional seats in November, a trend that goes back decades when a new president’s party also controls Congress.

But in an environment where incumbent South Florida Republicans are mostly playing defense on issues like healthcare, immigration and guns, there’s one issue where they think action over the last two years can excite independents and the base alike: taxes.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo was partially responsible for writing the GOP tax bill, the most significant legislation that the Republican-controlled Congress passed under President Donald Trump. Each of the three Miami Republicans in the House, Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted for the final bill, which cuts taxes for most individuals for the next eight years, cuts corporate taxes and gives a bigger child tax credit to families. The bill will also likely blow a massive hole in the federal deficit.

“I think our biggest accomplishment was to pass historic tax reform legislation that has allowed an economic recovery to include more Americans,” Curbelo said. “That doesn’t mean everyone is in perfect financial shape in this country but without question since we passed tax reform, [employers] are investing more in American workers, businesses are coming back and foreign competitors are not beating us.”

The economy is also in an upswing, something that could bode well for Republicans campaigning on the tax bill. Unemployment is at a near 50-year low, though hiring and wage growth is sluggish. Republicans passed the bill on party lines and Democrats were left out of negotiations. A few Republicans from wealthier areas of New York and California voted against the bill because it capped the deduction on state, local and property taxes.

Some notable opposition to one part of the tax bill came from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who advocated for a slightly smaller corporate tax cut in exchange for an expanded child tax credit, though he is not up for reelection and ultimately voted for the final bill.

Outside groups are touting the tax cuts, including a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan that opened a field operation in Curbelo’s district nearly 18 months ahead of Election Day.

“In my district the median family of four got tax relief of approximately $2,000,” Curbelo said. “Some people think that’s crumbs, but I know people who have said it’s the difference between taking a vacation or not or affording a car payment or not. It’s given a lot of families and individuals relief after a decade of stagnant wages and low growth. Things are getting better in our country economically.”

But the average tax cut disproportionately benefits wealthy Americans.

Households making $500,000 or more will see a 3.3 percent to 4.3 percent savings on their tax bill this year, while households making less than $75,000 will see a 1.6 percent savings at most, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. Households making more than $1 million will see a 0.9 percent tax savings in 2027, after the tax cuts passed by Congress sunset, and households making less than $75,000 will see a slight tax increase.

Recent polling also suggests that the tax cuts may not be a winning political issue for Republicans. An internal GOP poll by Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies suggested that “we’ve lost the messaging battle on this issue” and that Americans believe by a 2 to 1 margin that the tax bill benefits large corporations and rich people over middle and working class people.

Rubio has argued that Republicans need to do a better job of promoting tax cuts as a win for non-wealthy Americans, and that too many Republican lawmakers were dead-set on securing the lowest corporate tax rate possible at the expense of other tax provisions like an expanded child tax credit that directly benefit families. His comments in an April Economist article were fodder for Democrats when he said, “If we basically say everyone is on their own and the market’s going to take care of it, we will rip the country apart, because millions of good hardworking people lack the means to adapt.”

But Republicans have spent the past months arguing that average Americans have benefited from their employer’s lower tax rates, and that the tax savings in the bill are significant for most Americans, even if they don’t make much money. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is also touting his record cutting taxes at the state level while running for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat, and Nelson complained that Republican leaders didn’t include Democrats in the process as the bill went through the Senate Finance Committee, where he is a member.

All three Democrats running for Congress in Miami, Donna Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores oppose the GOP tax cuts, though that hasn’t been a central message in any of the Democratic campaigns for Congress.

“We Cuban Americans have always been conservative,” said Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican hoping to replace the retiring Ros-Lehtinen in November, in a recent Spanish-language radio appearance. “And what do conservatives want? They want freedom, they want us to be able to keep the largest amount of earnings possible, to pay fewer taxes and to have the government provide us with basic services.”

Alex Daugherty, @alextdaugherty, 202-383-6049