Lamb win in Pa. suggests GOP’s historically bad tax overhaul can be repealed

Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District

Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District celebrates with his supporters at his election night party in Canonsburg, Pa., early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

This week’s election in the 18th District in Pennsylvania, in which Democrat Conor Lamb beat Republican Rick Saccone in a special U.S. House election, was supposed to be the first test of the GOP’s message on taxes.

Nearly $8 million in tax-focused ads from corporate-backed groups later, and the GOP still couldn’t make this tax law palpable to a skeptical public.

It turns out trading people’s Medicaid and Medicare coverage for tax cuts for the very richest is not a winning message, even after a ad campaign meant to mislead the public.

Indeed, Republicans and right-wing advocacy groups began to see blood in the water on their tax message weeks ago and escaped to some more comfortable ground — immigration and right-wing red meat.

But given their huge spending advantage on tax ads, it would be difficult not to take away that the GOP message on taxes — that if we just continue to lay more tax cuts on the wealthy, prosperity will eventually trickle down to others — is not a winning one.

If there is a lesson from this, it’s that when progressives fight back against this disastrous tax plan, they win.

Standing up against a tax plan that will give 83 percent of its tax cuts to the top 1 percent of earners will define the progressive economic agenda in sharp contrast with the bill that only received Republican votes.

To put that into context, only 27 percent of the Bush tax cuts went to the richest 1 percent, and that plan wasn’t exactly seen as a populist extravaganza.  

The Lamb-Saccone race is just the first test of the GOP’s tax plan; Koch-backed organizations stand ready to spend $400 million on the “like-minded” Republicans who shepherded donors’ massive tax cuts.

Like Lamb, though, progressives should not shrink from the Koch ads playing across their TV screens. In spite of all the money spent to promote it, people still aren’t for this law.

Progressives should boldly embrace the mantle of repealing this historically bad tax move. For voters, the truth is coming into focus — that this law isn’t, and never was, to help American families. Progressives must make that case at every turn.

The fact is the tax plan has failed to live up to Republican promises. Since its passage, just 2 percent of American adults reported receiving a bonus, an increase in pay, or other benefits from the Trump Tax, and most companies had no plans to use their tax break to help the very workers Republicans pledged would receive long-term economic benefits.

In fact, some companies lauded bonuses to employees the same day that they handed pink slips to their workers. On the same day Walmart announced its bonuses (which were minimal to all but 20-year employees), Sam’s Club announced it was closing 63 stores and laying off thousands of workers.

Days later, Walmart announced thousands of additional layoffs.

That same week, Huggies-maker Kimberly-Clark admitted that the gains from TrumpTax would help the company reorganize and lay off more than 5,000 workers. (In the same statement, Kimberly-Clark’s spokesman assured shareholders they would still get their bonuses, by the way.)

These paltry results for middle- and low-income Americans come at a time when Americans badly need a raise.

Not only have they not gotten the raise Republicans promised (a $4,000 raise was what they claimed the average worked would receive, to be exact), but under TrumpTax their relatively small tax break will expire. When it’s fully phased in, a majority of Americans — 53 percent of households — will see a tax hike to fund these tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

There have been winners, however.

According to market data from Trim Tabs, corporations have averaged $4.8 billion in shareholder buybacks per day. These buybacks are like bonuses to corporate shareholders and have outpaced those for working Americans by nearly 50-1.   

So, how do progressives prove that they are on the side of working Americans?

They need to show the American people they believe in an economy that puts people, and not companies, first. They need to communicate that they believe in fairness for workers, and that middle-class Americans are the engine of growth in the economy, not wealthy corporations.

And they need to make the case that giving tax relief that looks like $1.50 to a secretary and $11 billion to wealthy oil companies is out of line with American values. Any tax law that is this skewed results in middle-class families getting, for lack of a better term, screwed.

Tuesday’s election in Western Pennsylvania tested the muscle of wealthy, corporate political donors against the will of the people.

As we saw happen in the 18th District, we need leaders across the political left to show that there is a better vision for the future of our economy. Our hopes of creating an economy that puts people first depend on it.

Andrea Purse grew up in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. She is an adviser to the Not One Penny campaign and a former senior White House communications aide under President Barack Obama.

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