Trump celebrates GOP tax bill

President Trump celebrated the passage of the GOP tax bill at the White House on Dec. 20. “It’s the largest tax cut in the history of our country,” he said.
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President Trump celebrated the passage of the GOP tax bill at the White House on Dec. 20. “It’s the largest tax cut in the history of our country,” he said.
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Capitol Alert

The go-to source for news on California policy and politics

Capitol Alert

With tax vote, California Republicans take a 2018 gamble

By Emily Cadei

ecadei@mcclatchydc.com

December 21, 2017 04:15 PM

Heading into a tough 2018 election cycle, California Republicans in Congress are taking a major political gamble: that delivering on party priorities will energize their base and help beat back the anti-Trump wave Democrats are predicting.

The tax overhaul — which all but two of the state’s congressional Republicans voted for — is just the latest example of that calculation.

State leaders have fretted about the provision setting limits on state and local tax deductions,which Californians and others from high-cost, high-tax states have used to save billions of dollars on their federal tax returns. Poll after poll leading up to the vote showed majorities held negative opinions of the plan, which slashes tax rates across the board but particularly for the wealthy and corporations.

Republican Rep. Steve Knight’s district outside Los Angeles offers a prime example. A poll conducted earlier this month from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 52 percent of residents in Knight’s 25th District disapproved of the tax law, including 39 percent who strongly disapproved.

Yet the congressman joined 11 of his GOP colleagues from California in voting for the final legislation.

Reps. Darrell Issa and Dana Rohrabacher were the two Republicans who voted “no.”

Political strategists say the hyper-partisan nature of today’s politics plays a major role in the Republican’s bet that their constituents will support them after this week’s vote.

California Republicans view the tax overhaul much more favorably than state voters overall — 60 percent of the state’s Republicans approve of the legislation, compared to just 30 percent of all California voters, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released Dec. 19.

In the same vein, a plurality of Republicans favored repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in May when the House voted the undo the healthcare law. All 14 California Republicans voted for repeal, while 38 California Democrats in the House opposed the bill.

The entire GOP delegation also voted earlier this month for a bill that would require California to respect concealed weapons licenses from other states, which was lambasted by many of the Golden State’s top law enforcement officials. It’s been a top priority for gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, however.

Nathan Gonzalez, author of the nonpartisan Inside Elections newsletter, says it’s those traditional GOP constituencies that Republicans need to engage to keep their hold on congressional districts in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and the Central Valley — districts Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in November 2016.

“If these members don’t support high profile Republican bills they risk some Republicans not showing up to vote, and they need the base to be there,” Gonzales explains. “If Republicans don’t turn out and Democrats are enthusiastic, that’s when it’s a huge wave.”

Congressional Republicans feared a particular backlash from the base — and their donors — if they failed to deliver on taxes after their humiliating defeat earlier this year on Obamacare, something GOP members had promised for years to repeal.

Democrats view 10 California Republicans as vulnerable in next year’s election: Jeff Denham, Duncan Hunter, Issa, Knight, Tom McClintock, Devin Nunes, Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, David Valadao, Mimi Walters.

Sacramento-based Republican political strategist Dave Gilliard advises six of them. He argues that by voting for the tax overhaul and Obamacare repeal, “They’re just being consistent with what they said they’d do when they ran for reelection last time.”

On the flip side, California Republicans’ decision to vote the party line on things like taxes and healthcare risks losing support from independents. It also opens the door for Democrats to paint them as little more than lackeys of an unpopular president and Congress.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party arm charged with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives, has already targeted California Republicans for “putting the 1 percent and fellow Republicans” ahead of their constituents in voting for the tax bill.

Given that, it’s striking that few of the state’s House Republicans have sought to deviate from the party on other high-profile issues as a way to demonstrate their independence.

Just one — Royce — has signed onto Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo’s bill to ban the gun accessory known as a bump stock, which authorities believe the shooter in the Las Vegas massacre used to kill and wound more than 500 people. More than a dozen other Republicans —most facing competitive re-election races in blue or purple states like New York, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania —are supporting the legislation.

On immigration, a dominant issue in California, Reps. Denham and Valadao are the only two of the state’s Republicans who are cosponsoring the DREAM Act, which would grant permit legal status to young undocumented residents brought to the country as children.

The population in Valadao’s Bakersfield-area district is more than half Latino, while Denham’s Modesto district is more than a quarter Latino, so it’s not surprising they’ve joined the bipartisan push to protect Dreamers, as the young people are known.

They’re not the only vulnerable Republicans representing large Latino populations, however. Royce and Knight’s Southern California districts are also more than a quarter Latino.

Political analysts point out a few factors that help explain why California’s Republican members haven’t strayed from GOP orthodoxy as much as their fellow blue state brethren. One is the leadership of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

“Obviously the McCarthy factor is substantial,” says Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento political consultant and former communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. McCarthy’s “the real leader of that delegation in a political context and I think many of the members benefit from a close relationship with Kevin, working to support him and to be part of his power base.”

Rumblings that Speaker Paul Ryan may depart Congress after 2018, opening the door for McCarthy to take over the House’s top leadership post, offer another incentive for California Republicans to support his agenda. McCarthy’s elevation would offer the chance for them to land plum leadership posts and other perks of power. So “it makes sense that a lot of these members are on board for the program, Stutzman said.

There’s also the fact that a number of California’s Republicans, including Royce, Rohrabacher and Issa, have been in office for more than a decade and have established reputations in their districts independent of Trump and Republicans in Congress.

But familiarity didn’t save a lot of swing state Democrats in the 2010 Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power in the House, noted Gonzales. “That goodwill can only get you so far,” he said.

Democrats are feeling bullish that the new tax law will continue to be a drag on Republicans in 2018, particularly in a state like California where some middle class residents may well see their taxes go up.

The final law includes some compromises that soften the impact on the Golden State, like keeping the option to deduct state income taxes up to $10,000 and capping the mortgage interest deduction at $750,000, rather than the $500,000 House Republicans had initially proposed.

McClintock said those and other changes in the final legislation won his support. “The lower tax rates in this bill now more than compensate in almost every case for the remaining limits on state and local tax and mortgage interest deductions,” McClintock argued on the floor of the House.

But Democrats highlight polling from battleground districts that finds voters believe the tax plan will primarily help the rich and corporations and will not benefit the middle class.

Congressional Republicans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, “have a donor-based values system. Their donors demanded this [tax] bill and they got the bill for the donors.”

Republicans insist public opinion on taxes and other parts of their policy agenda are likely to shift in their favor between now and next November. For California’s GOP House members, says Stutzman, it makes sense “to move their agenda and just believe in the larger sweep of it all.” Then they can “go back home and deal with their politics.”

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei

 

How they voted

The tax bill passed the House of Representatives largely on party lines. Rep. Tom McClintock was the only Republican to change his vote on the bill, which he opposed in its original form Nov. 16. Every Democrat voted no both times. The votes of California’s Republican delegation:

Nov. 16

This week

Ken Calvert, Corona

Yes

Yes

Paul Cook, Apple Valley

Yes

Yes

Jeff Denham, Turlock

Yes

Yes

Duncan Hunter, Alpine

Yes

Yes

Darrell Issa, Vista

No

No

Steve Knight, Palmdale

Yes

Yes

Doug LaMalfa, Richvale

Yes

Yes

Kevin McCarthy, Bakersfield

Yes

Yes

Tom McClintock, Elk Grove

No

Yes

Devin Nunes, Tulare

Yes

Yes

Dana Rohrabacher, Costa Mesa

No

No

Ed Royce, Fullerton

Yes

Yes

David Valadao, Hanford

Yes

Yes

Mimi Walters, Irvine

Yes

Yes