If there’s one thing that really motivates a GOP lawmaker, it’s cutting somebody’s taxes—provided they’re a wealthy somebody.
That’s proving true once again as a group of “centrist” Republicans is ganging up, threatening to block the big showcase tax bill Speaker Kevin McCarthy wants on the House floor before the August recess. These so-called “centrists” style themselves as moderates and the Capitol Hill press corps flatters them by accepting that characterization. But when it comes to the issues that affect millions of people—like abortion, voting, and LGBTQ+ rights—they couldn’t care less, as my colleague Kerry Eleveld noted in her story on Nancy Mace and the myth of the moderate Republican.
The line in the sand for about 10 of these Republicans is the federal deduction people can take for state and local taxes (primarily property taxes) known as SALT. The 2017 tax scam Republicans passed while Donald Trump was in office capped the SALT deduction at $10,000. Most of the people who use the SALT deduction are high earners, according to the Tax Foundation, more likely to itemize deductions under SALT rather than take the standard deduction.
“I will not support any tax package that does not include a fix on SALT,” said one of the so-called centrists, freshman Rep. Mike Lawler of New York. “The fact that the bill was marked up but hasn’t come to the floor obviously is an indication that there’s not the necessary 218 votes to pass something here.”
Lawler is one of the 18 Republicans representing a district that voted for President Joe Biden in 2020. Lawler voted for the defense authorization bill the far-right Freedom Caucus hijacked for culture war purposes last week. He didn’t just vote for the overall bill: He voted for some of the worst amendments the extremists brought to the floor—amendments that were adopted.
He voted yes on Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson’s amendment to bar the military from reimbursing service members’ expenses for abortion-related travel if they live in states where abortion is not available.
He voted yes to an amendment from Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender members of the military and their families.
Lawler voted yes on an amendment from Arizona Rep. Eli Crane (yeah, that Eli Crane, of “colored people” infamy) to ban race, gender, religion, political affiliations, or “any other ideological concepts” as the basis for recruitment, training, education, promotion, or retention decisions in the military.
He voted yes on Rep. Lauren Boebert’s amendment to ban books from libraries in military base schools.
Those are not the votes of a “centrist.” If he and his gang of tax bill obstructionists—most of whom also voted for these awful amendments and the final bill—were truly moderates, they would have helped defeat those awful amendments. They had the votes to do it, and do it easily.
Instead of putting their weight into stopping all that, they’re stopping a Republican tax bill over the SALT deduction that mostly benefits their wealthy constituents. They’re holding up a tax bill that might even help lower- and middle-income people by expanding the child tax credit.
Putting this tax issue over anything else, particularly ongoing abortion and trans legislation that is so unpopular with voters, is a bizarre political choice for these vulnerable members to make. But they’re Republicans, after all. They should be keeping their rich donors happy; these Congress members will need their help (and deep pockets) to find new jobs when they’re defeated in 2024.
Nancy Mace and the myth of the moderate Republican
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