Dems Needed to Fully Exploit Neal's Slow-Walk Response to Tax Reform

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Springfield’s Richie Neal clearly saw what the Republicans in the U.S. House were up to with their shock and awe approach to tax reform.

The ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal sent a letter on November 1 to the chairman of the committee, Kevin Brady of Texas, urging him “in the strongest possible terms to slow this tax reform process to a pace that will allow for reasonable, informed deliberations.”
Neal, a former high school history teacher who has represented the First Massachusetts District in the House since 1989, reminded Brady that the last time a major federal tax reform bill was enacted, in 1986, the full Ways and Means Committee held 30 separate public hearings and the subcommittees of Ways and Means held 12 hearings before the bill was voted on.  Neal pointed out that “more than 450 witnesses testified” in Congress before the bill was put to a vote.

“…it would be reckless in the extreme to rush this process through committee next week,” Neal wrote.  “…let’s slow down and get this right – the stakes are too high to bow to self-imposed deadlines and procedural gimmickry.  It is better to do this right than to do it fast.”
Sixteen days after Brady received Neal’s letter, the House passed the tax reform bill, all 400-plus pages of it, without having held a single hearing on it.

Yesterday, eleven days after tax reform passed in the House, a key Senate panel approved a tax reform bill and set the stage for a vote on it by the full Senate next week.  The Republican leadership in the Senate is increasingly confident of enacting a bill next week and then quickly reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of tax reform.  The federal tax code could be completely changed by mid-December.
For four weeks now, there’s been so much arguing and so much noise about what the multiple big components of the Republican tax reform plan would do or not do that the GOP strategy of legislative blitzkrieg hasn’t received nearly the attention it should.

The Democrats should have followed Neal’s lead and made the Republican rush to enactment, so unseemly and suspicious on its face, THE issue.  They should have kept it simple. Their every-day/all-day messaging should have been as short and understandable as one, two, three: 
ONE, we are boycotting the entire legislative process on tax reform until the Republicans agree to provide the American people with enough time to find out what’s in this bill and to make their views on it known to their representatives and senators in Washington.

TWO, we do not seek an open-ended process; rather, we are prepared to commit to a six-month period for review and voting on tax reform.  For a bill that will affect every citizen and enterprise in our country, half a year is not too short and not too long to get it right.
THREE, we beg our fellow Americans: Do not spend even one minute a day thinking about the president’s latest tweet and the hullaballoo that inevitably follows. He’s the guy on the crowded subway platform who distracts you while his accomplice picks your pocket. Take a minute instead every day to phone a different member of the Congress and tell him or her to stop this needless and dangerous dash to tax reform.

The Republicans adopted one of the oldest and best strategies in the world. More than two thousand years ago, Sun Tzu said that “speed is the essence of war.” 
You have to hand it to House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell.  They knew from the beginning that the contents of this gigantic bill could not stand the test of time and acted accordingly.  But did they know that Democrats would hand them an enormous advantage by failing to respond with an obvious (and consistent) counter-strategy?

In war, Sun Tzu said, you must “first attack the enemy’s strategy.”  [This is something Bill Belichick has perfected on his way to five Super Bowl victories: from the kickoff on, he is focused on preventing the opposing coach and team from executing what they do best.]
The Democrats did not first mount an effective attack on the Republican strategy of speed above all else, nor have they adhered to any other simple, coherent and memorable mode of attack.   

I have heard, seen and read a lot of stuff about why the Republican tax reform agenda is bad and deserving of defeat, but nothing quite so good and succinct as several lines from an online comment at the bottom of a Paul Krugman column in the New York Times, “Lies, Incoherence and Rage on Tax,” 11-20-17.  The commenter was Mike Iker of Mill Valley, California, who wrote, in part:
“What’s not to like in the GOP tax plan?  It will further enrich the ultra-wealthy.  It will lead to federal deficits that will not only justify but compel cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and ultimately Social Security.  It will damage post-graduate education by making grad students pay taxes on tuition waivers, money they never received with money they don’t have.  It will directly attack the endowments of our better universities with an excise tax on the donations they receive, despite their non-profit status.  It will exacerbate the already existing transfer of wealth from the Blue States and their often successful Democrat citizens to the unsuccessful GOP takers in the Red States.  It will further the dynastic ambitions of families with last names like Trump and Koch and other would-be oligarchs.  So, what’s not to like?  Maybe the future of the American dream.”



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