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Maddow Blog | Manchin’s complaints about GOP tax cuts were true, but incomplete

MSNBC logo MSNBC 5/24/2022 Steve Benen

It’s no secret that Sen. Joe Manchin is Congress’ most conservative Democrat, but for all the talk about the senator effectively being a Republican, we’re occasionally reminded that when it comes to the GOP’s biggest issue, the West Virginian is not on the same page as his Republican colleagues.

Politico reported yesterday on “a fiery back and forth” between Manchin and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker during an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

According to the report, the Mississippi Republican responded, “You’ve just heard it: If Democrats continue in government, they’re likely to chip away at the most successful tax cut the United States has ever seen.”

At that point, Manchin added, “The most regressive tax cut.”

Look, I realize that memories are often short in the political world, but 2017 really wasn’t that long ago. For GOP members of Congress to look back at their Trump-era tax breaks as “the most successful tax cut the United States has ever seen” is impossible to take seriously.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In late 2017, as the Republicans’ regressive tax plan was poised to clear Congress, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was optimistic about the politics of his party’s gambit. “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” the GOP leader said at the time.

As regular readers may recall, that wasn’t an especially smart thing to say. The tax breaks that Republicans were supposed to exploit for electoral gain proved to be wildly unpopular, and GOP candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — largely avoided the topic in the 2018 midterms, right before the party gave up control of the U.S. House and suffered their greatest losses since the Watergate era.

The tax breaks’ popularity did not improve with time: By 2019, polls showed broad disapproval of the Republicans’ signature policy.

The GOP tax cuts weren’t well received because they didn’t work: The breaks didn’t improve business investments, didn’t fuel private-sector hiring, didn’t improve wages, and didn’t pay for themselves.

But, Republicans ask, if the tax breaks were such a failure, why was the economy so amazing during Donald Trump’s presidency? The answer is, the economy really wasn’t amazing during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Job growth during Trump’s first three years in office — before the pandemic — actually fell compared to the final three years of Barack Obama’s presidency. As for economic growth, GDP growth was steady during Trump’s first three years, but totals were roughly in line with much of Obama’s second term; growth fell far short of the kind of numbers produced after Bill Clinton’s tax increases; and Trump-era data fell short of growth rates Trump promised to create before taking office.

As for the tax breaks’ regressive nature, Manchin need not have stressed Democratic “impressions”: The 2017 package of tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations mostly benefited the wealthy and large corporations.

Five years later, it’s a problem that Republicans can’t admit they were wrong about a costly mistake, but it’s just as big a problem that GOP policymakers are doubling down on their failure.

Look at the aforementioned Politico report again: According to Roger Wicker, protecting the party’s regressive and ineffective tax breaks would be one of the GOP’s top priorities if voters reward them with power in the 2022 midterms.

With this in mind, why not make this one of the centerpiece debates of the election season? Nearly every Democrat, including Joe Manchin, believes the GOP’s unpopular tax cuts should be curtailed, while Republicans are desperate to protect the tax breaks that didn’t work.

Are the GOP politicians who downplayed their signature policy in the 2018 midterms prepared to gamble on the same policy in the 2022 midterms?

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