Decoding Republican Tax Strategy and How You Can Mobilize

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(Getty Images)

The Republican controlled House of Representatives passed their version of tax (reform/gifts to corporations). This is (great/horrible) news depending on whether you watch (Fox/MSNBC).

Next up on the docket is we all wait and see if the Senate can pass their own version of tax reform. This effort is already very unpopular. Yesterday, Senator Ron Johnson said he would vote no. That leaves little margin for Senate Republicans. Assuming Senator Mitch McConnell can get his ducks in a row and pass something, there lies the challenge of trying to combine both House and Senate versions into something that can pass both chambers.

To see some of the gritty details of what the tax plan would look like, check out the Washington Post’s piece on the analysis conducted by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Let’s quickly look at this table which shows how various income brackets will be affected. One thing to note is that the tax cuts for individuals will expire. This is why the 2021 and 2027 rates change. Tax cuts for corporations will be permanent.

JCT-tax-increase-table. 11.16.17 WaPo

(Joint Committee on Taxation/Washington Post table)

The table should really have a delta. But the key takeaways are that if you make less than $75,000 then you’re probably looking at a tax increase within 10 years. If you make between $10,000 and $30,000, then you are looking at a tax increase much sooner. Oh, and note that millionaires stand to receive the largest tax cut.

This matters because Republican talking points are at odds with facts. Let’s see how…


How is the media covering tax reform?

We are going to stick with The Washington Post and Fox News.

The Washington Post is headlining tax cuts as well as the breaking accusation that Senator Al Franken sexually harassed a co-performer in 2006. The image below demonstrates how two major stories share headline space.

WaPo 11.16.17 Tax Cuts and Franken

Fox News

Fox News is all over the Franken story, but the tax cuts are largely unmentioned. They spent a brief period as one of the secondary stories on Fox’s website, but have since dropped to the backpages. Fox News is political news, but not often policy news. Fox always embraces stories with sex and violence. Tax cuts have neither. This is worth noting because Fox viewers are less likely to know the details of the tax bill and are less likely to consider its passage important.

Fox News 11.16.17 Franken.jpg

Fox’s main story, “House passes Republican tax bill, future in the Senate unclear” is Fox’s best attempt at straight reporting. So let’s see how bias is formed:

The lede:

The House on Thursday passed a sweeping tax bill largely along party lines that makes good on a Republican campaign promise to reform the country’s tax code.

The bill passed 227-205. Thirteen Republicans voted against it.

House Speaker Paul Ryan celebrated the passage, calling it “nothing short of extraordinary.”

Fox utilizes short paragraphs. Notice they introduce the bill as a “Republican campaign promise to reform the country’s tax code.” First, “Republican” is a synonym for “Good guy” on Fox News. Readers know that the heroes have fulfilled a promise.

Next, note that the promise was to “reform the country’s tax code.” Nobody likes tax codes. Everybody thinks they should be reformed. Well the Republicans got it done. No mention of how the reform takes place – no mention of corporations or wealth inequality.

Last, Fox answers the question, how should readers feel about it? Citing Fox-favorite, Paul Ryan, we see this feat is “nothing short of extraordinary.”

The article continues with a slow foray into details of the plan. “[The bill] was pitched as a plan to help middle-income Americans,” Fox reports. No follow-up on whether that’s true.

When addressing the inequality of the benefits, the article sums it up: “Republicans aggressively marketed their plan as something that would benefit everyone but critics said much of the financial gains would go to the wealthiest Americans and big corporations.”

The article goes on to discuss some of the politics of the bill and where the Senate stands. But by this point, the tone has been set.


The Washington Post

Here are The Washington Post’s first three paragraphs of their main story, “House passes GOP tax bill, upping pressure on struggling Senate effort”:

The House passed its version of the Republican tax overhaul Thursday, notching a key win for President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). But obstacles remain in the Senate, which is refining its own version of the legislation amid objections from key GOP senators.

The bill passed with 227 votes in favor and 205 against. 13 Republicans voted against the bill. No Democrats voted for it.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are aiming to pass a bill that would cut taxes by as much as $1.5 trillion by the end of the year. Both the House and Senate bills deliver the majority of the cuts to businesses and wealthy Americans, but there are significant differences between the bills that will have to be resolved.

What’s different than Fox? Longer paragraphs, more detail, an immediate introduction of the Senate bill and brewing discord. Fox’s third paragraph answers the question of how readers should feel. This does not.

What’s the similar? It’s framed as a political win. The Post uses the third paragraph to dive into the details of the bill. Fox doesn’t mention the $1.5 trillion in cuts to wealthy Americans and businesses.

The article goes on to detail the analyses of the bill. There is much greater attention paid to who the bill reward (compared to Fox parroting who Republicans say the bill will reward).

Also note the Fox article is the main piece on tax reform and also one of the only pieces on tax reform. Washington Post will be running around half a dozen analysis and secondary pieces that revolve around the implications of the bill.


How does the other side view this?

Washington Post readers are going to be clued into the inequality that this bill feeds into. The bill is framed as a stark gift to corporations and wealthy. Readers are aware that the bill does not benefit those most in need.

Washington Post readers will read analysis that probes at the questions of:

Is this bill good for me?

Is this bill good for the country?

Does the Republican party represent anyone besides the richest Americans and corporations?

So you can see how unfavorable answers will be arrived at.

On the other hand, Fox readers are going to give this much less thought because it is featured much less prominently.

Fox sees Congress finally getting around to fixing taxes. They know – because Paul Ryan said so – that the bill will help the middle class. There is little to no exposure of inequality. There is no thought given to serving corporations versus helping those most in need.

Fox readers will probe at questions like:

Why are Democrats opposing tax reform?

Why are they opposing benefits to the middle class?


What can you do?

The first step is articulating your own stance on the bill. Then be prepared to engage lawmakers. You can take an action from our guide here. This could be calling Congress or writing to your local newspaper.

Grassroots groups are focusing on calling Congress right now. But more sizable efforts are planned. The options below are all in opposition to the bill. If you find any legitimate mobilization effort that supports the bill, then pass it along.

Other organizations are mobilizing too:

Organizing for Action developed a call app to connect you with your Congressperson.

Indivisible is launching a broad effort that will include organized protests at district offices. To keep up to date with that process and social media effort, visit here.

MoveOn has also developed a call your Congress app for this effort.

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