Secret History of the Tax Bill
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Here’s the secret history of the Trump tax triumph. The whole thing was headed for defeat because a rasher of Republicans were on the fence. Senators Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker, Jerry Moran. So in an astounding break with journalistic tradition, the New York Times launched a direct lobbying campaign. It used a Twitter campaign to ask its readers to warn the wavering wise men that the tax cuts would balloon the deficit. It included phone numbers.
What happened? The fence-sitting solons came to their senses and voted in favor of the tax bill. Every man jack of them, save for Senator Corker, who recently telephoned the Times to warn that Mr. Trump was going to start a war. Even Senator Flake, who is so disgusted with the president that he’s quitting the Senate, voted for the measure. One minute the fence-sitters are wavering. The Times tells them to vote against the bill. They promptly turn around and vote for the measure.
How did the Times pull off this miracle? How did it manage to get even Senator Susan Collins to vote with the Republicans? It was as cagey as they come. In Mrs. Collins’ case, it focused on Obamacare, telling its readers to the call the senator and ask her to oppose the tax bill because it would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate. Suddenly, Mrs. Collins realized that the individual mandate was itself a kind of tax. So she voted against a measure she once was for.
In the case of Senators Flake, McCain, and Moran, the Times’s lobbying focused on the deficit. It warned that the bill would “add more than $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years without helping the middle class.” Did the Times reckon these paragons of parsimony would shrink from adding to the deficit a trillion and a half dollars over a decade? Hah! They had just waltzed through the Obama presidency, when $7.9 trillion was added to the national debt — in a scant seven years.
Suddenly a light went off in the heads of the wavering senators. If the tax bill would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, that means the amount it was adding to the deficit each year was only $140 billion. For a senator, that’s chicken feed. Hell, on an annual basis, President Obama added to the national debt an average of more than a trillion dollars a year in the seven first years of his presidency. The Times omission of that detail must have infuriated the senators.
What else could explain these senators getting off the fence? They must have thought that if the Gray Lady was peddling but half-truths in respect of the deficit, she was probably hiding something with her claims about Obamacare. So they went ahead and, contrary to the Times lobbying, voted in the tax bill to repeal, en passant, the Obamacare mandate. We will see whether all this survives the House-Senate conference. If it does, let this be a lesson to all newspapermen and women. Leave the lobbying to the professionals and stick to your knitting.