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GOP eyes new tax breaks if Democrats roll back Trump-era cuts

What's striking about the Republicans' threats on taxes is how fundamentally unthreatening they are.
Image: U.S. Senator Paul is trailed by reporters as he arrives to be sworn in for the impeachment trial of former president Trump in the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., is trailed by reporters as he arrives to be sworn in for the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 26, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

President Joe Biden's plans for domestic investments aren't just ambitious, they're also incredibly straightforward. The White House blueprint, which the Delaware Democrat ran on last year, calls for rolling back many of the Republicans' ineffective tax breaks from 2017, and using the revenue to invest in priorities such as infrastructure.

It's a popular approach that would address critical national needs. It's also an approach that Republicans are refusing to even consider.

But as NBC News noted this morning, there's another part of the GOP message that's just as striking.

Republicans are sending a pointed warning to congressional Democrats: If you raise taxes on corporations and top earners, we'll just cut them back when we regain power.... "There's no doubt in my mind that anybody running next year should be talking about reversing what I think are going to be tax increases at the worst possible time," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., arguing that raising taxes on corporations and capital gains would harm the economy.

The same NBC News report also quoted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) saying that his party, when given the opportunity, "would get rid of" Democratic tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations, "but we'd have to have all three branches of government."

Now seems like a good time to remind the Kentucky Republican that the "three branches of government" includes the judiciary -- Congress represents one branch, not two.

Nevertheless, what's striking about such threats is how fundamentally unthreatening they are. In effect, GOP officials are warning Democrats, "If you do take these popular steps, they'll be short-lived. We promise to run on a plan to take unpopular steps in support of billionaires and Corporate America."

Republicans may not fully appreciate the not-so-nuanced politics of tax policy. Enormous tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful tend to be rejected by most mainstream voters. In fact, when Donald Trump signed his party's regressive tax package into law, his approval rating reached new depths, not heights. The party that expected to run on these tax cuts in the 2018 midterms was forced to change plans when GOP leaders realized that they were a political disaster.

And yet, here we are, watching Republicans, champing at the bit, eager to repeat their mistake.

There's no reason to believe Democrats will be intimidated by any of this. In fact, the opposite is true: Dems very likely want GOP officials to advertise, as much as possible, just how desperate they are to protect tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful.