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McConnell tries to distance his party from proposed GOP tax hike

Rick Scott has proposed significant tax increases. Mitch McConnell wants the public to ignore Scott’s plan. It’s not quite that simple.


Conflicts between congressional leaders of the same party are uncommon, but they happen from time to time. When John Boehner and Eric Cantor were the top two House Republicans, for example, it’s no secret that the two were often at odds.

But the GOP leaders’ disagreements were largely kept out of view, and the party prioritized maintaining a united front in public. It’s what made yesterday’s developments on Capitol Hill so notable.

To briefly recap, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that his party would not unveil a policy blueprint ahead of the 2022 elections. The Kentucky Republican’s thinking was obvious: The moment the GOP presented some kind of governing vision, Democrats and the party’s critics would have an election-year target. McConnell wants this election cycle to be a referendum on the Democratic majority, not a choice between competing visions.

Sen. Rick Scott — the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — ignored McConnell’s wishes and unveiled a 31-page plan last week. To Democrats’ surprise, the Florida senator’s plan included a proposed tax hike on tens of millions of lower-income Americans.

There have been multiple reports this week about GOP senators privately warning Scott that he’s creating a risk for the party. Yesterday afternoon, when a reporter asked McConnell about the proposed tax increases, those private messages became public. The minority leader said:

“If we’re fortunate enough to have the [Senate] majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide, in consultation with my members, what to put on the floor. Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda: We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda.”

After Democrats slammed Scott’s proposal, the senator insisted that his proposed tax hikes aren’t actually tax hikes. Evidently, McConnell thinks Democrats are right about this, and his fellow Republican is wrong.

The context was equally important: The Senate GOP leadership team, of which Scott is a part, was speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill. Scott walked away before the Q&A began in earnest, but McConnell apparently didn’t know that, and he thought the Floridian was behind him.

In other words, McConnell trashed Scott’s plan with the assumption that Scott was a few feet away.

As for the minority leader’s reference to Social Security and Medicare, McConnell was referring to an underappreciated part of Scott’s policy blueprint: The NRSC chair wrote in his plan that all federal legislation should expire after five years, at which point it would be up to Congress and the president to re-approve the laws if they want to. It’s led many to conclude that Scott’s plan would set Social Security and Medicare to expire in five years, leaving it up to lawmakers to rescue them.

In effect, McConnell’s message yesterday was that no one should listen to Rick Scott. Other members of the Senate GOP leadership team, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt and South Dakota’s John Thune, also seemed eager to distance the party from their colleague’s controversial plan.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen any party’s leadership team feud like this in public.

What’s more, this isn’t simply a matter in which Senate Republicans can pretend one of their own influential and high-profile members is better off ignored. For one thing, other GOP senators aren’t ignoring Scott’s plan: Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville said yesterday, for example, that he’s “on board“ with the far-right blueprint.

For another, Scott has made a seven-figure investment in a p.r. offensive designed to help promote the agenda.

But lurking in the background is an even more provocative idea: McConnell said yesterday that Scott’s proposed tax increases wouldn’t matter because McConnell would be the majority leader and control the floor. But what if he weren’t?

Donald Trump is reportedly trying to recruit Scott to run for the top Senate GOP position, and this past weekend, the Floridian told NBC News that he’s not “planning on” running against McConnell for the leadership post, which seemed to leave open the possibility that he would.

It’s a safe bet we haven’t heard the last of this intra-party dispute.