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Paul Ryan's misplaced boast about a $1.50 weekly raise

The House Speaker briefly forgot that an anecdote about his tax plan made the policy look worse, not better.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. 

By some measures, the politics of the Republicans ' regressive tax law have changed since it passed two months ago. There's some polling, for example, that suggests the policy, once wildly unpopular, has seen its public standing improve, and it's worth appreciating why.

Indeed, the Associated Press highlighted over the weekend some of the Americans who are at least somewhat pleased with the recent effects of the tax changes. It included this anecdote:

Julia Ketchum, a secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week. She didn't think her pay would go up at all, let alone this soon. That adds up to $78 a year, which she said will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.

It's an interesting insight. Much of the country, especially those in the working class, expected to see no change to their income. They're now discovering that they are, in fact, receiving a little more in their paychecks -- in this case of this secretary in Pennsylvania, an extra $1.50 a week.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), one of the key architects of the Republican plan, published a tweet over the weekend, touting this woman's story, apparently as evidence of the law's merits.

And then the Wisconsin congressman deleted the tweet without explanation. I have a hunch we know the reason the missive quietly disappeared.

We could certainly raise the usual concerns, noting that the modest middle-class tax cuts in the Republican plan are scheduled to disappear, leaving millions of working families worse off. We could also note that the policy isn't paid for and it's already causing the deficit to soar. We could also mention inconvenient details, such as the fact that there's still little evidence to support the assertions that the tax breaks will have an enormous economic boost.

But the reason the anecdote in the AP article and Ryan's brief tweet are important is that they highlight the regressive nature of the entire policy: millionaires and billionaires are making out like bandits under the Republican plan, while secretaries in Pennsylvania are getting an extra $1.50 a week -- a benefit that's scheduled to go away under the GOP policy, while big corporations get to keep their tax breaks in perpetuity.

Indeed, think about this as a matter of arithmetic: the Republican package carried a price tag of roughly $1.5 trillion. As Matt Yglesias noted, $1.50 a week over the course of a year works out to $78. Apply that to the U.S. workforce of 125 million people and you end up with $9.75 billion a year.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of the $1.5 trillion isn't going to folks like secretaries in Lancaster.

The House Speaker briefly forgot that anecdotes like these make his tax plan look worse, not better. No wonder Ryan's tweet disappeared.