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Seeing the Republican tax plan as a tool to punish Democrats

As the Republican tax plan took shape, and its "winners" and "losers" came into focus, a pattern started to emerge: the GOP vision carefully targets Democrats.
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014.

As the Republican tax plan took shape, and its "winners" and "losers" came into focus, a pattern started to emerge. As a Bloomberg Politics report explained today, some of those who stand to fare the worst under the GOP tax overhaul are graduate students, government workers, school teachers, and blue-state residents.

It's easy to get the impression that Republican policymakers aren't just trying to cut taxes for the wealthy and big corporations; they're also doing so in a way to punish Democratic voters.

President Donald Trump and GOP leaders have promised that the two main goals of a tax code revamp are to benefit middle-class families and to slash the corporate tax rate. But paying for those changes has come in large part at the expense of breaks that are important to residents of high-tax states, which tend to be Democratic.Benefits used by universities and graduate students are also on the chopping block. And the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate to buy insurance -- a centerpiece of Democrats' biggest achievement in a generation -- is estimated to generate some $300 billion to pay for tax cuts.

The Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who worked with the Trump campaign last year, told Bloomberg Politics the GOP tax policy is "death to Democrats."

"They go after state and local taxes, which weakens public employee unions," Moore said. "They go after university endowments, and universities have become play pens of the left. And getting rid of the mandate is to eventually dismantle Obamacare."

I suppose Moore is to be thanked for his unusual level of candor. Ordinarily, one might expect proponents of the regressive Republican plan to at least pretend it's the result of serious and deliberate policymaking from elected officials motivated by nothing but the public's best interests.

Moore isn't bothering with the pretense. He describes the GOP proposal as a political weapon to be wielded against Democrats and their allies -- which Moore sees as a feature of the Republican plan, not a bug.

After another recent interview in which Moore praised GOP officials for using their tax plan to punish its enemies, New York's Jon Chait had a great piece highlighting "the use of government as a tool of vengeance."

Moore argues that subjecting income spent on state and local taxes to federal taxation -- a change Republicans might be expected to oppose as a form of double taxation -- will have the delicious secondary effect of pressuring state government to shrink. "The big blue states either cut their taxes and costs, or the stampede of high-income residents from these states accelerates," he gloats. "The big losers here are the public employee unions -- the mortal enemies of Republicans. This all works out nicely."Moore likewise praises the plan for taxing university endowments. Republicans in general, and Moore with special fervency, typically oppose taxes on wealth. But he waxes enthusiastic about this wealth tax. "The first shot against the University Industrial Complex has finally been fired," he exults. [...]Note that this line of reasoning does not even pretend to treat the proposed taxation of university endowments as a fair or technically superior reform of tax policy. Moore advertises his belief, no doubt widely shared within the party, that it is an attack on an institution whose political views his party abhors. Supply-side economics has given way to revenge-o-nomics.For eight years, the notion of a gangster government using its power to punish its enemies existed as a lurid persecution fantasy on the right. Now it is being touted as a governing blueprint.

To be sure, I expect congressional Republicans to deny these partisan motivations. They'll no doubt say they simply want to redistribute wealth to the top because of a deeply held belief in trickle-down economics, and the fact that their tax plan happens to punish likely Democratic voters is an incidental byproduct.

But Moore's candor, coupled with the details of the GOP's package, speaks volumes.