by Kevin Kelton
It’s tax reform time in the U.S. Congress. So let’s talk basketball.
“Excuse me?” you say?
Yes, basketball. The GOP is using a classic swing offense to move their dual tax bills through each chamber, swinging from promoting the benefits of the House bill for one constituency to the benefits of the Senate bill for another constituency. And never getting trapped to have to defend both versions simultaneously. Because they know as well as Democrats do that both bills together represent the greatest shift of wealth away from the middle-class to the rich since the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts got into the oil, steel and railroad businesses.
To defeat the Republicans from passing this game-changing bill, the Democrats should employ a man-to-man, full-court press defense.
Let me pause right here. No, this isn’t some gimmicky pundit piece designed to dazzle readers with a few sports metaphors. I am dead serious about this man-to-man strategy and how it will work.
Generally, except for elections, politicians in Washington D.C. deploy a zone defense. They take a party line and debate the other party’s positions overall; it’s not done in a personal way. Whichever element of the new tax bill is put in the Democratic lawmaker’s face, s/he will tell you why that proposed new tax cut or eliminated tax deduction will hurt the average tax payer and help the average millionaire and billionaire. This strategy is too general and abstract. It doesn’t put enough pressure on the opposing team and their horrible tax plan. It makes it easy for them to run out the clock.
Instead, Democrats in the Senate should each “take a man”… pair up with a senator in the other party and challenge her/him one-on-one to defend the GOP plan to their constituents.
So in lieu of Sherrod Brown arguing against the bill, he should be assigned to argue against John McCain. “Senator McCain, please tell me and the voters of Arizona why you should vote for a bill that includes the elimination of the estate tax, which will save you personally over $40 Million dollars?”
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski might be covered by Washington Senator Patty Murray. “Sen. Murkowski, please tell the voters of Alaska why you would repeal the Obamacare mandate, ending health coverage for 600,000 Alaskans and pushing up premiums in your state by 50%.”
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin could be put in the game to get in the face of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker. “Sen. Corker, why should the good people of Nashville get only a 5 year tax cut on their hard earned wages while hedge fund managers and corporations get their taxes slashed forever? Why should the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga get its corporate rate cut from 35% to 20% forever, while its middle-class auto workers will ultimately be taxed more to pay for it?”
In states that have split representation, that state’s Democratic Senator could be paired with his GOP counterpart. So Montana’s Jon Tester might challenge GOP Senator Steve Maines to defend the hyper generous tax cut to pass-through businesses. Sen. Claire McCaskell of Missouri might full-court press her state’s junior, Sen. Roy Blunt, on the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction.
And New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand could go one-on-one with a senator from another state with high state income tax rates. “Sen. Joni Ernst, please tell your constituents in Iowa and my constituents in New York why the almost 9% they pay in state taxes should not be deductible from their federal taxes. Why should the people of your state and mine be taxes twice on the same income? How is that fair?”
Since there are 48 Democratic (or liberal) senators to 52 GOPers, a man to man defense would line up fine. And since many of the deep red state senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will never be moved off their support for the tax bill, the Dems could break a few “players” free to double-team or triple-team the pliable votes like Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Democratic senators should take each malleable GOP senator on and hit them hard on how the tax bill will hurt their state’s constituents while personally enriching the senator in question.
And don’t do it just once and move on. Don’t go on just MSNBC to press the point. Take the man-on-man press to every station and show. Travel to their state and challenge them on their local media. Hound them and smoke them out. Put the pressure on so their constituents will know what their “yes” vote will mean for their taxes and their state.
Is it a radical idea? Sure. But not as radical as the sweeping change this country will undergo if the GOP tax bill from either chamber becomes law. We have only two chances to get three GOP senators to vote “no” – one on the current bill, and if it passes, one more chance on the bill that comes out of conference. If we fail to full-court press the GOP at this critical moment, this country’s entire tax structure will undergo a seismic shift to the right and to the wealthy. The reverberations could change Social Security, Medicare, healthcare, housing policy, family life, the business world, the workplace and workers rights, and politics itself. It might just turn out to be the single biggest blow to economic and social justice in history.
This isn’t the time to get distracted with debates over Al Franken and Charlie Rose. Democrats need to bottle up the GOP tax plan with a man-to-man, full-court press right now or pay the price for generations to come.
So pick a GOP senator and GET IN HIS FACE. Wave your arms. Box him in. Force them to panic and make errors. Make it personal. No free shots. No layups. Make their “yes” vote hurt. Because as former NBA star turned NJ Senator Bill Bradley might say:
“Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.”