The Senate Republicans' chaotic late-night vote to overhaul the tax system widened America's partisan divisions — sparking a political grudge match that lawmakers vowed to carry into next year's midterm elections.
Democrats, united in their opposition, attacked the legislation as a "scam" passed to benefit wealthy donors and corporations. Republicans, promising years of wage and job growth once the bill becomes law, acknowledged that they face a difficult task convincing voters to have faith in a measure that received support from the GOP alone.
"They tend not to be popular," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, referring to bills passed with only one party's support, said. "Generally speaking, in the beginning, people decide they don't like it."
The test for Republicans is whether they can convince voters that this legislation will put more money in their wallets — and the GOP leader is not sure whether they can do that in time for the 2018 elections. "We don't know," McConnell said. But he said he thinks that in the long run, the economic boost will come and voters will eventually reward Republicans.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Just hours after the vote, Senator Bernie Sanders, (I), who ever since his unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has been a leading voice pushing the party to the left on economic matters, demonstrated his intention to make the tax bill a marquee issue in 2018. "The President was lying to you," Sanders said. "This is class warfare, and we're going to stand up and fight."
The back and forth showed the opportunities — and challenges — for each side as they stake their political ground on taxes.
Democrats see an opening for an attack on President Donald Trump and Republicans as allies of the wealthy and Wall Street interests. Republicans, who watched Trump capture an anti-establishment populist mood in 2016, may find it difficult to sell a tax bill that was underwater in polls even before the mostly party-line vote on the Senate measure.
Several at-risk Democrats recorded viral videos to dramatise how late the bill had been printed, and how some revisions had been written in hard-to-read pen scratches.
Trump and GOP leaders, enthused after their first major legislative victory of the year, have forcefully defended the measure. McConnell dismissed complaints about last-minute additions. "Sounds familiar to the final days of Obamacare," he said.
Former Obama strategist David Axelrod argued that Republicans were "deluding themselves" to think that voters would reward them for a tax cut.
"There are two categories of people who will benefit here — wealthy, corporate interests, of course, who scored a bonanza, and Democratic ad-makers, who have been handed a treasure trove of egregious targets and tawdry, swamp-like images with which to work," Axelrod said.