Will Trump’s Proposals Destroy California Republicans?

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

In 1994 and again in 2010, Democrats suffered historic loses in the House of Representatives because newly minted Presidents Clinton and Obama forced their members walk the plank with unpopular votes on tax and health care bills. Now President Trump seems to be doing the same thing to his Republican backers, and the results look to be the same: a massacre of incumbent Republicans in 2018.

We have only had two House special elections since Trump became president, in Kansas and Georgia, and they are little more than straws in the wind. But in both cases, the Democratic House candidates outran Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers in their districts. Were that to happen in California, seven of the 14 incumbent Republican Congress members would lose their seats.

GOP House members are being led down the road to defeat over Trump’s two signature issues: repealing Obamacare and tax reform. The first version of Obamacare repeal was so unpopular in the country it failed even to pass the House. But to get more right wing votes it has been made even more unpalatable to the voters.

That was done by proposing to repeal the prohibition on pre-existing conditions in insurance plans. This would resurrect the old system where insurers could cherry pick policyholders and cancel plans if you got sick. So the GOP House is being asked to pass a bill that throws 24 million people off their insurance by repealing Obamacare taxes (a big tax break for the rich who have been paying those taxes) and in addition allows insurers to cancel plans that are not even in Obamacare. The Democratic hit pieces on this vote will write themselves.

There has not been a single public hearing on the healthcare bill; and how could there be. Republicans who brought it up at the town halls were hooted down by mobs; Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) had to be escorted out of his own town hall by the police, looking like a Mafia don being escorted from the courthouse.

The healthcare bill is like a dead fish, as one commentator put it, stinking up the House of Representatives and so the congressional leaders want to send it over to the Senate to stink up that body. But Republicans can only lose two votes in the Senate, and more GOP senators than that oppose the House bill, so House Republicans, including many from California, will end up voting for a stinker that will never become law.

But even worse for California Republicans is the Trump tax plan released last week. California is a high wealth state and the tax bill does many favors for the super rich; like repealing the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax. But the big beneficiaries of this will be Hollywood starlets, San Francisco hedge fund managers, and Silicon Valley gazillionaires, not exactly a Republican constituency.

The Republican constituency in this state, such as it still exists, is found in middle and upper income suburbs, and these are the districts represented by what’s left of California GOP legislators. So the Trump tax writers, seeing a chance to repeal a tax break found mostly in blue states like California, New York and New Jersey, have called for doing away with the federal tax deduction of state and local taxes.

The problem is that this screws the Republican voters in those states – red voters in blue states. According to the IRS, 34 percent of California federal tax filers claim this deduction. They are people who itemize their deductions, and homeowners who can deduct their property taxes. Doing away with the deduction is a tax increase for these people.

This, of course, is the wealthier filers. As Bloomberg reports, “Nationwide, wealthier taxpayers benefit the most from the deduction. More than 88 percent of its benefits go to Americans who earn more than $100,000 a year, according to the Tax Foundation.”

So the clever lads in the Trump Treasury have come up with a scheme that specially raises taxes for home owning Republicans, not renter Democrats, and wealthy filers who itemize deductions not lower income filers who do not. All 14 of the Republicans in the California delegation represent areas that include high income filers, so a vote for the Trump tax bill will be a vote to specifically raise their own constituents’ taxes, in some cases significantly.

The 14 incumbent GOP House members should be considered endangered in 2018, especially if forced to vote on such unpopular proposals. Every so often there comes along an election where the blowout is so intense that no one is left standing – you can ask Democrats in Arkansas and Oklahoma what that was like in the Obama years. Time will tell whether California is next.

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