Republican Sen. Dean Heller — widely considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election — took the offensive this week in targeting his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen, for her vote against a major budget resolution that promises to pave the way for Republican-led efforts to overhaul the tax code.
Heller’s campaign on Thursday rolled out a campaign targeting Rosen over supposedly opposing a bill that would lead to tax cuts, sending a campaign email blasting the Democratic congresswoman with similar follow-ups on Facebook and Twitter.
The ads came on the same day that the House voted to narrowly approve a 2017 budget resolution on a 216-212 vote, and one which contained reconciliation language considered key to Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code for the first time since 1986. All House Democrats and 20 House Republicans voted against the resolution.
Heller, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, has been an outspoken advocate for Republican plans to overhaul the tax code — appearing with Ivanka Trump this week to promote an expanded child tax credit provision included in the tax bill framework. His social media accounts have relentlessly promoted tax reform as a way to provide relief and reform to families and small businesses.
Though the language used in the posts says that Rosen voted to “block” tax reform, the photo accompanying each post comes with different language — alleging that Rosen “voted against tax cuts for the middle class.”
There’s a significant difference between claiming Rosen voted to “block” tax reform versus voting against tax cuts, especially given the distinction between the budget bill up for a vote this week and a coming tax cut bill that’s yet to be released — much less voted on.
A budget, a bill
At play is the confluence between two separate pieces of legislation — the budget resolution and the tax bill.
The budget resolution establishes congressional spending goals and works as a sort of “blueprint” for future spending and budgets, but it does not have any force of law behind it and isn’t required to be signed by the president. The resolution just passed by the House and Senate lays out $1.5 trillion in “aspirational” cuts between now and 2027 to achieve a balanced budget, but none of those cuts are actually binding.
But what the resolution does allow for is a procedural maneuver called budget reconciliation, which allows for rapid consideration of tax, spending and debt limit bills that crucially allows bills to pass with a simple majority vote — instead of the normal 60 required in the Senate. The budget resolution includes language allowing for as much as $1.5 trillion to be added to the deficit over the next ten years.
Republicans plan to use the reconciliation process as a way to push a tax reform bill through without buy-in from Democrats, critical given the party’s 52-48 majority in the Senate.
But a crucial part of the reconciliation process — the actual tax reform bill — has yet to be released (Republicans aim to have a bill out by Nov. 1, with the goal of passing the bill by the end of the year).
What has been released is a nine-page document from White House and congressional leaders outlining the broad goals of the tax package, including a streamlined tax bracket structure, a reduction in corporate taxes and elimination of many itemized deductions while doubling the standard deduction.
The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated that slashing the corporate tax rate would result in an average $4,000 windfall for average household income, though other economists dispute the figure as a product of a “flawed analysis.”
The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation projected that the plan would reduce federal income over the next decade by between $2.6 trillion and $3.9 trillion even factoring in expected economic growth and a larger tax base.
Rosen & Taxes
Rosen certainly did vote against the budget resolution — her office even sent out a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed” in Republicans for pushing it through.
So is that vote against the budget equivalent to a vote against tax cuts?
The answer depends in part on whether the reading of the Heller advertisement focuses on the text or the accompanying picture. It's partially accurate to say that the Democratic congresswoman voted to “block” tax reform by voting against the procedural step of the budget resolution, but it’s a stretch to conflate the vote against the budget as a vote against tax cuts — especially as no actual bill has been released yet.
Rosen didn’t vote against ‘tax reform.’ Her no vote was essentially a vote in favor of a full discussion on any changes in the tax code.
Several left-leaning think tanks, including the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center have released initial estimations that the majority of savings under the plan would go to the wealthy — estimating that the top 1 percent of owners would see their after-tax income increase by roughly 8.5 percent while the bottom 95 percent of earners would see a much smaller increase between 0.5 and 1.2 percent.
Rosen’s campaign has been adamant that the congresswoman has been open to working on tax reform. They pointed to a letter she and other members of the bipartisan congressional “Problem Solvers” caucus signed on to in February indicating that tax reform and infrastructure spending were priority issues for the group.
Her legislative director also attended a meeting this week with the caucus and White House economic advisor Gary Cohn that detailed elements of the administration’s plans on tax reform.
Rosen told The Nevada Independent in a statement that her priorities on tax reform were to simplify the code and end “inefficient and unfair tax breaks for special interests and companies that ship jobs overseas.” While not saying it directly, the Democrat strongly hinted that she would oppose the final GOP tax bill.
“While we are still waiting to see actual legislation, the current partisan framework for tax reform being crafted behind closed doors is expected to give the overwhelming majority of tax cuts to the richest 1 percent of Americans while actually raising taxes on many middle class families,” she said in a statement. “I do not believe in trickle-down economics, and I do not believe tax reform should be defined as partisan tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Heller’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the ad.
In several social media posts and a campaign fundraising email, Heller said that Rosen voted against tax cuts for the middle class.
There’s a clear and distinct difference between voting against a budget resolution and voting against a bill implementing tax cuts. The budget is clearly being used as a procedural vehicle to get to a tax cut bill, but it’s an oversimplification of the legislative process to conflate that vote with a vote against tax cuts — especially as the actual language of the tax bill has yet to be released.
If and when a tax bill comes up for a vote, we’d be more than happy to update this rating given Rosen’s apparent opposition to the current tax proposal. But at this specific time, it’s jumping the gun to attack her for voting against tax cuts. We rate this ad Hardly Abe.