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Republicans are pushing tax policy they know most people don't want

by Matt Phillips
Nov 7 2017, 1:28pm

The Supreme Court may have decided that corporations are people, but corporations still can’t vote.

That’s worth thinking about on this Election Day. Because the Republicans are pushing to cut corporate taxes as part of a broad rewrite of the tax code, now working its way through Congress, even though almost no voters want corporate tax cuts.

For more than a decade, Gallup polling has shown a solid 70 percent of Americans think U.S. corporations pay too little tax. (Roughly 10 percent think corporations pay too much, and 20 percent think they pay their fair share.) Separate Pew Research polling conducted in August found only 24 percent of Americans say taxes on corporations and large business should be lowered.

So, it’s no surprise that early polling showed the Republican tax proposals—lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent was the clearest among them— weren’t popular either.

Pursuing such a priority in a majority-rules, electoral democracy—where political outcomes are supposed to reflect the collective will of voters—doesn’t seem particularly smart. But maybe the United States isn’t really that kind of democracy.

That’s essentially what the research of political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page shows. Their data-driven analysis finds the opinions of the wealthy “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens.” In other words, when the preferences of the rich and the rest of us diverge, the policies favored by the rich will likely win out.

Interestingly, in a defense of their work, Gilens and Page note that one such area of divergence is on taxation, with middle-income Americans more likely to support “increasing income taxes on high earners or corporations; and cutting payroll taxes on lower-income Americans.”

It’s not news that rich people have political clout. But they often wield it by blocking policies they don’t like before those policies are anywhere close to becoming law.

That’s why we should pay attention to what the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are doing: They’re pushing a policy change that openly flouts public opinion. Economic elites (in other words, political donors) are betting they have the economic muscle to make the Republican proposal law, the public be damned.

And they might be right. Just look at New York Republican Congressman Chris Collins, who is supporting the tax bill despite the fact that some 29 percent of his constituents in New York’s 27th Congressional District take the state and local income-tax deductions that would disappear under the legislation, according to the Buffalo News. Here’s what he had to say about it today:

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