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Week In Politics: Republican Efforts To Overhaul The Tax Code


The Price resignation caps a pretty rough week for Republican leaders. It started with the latest bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, failing to get enough Senate support to even hold a vote.


Then the Senate candidate favored by the Republican establishment and the president lost to conservative who claims he is more in-tune with the party. On top of that, we had all those cabinet secretaries flying around on private planes.

CHANG: So why not undertake a new, complicated legislative challenge now, overhauling the tax code?


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My fellow Americans, this is the right tax cut, and this is the right time.

CHANG: Or is it? We put that to our Friday regulars, David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. He's also co-author of the new book "One Nation After Trump." And he says the failure to undo Obamacare and to get it together on the Alabama Senate race reveals fissures in the GOP.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: First you've got Alabama, which in a way is the primary in which Steve Bannon defeated Donald Trump. Steve Bannon wanted to send a message to Trump by supporting Roy Moore over big Luther, Senator Strange...

CHANG: Right.

DIONNE: ...Endorsed by Trump to tell Trump, look; these people aren't with you because they love you and will follow you anywhere. They're for this really right-wing ideology. And Bannon won that bet. And this victory will empower right-wing Republicans in a lot of other states to challenge Republican incumbents or very conservative Republicans. I mean this isn't moderate against conservative. This is right against far-right. In the Senate, what you saw is that it's hard to lump Susan Collins, John McCain and Rand Paul into a coherent group.

CHANG: (Laughter) Right.

DIONNE: They're people who beat the Affordable - the latest effort to repeal Obamacare. But what you really saw were a lot of Republicans - below them were other Republicans with doubts about this bill. They knew this couldn't work. They knew it hurt too many people. And so they've got a governing problem that comes from their right wing, and they've got another governing problem that comes from Republicans who just don't want to follow the right ring.

CHANG: David, do you see those same divisions?

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Yeah, I do. I guess the one I'd highlight is nationalism versus capitalism. The Republican Party used to be the capitalist party, but because of a lot of problems with the economy for the last few years, people really don't believe in free-market capitalism, even Republicans, the way they did. And so the nationalists have a story to tell. And it's not very pro-market, but it's pro-populism. And Steve Bannon's story is just better than any other Republican's story right now, and so he's got a lot of energy. And Mitch McConnell has become the swamp.

CHANG: Let's talk about Mitch McConnell. How does he come out in all of this? I mean usually when McConnell throws his money and machine behind a Republican candidate, it should be a lock, right? How might his influence - McConnell's personal influence in the party - be changing?

BROOKS: Well, Donald Trump is running against the party. It's not only the voters in Mississippi or Alabama. It's - the president of the United States has been running against the Washington establishment and running against members of his own party. And so he more or less declared war on the party. And the party's still stuck. We're going to talk about tax reform. The tax reform is - sounds like the Republican Party of 1986 that's no longer that party anymore. And what we've seen from Steve Bannon and even from Donald Trump is - exemplifies that.

CHANG: E.J., do you see an opportunity for Democrats in 2018 given what happened in Alabama this week?

DIONNE: I think the Democrats have multiple opportunities here. In the first place, Roy Moore is simply an extremist candidate who said all sorts of crazy things. You know, some states are under Sharia law - really? He has sort of suggested that 9/11 was sort of punishment for lack of faithfulness to God. I mean this is radical stuff, and every Republican candidate is going to be asked, especially if Moore wins this seat - is going to be asked, where do you stand on Roy Moore?

CHANG: Right.

DIONNE: This happened to the Republicans in the past when extremist candidates were on the ballot. This gives Democrats a long-shot chance of winning this seat. There's a big - in Alabama of all places, there's a big debate in the party over whether it's worth making a big effort on behalf of Doug Jones. But also, you're going to have these primaries that Steve Bannon wants to sponsor that are more likely and could produce other candidates whom Democrats could beat.

CHANG: Yeah. David, about those primaries, do you see them being a lot more painful, the ones coming up in - for 2018?

BROOKS: For sure. I think it's important not to overestimate the Roy Moore example. He's a unique character. Nonetheless...

DIONNE: That's an understatement.


BROOKS: In places like Tennessee, Wyoming, Arizona, the popular - the Steve Bannon forces are going to feel good, and they're going to march. And are they the actual future of the Republican Party - quite possibly. And so this is bound to paralyze Republicans. You're either a nationalist in the Republican Party, or you're just trying to avoid being targeted. There's no counter-narrative.

CHANG: Well, I also want - I want to touch on tax overhaul more closely. The White House has been pushing this plan. It's been framed by critics as a plan that mostly benefits the rich. David, what do you see in this tax plan that would actually benefit the middle class?

BROOKS: Well, I think it - you know, I think would benefit growth. I think if you simplify the rates, if you brought down the rates, if you brought the corporate rate down to 20, if you allowed repatriation of profits, those are the colonels of a growth agenda. And we do have to increase growth overall, and that would be good for the country.

Would I change a lot - of course. But as a starting place, if we wanted to - if we lived in a normal country with a sane political system, this could be a starting place for a bipartisan reform that would simplify the rates, repatriate the profits and do something to boost growth in a revenue-neutral way.

CHANG: Bipartisan reform - E.J., is that what's happening here (laughter)?

DIONNE: This is an absolutely horrendous tax giveaway. It - and it gives away a lot. From what we can tell from the one tax return that was leaked, it gives a lot to Donald Trump. And what's fascinating about this - I mean almost all the big benefits are to the very wealthy, including the big rate cut at the top. But what's fascinating is just this afternoon, the Tax Policy Center did a study of as much detail as Republicans have available. They've been at this for months, and they still can't produce all the details. A third of taxpayers with incomes between 50,000 and 150,000 would see their taxes go up. A majority of those making between 150,000...


DIONNE: ...And 300,000 would get a tax increase. This is not going to work very well.

CHANG: All right, that's E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.