Gordon Weil

Gordon Weil

There are two problems with the Trump administration’s tax reform proposal.

First, it’s not Trump’s. It comes from the Republican Congress, just as did all of his claimed health care “repeal and replace” proposals.

It’s not “reform.” The proposal’s main purposes are to cut corporate taxes and taxes paid by the wealthiest investors.

Like almost everything coming out of government — federal and state, Republican or Democratic — it lacks a consistent policy. Voters today see the GOP relentlessly pursuing a reduction in the size of government and Democrats failing to offer any alternative beyond not being Republicans.

President Trump promised an approach to health insurance reform that would be better for all. He said that the focus of tax reform would be better treatment of the middle class. He offered neither.

On health care, he had no proposal of his own, but supported with equal enthusiasm each successive fallback proposal by congressional Republicans. On tax reform, he offered great praise for a bill that had not yet been drafted.

The voters now get it. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows, after the same period in office as his predecessors, he is the least popular president since these polls began in 1953 and the only one with a net unfavorable rating.

Even on the economy, he gets an unfavorable response. For a while, he got credit for a rising stock market, but it is reasonably clear that investors boosted share prices in the expectation of corporate tax cuts.

Gov. LePage, a Trump ally, showed up in another poll as one of the most unpopular governors in the country. His lack of compassion and his narrow focus on cutting taxes above all is turning out not to be a substitute for sound management or the ability to work with the Legislature.

In the case of Maine, using the processes of initiative and referendum, the voters took the issue of Medicaid expansion out of the hands of state government. This week, the people, whom government supposedly serves, voted for expansion. LePage vetoed Medicaid, but the voters vetoed LePage.

Here’s what the GOP House tax bill really does. It simplifies some portions of the tax code, but much of that “reform” takes benefits away, even from the middle class. The wealthiest would keep their tax breaks and see the estate tax melt away. The proposal slashes the corporate rate.

Tax reform is supposed to collect taxes differently but with no change in the government’s total take. This “tax plan” would produce a $1.5 trillion deficit over the next six years. Don’t worry, though, its supporters claim it will stimulate the economy and produce new tax revenues to cover that new debt.

If such a bill passes, and it could, it would be a top sales promotion feat, promising much more than it produces. It could create the major campaign issue for 2018.

But there’s the problem for the Democrats. In the same survey giving Trump an unfavorable rating for his job performance, voters said the Democrats mainly criticize Trump rather than offering alternatives. The Dems’ rating was even worse than Trump’s low grade.

Neither party seems to be able to make the process work. If it passes, the tax bill may be the only major piece of legislation enacted this year, possibly without a single Democratic vote.

Admittedly, there are risks for both parties these days. But in the governor’s race in Virginia, a Democrat defeated a pro-Trump Republican and the results were not as close as forecast.

GOP members of Congress announce regularly that they will not run for reelection. Either they want to flee the toxic Washington atmosphere or they are afraid of challenges from the extreme right, supposedly loyal to Trump.

The Democrats are split between moderates and those who want to move the party to the left. If they cannot find compromises, their party could throw away its chance to have a bigger say in government.

The answer for Republicans is to stand on conservative principle, but worry less about keeping their unpopular campaign promises. They may risk losing a GOP primary, but dropping unworkable plans and opposing Trump are worth the risk.

For the Democrats, who have never had a tightly organized party, the solution would seem to be getting under the “big tent.” No Democrat should spurn another simply because they disagree on some policies. And the party needs new leaders from outside Congress.

Both Republicans and Democrats look over their shoulders too much and should face up now to the problems Trump causes nationally and internationally.

Gordon Weil is a former public official. He lives in Harpswell.

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