Conservative Group Aims to Sell GOP Tax Plan

Conservative Group Aims to Sell GOP Tax Plan
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House Republicans passed their version of tax reform last week in a relatively drama-free vote. But as they wait for the Senate to follow their lead, a key conservative group is continuing its aggressive effort to sell the plan to an unconvinced public.

American Action Network, a nonprofit organization focused on issue advocacy and allied with Speaker Paul Ryan, spent $20 million boosting tax reform efforts in the run-up to last week’s critical vote. Now, the group will shift its focus to praising members who backed the bill while continuing to apply pressure as corresponding legislation works its way through the Senate and, presuming it passes, back to the House for a final vote.

AAN launched 1 million robocalls Tuesday in 29 House districts represented by Republican members, thanking them for supporting the plan. Corry Bliss, the executive director of AAN, said TV ads will air in the near future also thanking those members, and he noted that AAN plans to spend at least $5 million in December.

“We’re going to keep doing everything we’re doing full steam ahead until it’s signed into law,” Bliss told RealClearPolitics.

The group’s selection of districts is intended to press Republican lawmakers to back the party’s leadership agenda. In the days before the House vote last week, AAN spent $1.5 million on new ads, including in the districts of Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Darrell Issa, Leonard Lance and Elise Stefanik, all four of whom voted against the tax plan. None of them were included in the robocalls this week, and they’re unlikely to be included when the group launches its next set of ads. All represent districts that have high state and local taxes, which cannot be deducted under the House bill.

“We’re not going to be spending any money on members who voted no,” Bliss said of the coming ad campaign (though he added that could change if the group seeks to pressure those members to flip their vote if and when reform comes up again in the House following action in the Senate).

The current effort comes on the heels of a sustained campaign from AAN helping to lay the groundwork for tax reform. Beyond the $20 million in ad spending, the initiative included weekly meetings with dozens of other conservative groups to try to maintain a more concerted  push for the plan and to correct issues that hurt their efforts on health care earlier this year.  

Republicans face headwinds as they sell their tax bill to the public, with polling so far showing it to be broadly unpopular. A Quinnipiac poll last week showed 52 percent of voters disapprove of the plan, compared to just 25 percent who approve. In an NPR-Marist poll released Tuesday, just 62 percent of Republicans approved of the way their party is handling taxes, compared with 29 percent who disapproved.

Bliss disregarded the less than stellar numbers, pointing out that few Americans are steeped in the plan’s details and most are worried simply about the impact on them individually. Analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation has shown that the majority of taxpayers would see a tax cut, but that millions would likely pay higher taxes next year under the GOP plan, a number that would increase significantly in a decade because of expiring provisions.

Bliss argued that the “vast majority” would see an “immediate tax cut,” and that is the message his group has been carrying in its advertising. The robocalls launched Tuesday said the representatives “voted to cut middle class taxes” and encouraged voters to call their representatives to encourage them to “keep up the fight.” Bliss said his goal is not to reset the national polling around the overhaul but to convince voters in targeted districts.

“Our goal is to pick places where we can have an impact on the narrative,” he said. “Maybe that’s 15 districts. Maybe that’s 20 districts.”

AAN will have serious competition in those critical districts from Democrats seeking to vilify the GOP bill. Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC, launched $2 million in digital ads across 20 House districts Tuesday, painting the tax plan as mainly benefiting the wealthiest Americans. In 14 critical swing districts this week, voters will be hit with both the Republican robocalls and Democratic digital ads.

“The more voters learn about this bill, the less they like it, which is why Priorities is launching an all-out effort to reach voters, educate them on the bill’s consequences and encourage them to contact their representatives and stop this attack on the middle class,” said Patrick McHugh, the group’s executive director.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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