GOP tax bill could be Brady's launch pad, if it doesn't cost Republicans the House

Rep. Kevin Brady speaks to workers about tax reform at a Tenaska power plant in Shiro, Texas.
Rep. Kevin Brady speaks to workers about tax reform at a Tenaska power plant in Shiro, Texas. Star-Telegram

Rep. Kevin Brady led the tax overhaul that Republican strategists once promised would carry their party to victory the 2018 midterms.

Now the GOP tax plan is facing criticism from members of Brady’s own party — and the congressman's future in a soon-to-be shaken-up Republican leadership structure could hinge on perceptions of the plan's success or failure between now and November.

A Gallup Poll conducted in March found public support for the tax bill at 39 percent.

Its popularity was lower in states with high state and local income taxes — where Democrats are targeting a large number of GOP-held seats this year.

Democrats need to flip 23 GOP-held seats to retake the House in November. They’re targeting 31 districts in New York, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all of which have comparatively high state and local taxes.

Some middle class families in those states could take home less money under the new plan, thanks to a cut in the amount families are allowed to deduct for state and local income taxes.

“There’s a lot of discontent within the [GOP] caucus,” said one senior aide for a Texas Republican, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“It hits those majority-making states hardest,” the aide added. “[It] could actually be the death knell for the Republican [House] majority."

In Texas, Brady’s biggest critics of the bill could come from the right.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office suggested the tax plan would increase the federal debt by roughly $1 trillion over the next decade.

Brady, who has worked to win over intra-party critics in his home district, reasons that Washington has a “spending problem, not a revenue problem,” and that there are hundreds of places lawmakers can make cuts.

Still, “I wish his leadership on that bill had been more conservative," said Ron Wright, a Republican vying to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. Wright has vowed to join the conservative House Freedom Caucus if elected.

Republican leaders say support for the bill is growing.

"Across the board the tax bill is 20 [percentage] points higher per district than it was in December," said Corry Bliss, executive director of a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "That means in California it's gone from [negative] 15 to plus 3, but there is a undeniably upward trend as people learn more about the benefits of the tax bill."

Brady faces little threat holding his own seat in November. His south Texas district gave President Donald Trump 73 percent of its vote last year.

His state also doesn’t feel much impact from the changes governing state and local tax deductions since Texas doesn’t collect a state income tax.

But Brady’s energetic defense of the bill at a Tenaska power plant during a visit to the state last week starkly illustrated his own stakes in the plan's success.

Speaking to blue collar workers in his district, Brady reasoned that the bill’s popularity would grow over time as businesses expanded and added jobs.

He also suggested that the bill was a proactive step to stop jobs from going overseas, thanks to deeps cuts to the corporate tax rate.

“Every expert told us… America’s going to continue to see our jobs go overseas,” said Brady. “We decided we’re not going to accept that, so we changed the tax code... to grow jobs, and your paycheck, and the U.S. economy.”

Of the changes to state and local tax deductions, Brady said that everyone but “millionaire[s] in a high-tax state” will see some tax cuts from the plan's increased standard deduction and doubling of the child tax credit.

“A few of those high-tax states… they’re going to need to lower their taxes,” said Brady.

House Republicans will pick new top leaders next year, following Ryan's retirement at the end of the current Congress.

If the GOP is still in control of the House, Brady, who chairs the House committee that last year wrote and then pushed the tax bill through Congress, could be rewarded for his work on an accomplishment considered the holy grail of GOP policy goals.

If the party losses mount, he could take blame for its impact on key races in other states — and the fate of the GOP House majority.

In an interview in his district, Brady insisted he wasn’t vying for a bigger House role, telling the Star-Telegram: "I'm happy where I'm at."

But speaking to workers at the Texas power plant, he laid out an ambitious plan to expand and protect his signature policy achievement.

Acknowledging the bill’s mixed reviews, Brady said he wants to revisit the tax code every year for improvements.

“I want to change the culture in Washington,” said Brady. “I want Washington to think every year, 'Is there something we could do to be more competitive?'”

Brady’s proposing expansions that would make the family tax cuts permanent, instead of expiring in eight years. He also wants to add features to encourage family savings accounts, and to give businesses incentives to help their employees pay off student debt.

He has also been helping GOP colleagues in Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, South Dakota and other parts of Texas sell the plan to their constituents.

Even in Texas though, Republicans acknowledge there's work to be done selling the bill to the middle class.

From an office in Dallas Saturday morning, volunteers for Texas’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit funded by the Koch brothers, spent Saturday making calls to voters promoting the bill.

And in his deeply GOP-leaning district last week, Brady faced questions about the bill’s impact on Social Security and Medicare. Democrats are warning voters that both program could be jeopardized if tax revenue tumbles because of the GOP's tax bill.

“[Medicaid and Social Security] are both dependent on how many Americans are working, and what kind of wages they’re getting,” said Brady. “You get a million more Americans working with higher wages, that all helps.”

Texas is expected to be a top beneficiary of jobs created from the tax bill, Brady told workers last week, more than any other state but California.

Texas traditionally enjoys unusual power in Washington, thanks to its 36-member House delegation and its position as a top fundraising stop for other candidates. Texans currently chair seven out of 20 House committees.

That influence is certain to decline if Republicans lose the House. The Texas delegation currently has 11 Democrats, and the party is targeting five GOP-held seats there this year.

The top contender to take Ryan’s place in charge of the GOP is a Californian, current GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. His ascension could shuffle a number of top leadership spots.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch