Sen. Rob Portman has been among the Republicans who have been very busy pretending to negotiate a “bipartisan” infrastructure package that Republican senators itching over their reelection prospects can point to as evidence that there is theoretically something that the nihilistic Republican Party can agree ought be done for the good of the country, even if the same Republicans couldn’t agree that presidential corruption should be checked, violent sedition should be investigated, or a worldwide health crisis should be aggressively responded to. The problem is that every time the bipartisan group begins to hammer out even the most fundamental details, things get dodgy quickly. Republican senators don’t have a long list of details they’re for, but they have a nearly unending list of things they’re against.
What Sen. Rob Portman says Republicans will now ensure is not in the bill is any move to go after wealthy and corporate tax cheats by returning IRS funding levels to levels that would allow more audits. Any previous announcement that the bipartisanship bill would include boosting of tax enforcement resources is now null and void, because Sen. Rob Portman says there was “pushback” from Republicans.
Appearing on CNN (Portman is one of the Republican senators that make a second home at the Sunday talk shows), Portman attempted to pin the blame on Democratic attempts to pass a reconciliation package that might … also maybe propose doing the same thing?
“[W]e found out that the Democrats were going to put a proposal into the reconciliation package, which was not just similar to the one we had, but with a lot more IRS enforcement,” Portman told Dana Bash. “That created quite a problem because the general agreement is that this is the bipartisan-negotiated infrastructure package and that we will stick with that.”
Yeah, yeah. So the “bipartisan” version of the bill will, Republicans are now insisting, contain zero additional funding for IRS enforcement measures rather than the $40 billion the negotiators had previously announced, and the reason for that is because Democrats have hurt Republican feelings, again, by threatening to do it themselves if they can’t get Republican buy-in.
The actual reason for the Republican “pushback” is likely fairly simple. Republicans have devoted their few attempts at actual governance to the idea of slashing taxes on the wealthy and the corporate, producing policies that are wildly unpopular with the American public but which are heavily lobbied for by wealthy and corporate Republican donors. Slashed IRS enforcement of tax law has amounted to yet another tax break to anyone wealthy enough to hire accountants to obscure their income (see: Donald Trump); the odds of getting caught become so low that sketchier and sketchier schemes become worth the risk.
If Democrats are planning on boosting funding so the IRS can better go after tax-dodging companies and rich people, there’s an advantage to Republicans in being able to say to their dark money donors well we certainly didn’t vote for that.
The Republican Party has gone to great efforts over these last decades to defund law enforcement … aimed at rich criminals.
This reversal does create a new problem for Republican “negotiators,” however. “Let’s just enforce the current tax laws” was low-hanging fruit, when it comes to things you might be able to squeeze out bipartisan votes for; there is widespread agreement that spending money on IRS enforcement would bring in much more tax money than it costs, and bipartisan negotiators were using the IRS boost as one of the “pay-for” planks offsetting infrastructure costs. Now they have to find that money some other way, and the two parties have been locked in bitter, bitter fights over who should pay for even the more meager infrastructure plans Republicans claim to agree to not just during these negotiations, but for years. It’s going to be hard to come to agreement after Republicans take “let’s just enforce the current tax laws” off the list of things they’re willing to tolerate.
All that presumes, naively, that any of the efforts by Portman and other Republican negotiators are sincere. We have been down this road literally dozens of times, in recent years: Republicans demand Democrats compromise with them in order to achieve “bipartisan” consensus; when that consensus is reached, Republican senators balk and make new demands; when those demands, too, are eventually agreed to, Republican leaders come up with new reasons why Actually, they can’t agree to any of this and will vote against even their own negotiated compromise—typically, for the reason Rob Portman is alluding to today, a claim that Democrats have now done some new thing to hurt Republican feelings and well now that means the previous deal is off.
It is, in other words, an entrenched strategy in which Republicans look to run out the clock on Democratic-pushed legislation (say, pandemic relief) with a series of negotiations that at no point result in actual Republican support for the negotiated things. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been a master of using insincere negotiation tactics to smother popular proposals the party does not want to be explicitly seen to be rejecting, forever coming up with new trivialities to sabotage months of previous work. He’s very often done it in alliance with the so-called “moderate” Republicans who want to be seen, in public, as “bipartisan” stalwarts.
We remain at the same impasse; this is not a party that can tolerate governing. There remains no function of government that the party can abide, if that function requires spending money that could otherwise be handed out to party patrons in the form of tax cuts.
It’s very much in Republicans’ interest to be seen as willing to not let our damn bridges fall down, at least in the abstract. But it’s also very much in the party’s interest to come up with an unending list of cheap reasons why it’s better to let the bridges fall down than (checks notes) force the wealthy tax dodgers that fund the Republican Party to pay the taxes they’re supposed to be paying all along. Portman may be retiring from his current position in the Senate after the upcoming midterms, but his party is still bent on undermining even democracy itself rather than put up with non-Republican policies or non-tax-cut related government acts. There remains a near-zero chance that even half of the so-called Republican “negotiators” will end up voting for whatever proposal they actually negotiate.
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