The ‘Cut Cut Cut Act’ Is Effective Branding

If Trump wants to name the tax bill, let him do it.

"You want to call it what?"
"You want to call it what?" (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Negotiating a plan to cut taxes is hard.

Negotiating a name for that tax cut shouldn’t be.

Nonetheless, according to ABC News’s Tara Palmeri, the matter of what to christen the forthcoming GOP proposal is one of the snags holding up the public announcement of this plan.

Ryan initially kicked the naming over to Trump because of his knack for branding, according to a senior Hill aide.

Trump has been insistent that the bill be called the Cut Cut Cut Act, according to the administration officials.

Ryan and Brady have pushed back on the name of the bill. However, Trump has held firm.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that while President Trump is more focused on the substance of the bill than the name, “If it’s called Cut Cut Cut and it has massive cuts like this president’s proposing, we’d be fine with that.”

Ryan’s spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Assuming the ABC report is true, however, here is a thought: Give Trump the name.

This would be a smart move for the Republican leadership for several reasons. One, whatever his other shortcomings as a politician, Trump is excellent at this sort of branding. Two, Congress is manifestly awful at naming its own bills. There are few ideas Trump could come up with that would be worse. Three, if Congress is able to get Trump to focus this intently on any element of the bill, given his past record on legislation, it’s worth taking that opening. Four, although Republican leaders on the Hill can be faulted for not standing up to Trump more forcefully on some issues, this is one that can be safely conceded.

So, start with the branding. Here’s what Palmeri says: “Internal White House polling showed that Americans respond more favorably to language that highlights tax cuts over tax reform, according to a senior White House official.” Curiously, that linguistic divide echoes a debate in progressive-ish media. The public-radio press-crit show On the Media, for example, had a great segment earlier this year on how what’s under consideration really ought not to be referred to as “tax reform.” Referring to it as tax cuts is, at the very least, more honest.

And it’s hard to doubt Trump’s instincts on slogans, after “Make America Great Again” and “Drain the Swamp” (even though he initially disliked the latter). He may have proven to be a divisive, unpopular leader, a clumsy manager of the federal government, and an undiplomatic custodian of international relations, but Trump knows a thing or two about salesmanship.

Cut Cut Cut Act is a great name not only because it says exactly what Trump wants the public to think the bill does (in fact, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged, at least some people will see their taxes go up) but also because it obeys the rule of threes, which is a rule for a reason. In this, it echoes Herman Cain’s famous “9-9-9” tax plan from the 2012 election. Economically, the Cain plan was a poorly considered mess. Marketing-wise, it was brilliant. After all, can you recall anything about Cain’s run besides that plan?

This would all be true even if Congress weren’t so atrocious at producing its own names. In particular, America’s leaders have a distressing weakness for backronyms, series of letters that are vaguely related to the matter at hand and can be arranged to spell out some other, vaguely related word. The most famous, and perhaps politically effective, is the DREAM Act—that’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors—which has bequeathed the term “Dreamers” to the political lexicon. It’s a rare exception to the rule. Take the Prostate Research, Outreach, Screening, Testing, Access, and Treatment Effectiveness Act of 2010 (PROSTATE), Special Taxation on Pornographic Services and Marketing Using Telephones Act (STOP SMUT), or Opportunity Kindling New Options for Career and Knowledge Seekers Act (Opportunity KNOCKS).

These are not just clumsy names. They are insults to the language and the intelligence of the American people. They are also, often, deeply obfuscatory. Take PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. The name suggests some sort of benevolent hand outstretched to the American territory, in aid and trust. In fact, the law created federal boards to control much of the island’s affairs and enforced strict austerity while guaranteeing that creditors would be repaid. Perhaps the Puerto Rico Oversight Board, Lender Encouragement, and Management Act would have been a more fitting name. By contrast, Cut Cut Cut is, if a little blunt in effect, a masterpiece of clarity and brevity, and at least in the general vicinity of accurate.

Really, leaders in Congress should just be glad to get this kind of granular attention from the White House. The president has generally been uninterested in grappling with details of how legislation should work, even when leadership from him might have helped push some bills over the line, or at least helped speed up the process. He continually changed his views on health care, and his statements about taxation have either been so vague as to be meaningless or else contradicted what congressional leaders want.

Trump should perhaps worry more about the details of legislation than its name, but congressional leaders have plenty on their hands. It would be nice to see top Republicans on the Hill push back when Trump encourages white supremacists or rattles his saber at North Korea, for example. But if the president wants to give a silly name to the tax bill, give the man what he wants.