When I put this theory to Tom Perriello, a Democrat who voted for the ACA and then lost his seat in the following election, he argued the parallel was weak—in fact, he said, the Democrats’ error was not taking up health care, but rather not passing a larger stimulus first. Yet he thought Republicans would still suffer if they passed the current tax plan.
“The ACA was important to our base. The tax cuts are not important to their base,” Perriello said. “It turns off swing voters, gets our voters excited, and depresses their base.”
In particular, supporting the GOP tax plan as it stands now could well be politically suicidal for some representatives. That’s particularly true for members in states like New York, New Jersey, and California, which will be hit especially hard if Congress passes a bill eliminating the state and local tax deduction. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, told NPR this week he couldn’t support the bill as currently written. “I’m representing a New York district,” he said. “And I understand well that if I am not representing my home district and my home state, I can’t expect some other member of Congress from some other state to do that for me.” Even if Ryan thinks passing the bill is good for the party as a whole, it might be perilous for specific members, especially those in states where the GOP is most endangered.
“Ryan has to nationalize it—that’s his job—but if I’m an individual member I’m looking back at how it’s going to affect my district,” Bart Stupak, a former Democratic representative from Michigan, said. Stupak knows something about tough votes: He survived voting for the Clinton tax overhaul in 1993, then found himself pinched between his opposition to abortion and pressure from Democrats to vote for the ACA.
“You came off an election day that wasn’t good for Republicans, and now you’re asking me to raise taxes, and the left is telling me I’m giving away the farm to the rich, and I’ve got to go back to my district, and I’m painfully aware that maybe that message didn’t work too well on Tuesday,” he told me.
Surely after the months-long Republican misfire on health care, Congress needs to just notch an achievement, right? It’s tough to judge this claim, because it’s tough to find an example of a time when a single party controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress and made it this long without major legislation. (Presidents have run, and tried to run, against Congresses controlled by the other party by labeling them “do-nothing Congresses,” with varying results.) That doesn’t mean that significant numbers of voters have any value-neutral yearning for legislation, regardless of the benefits. Here again, the exception is GOP donors, who reportedly railed about the lack of productivity per se to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month.