Despite the late procedural twist, Tuesday’s 227-203 vote was undoubtedly a seminal moment for Ryan, the Republican speaker who has been waiting his entire 19-year congressional career to preside over passage of a tax bill as sweeping as this one. “We are about to achieve some really big things, things that the cynics have scoffed at for years, for decades even,” Ryan said in a triumphant speech on the House floor. “This really is a generational defining moment.” In the minutes before the vote, rank-and-file Republicans swarmed the speaker to get him to autograph their copy of the final bill.
It was such a personal pinnacle, in fact, that Ryan used a morning meeting of the GOP conference to dispel speculation—driven by reporting from Politico’s Tim Alberta—of his imminent departure. “I’m not going anywhere,” Ryan told his party in reference to what he quipped was “my own fake news,” according to Representative Bill Huizenga. “When you’re on a roll, why would you do a mic drop in the middle of implementing your agenda?” the speaker added. Ryan did not address, however, the question of whether he intends to serve beyond 2018 should Republicans retain the House majority.
Even as Republicans insisted the public would come to love their tax cuts, they struggled to rebut the judgments of economists and fiscal analysts who rejected their claims about the bill’s distributional effects and its likely impact on the federal budget.
Analysts with the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that the bill would saddle the nation with $1 trillion in additional debt and generate little economic growth, and that most of its benefits would go to corporations and the wealthy. Democrats used those findings to equate the Republican bill with a looting of the federal Treasury at the behest of their wealthy benefactors, and to warn that the GOP would quickly pivot to an assault on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In a final floor speech, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of “monumental, brazen theft of the middle class,” of “moral obscenity and unrepentant greed.”
“It is a vote,” she said, “to instill a permanent plutocracy in our nation.”
If anything, the Democratic attacks steeled the GOP’s resolve. Republicans scoffed at what they described as Pelosi’s outlandish depictions of a simple tax cut, particularly her characterization of the bill as “Armageddon.” But a few of them on Tuesday acknowledged that their belief that the tax cuts would usher in a new period of American economic dominance was, to some extent, a matter of faith more than science. “That’s the whole difference between being a Republican and a Democrat right there,” Representative Tom Rooney of Florida told me. “I hope it’s true, because if it’s not, then we’re going to end up with bigger government and much higher spending. And then I’m in the wrong party.”
Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma put it a bit more succinctly. “God made Republicans to cut taxes,” he quipped to reporters.