President Trump and congressional Republicans have just taken the same leap of faith that Democrats did when they passed the Affordable Care Act.
When then-President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate majorities muscled through the ACA in 2010, the bill represented a big policy victory, but an even bigger political gamble. Though Obamacare fulfilled the party’s decades-long goal of providing (nearly) universal health care, the immediate backlash in the 2010 election helped propel Republicans to the biggest midterm gain in the House for either party since 1938 and gave them a majority in the chamber they still haven’t relinquished.
Republicans could face a similar equation of costs and benefits from the tax bill they just passed. The legislation will advance the preeminent GOP goal of cutting taxes, particularly on high earners and businesses. But it could represent an even greater bet than the ACA because polls show it faces substantially more public opposition.
Obamacare demonstrated the difficulty of building broad public support for legislation that passes Congress on a narrow partisan basis. No Republican voted for final passage of the ACA in either chamber. The tax bill likewise failed to win support from even a single Democrat. By historical standards, that’s even more striking than the ACA’s partisan shutout. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s sweeping tax cuts drew support from 25 Democrats in the Senate and 113 in the House. George W. Bush appealed more narrowly with his 2001 tax cut, but even then, 28 House Democrats and 12 Democratic senators voted yes. But not even the 12 House Democrats in districts that supported Trump last year nor the 10 Democratic senators facing 2018 races in states he carried felt compelled to support this latest measure.