Of the many controversial proposals in Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s “Rescue America” plan, none was more politically problematic than his insistence that every American should pay income taxes.
“All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount,” Scott wrote as part of his plan.
Now, um, not so much.
On Thursday, Scott, who chairs the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, removed that proposal from his plan. In its place was this language: “Able-bodied Americans under 60, who do not have young children or incapacitated dependents, should work. We need them pulling the wagon and paying taxes, not sitting at home taking money from the government.”
Which is a big difference!
The current reality of our tax structure is that nearly half of Americans don’t pay income taxes because their taxable income doesn’t meet a minimum threshold. Which means that if you required all Americans to pay at least some income tax, you would be authoring a massive tax increase.
Which isn’t exactly Republican dogma these days – or any day. And that’s why Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell quickly and repeatedly distanced himself from the Scott plan.
“If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader, I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor,” McConnell said in March. “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people, and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be a part of the Republican Senate majority agenda.”
(Part of Scott’s proposal includes a provision that all federal legislation have to be ended after five years and re-approved by Congress.)
Scott, at least initially, didn’t back down from McConnell. Days after McConnell was blunt about the fact that Scott’s plan was DOA in a Republican-controlled Senate in 2023, the Florida senator took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal with an op-ed titled: “Why I’m Defying Beltway Cowardice.” Scott wrote:
“If we have no bigger plan than to be a speed bump on the road to socialism, we don’t deserve to govern. Most Republicans in Congress agree, but many live in fear of speaking the truth in Washington. If you do, the Democrats will attack you and use it against you. Therefore, they tell us, it’s best to keep your head down, vote as directed, and be quiet.”
He didn’t mention McConnell’s name, but Scott’s aim was, uh, pretty clear.
The divide between the Senate Republican leader and its top campaign chairman highlighted the differing goals of the two lawmakers.
McConnell is all about winning – and then protecting – the Senate majority. Having a Republican senator out there talking about raising taxes – even if Scott was talking about it in a way designed to appeal to a part of the GOP base – is, McConnell quite clearly believes, a stone-cold loser for the party.
Scott has his eye on a bigger prize: the Republican presidential nomination, either in 2024 or beyond. And he wants to position himself as an outsider to Washington politics who is ready to embrace any idea to shake up the status quo. As Scott wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“I’ve been told there are unwritten rules in Washington about what you can and cannot say. You can’t tell the public that Social Security and Medicare are going bankrupt. You can’t talk about term limits, because, while voters want them, nobody in Washington does. You can’t talk about balancing the budget or shrinking the debt.”
But between early March and today, something changed for Scott. What? Most likely he was hearing from Republicans running for Senate around the country that they were getting criticized over his tax-increase proposal. And that he needed to walk it back – ASAP. It could also be that Scott and his advisers decided that the chances of the Senate passing a tax plan like the one he proposed – essentially none – were not worth him continuing to have to defend it politically.
Regardless of his reasons, Scott backed down – pure and simple.