The Tax Bill Shows Yet Again Republicans Only Care About Statesâ€™ Rights When It Serves Them
To hear many Republicans tell it, protecting statesâ€™ rights is a cornerstone of their philosophy.
â€œStatesâ€™ rightsâ€? was the rallying cry of Republican governors challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and it was the animating ideal behind President Donald Trumpâ€™s decision this week to reduce the size of two federal monuments in Utah.
When state governments enact progressive policies at odds with Republicansâ€™ national agenda, however, national GOP leaders do not hesitate to run roughshod over their supposedly cherished federalist principles.
That has been true for some time. But with Republican power in Washington, D.C. arguably at its highest point since the 1920s, the disparity between GOP rhetoric and actions on statesâ€™ rights is coming into sharper relief.
President Trumpâ€™s administration and congressional Republicans have used a number of tools to limit the ability of more liberal, so-called â€œblue statesâ€? to advance their progressive agendas, including, but not exclusively, the Republican tax bill; a concealed-carry gun law making its way through Congress; an attempt to undermine states that restrict law enforcementâ€™s civil asset forfeiture; and efforts to bar state-level single-payer health care.
â€œTheyâ€™re practicing situation ethics. They believe in statesâ€™ rights when it serves their cause and they donâ€™t when it doesnâ€™t,â€? said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank.
Gary Gerstle, a historian of American politics at the University of Cambridge, likewise described the approach as â€œopportunistic.â€?
â€œTheir principal goal is to subdue and dismantle the welfare state,â€? and defending statesâ€™ rights is sometimes a means to that end, Gerstle argued. â€œOnce states are no longer useful to them, in terms of their ambitions, they will quickly abandon their commitment to statesâ€™ rights.â€?The Tax Billâ€™s â€œTargeted Assaultâ€? On Blue States
Of all the Republican efforts to undermine progressive state policies, the tax bill stands out for how brazen and far-reaching it is. Versions of the tax legislation that passed the House and the Senate both went a long way toward eliminating the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes in order to help pay for the billsâ€™ massive tax cuts for corporations and super-rich individuals.
The provision hits a handful of liberal states with higher taxes especially hard, since they are the only places where state and local taxes are high enough for a significant number of taxpayers to take advantage of the deduction. The upper-middle-class taxpayers in those states, who were most likely to use the deduction, will now not only pay taxes for schools and social services in their states, they will also pay federal income taxes on almost all of the money they have paid in state and local taxes as if it were ordinary income.
Norm Ornstein, a congressional expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, described the provision as a form of â€œdouble taxation,â€? since blue-state taxpayers would effectively be taxed by the federal government on income they have already been taxed on at the state and local levels.
â€œIt is a crippling thing for states and it is of no concern for members of Congress who talk a lot about statesâ€™ rights,â€? he said.
Presently, liberal states like New York, California, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut use higher taxes to finance unionized public sector workforces, robust public universities and more generous social safety net programs than many of their counterparts across the country. There is evidence linking these policies to higher living standards, on average, for state residents, including metrics like life expectancy at birth.
But eliminating state and local deductions from federal income taxes would make it much harder politically for blue states to continue levying the taxes on higher-earning residents that allow them to fund social programs.
Thatâ€™s why blue-state lawmakers from both parties have offered some of the most vocal criticism of the tax bill. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called the provision a â€œtargeted assaultâ€? on New York, and 12 out of 13 of the GOP House members who voted against the legislation hailed from either California, New York or New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have been upfront about the fact that they see the measure as a way to pressure liberal states to lower their taxes â€• and by extension, reduce their public spending. And a convenient byproduct of undermining statesâ€™ financing is the weakening of public sector unions, major sources of funding and support for Democratic politicians.
â€œOne of the classic definitions of justice ... is doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies,â€? Galston said. â€œIt is pretty clear to me that Republicans have used that strategy in the tax bill. Some of them have been quite frank about it.â€?
Using the tax bill to exact political relation against liberal states â€œis the sort of thing you tend to see in an authoritarian government, not in a representative government,â€? Ornstein, a co-author of the bookÂ Itâ€™s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, said.Overriding Gun Control Laws
The House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would require all states to recognize the concealed-carry gun permits granted in other states. If enacted, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity ActÂ would force states with strict gun laws like New York, New Jersey and California to accept concealed-carry permits granted in states with looser regulations. It would even require them to honor the concealed-carriage rights of residents of 12 states where no permit is required at all to legally carry a concealed weapon.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday by a 231â€“198 vote. Six Democrats voted for the legislation, while 14 Republicans voted against it.
The American Enterprise Instituteâ€™s Ornstein called the bill a â€œmiddle finger to the statesâ€? that essentially says, â€œWe donâ€™t care what you want to do in your own state. We donâ€™t care what your laws are. We care about the NRA.â€?
â€œThat tells you what the fealty to statesâ€™ rights is here. Itâ€™s an empty slogan,â€? added Ornstein.
There is no shortage of other examples of Republican attempts to undercut liberal states since Trumpâ€™s election. In September, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) tried to add an amendment to a bill repealing key components of the Affordable Care Act that would have forbidden states from setting up single-payer systems of the kind gaining momentum in California.
When asked whether the provision conflicted with his professed commitment to statesâ€™ rights, Kennedy told HuffPostâ€™s Jen Bendery, â€œI believe the United States Congress has a legal and a moral obligation to, on occasion, set down national rules.â€?
For his part, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sought to limit more progressive statesâ€™ ability to reform civil asset forfeiture, a practice in which law enforcement has broad discretion to seize the cash or other assets of alleged criminals without the need for a conviction.
The practice has drawn bipartisan criticism, prompting 13 states â€• including Nebraska and New Mexico â€• to limit its use to cases where there is already a criminal conviction.
To avoid the new state laws, however, law enforcement agencies took advantage of a loophole known as â€œadoption,â€? in which a local law enforcement body invites the participation of a federal agency, however nominal, and is thus subject to the more lenient federal regulations on civil asset forfeiture.
The Barack Obama administration was in the process of phasing out the â€œadoptionâ€? loophole in states that had passed tougher regulations, but now Sessions has reversed his predecessorâ€™s policy.
â€œJust to be clear about what this would do: Sessions wants to force federal forfeiture law onto states whose legislatures have explicitly rejected it,â€? civil libertarian Radley Balko wrote in an opinion column in The Washington Post.
Jon Thompson, communications director for the Republican Governorsâ€™ Association, tried to downplay the degree to which Republicans have professed to care about statesâ€™ rights.
â€œI donâ€™t know if I would classify Republicans as claiming the mantle of statesâ€™ rights,â€? Thompson said in an email. â€œYou hear a lot about statesâ€™ rights from Republican governors because there are so many of them, with 34, while Dems only have 15.â€?
In a way, Thompson is right.Â Republicans have a long history of undermining statesâ€™ rights when it aligns with other priorities, several experts told HuffPost.
For example, some conservative legal scholars supportive of Republican causes have argued that more lenient federal rules should â€œpre-emptâ€? more progressive state environmental, labor and consumer regulations.
Even the classic conservative health care reform idea of allowing health insurers to sell coverage â€œacross state linesâ€? would effectively nullify state regulations in favor of a uniform federal standard, noted Galston.
Now that the Republican Party has become even more hostile to government intervention to address social ills, and enjoy unified control of the federal government, GOP leaders are simply making up for lost time, the University of Cambridgeâ€™s Gerstle posited.
â€œThey see this as their moment. They have more power in Washington now than at any time since the 1920s,â€? Gerstle said. â€œThey realize that their window may be brief and they want to use it for anything they can.â€?This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/republicans-states-rights-progressive-policies_us_5a294942e4b0fa79861283c2?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000603