By No Labels
As tax bills moved through the House and Senate in recent weeks, not a single Democrat cast a supporting vote. Not in committee. Not on the floor. That represents something both rare and divisive: major legislation approved entirely by lawmakers in one party.
It doesn’t much matter whether Republicans didn’t invite Democrats to the table or Democrats just didn’t want to come. The upshot is that this tax bill—much like the Affordable Care Act—is destined to be fought over long after it passes.
While single-party bills are not uncommon, those that usher in tectonic changes to the U.S. tax system certainly are. The current tax bills represent a dramatic overhaul that will impact almost every American household. By contrast, most major tax bills in the last three decades have been bipartisan, or at least attracted some support from the opposition party, according to congressional records.
For example, the 1986 tax bill championed by President Reagan had substantial bipartisan support. Final passage in the House was 292-136, with 176 Democrats and 116 Republicans in the aye column. In the Senate, it was 74 to 23 with 41 Democrats and 33 Republicans casting yes votes.
Similarly, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 supported by President Clinton brought many changes, such as the Roth IRA, the child tax credit and cuts in capital gains taxes. That passed the House 389-43, with 225 Republicans and 164 Democrats voting for it. It passed the Senate 92-8, with 55 Republicans and 37 Democrats in support.
Even the tax cuts promoted by President George W. Bush in 2001 drew support from 28 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate.
But this year, it was different, with the current House and Senate tax bills passed on Republican votes alone. Both are now headed to a conference committee, which will attempt to reconcile the large differences between the two and create a single piece of legislation. It is possible that will also pass without any Democratic support.
Major legislation passed by only one party can be incredibly divisive, with the Affordable Care Act offering a strong example. The bill championed by President Obama and a Democratic Congress was approved in 2010 without any Republican votes. The result has been seven years of protests, court challenges and public argument.
Republicans in Congress have voted unsuccessfully to repeal, alter or undermine the law more than 70 times by one count. Even the Senate tax bill that passed last week has a provision to eliminate the ACA’s insurance mandate.
Whatever you think about the Affordable Care Act, it is arguably the most divisive piece of legislation passed in the last decade. Will a one-party tax bill have a similar effect?