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Republicans really want to cut the corporate tax rate. It's the centerpiece of every plan they have released, and they've spent weeks floating wildly unpopular ways to pay for it.
There's just one problem: It's really unpopular — even among Republican voters.
Just 60 percent of registered voters think corporations pay "too little" in taxes, according to a September poll from Morning Consult and Politico, surveying a little under 2,000 Americans. A more recent Morning Consult and Politico survey from October found only 39 percent of Americans think it should be part of the tax plan — with 59 percent of Republican voters supporting it. Another poll from Pew Research Center showed that 53 percent of Republicans think corporate tax rates should either be raised or stay the same.
But confronted with these numbers, House and Senate Republicans seemed unfazed.
"Who cares?" Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said before I had a chance to say what the polls showed.
Others said they didn't believe the numbers.
"I don't believe that poll," Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) said. "I don't believe it. It's in all of our best interest to have these tax cuts for corporations..."
Lowering the corporate tax from its current 35 percent to 20 percent, as Republicans are proposing to boost economic growth, is costly — the Tax Policy Center estimates it would cost the country $2 trillion over the next 10 years. But it also has potential to be politically expensive.
James Wallner, a fellow at the conservative R Street Institute think tank and former executive director of the Senate Steering Committee, tweeted that it "isn't ideal" for the GOP that only 59 percent of Republicans support cutting the corporate tax rate — the proposal's popularity will likely drop more as more details emerge about the various ways Republicans plan to pay for cutting the corporate rate, Wallner pointed out.
"Those aren't polls of my constituents," said Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), who sits on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
If there is a political cost to this proposal, one thing is clear: Republicans either don't believe it's true or they just don't care.
Vox interviewed eight congressional Republicans Wednesday about the unpopularity of the corporate tax rate. Transcripts of those conversations follow, lightly edited for length and clarity.
There have been a series of polls showing that the corporate tax rate cut—
—is among the least popular parts of the bill. That 60 percent of Americans don't want to see a corporate tax rate cut.
Because they don't understand. They are being sold a bill of goods, and they don't understand it.
Okay. So you are just going to tell constituents that they just don't get it?
I tell them that all the time. I'm going to say: Do you want a bright future for your children and grandchildren? To participate in a $40 trillion economy? And they all say, "Absolutely, yes."
And I say, here's the way we are going to get there: We are going to get more investment by small companies on Main Street and pass-throughs. We are going to get corporations bringing jobs back, and I think that's a good thing — oh, it's a great thing. And to do that, we have to be competitive. What does that mean? Twenty percent is simply competitive. Canada is at 15, Ireland is at 12.5, Europe's at 20. They're like, okay.
They don't understand.
If they hear that — if I poll this: The average corporate tax around the world is 20 percent, the United States is the highest-taxed country — developed country — at 35 percent, 40 percent over, so there is an incentive for corporations to put their jobs offshore, would you favor making the corporate rate more competitive with the rest of the world?
That would poll 95 percent yes.
But if you ask a question — and that's how they do it — do you support cutting the corporate tax rate 40 percent from 35 to 20, the gut instinct is going to be no. You have to put it in context.
Are you concerned at all that polls are showing the corporate tax rate cut is not popular among Americans?
Eh, I want to see what these guys come out with. Currently, I don't really think anyone really knows what the full context of this bill is. So I don't really want to comment until we see the actual language. I know they've got a really tough row to hoe in just pulling this all together themselves. So I'm more focused on the substance than the perception of it.
Are you concerned at all that a majority of Americans don't want to see the corporate tax rate being lowered?
I don't know where you got that percentage.
There are a number of polls from Politico/Morning Consult and Pew—
I would love to see those polls, because those aren't polls of my constituents.
There has been a series of polls that came out recently that said most Americans don't want to see a cut to the corporate tax rate — are you concerned about selling this bill seeing that the 20 percent seems to be fixed?
Oh, I haven't seen that poll.
There was Pew and Morning Consult.
I know that I have seen a strong interest from people back home wanting to improve the business climate. They want to see our jobs and businesses from overseas to come back, for our jobs and businesses over here not to leave, and a more competitive corporate income tax rate. I support lowering our corporate income tax rate. While in all of our districts across the country, there will be people on both sides of the issues like this, I have certainly seen more support for reducing the corporate income tax rate than keeping it where it is.
Right now, these numbers are showing about 53 percent of Republicans either want it to be raised or stay the same. When selling this idea, do you see that as becoming a problem?
What I have come in contact with would reflect different numbers. So it would be interesting to see an accurate poll of 100 million Americans. But sometimes the polls get done of 1,000 [people]. But from what I have heard — I have come across a lot more support than opposition to reducing the corporate income tax rate.
There was a series of polls that came out recently that said most Americans don't want to see a cut to the corporate tax rate—
Sixty percent of Americans don't want to see a cut to the corporate tax rate.
You seem shocked.
I don't believe that poll. I don't believe it. It's in all of our best interest to have these tax cuts for corporations, so that they will have more money to invest in their business and pay their workers. That's a weird poll. So I'd challenge the premise of the question.
I can send it to you. There's one from Politico/Morning Consult and one from Pew. They're all saying — I think it was 53 percent of Republicans either want to see it raised or stay the same. So are you worried at all for when you have to sell this plan?
No, if we campaigned for a year and half for tax cuts for corporations and individuals and I didn't hear any pushback. Whatever these polls are — whatever the basis of them — that is a pretty unique to have a 180 switch from the campaigning we did that won the presidency, kept the House, the Senate on the premise of tax cuts.
Specifically corporate tax cuts?
We talked the entire time about corporate tax cuts as a part of tax reform.
So when you are talking to your constituents, they are saying specifically they are excited about corporate tax—
There was a series of polls that showed that majority of Americans don't want to lower the corporate tax rate. And I was wondering what you made of that?
[Gets into elevator.]
[I'll answer at the] next vote. Is that fair?
No, I won't be here at the next vote.
I don't know that competitiveness is a polling issue.
I was just wondering whether you have any concern that the majority of Americans don't want to see a lowering of the corporate tax rate.
I don't know that — if fully explained, I think what they want to see is growth and jobs in America.
Are you concerned at all that the majority of Americans don't want to cut corporate tax rates?
Don't want to cut tax[es]?
Corporate tax rates.
Well, you got to remember, we all pay for the tax anyways. If you are going to tax the corporations, they pass it on to all of us. So I think we have to be competitive in the world. A lot of our competitors in the world have cut their corporate tax rates. Companies that do business in this country and create jobs in this country — we have to address that. But not just lowering. I'm for lowering the tax rates. But I'm more for lowering the tax rates on the working people.
So it's not a concern when having to sell this bill? With even 53 percent of Republicans who would rather see [the corporate tax rate] raised or stay the same?
I think that we have to be realistic with how we deal with the economy, and we have to be competitive in the world.