House GOP leaders make the midterms all about the tax law — and they have a challenge in selling it before November

Key Points
  • House Republican leaders peg their hopes for November's midterm elections on selling the benefits of their tax overhaul.
  • The new law has not gained the popularity the GOP hoped when it passed in December.
  • Top House Republicans think they have enough time for the tax policy to become more popular.
Rep. McCarthy and Rep. Brady on tax reform, House leadership and trade

House Republican leaders believe they will keep a majority in the chamber in November, and on Tuesday, they pegged their hopes on selling their tax overhaul to voters.

Americans have not yet latched on to the tax policy the way GOP lawmakers had hoped ahead of the critical midterm elections. Only 27 percent of Americans call the law passed in December a good idea, while 36 percent think it is a bad idea, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week. In a January poll, 30 percent of those surveyed thought it was a good idea, while 38 percent said it was a bad idea.

However, top Republicans who spoke to CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday argued that the plan's popularity should improve by November. The GOP has billed the law as its signature achievement during the first year of Republican control of Capitol Hill and the White House. It chops tax rates for corporations and trims taxes on many, but not all, individuals.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whom Rep. Paul Ryan has endorsed to succeed him as speaker, told CNBC he believes voters will begin to understand the benefits of the law by the midterm elections. He even mused about the possibility of moving tax filing day to November instead of April so it is fresh in voters' minds.

Kevin McCarthy
Cameron Costa | CNBC

Democrats, driven by an enthusiastic base opposed to many policies proposed by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, are pushing to flip 23 Republican seats and win the House majority in November. McCarthy said voters have a choice between the new GOP tax code and one pushed by Democrats, who may try to return some tax rates on the wealthy to the pre-GOP law levels if they win the House.

"I think this is a healthy discussion they can have and a healthy debate, and at the end of the day, we're going to win it," the California Republican said.

Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, argued that voters have a "clear choice" in November between the Republican law and the previous tax system.

As many Americans scrambled to file their taxes Tuesday under the old tax code, Trump joined in on the GOP messaging. He tweeted: "Employment is up, taxes are DOWN. Enjoy!"

Trump tweet

Republicans say the tax law will grow the economy, pointing to one-time bonuses or wage increases announced by many companies. Democrats have said it helps corporations at the expense of middle class and working families.

The law makes corporate cuts permanent, but individual cuts are only temporary. Republicans have said they want to make household tax reductions permanent.

Democrats have also raised concerns about the estimated $1 trillion or more the cuts are expected to add to budget deficits over a decade. The party has argued the GOP could cut funding from Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to offset the deficits.