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Republicans’ laser focus on tax reform sparks backlash from midterm voters

The issue Republicans see as central to their success is a major part of what activists say drives them to fight against the GOP.

US President Donald Trump listens to US Representative Jim Renacci (L) during a roundtable discussion on the new tax law at the Cleveland Public Auditorium and Conference Center on May 5, 2018, in Cleveland, Ohio. CREDIT: Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump listens to US Representative Jim Renacci (L) during a roundtable discussion on the new tax law at the Cleveland Public Auditorium and Conference Center on May 5, 2018, in Cleveland, Ohio. CREDIT: Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

CLEVELAND, OHIO — When Katie Jones realized Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) was going to be the Republican Senate nominee in her state, she said she felt “sick.”

Jones has been a community activist in Medina County, Ohio since 2011, mainly fighting a proposed pipeline in her community. That same year, Renacci “unfortunately,” as Jones put it, took office as her representative.

Now, Jones says she’s supporting Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as he runs for reelection — and one thing animating her decision to back Brown is Renacci’s support for the recently-passed Republican tax overhaul.

“The benefits are for the one percent. The middle class, we’re not getting anything.”

“We haven’t seen any benefits of it,” Jones told ThinkProgress. “The benefits are for the one percent. The middle class, we’re not getting anything.”

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Republicans like Renacci tout the tax law, signed by President Trump last December, as a win for working people. In reality, the legislation raises taxes on middle-class people making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year by more than $5 billion while cutting taxes by more than $5.5 billion for people making more than $1 million a year.

And that’s not all: It also punishes wage-earning employees, creates loopholes for big corporations, and repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a move that will — according to conservative estimates — kill 10,000 people every year.

As Renacci prepares to face Brown in the November general election, he has consistently trumpeted his support for the tax overhaul, writing in a recent statement, “Thanks to pro-business policies, like the tax cuts passed earlier this year, our economy is BOOMING! According to the May Jobs Report, the jobless rate is at its lowest since 1969 (!).”

In another recent statement, Renacci’s team wrote, “Jim Renacci was a chief architect of the 2018 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, saving American families of median income an average of $2,059 per year.”

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Renacci is hardly the only candidate using this messaging. A USA Today analysis from April found that Republicans had run nearly 17,800 campaign ads touting tax reform. The party clearly sees the law — the GOP’s only major legislative accomplishment in the Trump era — as their ticket to electoral success in 2018.

But the very same issue is also animating the fight against them.

Renacci’s opponent, the two-term Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, told ThinkProgress at an event in Cleveland this week that he thinks touting the tax overhaul will be a “loser” for Republicans.

“If that’s their biggest accomplishment, they’ve got a problem. I hear almost no support for it.”

“If that’s their biggest accomplishment, they’ve got a problem,” the senator told ThinkProgress following his remarks. “I hear almost no support for it. I hear fear that because they blew a hole in the deficit they’re going to come back and raise the eligibility age of Medicaid and Social Security.”

Katie Mullins, the chair of Medina County Together — a group that was created to bring Democrats, progressives, and liberal together in the red county after the 2016 election — is planning to fight against Renacci partly because she doesn’t see any evidence that the tax bill he supports so fervently is helping middle-class people.

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Mullins told ThinkProgress that even in Republican-leaning Medina County, she hasn’t read a single local news story about people being helped by the tax law. She also hasn’t personally talked to anyone whose financial picture has improved thanks to the GOP’s recent overhaul of the tax code.

“I personally have not seen any benefits. I personally do not know of anyone who has benefited,” Mullins said. “Most of the people that I know in the county haven’t seen any benefit and aren’t really buying into the whole [idea] that it’s going to help everybody.”

Mullins, who has been represented by Renacci since he was first elected eight years ago, added that she has concerns about the candidate’s own wealth. Renacci is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth of more than $39 million.

“Renacci is out for Renacci. If you take a look at the richest congressman, you will see that the man has a lot of money,” Mullins said.

“He doesn’t care what’s happening to the rest of us,” Jones agreed. 

As the chair of Medina County Together, Mullins said her efforts until November will be specifically focused on getting Democrats and progressives registered and turning out at the polls.

“We’re trying to get the Democrats and progressives and liberals of Medina County to have a voice,” she said, adding that they’ve tried to bring that voice to Renacci on the tax bill and other issues for months, but that the congressman has refused to meet with them. (Jones said they’d even had mock town halls where they set up a picture of Renacci and talked to the portrait about their concerns.)

“He won’t come out and talk to people,” Mullins said. “And if you’re going to represent the people of this county, and this district… and eventually be elected into representing people of the whole state of Ohio, why don’t you want to talk to people?”

It’s not just Renacci’s current constituents who are concerned about his support for the tax bill.

“[I]t scares me that people are going to think this is a really good thing that’s happening, but actually it’s getting funneled to the top and it doesn’t trickle down.”

Crystal Henson, a stay-at-home mom who lives outside of Toledo, told ThinkProgress that the tax bill has inspired her own local activist work, too.

“It concerns me a lot because it seems like a lot of the stuff that may help the working people has a time limit on it,” Henson told ThinkProgress. “And it scares me that people are going to think this is a really good thing that’s happening, but actually it’s getting funneled to the top and it doesn’t trickle down.”

“The people… hoarding money, they’re getting more money. It’s not going down to their employees,” she added.

While Renacci has touted the fact that some people’s paychecks are going up, Henson said that there’s another factor he’s leaving out — rising health costs.

“If our paycheck goes up, our health care went up more,” she said, pointing out that doesn’t add up to a meaningful difference in take-home pay.

For Henson, the tax law is just one of the many issues she’s going to meetings about and talking about on social media. Between health care, taxes, and immigration issues — just to name a few — she said she’s spread thin as a mom and a community activist.

“My problem is there’s so many fires to be put out that it’s hard to prioritize a lot of times,” she said. 

Jones hopes that, like Henson, other Ohioans who haven’t previously been represented by Renacci will take the time to look into his record.

“Do your research, see what’s been happening, and don’t vote against your own self interest,” she said.