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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has toured factories to promote the GOP's tax plan over the past few months, but his talking points have mainly focused on the plan's benefits for corporations and his goal to improve international competitiveness. He doesn't do much to address what most voters care about: “How will this help me?”
Lucky for Republicans clinging to hope they can pass some manner of tax bill, someone else does: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“Tax reform is a boring conversation in and of itself, so you have to find a way to make it sticky,” Scott told Independent Journal Review in a phone interview Wednesday. “For me, making it personal and having a little humor are the two ways that I try to make a subject stick.”
His colleagues agree Scott excels at both tasks. When Republicans held a press conference at the end of September to unveil the broad contours of their tax plan, Scott stole the show with his sense of humor and a controversial hashtag: #KeepYoMoney. He told IJR he came up with the hashtag because he wanted to reach out to people who don't find themselves on the edge of their seats when it comes to tax policy debates.
“If I was talking to my friends and my boys back at home, we would be talking about keeping yo' money,” Scott explained.
“We wouldn't be talking about repatriation and offshore revenue coming home. We wouldn't be talking about the difficulty of lowering the corporate tax rate. ... No. We say at the barber shop that we want to keep yo' money.”
At the heart of Scott's advocacy style is a desire to make the tax plan applicable and understandable to individuals.
“All of the hyperbole around who tax reform benefits is just that: It's hyperbolic in nature,” Scott said. “What I want to know is does our tax reform actually help people where they live right now?”
On that, the jury's still out.
But Scott, a conservative Republican from the South, is uniquely positioned for the task of messaging the bill. Scott is a tax policy enthusiast. His first bill in the House of Representatives prior to his Senate promotion was a tax reform bill. It earned him a spot on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax legislation. He is one of a few senators who have regular meetings to discuss the issue with Speaker Ryan.
What may matter most is that Scott is the only African-American Republican in the Senate, which gives him a unique, firsthand understanding of a host of communities throughout the country Republicans are struggling to reach.
“He's a remarkable communicator," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told IJR on Wednesday. "He just understands how families work. And not just those who have been fortunate, but [also] those who are really trying to climb up that economic ladder.”
Scott and Brady bridged the House and Senate divide with a promotional video for the tax plan they circulated Wednesday:
— Ways and Means (@WaysandMeansGOP) October 11, 2017
Republicans want to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, but doing so isn't exactly an awe-inspiring move for everyday voters who aren't interested in the workings of international tax policy.
Scott tried to make a personal connection: “Corporate tax is paid by individuals, and it's paid in two very powerful ways. One, by reduced wages, and the other one is by increased costs,” he said in the video.
“As a guy who grew up in a single-parent household, mired in poverty, if I can find a way to help single moms keep more of their money, this is the right direction.”
The Republican tax plan also aims to double the standard deduction and expand the child tax credit — which would benefit some lower- and middle-class workers — but possibly at the expense of others through unresolved contentious funding mechanisms like scrapping the state and local tax deduction.
Republicans recognize a need to promote the tax plan in more relatable ways, but doing so with specificity will prove difficult until tax-writing committees in Congress hammer out the minute details of the legislation and the bill's various impacts on taxpayers can be assessed in full.
President Donald Trump will deliver a speech on the tax reform effort Wednesday night in Pennsylvania and is expected to focus heavily on how the plan will benefit individual taxpayers.
The White House has come under fire for hawking a plan skewed heavily toward the upper class, according to most assessments, and it is working hard to flip the script, including with an attempt to appeal to truckers during the Pennsylvania event.
Going forward, though, you can expect to hear a lot more from Scott about the individual impacts of the GOP tax bill.
“[Scott] speaks from his heart and is so articulate,” Brady said. “He is one of the best leaders on tax reform I know.”