There really hasn't been any substantive news on the BAT in the last couple weeks. Between North Korean missile launches, fake news twitter bombs and the stymied health care reform debacle, the issue seems to have gone on the back burner. Nevertheless, Brady and Ryan remains nominally committed to the idea, regardless of the sinking support for the initiative. Aside from those with a vested interest in the BAT proposal, namely Paul Ryan and Congressmen who have thrown their lot in with him to gain power (Brady, Nunes, Roskam, etc.), no one seems to have even mild enthusiasm for the proposal.
Without the votes, Ryan and Brady face worse odds on tax reform than even killing off Obamacare. The likely debacle of healthcare legislation makes tax reform less likely by the day. Some, like Bloomberg, are saying that Ryan and Brady are saving it as a bargaining chip for later. That may be true, but a bargaining chip is only valuable if it is credible. In this case, the BAT is full of holes. I don't see what it is worth as a bargaining chip. The behavior of leadership is baffling and frustrating. No one knows why they won't give up the ghost.
Interestingly, the toll taken on the Republican brand by Mr. Trump and his shenanigans is becoming quite clear. The WSJ notes that Republicans are striking out in getting volunteers to run against incumbent Democrats in Senate races in states where Trump won big. To me, this is predictive of the continuing stalemate and maelstrom that is Congressional action by Republicans. The debasement of the Republican brand makes it hazardous to follow leadership, either Congressional leadership (Brady and Ryan) or the White House. Notably, Rep. Pat Tiberi is mentioned by the WSJ as declining to run against Sherrod Brown. That's quite interesting, given that he is one of the Republicans on Ways and Means who have spoken publicly about his problems with the BAT. So here's a Congressman who is definitely sticking around and is nevertheless publicly poking Ryan and Brady in the eye.
So why can't Ryan and Brady keep the Republicans in line? Any number of reasons, but I believe it's all about incentives. There is little incentive to fall in line. How can leadership reward "good" behavior? How can leadership discipline Republicans who won't play ball? Again, no answer. The White House has not demonstrated that it has the power to enforce either. The wins in by-elections this year have all occurred in very safe districts that the Republicans struggled to hold. Without a way to keep folks in line, in an environment dominated by a President who is alienating everyone, it is hard to picture Ryan and Brady holding a cohesive and trustworthy majority together for hardly anything, much less radical tax reform.
So we must continue to wait and watch. Fortunately, the admirable Americans for Affordable Products continues to pummel the BAT on a daily basis. Thank heavens for them. We will prevail in due course, but it may take time before an acknowledged victory can be declared.
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