Democrats could not believe their luck this weekend when House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted — and then deleted — a boast about the $1.50 raise a high school secretary received as a result of the GOP tax cut bill that President Donald Trump signed at the end of the year.
“She said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year,” Ryan tweeted.
Sensing a moment to pounce, Ryan’s Democratic House challenger, Randy Bryce, hammered the speaker for bragging about putting $1.50 back in anyone’s pocket. Dozens of other Democrats pointed out that corporations and wealthy people would be getting exponentially more than working people from the GOP legislation. (That’s true.)
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined the chorus of voices calling Ryan out of touch: “Guess someone told Paul Ryan you shouldn’t go around praising yourself for giving a working person an extra $1.50 a week — because he deleted this tweet.”
But the AP article that Ryan shared along with his deleted Tweet is one that Democrats should read carefully. Inside that dispatch are details of the one issue that could rescue Republicans from complete annihilation in the midterm elections: the fact that the tax cut bill, while unpopular when it was passed by Congress, is already showing up in people’s paychecks as companies revise their withholding guidelines.
At least something?
In fact, according to the Treasury Department, 90 percent of Americans will see more take-home pay in their paychecks because of the new law.
It’s certainly true that far fewer people will get the kind of big bonuses that Trump is touting, and that people’s final tax burden will vary based on lots of factors. The wealthier will get more tax breaks, and hedge fund managers are still getting away with murder, in candidate Trump’s famous words.
But in the simple math of more-or-less, the vast majority of Americans will have more at the end of the month. It’s very tricky for Democrats to tell any American that’s a bad thing.
“I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!” Wayne Love told the AP of the extra $200 in his paycheck.
“It’s tough to be upset about more money in my pocket,” an engineer is quoted saying in the piece.
And being happy about that $1.50 per week raise?
Those weren’t Ryan’s words, but the words of Julia Ketchum, the secretary Ryan was tweeting about, who told the AP she was “pleasantly surprised” by any kind of an uptick in her take home-pay. Ketchum later said she understands how withholding works and knows this may not be the final result in the tax cut for her, but was pleased nonetheless. “I answered it honestly,” she told CNN.
It might be hard for a political consultant to get excited about $1.50 a week. But if you’re working minimum wage, $1.50 represents 12 fewer minutes you have to work. Have you ever been 12 minutes late to an hourly job? It’s the fastest way to figure out that every minute, and every dollar, counts. It’s small, but it’s not nothing.
For a party that wants to win back working-class voters, there’s a huge danger in dismissing any gain — even $1.50 — without first proving Democrats are going to do that much and more for people’s paychecks if they’re elected in November.
A political truth
Trump’s tweets and erratic behavior in office have given Democrats a huge opening in the midterm elections. Republicans in Congress are retiring, while Democrats in Congress are recruiting. Democratic enthusiasm in some districts is so palpable that one candidate told The New York Times that people “can’t wait to vote.” Randy Bryce, Ryan’s opponent, raised more than $100,000 from progressive activists based on Ryan’s deleted Tweet alone, mostly in $1.50 increments.
But one truth seems to remain — it’s still, still, still the economy stupid.
Despite everything that the Trump White House and congressional Republicans have bungled since Election Day, the generic congressional ballot has improved for Republicans since the tax cut passed at the end of last year. The president remains unpopular and Democrats are still favored, but the margin has tightened as the tax cut has become more popular and more people begin to see the difference in their income, however large or small.
Looking to take advantage of that, the president was in Cincinnati on Monday making the very simple case to voters that has worked for politicians again and again and again.
There’s no way to know how the economy will be performing in November when the elections happen. While unemployment is down and wages are rising, the stock market dropped more than 1,000 points on Monday alone.
But even modest gains are gains. And that $1.50 that Paul Ryan was talking about?
As my dad likes to say, it’s better than a kick in the teeth. And it’s more, so far, than Democrats can show they’ve done for voters since Trump came into office.
Economic indicators are complicated, but a gut feeling really isn’t.
Am I better off today than I was two years ago? Will I have more or less money in my paycheck if I vote for Democrats to take over the House in November? Did I just make $1.50 I didn’t know was coming?
Those are the questions voters ask themselves when they’re thinking about changing the party in power. Democrats need to give voters better answers if they want to take advantage of the opportunity Donald Trump is giving them.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.