U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and John Ragan speaking at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s 2016 Capitol Hill Update at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona. / Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0
Senator John McCain returned to Arizona over the weekend after complications with his cancer treatment. The 81-year old Republican, who has represented Arizona in Senate for more than three decades, suffers from an aggressive form of brain cancer. It is likely that Senator McCain will no be able to return to Washington, DC in order to vote on the Republican tax cut bill.
Assuming that Senator Bob Corker votes against the final tax bill as he did when the Senate voted on its version of the tax bill, McCain’s absence places the tax bill in a precarious position in the Senate and gives nearly every Republican Senator a veto.
Senator Jeff Flake, along with his fellow Republican colleagues, now have the ability to put their money where their mouth is and use this leverage to gain concessions from the GOP Congressional leadership on specific issues. However, Senator Flake appears to be content with promises from the White House rather than push Majority Leader McConnel for concessions to help Arizonans.
Promises from liars
In an interview with Time, Senator Flake said that he got two concessions in the Senate tax bill that was passed earlier this month for his support.
The first was a sunset provision for full expensing, “a measure that lets companies deduct their assets from their tax bills, costing the government billions in potential tax revenue.” The addition that Flake received to the bill would sunset the full expensing provision gradually over five years. “We said, smooth that, ramp it down after the first five years, and they were able to do that,” Flake said.
“I am concerned about the debt and deficit,” he concedes. “I’ve always described myself as a supply-sider with caveats. Basically it was about trying to get a balance I could live with. And I think we got it.”
The second concession that Senator Flake received for his vote in favor of the Senate tax bill was a promise from the White House, specifically Vice President Mike Pence, that Republicans would pass legislation on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started during the Obama administration which protected some undocumented immigrants from deportation and provided them with permits to work legally in the United States.
For Flake, the first concession is more about his personal dislike for deficit spending and adding to the national debt, which this bill will do to the tune of $1.4 trillion by 2027. The second concession would directly help Arizona residents. Arizona is home to about 4 percent of the 690,000 young immigrants who were covered under the DACA program as of last September, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Flake said he had two conversations with Vice President Pence before the Senate voted on its version of the tax bill and is optimistic that the White House, or at least President Trump personally, wants to see legislation for former DACA beneficiaries: “They want this done, and frankly, I was telling [Pence]: hey, you guys need an excuse. ‘We have a Republican Senator whose vote we can get if we agree with DACA’ — use it however you want!”
After receiving these two concessions, one an actual change to the bill and the other a promise from the White House, Senator Flake announced that he would support the Senate’s version of the tax bill.
Senator Flake’s optimism that GOP Congressional leadership, as well as President Trump, will suddenly become bipartisan months before a mid-term election in order to pass a legislation to enshrine into law a key Obama administration policy is not firmly rooted in recent precedent.
Neither the Republican bill to reform healthcare earlier this year nor the current tax bill has had any support from Democrats. The former because the Republican and Democratic parties have fundamentally different and apparently irreconcilable beliefs concerning the government’s role in providing healthcare. The latter because the Republican leadership simply did not want to even attempt to craft a bill that would truly reform the tax code rather than one that would simply give massive tax cuts to corporations and the extremely wealthy.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he is open to passing legislation on DACA, he wants to do so in the context of a larger immigration bill which would increase border security funding. While not impossible, it is difficult to envision a scenario where Republicans in Congress are able to craft a bill on immigration with enough Democratic to pass both the House and Senate during an election year. It edges closer to impossible when you consider how polarizing President Trump is in relation to immigration reform.
Taking all this into account, it seems that the DACA promise the White House gave to Senator Flake for his vote on the tax bill will not be fulfilled during his time he has left in the Senate. However, when you accept promises from liars, what can you really expect?