By Philip Wegmann for RealClearPolitics
He touched an infamous “third rail” of politics. And then he tightened his grip.
Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, arrived Thursday morning at the Heritage Foundation, the closest thing conservatives have to a mecca in Washington. He brought with him a document he promised would be controversial. He delivered.
It was his ambitious “11-Point Plan to Save America,” which includes more than 120 bullet points addressing everything from education and immigration to religious liberty and foreign policy. “The American people are going to deliver a complete butt-kicking to the Democrats this November,” he told a packed auditorium. “But after we win, then what?”
In Rick Scott’s America, public school children stand for the national anthem and say the Pledge of Allegiance. There is a border wall, too, “named after Donald J. Trump.” The government never again asks a person to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any official document, while affirming that “men are men, women are women, and unborn babies are babies.” All imports from China, meanwhile, are gradually ended until a new regime “honors basic human rights and freedoms.”
Because the details were too numerous for a single speech, the Florida Republican encouraged the conservative faithful to go to his website and do their own reading. But when Kevin Roberts joined Scott on stage, the Heritage president homed in on one of the 120 bullet points immediately: “You’ve gotten a lot of flak from the left and the right, quote-unquote, that your plan would raise taxes. Take it away.”
“I am not going to raise taxes on anybody,” Scott promised. He claimed that “Democrats are lying about the plan,” and he complained that “we’ve got Republicans that are parroting what they’re saying.”
The news was welcome inside Heritage, the think tank that helped President Trump get his proposed tax cuts through Congress. After all, modern conservatives consider raising any taxes akin to apostasy. And yet, on the fifth page of the website he asked the audience to visit, the 12th bullet point reads: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”
This one plank in the larger plan was enough to galvanize both Democrats and Republicans. For more than a month, Scott has gotten it from both directions, as Roberts noted. “He wants to raise taxes on half of Americans – including on seniors and working families,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted in February. “Seriously, that’s their plan.” Sen. Mitch McConnell was just as dismissive. “We will not have as part of our agenda,” the Republican minority leader said, “a bill that raises taxes on half the American people.”
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The bipartisan criticism comes as whispers endure that Scott harbors his own White House ambition, or perhaps even has his eyes on McConnell’s job if Republicans retake the Senate. Trump reportedly told Scott privately that he should be the next majority leader. Thursday morning, the Heritage audience was just happy that someone had come up with a legislative agenda at all, something that McConnell has refused to do before the 2022 midterms.
When Roberts first took Scott’s call, he recalled on stage, “I said, ‘Senator, we are on board.’” The NRSC chairman replied that he hadn’t even sent the document over, and the Heritage president clarified, “We are on board with the idea of a plan.” Throughout the event, Roberts noted that Heritage hadn’t signed on to anything other than a discussion.
This seemed to be enough for Scott. Other recent exchanges, however, have been more contentious.
“You recently put out an 11-point plan to rescue America,” newsman John Roberts (no relation) began to tell Scott last weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” before highlighting his income tax provision and asking him why he’d propose something like that during an election year.
“That’s, of course, the Democrat talking points,” Scott objected.
“No, it’s in the plan! It’s in the plan,” the Fox anchor replied. “Hang on, Senator, it’s not a Democratic talking point, it’s in the plan.”
“Go through it, everybody’s not going to agree with everything, 120 policy points. Let’s be bold; go to RescueAmerica.com, give me your ideas,” the senator concluded.
Scott knows he has upended the apple cart. The controversy seems by design: He said on stage that he was eager to anger “woke” Democrats and “do-nothing” Republicans. All the same, the fight wears on him. Scott said as much, recently likening his current struggle to the battles fought by Union General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. “I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that, I’m always going to be perceived as an outsider,” he told the AP. “I’m going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not.”
There are some Republican comparisons, though, that Scott doesn’t appreciate.
After the event wrapped, the senator seemed to concede to reporters that his plan would raise taxes. “The people that are paying taxes right now, I’m not going to raise their rates. I’ve never done it,” he said during a short press conference, adding: “I’m focused on the people that can go to work, and decided to be on a government program and not participate. I believe whether it’s just a dollar, we all are in this together.”
How was ensuring that everyone pay income tax, having “skin in the game” as his plan puts it, materially different than the sentiment Sen. Mitt Romney held during his doomed presidential campaign? After all, at the time, that Utah Republican told supporters that 47% of voters would support President Obama’s reelection because they are “dependent upon government … believe they are victims … believe the government has a responsibility to care for them … [and] pay no income tax.”
Scott told RealClearPolitics he didn’t even remember what his senate colleague said back then. “I can tell you what I believe in, and you’re welcome to ask Sen. Romney what he believes in,” he said before adding, “I thought what happened in the CARES Act was really bad – that you paid people more not to work than to work, and I don’t think that was good for people.”
Well, asked by conservative Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen, what about Ronald Reagan? What did that conservative champion get wrong when he promised during his 1985 State of the Union address to make poor families “totally exempt” from federal income taxes?
“I can tell you what I believe in. You can look at what Ronald Reagan believed in,” Scott replied, returning to his argument that the government was paying people not to work and an income tax could incentivize them to return to the workforce. “I was talking to a company this morning,” he said. “They’re looking for 15,000 employees, and they can’t find them. We can’t keep doing this. It’s not sustainable.”
Even as a member of GOP brass himself, Scott was eager to paint himself as an outsider. The leader of the Republican Party’s senate campaign arm told the Heritage audience that his colleagues would grumble that Democrats will use his broad plan against them in the election.
“I hope they do,” a defiant Scott said. “My response is, ‘bring it on.’ We should have no fear. I have no fear standing up for what I believe in to rescue this country.” At least on paper, for the time being, that includes arguing that “all Americans should pay some income tax,” even if it is as the senator admitted Thursday, “just a dollar.”
Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.
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