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Blunt expects Congress to leave entitlements alone in 2018

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, his wife, Abigail Blunt, and son, Charlie, join artist Bryan Hayes at his studio in Washington, Missouri. (Dec. 27, 2017) The building was renovated using federal historic tax credits, which Blunt supports.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has at least two predictions heading into 2018:

The Missouri Republican expects the public will warm up to the new federal tax overhaul as more see fatter paychecks in the coming months. And he also believes that the GOP will avoid dealing with the nation’s popular entitlement programs –Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security – until Democrats gain more political power.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, would like to revamp all three programs while the GOP has momentum from passage of the federal tax overhaul that was recently signed into law.

But Blunt sides with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell that such a move would be “a mistake.”

He says it makes more sense to tackle the three programs when Democrats control some part of the federal government.

“Divided government is really the time to do entitlement reform, where when it’s over, neither side can point to the other side and said, ‘They did that and they did that all by themselves,’ " the senator said.

Blunt recommends that Republicans and Democrats work together in 2018 and focus on rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges. That would be a politically popular move with few pitfalls, in his view.

As for the tax overhaul, Blunt is confident the public will embrace the new law as it goes into effect, and more taxpayers see the financial benefits. “I’m convinced they’re going to see a much more competitive U.S. economy and a more competitive Missouri economy,” the senator said.

Blunt pointed to analyses that show many middle-class American families could see tax breaks of at least $1,000 or $2,000 a year.

Critics of the tax overhaul, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., say it's too skewed toward wealthy Americans. But Blunt contends that detractors don't take into account that 40 percent of Americans already pay no federal income tax, which is why they won’t benefit as much from the new law. (Blunt acknowledged many of them do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as state and local taxes.)

“The more wrong people were, the louder they got,’’ Blunt said, referring to Democratic opponents.

Historic tax credit protections

Blunt also is promoting other provisions of the tax bill – particularly how the measure strengthens the federal historic tax credit program.

On Wednesday, he toured several renovated, 100-year-old buildings in historic downtown Washington, Missouri.

“Missouri has actually used historic tax credits, I’m told, more than any other state,” Blunt said. “That’s something we’ve really taken advantage of. Here, in Washington’s downtown area, they’ve been able to use these credits.”

Blunt’s final stop was at the Bryan Hayes Art Studio and Gallery, at 10 West 2nd St. Building owner Pat Peterson, who lives in St. Louis, said the project could not have been successful without the federal and state historic tax credit programs.

She and Hayes welcomed Blunt’s support. Hayes also gave the senator a quick tour of his studio and his paintings, many of which feature Osage Indians. “Tax credits like this really help the downtown,” Hayes said. “And keep wonderful buildings available for rent, lease, owning and living.”

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.