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Both parties banking on tax bill as a 2018 campaign issue

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

With the federal tax overhaul now law, Missouri’s political candidates in both parties are highlighting their support or opposition to the measure as they try to appeal to voters as the 2018 campaign cycle gets underway.

State Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, is particularly aggressive in using the tax law for his initial attacks against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Hawley says he’s surprised that McCaskill would vote against the overall bill after she succeeded in adding a provision barring companies from seeking tax deductions on money paid to victims, or their attorneys, in work-related harassment or assault cases.

“It’s just a sign of the hyper-partisanship that she has become captured by,’’ Hawley said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.  He added that he supported the anti-harassment provision.

Overall, Hawley called the tax overhaul “a great start to providing meaningful tax relief for working people and working families, which is desperately needed.” He singled out the new law’s provisions that double the standard deduction and the child tax credit. 

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Credit Durrie Bouscaren & Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

McCaskill campaign spokeswoman Meira Bernstein replied that the senator’s success in tacking on a sexual-harassment provision didn’t negate her overall dissatisfaction with the final version of the bill.

"Josh Hawley's support for a bill that overwhelmingly favors the ultra-wealthy while middle-class Missourians get crumbs is further proof that he should stop listening to his party leaders in D.C. and start listening to Missourians,” Bernstein said “Claire will always put the people of Missouri first, which is why — after 50 public town halls this year — she voted against this backward bill that leaves hard-working Missourians behind."

U.S. House candidates also promote tax views

Candidate filing doesn’t begin until late February in Missouri, but the region’s incumbent members of Congress – and their possible challengers – are already using the tax law to frame their early campaigns.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican whose district takes in much of St. Charles County as well as other outer suburban counties, predicts that the tax law will become more popular as voters see evidence of their lower tax bills.

“As we go into 2018, Missourians will start seeing more money in their paychecks and growth in the economy across the country,” Luetkemeyer said in a statement.

But U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, a St. Louis Democrat, takes a sharply dimmer view, citing some analyses of the law’s provisions.

“Families like President Trump’s will be richly rewarded while over 320,000 middle-class families in Missouri will get a tax increase,” Clay said. “In fact, 83% of the tax cuts in this deeply flawed and fiscally irresponsible bill will pad the pockets of the top 1%. ... This isn’t tax reform. It’s tax fraud.”

A similar debate may take place in the St. Louis region’s 2nd Congressional District, which takes in much of St. Louis County.  Republican incumbent Ann Wagner sees the new tax law as fulfilling a commitment to her constituents.

“I promised them that I would find a way for families to keep more of their hard-earned money,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “Today, we are delivering on that promise and no media hyperbole or partisan backlash will change the bottom line. This bill cuts taxes for middle-income Missourians, allows American businesses to flourish, and paves the way for an increase of good-paying jobs.”

One of her Democratic rivals, Cort VanOstran, was sending notes to potential donors contending that Wagner’s real pledge had been “to enact a tax scam for the benefit of the ultrawealthy.”

Both sides agree that the next few months will determine which party will be in the best position to use the tax law to their advantage in the November 2018 election.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.