Rick Scott shows why McConnell didn’t want to release platform as GOP calls to hike taxes on poor

Backlash to Scott's plan demonstrates why McConnell was smart not to say GOP positions out loud before election

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published February 24, 2022 12:55PM (EST)

Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

This week the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a detailed plan of what the party plans to do if it retakes control of the Senate — and the ensuing backlash quickly showed why Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to release a party platform at all ahead of the midterms.

"I'll let you know when we take it back," McConnell told reporters last month, staying mum on what the GOP would do if it wins the Senate in November. 

So Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, released his own "11-point plan to rescue America" that calls to raise taxes on millions of poor families and other right-wing priorities. The plan also calls to sunset civil rights laws, eliminate the Education Department, declare that there are only two genders, and build former President Donald Trump's border wall.

"I'll warn you," Scott wrote in the introduction to the plan. "This plan is not for the faint of heart."

Scott told Politico that he released the plan on his own, not as the head of the NRSC, because it's "important to tell people what we're gonna do."

"Hopefully, by doing this, we'll have more of a conversation about what Republicans are going to get done. Because when we get the majority, I want to get something done," he said. "There's things that people would rather not talk about. I'm willing to say exactly what I'm going to do. I think it's fair to the voter."

RELATED: Republicans who voted for Trump tax cuts now accuse Democrats of slashing taxes for the rich

Democrats quickly seized on Scott's proposal to impose taxes on Americans who don't have any tax burden.

"He wants working families and seniors to pay more," tweeted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Scott in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity insisted that his plan did not call to raise taxes.

"Of course not," Scott said, accusing Democrats of being the party that wants to hike taxes on "everything."

But Scott's plan explicitly calls to increase taxes on people who currently do not have to pay any.

"All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount," the proposal says. "Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax."

Many compared the language to Sen. Mitt Romney's, R-Utah, 2012 gaffe accusing "47 percent" of Americans of voting for Democrats because they are "dependent on the government" and don't pay taxes.

"Trump's populist rhetoric temporarily obscured what is central to Republican orthodoxy: that half of Americans are takers and moochers," Rep. Brandon Boyle, D-Pa., told the Washington Post.

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While the number of people who paid no income tax was around half when Romney made his ill-fated comment, the Tax Foundation found that the number rose to 61% in 2020. Many of these people include retirees and working families that qualified for low-income tax credits, and people impacted by pandemic layoffs. And Samuel Hammond, a policy expert at the right-leaning think tank Niskanen Center, told the Post that the number also grew because the 2017 Trump tax cuts doubled the standard tax deduction, further reducing the number of families who pay no income tax.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately launched a new ad campaign highlighting the Republican plan to "raise taxes on over 50% of Americans, including many seniors and working families," underscoring the electoral danger posed to Republicans by their own platform.

"We're making sure voters know the facts about Senate Republicans' agenda: a tax hike on millions of seniors and over half of all Americans," DSCC spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement. "At every opportunity, Republicans are pushing the interests of the ultra-wealthy and big corporations that get rich by spiking costs – all while working families pay the price."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that Scott's plan "doesn't include a single proposal to lower prices for the middle class."

"It's dramatically off-message for where Republicans are going on taxes — they shouldn't be talking about raising taxes on anybody," Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute told the Post.

Even Republicans like former Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore, who support Scott's proposal, warned that saying the Republican position out loud could damage their election chances.

"It has sort of raised a lot of people's eyebrows. … There's been a buzz about: Is this the smart thing to say right now, given that we have Democrats on the run?" he told the Post. "I've said for 30 years everybody should pay some income tax, if you're going to vote and have government benefits. But is it the smartest time to be saying that right now? No."

Scott, who voted to object to the certification of President Joe Biden's win after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, also included a litany of right-wing priorities in his plan. Despite pushing to drastically increase the number of taxpayers, Scott's plan also calls to "immediately cut the IRS funding and workforce by 50%."

Scott also incorporated language used by Trump to stoke lies about his election loss, accusing Democrats of seeking to "rig elections" and calling for new voting restrictions, including banning same-day voter registration and limiting ballot drop boxes. The plan also calls for a ban on ballots that arrive after Election Day, which could disenfranchise American troops stationed overseas.

Scott wants to make sure the government "never" asks citizens their race or ethnicity, including in the census, which helps the government distribute resources to key groups.

The plan also calls to shrink the government by eliminating 25% of government workers and require all legislation to expire after five years, which would presumably apply to longstanding legislation like civil rights and voting rights reforms. Scott also called to sell off government buildings and other assets even as he also urged to finish building the border wall and name it after Trump.

Scott's plan also goes all-in on the Republican culture war, calling to eliminate the Education Department entirely, end teacher tenure at public schools, and require all children to say the Pledge of Allegiance and stand for the National Anthem while hitting out at "critical race theory." The plan also seized on the dubious narrative that Democrats want to "defund the police," calling for full funding for police departments and increased penalties for theft and violent crime. The plan also calls to ban transgender athletes from competing on sports teams.

One unnamed Republican operative lamented to Politico that Scott made an "unforced error" by releasing the plan and giving "Democrats the first thing they can attack in six months."

Former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said there is little support for Scott's plan beyond the party's rabid base and could be a gift to Democrats facing challenges in the midterms.

"This document is just a laundry list of grievances and nonsense that has no chance of being made into actual public policy," he told MSNBC. "It's not a blueprint for anything other than to titillate Fox News viewers and to tickle their erogenous zones, their grievance zones on Fox & Friends. "

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By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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