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Democratic Recruits Pounce on GOP Budget Vote

Candidates defend state and local tax deduction in competitive districts

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen was the only Garden State Republican to vote for the budget resolution on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen was the only Garden State Republican to vote for the budget resolution on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats looking to pick up House seats in wealthier, suburban districts next fall pounced on Thursday’s narrow adoption of a budget resolution that could clear the way for the elimination of the state and local tax deduction that benefits many of those districts.

Republican leaders heralded the vote as bringing them closer to achieving a tax overhaul — a legislative priority to which many GOP strategists are pinning their party’s midterm fate.

But Democrats are hopeful they can use this vote to flip the script on Republicans, who have so long campaigned on cutting taxes, by messaging the vote as part of an effort to increase taxes.

Twenty House Republicans voted against the resolution Thursday, including 10 Democratic targets from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Other Democratic targets from districts that benefit from the deduction in New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania voted for the measure. 

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen was the only Garden State Republican to vote for the budget.

His affluent 11th District benefits more from the so-called SALT deduction than any other GOP-held congressional district in the country, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center.

[Who Benefits from the State and Local Tax Deduction?

Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is facing a competitive race for the first time in years. Democrats made him an early target for 2018 after President Donald Trump carried his district by less than a point last fall.

Democrats have already been hammering Frelinghuysen for supporting GOP leadership’s efforts to repeal the 2010 health care law, and they see his vote for this budget resolution as an opportunity to attack the 12-term lawmaker on an issue that resonates in the New Jersey suburbs. 

Democratic challenger Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, accused the congressman of voting “against the interests of his constituents” in a statement immediately following the vote. 

“This Republican-supported tax increase will serve as the first step in giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while hiking taxes on New Jersey’s families,” she said. “This vote is another example of why Congressman Frelinghuysen is no longer fit to represent the people of the 11th district of New Jersey.”

Bringing in nearly half a million dollars during the third quarter, Sherrill raised more than three times as much as the GOP incumbent. Frelinghuysen’s $157,000 was notably lower than the half a million dollars he raised the previous two quarters. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 11th District race Likely Republican.

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Illinois Reps. Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, California Rep. Mimi Walters and Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen voted for the measure too. According to the Tax Policy Center, their districts are among those that benefit the most from the SALT deduction.

Paying for tax cuts

Republicans have argued that eliminating the deduction could help pay for income tax rate cuts as part of a broad tax overhaul.

A Roll Call analysis found that the SALT deduction primarily benefits higher-income earners, but Democratic candidates immediately cast the repeal of the deduction, and the larger budget vote, as an attack on the middle class.

“Despite twenty of her Republicans colleagues voting against this budget because they realize the danger it poses to hard-working middle-class families, Barbara Comstock still voted in favor,” Virginia Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, who is challenging the congresswoman, said in a statement. 

California Democrat Kia Hamadanchy emailed his supporters about Walters’ “tax hike.”

“It’s sad that members of Congress from other states like New York and New Jersey are fighting harder for our interests than our own Mimi Walters,” said Hamadanchy, who is one of several Democrats challenging the second-term Republican in the 45th District.

Democrats signaled Thursday that they’re likely to make the repeal of the deduction a broader issue in other parts of the country, too. 

Pennsylvania Democrat Christina Hartman, who’s seeking a rematch with Rep. Lloyd K. Smucker, said his vote “cleared the way for tax cuts for billionaires and huge corporations.”

“His actions and the GOP’s priorities are part of the problem in Washington D.C.,” she said in a Thursday morning statement. 

Democratic targets who voted against the measure include New York Republican Reps. Dan Donovan, John J. Faso, John Katko, Elise Stefanik, Claudia Tenney and Lee Zeldin, New Jersey Republicans Leonard Lance, Frank A. LoBiondo and Tom MacArthur and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.  

Not a done deal?

The budget resolution is a vehicle for a still-developing tax measure, and GOP leaders signaled Thursday that scrapping the SALT deduction isn’t a done deal and a compromise could still be reached. 

“I believe that the Ways and Means Committee will be working with these members in particular to find a solution,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said after Thursday’s vote. 

But as they did with Republicans who voted against the GOP health care bill, Democrats are still attacking GOP lawmakers who voted against the budget resolution Thursday, trying to tie them to the actions of their party’s majority.

Democrat Max Rose, an Army veteran challenging Donovan in New York’s 11th District — in a race rated Likely Republican — went after the incumbent for not working harder to “kill” the measure.

“As a member of Congress, I would have led the charge to kill this bill — especially if my own party was proposing something like this that will devastate the take-home pay of my neighbors,” Rose said. “That takes courage though, and apparently Dan Donovan doesn’t possess even a sliver of it. It’s time for new leadership.”

Pat Ryan, a Democrat running against Faso in New York’s 19th District — a race rated Tilts Republican — adopted a similar tone.

“Rep. Faso’s efforts to stand up to his Republican colleagues can be described as feeble at best,” he said of the freshman lawmaker, who voted against the budget resolution. 

Republicans pushed back on that messaging. “This is about putting money back in the pockets of hardworking Americans — not about protecting the status quo,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt said in a statement.

Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats would rather play politics than give the middle class much-deserved tax relief,” Hunt added. 

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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