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Conservative groups target swing Democrats in fight against infrastructure plan and taxes

Americans for Prosperity travels to Iowa, takes aim at Cindy Axne

Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne is one of the first Democrats from swing districts to be the focus of conservative efforts to turn the public against the president’s infrastructure plan.
Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne is one of the first Democrats from swing districts to be the focus of conservative efforts to turn the public against the president’s infrastructure plan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tim Phillips, who runs the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, is going on the road to fight major elements of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan and the potential tax increases to help fund it. 

He’ll be in Iowa on Monday, seeking to put pressure on Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents the southwest section of the state. 

The stop in Des Moines is a sign of what’s to come across the country as the Biden administration and congressional Democrats craft a $2 trillion infrastructure-jobs-tax package. Americans for Prosperity’s burgeoning campaign is just one slice of a broader, emerging push among conservative policy groups and political networks focused on Democratic lawmakers in swing districts.  

“House Democrats have been voting in such a partisan lockstep,” Phillips said, noting party-line votes this year on a COVID-19 economic measure as well as a campaign finance and voting bill known as HR 1. “They’re already overreaching where the folks back home in their districts are, so we’re sending red flags up to them.”

Americans for Prosperity said the details of the effort, including the budget, were still in the early stages. But Phillips noted that his group may target other swing-district Democrats, such as Elaine Luria in Virginia’s 2nd, Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s 7th and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 17th.

Spokespersons for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC did not respond to requests for comment. Axne aides also did not respond, but the Iowa lawmaker said Wednesday she was urging congressional leaders to include biofuels among the energy-related changes being proposed.

“Although many portions of the American Jobs Act will provide the support and investments that are much needed for the Iowans I represent, I was disappointed that biofuels was not included in the initial framework laid out by the Biden Administration,” she said in a letter to leaders shared in a news release. “Biofuels are a homegrown source of energy that creates jobs and opportunity in the United States.”

Beyond roads and bridges 

The administration’s infrastructure plan would go well beyond transportation networks and would cover environmental, technology, education, housing and other policy matters. Though details are still emerging, Democrats have said they want to help pay for the package, in part, with an increase in the corporate tax rate from the current 21 percent to 28 percent as well as potentially other increases for high-income individuals. The top corporate rate was lowered from 35 percent to 21 percent in the 2017 tax package approved entirely by Republicans.

The Biden White House, which has dubbed the proposal the American Jobs Plan, says it would “unify and mobilize the country to meet the great challenges of our time: the climate crisis and the ambitions of an autocratic China. It will invest in Americans and deliver the jobs and opportunities they deserve.” 

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that support nationally for the infrastructure plan grew from 44 percent to 53 percent when people were told it would be funded by raising taxes on corporations. Opposition grew as well, but only from 38 percent to 39 percent. On a different question earlier in the poll, 62 percent of respondents said they supported raising corporate taxes, while 31 percent were opposed.

Given the sweeping nature of the proposal, other conservative organizations, too, have begun to launch significant grassroots and lobbying efforts. The Coalition to Protect American Workers, a new group opposing the tax increases and other policies in the infrastructure plan, has said it plans to invest tens of millions of dollars. 

Slim margins

The focus on potentially vulnerable members comes as Democrats are working with a super-slim margin in the House, where opposition by just a handful of defectors could scuttle the bill.  In the Senate, where Democrats may seek to move the measure as part of a budget reconciliation bill that would require only a simple majority, outside groups say they’re seeking to pressure moderates in the party such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III.  

It’s a similar playbook to the one conservative and business interests used during the debate over the 2017 tax overhaul to oppose a proposed border adjustment tax. Like now, they pressed lawmakers back home in their districts as well as in Washington, only that pressure was aimed at Republicans who were writing the bill.  

FreedomWorks, another conservative group, has made the Biden infrastructure plan a main target of its lobbying and activism agenda.  

“In our Hill activity, this is one of the top issues that we’ve been talking to offices about, especially in terms of the price tag on the proposed plan,” said Sarah Anderson, the group’s director of policy. “And then, of course, there’s the tax hike side of it.”

FreedomWorks, she added, opposes numerous policy matters in the plan, including energy provisions and the proposed increase to the corporate tax rate. “Of course, our activist base is concerned with raising the corporate rate because it makes us far less competitive, nationally and globally,” Anderson said.

Other policy-focused conservative organizations are eyeing campaigns around the package, with particular emphasis on the tax increases. A spokesperson for the American Action Network said the GOP-aligned group was working on messaging as details of the bill come together. 

GOP political campaigns and the House Republican campaign arm have stressed the tax increases. 

“Vulnerable Democrats will spend the next two years going home to their districts having to defend raising taxes on the middle class to pay for their socialist agenda,” said Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Business groups, though, are taking a more nuanced approach because they overwhelmingly support an infrastructure plan but oppose the tax increases.  

“The U.S. Chamber agrees with the Biden administration that there is a great need to invest in American infrastructure and that ‘inaction is simply not an option,’” Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in a statement. “However, that doesn’t mean we should proceed with tax hikes that will hurt American businesses and cost American jobs.”

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