Bob Corker was among the last remaining Senate Republican holdouts on the broadly unpopular GOP tax plan until he wasn’t. On Friday, the Tennessee Republican announced he would support the bill he had once criticized for ballooning the deficit.
In a statement explaining why he changed his mind, Corker wrote:
After many conversations over the past several days with individuals from both sides of the aisle across Tennessee and around the country—including business owners, farmers, chambers of commerce and economic development leaders—I have decided to support the tax reform package we will vote on next week.
This bill is far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit and far less would have been done on the individual side with items that do not generate economic growth.
But after great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.
You may notice that there is nothing in this statement about how changes to the bill persuaded him on its merits. What seems to have happened instead is that the pressure campaign to bring Corker on board worked as it was supposed to. Corker attributes this push to constituents, but it seems far more likely—given how unpopular the bill is with most of the public—that the push came from his fellow members of Congress, eager as they were to pass the thing before the holiday recess.
A report from the International Business Times offers a theory as to what some of this cajoling may have looked like (emphasis mine):
The reconciled tax bill includes a new 20 percent deduction for so-called “pass-through” entities, business structures such as LLCs, LPs and S-Corporations that don’t pay corporate taxes, but instead “pass through” income to partners who pay individual tax rates on that money. The Senate version of the bill included safeguards that would only allow businesses to take advantage of the new break if they paid out significant wages to employees. But the new provision, which wasn’t included in either version of the bill passed by the House and Senate, and was only added during the reconciliation process, gives owners of income-producing real estate holdings a way around that safeguard, effectively creating a new tax break for large landlords and real estate moguls.
As the IBTimes went on to note, Corker “earned between $1.2 million and $7 million of annual rental income from real-estate related LLCs” in 2016, according to the senator’s financial disclosures. (Even without the real estate provision, Corker is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate and will receive a major tax windfall from this plan.)
Corker denies that he knew about the provision, and has asked Republican leadership to explain to him how it made it in the final bill. “Because this issue has raised concerns, I would ask that that you provide an explanation of the evolution of this provision and how it made it into the final conference report,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.
Setting aside the fact that Corker threw his support behind a version of the bill he admits he hasn’t read in full, he didn’t have to personally push for this provision in order to be persuaded by its inclusion.
But let’s go ahead and give Senator Corker the benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible that Corker flipped without specific knowledge of the provision. Perhaps, instead of seeing an opportunity to further enrich himself and changing his position, he just reverted to a more naked form of partisanship as it became clear that the votes were lining up around him. Or perhaps he recognized that the tax plan will ultimately create the political conditions he will need to destroy our social insurance programs and the safety net in general—a longtime ambition.
Either that or the farmers of Tennessee gave him an earful about a bill that is predicted to hurt all but the wealthiest four percent of their industry. I wonder what they told him.
Update: This blog has been updated to reflect that Corker was among a handful of Senate Republicans reportedly considering “no” votes on their Party’s tax plan as of Friday afternoon.