« The Weeds

Tax time at the culture wars

2022-04-12

Dylan Matthews and Dara Lind are joined by Washington Post reporter Toluse Olorunnipa (@ToluseO) to talk more taxes for our hot! tax! policy! episodes this month. Today’s topic: Sen. Rick Scott’s 11-point plan to rescue America. Dylan, Dara, and Tolu get into the specifics of Scott’s policy proposal and speculate if the culture wars have seeped into tax policy. Plus, a white paper about unemployment benefits and opioid overdose mortality rates. 

References:

Preorder His Name Is George Floyd by Toluse Olorunnipa and Robert Samuels

The Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the Rick Scott plan

How many people don’t pay income tax?

The original 47% remarks

The folk Republican morality behind the plan

White paper: “Unemployment Insurance and Opioid Overdose Mortality in the United States”

Medicaid expansion reduced opioid deaths too

The relationship between the economy and the opioid epidemic

Hosts:

Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt), senior correspondent, Vox

Dara Lind (@dlind), Weeds co-host, Vox

Credits:

Sofi LaLonde, producer and engineer

Libby Nelson, editorial adviser

Amber Hall, deputy editorial director of talk podcasts

Sign up for The Weeds newsletter each Friday: vox.com/weedsletter 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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This week we're going to be talking about the Senate Republican tax plan. And if you don't know about the Senate Republican tax plan, then Mitch McConnell is really happy it hasn't made it to you. But Rick Scott, who is right. Republican Senate campaign efforts this year for the midterms and who came up with this tax plan is really bummed out. We're all going to be talking about Rick Scott's plan to do a- We're doing Rick Scott a favor is what you're saying. The word out about his not at all politically toxic, not at all doomed to failure proposal for how to remake taxes. Really excited we have Toulouse here since he reported on Rick Scott when he was governor of Florida and had the opportunity... To implement a lot of his tax policy ideas. So before we get into it, let me just back up a little bit. Rick Scott came out with this... Long 11-point plan to rescue America as part of his efforts as the
Of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. There are a lot of things in there, certainly. In there is a requirement that all legislation lapse after a certain number of years. And the reasoning being that if Congress likes it enough, they can just pass it again. And so you're already seeing attacks from Democrats that Rick Scott wants to abolish Social Security and Medicare and have them sunset, since those are technically laws that would Be subject to his proposals. But I think the biggest item there that's gotten the most attention is his proposal that all Americans should pay some kind of income tax and have some skin in the game, even if a small amount, currently over half of Americans, pay no income tax. So it's not That over half of Americans pay no income tax. I think it's somewhere in the mid-- 40s is my understanding of most of the most current statistics, but it's an interesting idea that calls back to some.
Sort of older ideas among Republicans that poor and middle-class people just aren't earning their keep in the income tax. And so I wanted to talk about it and what that would mean if it's actually something Republicans are serious about It seems somewhat Unpopular and so Mitch McConnell has been trying to get Rick Scott to shut up about it. Make of it and how you situate it in Republican tax policy. It kind of came out of nowhere with Rick Scott. It wasn't, you know, something that was stamped with approval from the Republican leadership. This is Rick Scott, who has always kind of seen himself as someone who could run for president one day. He was an unlikely person to run. For governor. He came out of the business world and ran for governor and won by a very slim margin in 2010. And then during the Tea Party wave, and then won again by another less than 1.1, about 1% margin in 2014. And he then was able to win a seat in the Senate by another very close margin. And he has run on these kind of
The strange ideas that, you know, he's a businessman, he's going to get everyone to work, and he's cracked down very significantly on the social safety net. Interesting idea that there are too many people getting government benefits, there should be more people paying into the federal government, the federal Treasury. It's not something that other Republicans are for the, you know, that... You know, they were looking to campaign on as they're looking into 2022 and the midterms. But Rick Scott wants to have this argument. He wants to have this argument about makers versus takers who is actually paying to the federal treasury who's benefiting from it. And it is kicking off this really interesting argument Of how our tax system is structured, whether the tax system should be used to provide benefits or to sort of have everyone pay in, whether... Some sort of moral argument that can be made about whether people should be paying in even if it's a nominal amount. So it is a really interesting argument. I'm not surprised that it's Rick Scott that's making that argument, even if the Republican leadership does not want to be having us
about raising taxes in an election year. So here's my kind of question about Rick Scott that I realize, even as you're kind of going through his background to Lou that I don't really understand. Uh, because if You were elected to the Senate in 2010 as a Republican, you were the beneficiary of structural factors beyond your control, namely like party, you know, general frustration with the ACA, that kind of thing. And if you, you know, Similarly, if you're going into the 2022 election as a Republican, you're doing pretty well in the generic ballot and you're probably you're more likely to win your seat for again, factors that have nothing to do with you. Politicians, and this is by no means, you know, limited to one party or the other, tend That if they succeed that it must be because their ideas are incredibly popular or they
incredibly popular, that they are carried to third base and assume they hit triples. So does Rick Scott think that the key to his political success has been that... The American people really want to see politicians calling for everybody to pay income tax? Or is he pushing this because he's already thinking ahead to 20... He's assuming that Republicans are going to take back the Senate, which doesn't seem like a terrible assumption, and he's jockeying for what they're going to do once they take it back by building the case that he can then make to Mitch McConnell, that this was a promise that they made to the American people. That they now have to keep? - Yeah, that's a really insightful question. Rick Scott has benefited from these waves that have happened 2010, 20. 2014, he sort of cut against the grain, but he put in tons of his own money because he's a very wealthy businessman. It's clear that he believes that his political philosophy is
Is a winning philosophy. It won in Florida, which is a crucial swing state, even though it won by very slim margins. And he was a largely unpopular governor for most of his time there. But he believes that, you know, his philosophy on on making sure everyone works, everyone is paying into the system is something that Americans want to hear. And I do think he's thinking about 2023 and 2024 Race and trying to differentiate himself from this Republican field that is starting to come together. he sees This is one of the many different things that he can do to show that he's a businessman. He wants to have more people paying into the government and fewer people taking things from the government. Government. And it's a broad argument. It plays in some ways to what President Trump talked about in 2016 about makers versus takers and people sort of living off the government and, you know, taking from you and that kind of thing. So It is sort of this broad argument about the other, the them, the people that are benefiting from the government.
And just saying everyone should pay in could be seen as popular in a way. We're all in this together. Into the details when you get into what this actually means for people, when you get into sort of the details of the fact that you know most people do pay taxes in some ways whether it's sales Or other kinds of levies, people are paying into the system one way or the other. But as a slogan, it's something that he's using to try to differentiate himself and show that he does have different ideas and he does have a policy platform, not just sort of this grievance politics that we're seeing sort of living on the right right now. It's interesting in that as you're saying, that it has as kind of a populist bent. In a way, it seems like an importation of welfare politics into the tax code, which is somewhat appropriate in that a lot of what we think of as welfare. Programs are being implemented through the tax code. For years now, I think the big inflection point here was 1993 when Bill Clinton passed his budget, which included dramatic expansions--
The earned income tax credit, but just continuing on since then, like a lot more and more social policy has been happening through the tax. Code and the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of, I think after Social Security, the program with the largest effect on poverty of anything that's been done in the past. The federal government does. It's administered through the tax code, the child tax credit, especially in this Has also had a very large effect, is administered through the tax code. It's not refundable, but for people slightly up the income chain, child and developmental care, tax credit for childcare expenses, minister. The tax code. And you see this if you look at the number that he's so concerned about. So I just pulled up from the Tax Policy Center their estimates of the share of... Americans who have zero or negative net income tax liability. And he was-- that it's a majority for 2020 and 2021. And the reason it was a majority was stimulus checks. And so you had these large checks going out the window. And so if you, in 2021, say, would have owed--
$1,800 in taxes and then you got your stimulus check you got bumped into the not paying your income taxes group Had to go down again to about 41.6% for 2022, since the stimulus payments were. Temporary, they're not coming back barring some very dramatic changes. This number went up the more that the tax code was used as an instrument of social policy and welfare policy. And so what part of what we're doing is we're trying to figure out how to So what's interesting to me about what Rick Scott is doing here is that he's taking rhetoric that he and others have applied to like food stamps, to TANF, to Medicaid. About sort of deserving this. Elsewhere in his 11 point plan to rescue America, for a ban on all government assistance unless you're disabled or aggressively seeking work, and this seems to fit. Very much in that. That there's a skin in the game idea, but there's also a sort of if you're not.
Paying your share that probably means you're benefiting from some government programs that are being offered to liberally What strikes me is super Interesting here is that like, you guys are right that it's definitely using tax policy as a way to express a moral economy, right? And like the other data point that's worthwhile here is like, this is not the first time that this is not the first time in recent memory that a Republican with presidential aspirations has, you know, seized on this particular thing, like, what makes it Very interesting as something that Rick Scott is pushing aggressively and what probably explains Mitch McConnell's extreme reticence to touch this part of it is Mitt Romney arguably lost worse in 2012 than he otherwise would have because Of being associated with this idea that 47% of people pay no income tax and we've got to fix that that was leaked thanks to --
I believe a waiter at the event that he was giving the the closed door fundraising speech, but it's not Exactly as if this is the field on which they have to have the fight about the moral economy of, you know, making and takers in the US, right? Like there are other policy areas, for example, like, directly Taking on the more redistributive parts of the plan, Dylan, that you're talking about, the more more directly redistributive policies that you're talking about that aren't administered through the tax code. You know, there's currently a great deal of enthusiasm on the right for using, you know, local education battles as a proxy for culture wars. It's not, you know, it's not like this is What they need to do in order to express the idea that Americans need to take back what they own from an other.
And at the same time, this does just purely on pure economics, cut against the idea that you have to keep cutting tax In order to continue to shrink government. That like, the more revenue comes in, the more ways government will find to pay for, and the more you'll end up having to pay in taxes, ultimately. Anyway because they're not going to be satisfied with just a little bit of money from you they'll take and take and take so like it does strike Is interesting that Rick Scott is expressing the idea that the government should be making more money off some people, even though he very much has a lot of money. Clearly wants the government, the federal government to be smaller and to be giving less money back out. It's the anti Grover Norquist argument, right? That you don't that like, Grover Norquist, I want to say apocryphally, but given Grover Norquist almost certainly has started saying this, even if it wasn't originally his, that government, he wants government to be small. That he can drown it in the bathtub, right? Like, this is force feeding government just in order.
Or to say that everybody is putting some food into the dish. - Right, and it's not like in this plan. Scott is saying everyone should pay in so that we can have universal health care or that there's an out, there's sort of a specific outcome for it. It's just sort of like everyone should pay in just so that there's skin in the game. And it's really interesting that that's the argument. It's not sort of a policy argument of numbers and sense of sort of trying to figure out, you know, what could we do if everyone paid, you know, $1,000 a year into the federal government if you know this 40% people pay that much money, how much money would we raise, whether they'd use it to pay off the debt or what. There's no specific. Answer or policy outline of what exactly he wants to do. But it's really interesting that Scott is the one that's sort of putting forward this argument because he's one of the wealthiest people in the Senate, one of the wealthiest people in the country.
He's worth hundreds of millions of dollars and he has his own history of sort of how he made that money through the Medicaid system and whatnot. But it's really interesting that at this time of very deep income inequality where Democrats are saying we need to tax people like Rick Scott more, he is the one saying we need to tax the poor, tax people who aren't paying into the... Them just to make sure they have skin in the game. It's a politically dangerous argument because it's very easy for that to be flipped against him and for people to say, Here's wealthy guy who has all of these mansions and who bought his way into the Senate now trying to use his power to tax people who don't have that much to begin with. I think that was also the problem with Romney is he's also a hundreds of millionaire caught saying this. There was an interesting piece by Alan Cole who writes for a site called Fullstack Economics and is a former, used to work at the Tax Foundation, which is a conservative tax
Think tank and worked on the Republican side of the Hill. So he knows how Republicans think about taxes. The piece was useful in that it reminded me that Fromme's full quote as quoting By Mother Jones from the tape that I think it was Jimmy Carter's grandson gave them. - Well, it was Jimmy Carter's grandson. I forgot about this. - Jimmy Carter has said that Obama profusely thanked his grandson afterwards. But that Romney's actual quote was, There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. 47% were with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled. And so he was making like, he's making a moral argument, but he's also making a political strategic argument. It's an argument that has a pretty long pedigree in conservative and libertarian politics. If you read sort of public choice...
People like James Buchanan or Gordon Tulloch and go back to that sort of school in economics. A lot of it is about how you should never expect. ... act lazy, fair ideas to ever succeed in a democracy because you can always buy off the people's vote by... Soaking the rich and distributing the money, and that's always going to be a vote getter. And descriptively, that just doesn't seem to describe most countries in the world. World. It isn't a reliable vote getter and there are ways to defeat people promising More government benefits. For one thing, Biden is promising more government programs, but also inflation is really high and people seem to care a lot more than inflation is really high than he's promising all these government programs. But that's pretty particularly interesting to me in that Rick Scott has released this in his role as a campaigns guy, as the guy trying to get Republicans control of the Senate. So he's laying out this kind of long-term political strategy. This strikes me as pretty half-baked.
But I think there's a certain degree of political economy to it as well as moral economy. I do wonder how much anyone who expresses that like, oh, our ideas will fundamentally never win in a true popular election because everyone else will be bought off. Like, it seems to me Like the sort of thing that you tell your true believers to make it make them feel like they need to work super duper hard. But, you know, it's not consistent with plenty of Republicans and other strategists who describe the US as a center-right country on economic issues. It's not consistent with like generations worth of efforts to use Culture war appeals to mobilize voters while pursuing an economic agenda that might not be those particular voters' core needs, etc., etc. After a news after after an election where while we still don't know exactly.
What happened in 2020 and how dispositive it is for future cycles, it does seem that, you know... Lower income, lower education voters, especially men are swinging back away from being like a thoroughly democratic constituency. So, you know, it would it would Surprise me if you gave Rick Scott truth serum if he was like, oh, yeah, this is a terribly unpopular agenda. No one who has ever gotten government benefit would want to vote for it. Well, Rick's got an impression. I mean, no, I'm not even trying. I'm not even trying. But that said, what. Luce was saying earlier makes a lot of sense in this regard that like it's not really about 2022, it's really about 2024. We kind of do have to talk about the Mitch McConnell of it all, right? That like, Mitch McConnell isn't opposing this getting talked about because he's like
Record is really strongly believing that low income people in this country shouldn't have to pay federal income tax. He's like opposing it because he believes that this is a bad look for Republicans that's going to lose them gettable votes. And like, I'm fascinated by the fact that this is a political. Political dispute, but no one is actually articulating the it's a good idea for us to be running on this agenda in 2022 side of the argument. It's just... Rick Scott going around saying, This is important, and everyone else kind of looking uncomfortable and wishing he'd shut up. Yeah, and I do think this is something that Scott believes in. I mean, from covering him while he was governor in Florida, he really believed that the best way to get poor people to make more money is just to sort of cut them off, sort of reduce the... Amount of government benefits, make them pay more into the system, and he sort of had his
Rags to riches tale where he said that you know not having government support was what helped him you know, decide to go out and become a businessman. And I do think that's sort of genuinely what he believes. And sort of the politics is also part of it because he's won on tea party populism and on sort of this broader idea that people are taking. Too much out of the government. And what we've seen over the past couple of years with the pandemic is is, you know. We've seen government respond. We've seen people in the government use the tax code to provide benefits that people needed. They needed benefits in terms of the $1,400 checks. They needed the stimulus money that came through during the pandemic. Democrats, for the most part, have been pretty successful in at least showing people that the tax code can work in a very robust and swift manner to put money in their pockets. And now, Republicans are sort of trying to figure out how to respond to that. And one thing that Scott is doing is sort of looking at the complexity of the tax code.
And probably trying to campaign on the idea that a lot of people think that they're paying more taxes than their neighbor when you know, some people who may be harmed by this policy, but they actually think it's their neighbor that would be harmed by this policy. But because there's not a lot of specificity in this, you know, this is maybe one of those instances where it's sort of a cultural thing where Scott and Trump basically. Tried to paint certain segments of the population as the takers, as the people who are benefiting from the tax code, and everyone else. It's hard working and paying into the tax code. It's a complex system and a lot of people just don't know how much they're paying in taxes. They don't know what their overall tax burden is. People think they're paying more than they actually are paying in some cases. And that may be something that's going into the calculus as well. We're gonna take a break, but when we come back, we're gonna talk a little bit more about how this relates to the Mitch McConnell of it all and the Donald Trump of it all and sort of.
The broader effort to remake or shape the Republican Party going into 2024. So stay with us. Support for the weeds comes from Burrow. You know when you feel all cooped up inside and wish you were outside? So you go outside, only to miss the comfort of being inside? Burrow is here to help you have it both ways, so you can enjoy the comfort and style of inside your home, outside, with the outdoor collection from Burrow. Burrow says they're known for timeless design, thoughtful construction, and little details that make life in your space easier, and that extends to the outdoor collection. Get seating that allows for easy assembly and disassembly. So you can move or store them away as needed. No tools necessary. Burroughs Outdoor Furniture. Is made for all seasons and built to withstand the elements. Featuring rust-proof stainless steel hardware and quick-dry stain-resistant foam cushions.
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Unforgettable. Viator has over 300,000 travel experiences to choose from. Everything from simple tours to extreme adventures and all the niche interesting stuff in between. So you can Something that everyone you're traveling with will enjoy. Real traveler reviews give the inside scoop from people who already been on the experiences you're considering, so you can plan with confidence. Free cancellation helps you plan for the unexpected, and 24/7 customer support means you can travel worry-free. Download the Viator app now and use code Viator10 for 10% off your first booking in the app. Experiences for you. Do more with Viator. And we're back. I wanted to talk a little bit, not just about Rick Scott and this plan, but about where it fits into kind of where Republicans are going on policy.
Basic question there is how important is policy? Will there be like real policies by the republic? party going forward or is it just sort of vibes all the way down? and And by that, I mean, like we are sort of entering into a period where, uh, it looks like Donald Trump is the presumptive 2024 front runner. There might be someone like DeSantis who can dethrone him, but, uh. He has never been big on like super granular policy detail. Building the wall and shutting down the borders after COVID seemed like about as specific as he liked to get. So there's a question of does this all matter? Like I spent much of 2015, I guess it would be like trying to sort through all the different proposals by all the different Republican candidates. And I don't know that I wasted that time, but it certainly doesn't feel super well-choosed,
given how little it wound up affecting the real world. So I'm curious how you guys think of this and sort of how we should be thinking of the Republican policy agenda at this point. Yes, I do have many, many, many questions about this. As someone who has also, you know, veered wildly between feeling very smug about myself for understanding the policies of the Trump administration better than, you know, President Donald Trump did and feeling like I was the only one who was missing the boat and everyone else successfully understood that this was, you know, pure simplicity. Politics. And given what you know what I mentioned in passing earlier about the amount of enthusiasm among the Republican base right now for things that have nothing to do with tax policy, I do have really big questions about what happens after a new presumably Republican Congress gets sworn in in January 2023. Like, I think that one way to understand what Rick Scott is doing is that he knows Mitch McConnell.
Would be perfectly happy not to pass any legislation because any legislation might be unpopular, especially if you'd have... To work with the Democratic president to get it signed, and that if Rick Scott wants Republicans to actually seize Opportunity to do something well in office that he has to, you know, lay that groundwork now. At the same time, I can't I can't really imagine that the new Republican senator from Georgia is going to come in saying, Wow, thank you, Rick Scott. Elected because you made sure America knew that we the Republicans want everyone to pay taxes. And so I'm going to enthusiastically vote for this bill like the question of whether a Republican Congress really has to do anything at all, especially with the Democrat in the White House is an Extremely open one to say the least. And it's not clear to me that know anyone other than Rick Scott in Congress is going to be very enthusiastic about the idea that Congress needs to pass
Them some bills. I do. Yeah, I agree with what Dara said. And I believe that there's a backlash that we're seeing in response to what happened in 2020 and 2023. One, the Republicans saw the government really responding to people's needs and also Sort of paying out a lot of money in a pandemic response that some people believe was excessive, that people got too much money, that there was too much money going from the government. Into the economy. There's this backlash against inflation. There's a response... That's happening in different ways. Rick Scott's own response in a way is to say, not only do we need to change the tax code so it's not paying out as much money to people, we need to make sure that some of these people that are getting benefits are actually paying. Money into the government so they don't think that this is free money. There's no free ride. Everyone should have to pay something. And that is part of the Republican response. It's not, it doesn't represent the entire party. It obviously does not represent.
McConnell. But it does come from the sentiment that there was an overreaction in 2020 and 2021, with too much money coming out of Washington, D.C. into people's pockets. And there needs to be a correction in some ways. And there's also this broader Republican coalition that includes the business world. That says, you know, you could do everything that you're doing with these cultural grievances, we'll turn our nose away from Trump, but, you know, just make sure we get our tax cuts. And that's part of the policy as well. And if you're least having people look at the shiny objects of, you know, taxing, you know, the 40% of people that don't pay taxes, maybe they're focusing less on whether We need to raise taxes on the wealthy, or at least, you know, whether there will be additional tax cuts for the wealthy. So I do think it's a sort of part of the... A coalition in the Republican Party sort of figuring out what to do so that they can have some policies.
About culture wars because they do need the business wing of the party. They do need to feel like they're offering something to their donors and people who benefited from the 2017 17 tax cuts and are looking for the next bite of the apple, or at least to keep the Democrats from going after their capital. Gains tax rates or other things that Democrats have eyed over the past couple of years. So I do think that that's part of what Rick Scott is thinking, sort of figuring out how to make sure that they are are focusing on not only the culture wars, but at least the policy things that are important to parts of the coalition. I do find that The idea that the Republican Party would have to work to get to demonstrate that they are favorable to business interests or that the that they're going to improve things for business interests. It's not actually a natural assumption, right? Like not Not only is it happening in the midst of a rising critique of, you know, woke.
Corporations and, you know, rising attention to economic Policies that Republicans have pursued in the past that benefit particular, you know, large such as Facebook or Disney, that are now perceived to have the wrong kind of cultural politics. It's also true that like for-- Ages and ages there was something of a captive audience situation between business and the Republican Party where when business did have asks that were in any way counter to the interests of the Republican base and to the expressed interests of the Republican base. That, you know, the Republican Party didn't necessarily feel that it needed to bend over backwards to be solicitous to business interests. Because where else are you going to go? So if there is a desire to demonstrate to business, know we're going to be even better for you than we were in 2017 when we passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That indicator, To me a certain amount of uncertainty or insecurity about the future alignment of
of kind of the wealthiest toward the Republican Party, which given educational trends, like might not be wrong, If Republicans are already, you know, beginning to worry about that. I do think it's interesting to place this in the context that that the Toulouse was placing it in earlier of a reaction to 2020. Because I had a brief moment in 2020, in like March 2020. I feel like every journalist has to have a moment in their career where they're like, Maybe the Republicans are really different now. uh had I had this moment where you were seeing things like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley calling for checks as the pandemic was breaking out and as. Became clear people were going to have to stay home. You had Republicans joining to vote for the CARES Act, which included $600 a week unemployment benefits.
And throughout that year, you even had Republicans voting to extend unemployment benefits at a lower level in the fall. You had Josh Hawley calling again for — Dollar checks in December 2020. And so there's part of me that was looking at this and thinking, being, you know. We might be getting to a point where the economic leg of the stool, that if the Republican coalition is a stool of the foreign policy hawks and the tax cutters and the traditional social conservatives, maybe the economic leg was being kicked out. That it just like it didn't work in these circumstances. And a sort of new Republican ideology that was more comfortable with government and our invention was being born. And I think a few things have kind of brought me back down to Earth since then. One has been the reaction to Mitt Romney's child allowance plan that he proposed what I thought was a very, like, eye-like...
It, a very reasonable sort of consolidation of various programs to keep child benefits going, and not a bite by any other report. Republicans, even Republicans who've been very positive toward the child tax credit in general, like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee denounced it, said Romney had gone too far, this was a dead end, you can't give money to people who aren't working. Scott agenda serves a similar role of the economic conservatives, the people. Who want to run on eliminating the IRS and waging class war against the federal bureaucracy. Those guys are still around. They're still an important part of this coalition. And a lot of the changes in 2020.
Are genuinely the results of a once in a lifetime emergency, rather than a durable change to how they were approaching these questions. Yeah, I think that's 100% accurate. And as a lot of these potential candidates are looking at 2024, they do want to be able to differentiate themselves and say They weren't part of the big giveaway, the big government giveaway of 2020 and 2021. They support the idea that the government supported people, but this idea that it was overdone.
Done, or that there were too many people getting money, there weren't people decided they weren't going to work. That backlash is sort of happening in real time. And we are seeing Republicans sort of try to reposition themselves, even those that may have been voting for the CARES Act and pushing forward some of these policies. And when you think about the tax code, it is-- we've seen over the past couple of years, if there's one way to touch every American's pocketbook, it is through the tax code. That's how we operate. We don't have a different system. Other countries might have other ways to get things to people. But we found that if you want to get a check to every single American, at least as much as possible, we do it through the tax code here. So that is a double-edged sword. Some Republicans, especially small government Republicans who don't want the government to be in everybody's pocketbook, don't want the government to have that access to everyone so easily. Some of them are now saying, you know, maybe
should not have a tax code and an IRS that has the ability to impact people's lives so directly and so quickly. And if it is going to be that, in Rick Scott's mind, it should be one in which more people are paying into the system and more people are seeing both sides of the ledger, not just getting the free check. So it is really interesting to see how the politics is playing out with Republicans sort of looking at 2020. Looking at how they might reposition themselves and having covered Trump for four years, the big The elephant in the room is Donald Trump and how he will position himself on this issue. He's not a big policy guy. But he was the guy saying, Everyone should get $2,000 checks and let's give more money to people. So how he responds... And how he reacts and positions himself as we go into 2024 will be very interesting. Maybe he doesn't touch it at all. Maybe he says, you know.
I'm happy just talking about 2020 and culture wars and the border. But if he does engage on this policy front, it will be really interesting because I think most Republicans that are thinking about running don't know where he's going to land on this because he's kind of been all over the place. Yeah. I mean, I think that the 2024 conversation is two tiered. Right? Like, for one thing, many of the candidates, many of the people who are currently trying to position themselves like, you Genuinely would not want to run or would assume that they couldn't run if Donald Trump is going to run for president again. Given every indication that he would like to. It's a long time away. He is not the youngest person. It is not implausible that like something Will happen and you will like not be at the Republican convention in 2024 or hold you there as like a grandee rather than as a candidate. But the other part of it is that if you think
about the lessons of 2017 in Congress? You know, the first half of the year represented a lot of effort being put into an unsuccessful push to repeal Obamacare. Which it wasn't that that wasn't something Republicans had been running on, it was that they had been running on it without a, you know, clear consensus. And for what they wanted to do instead. And so without having that, they ran into the political. Popularity of parts of that agenda and like enough of them were wavering about it or insufficiently committed to the goal that they couldn't get it through. Whereas the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was like not something that was, you know, it's not like it was being hashed out very gradually and in the open or anything. It was a massive thing, a massive bill that got past the 11th hour, but they were able to, they did have enough buy-in
Wanted to do. And there were enough people who had enough ideas in the room that they could ultimately throw together a piece of legislation. And I wonder if, you know, the folks who are trying to have an idea Diaz primary prior to the real 2024 presidential primary, which shows no end... Of being an ideas primary whatsoever if Donald Trump is in the room, is that because he doesn't have... Strong policy instincts and in particular doesn't have strong legislative policy instincts. Most of the things that he really cares about are, you know, what he plays. Personally can do, that there might be space for a sufficiently disciplined Republican congressional conference with a sufficiently pre-articulated policy agenda, to get some laws passed that Donald Trump is happy to sign and take credit for but isn't going to care enough. About that he's going to try to make demands because the biggest failures of the Trump presidency, by on its own terms, were consistently him--
trying to negotiate with Congress. -I mean, I think this is in some ways what we're trying to ask, which is sort of what is the equivalent of the Obamacare repeal effort of 2017 if Trump or DeSantis or whoever wins in 2020. For. And I genuinely don't know. Maybe it's sort of an effort past something like saying if you do a cancel culture, you have to pay X tax or something. It's also kind of at a disjuncture with the way that the congressional procedure works. If Republicans get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which doesn't seem inconceivable, they can do a lot of stuff on a variety of issues. But if they have anything less than 60... Everything has to go through reconciliation. And there are pretty strict rules about what you can do through reconciliation. And I
I would imagine they would try to make some of the Trump tax cuts permanent. Maybe they try to do a further round of tax cuts, undo any revenue increases that Biden manages to get through. There isn't like a big... Like Democrats' problem was that they had too many things like built up Like bowling balls coming down the line, you had like a backlog of them that they all needed to pass. You had to pass childcare, you had to pass healthcare, you had to pass... You had to pass climate stuff. Republicans don't feel like they have a long list like that. I think it'll be super interesting to see sort of who's in the mix in large part because... You know we're not necessarily talking about a huge policy slate. The RNC decided to close the meeting. Not to have a policy agenda. The last time they had a convention they said we just support anything that Donald Trump supports. So it will be interesting to see, as Dara said, in terms of the primary before the primary.
If policies become a part of that process, you know, what kinds of policies these various candidates, potential candidates, are using to differentiate themselves. Rick Scott obviously came out of the gate, put forward this plan, had a number of different policies that he's lining up behind. He got smacked back. By Mitch McConnell, who says, you know, pump the brakes on the tax increases. I'm not sure we want to do that. That whether it's on foreign policy, whether it's on taxes, who may try to differentiate themselves from their standard Republican politician by saying, This is how I'm different. This is how my policies will impact you.
It's less likely that we'll see a lot of major tax code planning from the Republicans in terms of what they would actually do if they got into power. They did pass a major tax cut in 2017. I think a number of them will just say, We can keep on cutting taxes, but we did a major overhaul. It's not like you're going to see a Paul Ryan type with a big idea about how to make taxes much more simple, put it on a postcard, that kind of thing. I think because the culture wars and the grievance politics have taken over so much of the party, there's probably just not as much of an appetite for someone who's going to be a Paul Ryan.
And say, This is how I'm going to change the tax code to make it better, to make it simpler, to make it easier, to make it more fair. You're not going to get a 999 plan from Herman Cain or anything like that. I don't think it's going to get much traction because people are much more into whether it's what's happening on the border, whether it's the critical race theory topic, whether it's the schools. It does seem like we're going to hear much more about cultural politics and grievance politics than policy issues like taxes. Oh, for the sober policy-minded days. Of Herman Cain in their Republican Party. Rest in peace. RIP. We're going to take one more break, but when we come back, we're going to talk about social policy, not through the tax code, but how social policy can affect— Mortality and death and drug abuse. So stay with us.
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And our white paper this week is titled Unemployment Insurance and Opioid Overdose Mortality in the United States. It's by Pinh Cui Wu. And Michael Evangelist. It is exactly what the title says. It is about the relationship between unemployment insurance and opioid overdose mortality. and It's especially interesting because there's been a lot of like kind of informal hand-wringing about the role. Of programs like the Child Tax Credit and drug abuse. You saw this from Joe Manchin's, or reportedly worrying that people were gonna spend. Their child tax credit checks on drugs, but also some more serious and sophisticated efforts to look at whether, say, Medicaid prescribing-- Opioids to people contributed to the epidemic and if there were sort of policy changes that could This does not answer all of those debates, but I did find it interesting that it looks at mass layoffs as well as
As sudden changes to how generous unemployment insurance is as a way to sort out how unemployment insurance causes changes to opioid deaths. It's not just sort of doing a simple regression against where people are unemployed and where people are dying from opioids. It's what happens when-- There's a sudden shock to the number of people on unemployment or sudden shock to how generous it is. And they found a pretty significant relationship. In that getting more generous unemployment insurance seems to mitigate mortality and reduce sort of county mortality rates in their model. I'm curious what you guys thought of this and how it affects how you think about the relationship between the opioid epidemic and some of the programs. We've been talking about. So Dylan, you know this, you know, the kind of post-deaths of despair list. A lot better than I do. So I would like you to let me know if the authors are way overselling the novelty of the
contribution to the literature because the way that they frame this and a total respect if, you know, I understand that the academic paper market likes The journalism market requires you to sometimes oversell the extent to which no one has ever done what you're doing before. But the way that you're doing it is very, very important. Is framed is there's been a lot of looking at the correlation between unemployment. And opioid overdoses and no one has thought to ask whether there the differences in the circumstances under which you're unemployed might have something to do with this. And if that's true, then that is absolutely wild. And I... I would love to know why that is because it's not like, you know, the authors are pretty clear that everybody having this discussion is having it from a structural perspective. This isn't a question of like, oh, we're the first people to look at Opioid overdoses is something other than a sin that a person does that is wrong. But if there is structural...
Attention. Why isn't there attention to like economic context beyond just do you have a job? Yes, no, I do not. I have anywhere near an encyclopedic knowledge of this literature, and so I certainly don't know enough to sort of cast aspersions about whether there's There's been some glaring gap in it. My main impression is just that it's hard, that we don't, we correctly don't run experiments where we just arbitrarily make some county really miserable economically and then see what happens to drug rates. So you have to do all these. Comparisons and it's just really noisy. I think the best paper I've seen on this was by Chris Roome at UVA, and he tried to sort of track. County level changes and drug mortality and sort of county level data on this. As of the economy. And he did find that there was more growth in mortality from drugs as the opioid epidemic picked up in areas that seemed economically weaker.
But it was a really weak relationship. It disappeared if you controlled for some stuff. And it's just very messy. There's no straightforward, like, poor areas are getting hammered, rich areas are not. And you could see that just kind of. Anecdotally. Like, yes, there was a bad opioid epidemic in West Virginia. Really bad one in Vermont and New Hampshire where I grew up. And like New Hampshire famously has among the lowest unemployment and poverty rates like in the country. It's a very rich state, like largely made up of people who like fled Massachusetts for tax reasons and they got hit really, really bad. So I think the kind of simplistic death is a despair narrative, which I don't know that anyone ever actually advocated. I think even through the case, Deaton paper that started all of this was a little subtler, but that seems dead, but I found this.
Paper interesting less as a like trying to construct a grand narrative of the opioid crisis. And more as like here's a small test case about what we know about giving people money and drug deaths. And it seems that giving people money reduces drug deaths. And you wouldn't necessarily expect that. Yeah, I also found this paper really interesting. And even in the context of talking about Rick Scott and the tax code, you know, when Rick Scott was governor, he cut back on unemployment benefits pretty significantly, in part because he wanted to be more friendly to businesses in Florida and other states, you know, unemployment benefits are funded by taxes on businesses. And Scott wanted to cut those taxes, and he decided that one way to do it would be to cut the benefits. And it's really interesting to see how that, you know, links.
To some of these kinds of potential deaths, overdoses, and things like that. And then Scott was another, he was a governor, he was among the group of governors that wanted to drug test people before giving them social benefits. One area where it seems like giving people money may have helped them not to overdose and may have had a benefit rather than sort of stigmatizing people who are dealing with addiction. And just to sort of make this slightly more personal, I've been writing this book about drug addiction.
Floyd, which is coming out in May. It's pretty common knowledge that George Floyd suffered from an opioid addiction. But he also suffered from deep poverty and he left the state of Texas to move to Minneapolis to try to get treatment and also because Minneapolis was a city in a state that had much more generous benefits and could provide the social safety network where he could try to get clean. It's really interesting that this research shows that in states and in places where there's not that social safety network, people can't get the unemployment benefits that they might need.
Very clear correlation with higher overdose deaths. That is something that plays out in a very real way in real people's lives. George Floyd is just one person who actually had to leave his home state to move to another state because that state had Medicaid expansion, had other parts of the social safety net that could help him try to get treatment. It's very similar for other people who are dealing with opioid addiction who maybe based on the state they're in, they just can't get the social safety net that they need. and that could take them into a further spiral, even into overdose.
So it's really interesting to see it laid out, even though, as Dara said, I don't necessarily think it's fully novel, that the fact that if you give people a little bit more money and give them some support, they might be less likely to overdose and find themselves. That's despair, but it is interesting to see how the authors went through the numbers and looked at the state-by-state comparisons and saw what happened in the aftermath of the Great Recession when states like Florida were cutting back on unemployment benefits while other states or making other choices. The authors of this paper, you know, do walk through, like, some plausible mechanisms by which this would be, if anything, Contributor to higher overdose rates, because like, if you have more money in people's pockets, you know, the like, the Joe Manchin idea, or for that matter that, you know, because is their time period on this is a window that ends in 2012. So it's, they're looking at a phase of the opioid epidemic when it hadn't yet turned into.
An overwhelmingly street drug epidemic. And so if people are using the established healthcare system drugs and you're enabling them to continue to have health insurance, then you are kind of keeping that conduit open. So there is, you know, that's a plausible mechanism. The flip side of that, of course, is that the-- dose crisis has gotten a lot worse since 2012 because it's become a street drug crisis. And you know, that's also meant that it's gone for From being as it was during the period where this paper is focused. Unusually white drug crisis to a drug crisis that is yet again harming Black and Hispanic Americans at a much, you know, at much higher rates. And the the interest... Finding, you know, when they break it down by raising this paper is that a decrease in unemployment benefits was associated with
an increase in opioid overdoses among non-Hispanic whites, but a decrease in opioid overdoses among Black and Hispanic Americans, which, you know, could indicate that, as has been pretty well -- Documented. Black Americans in particular never got the kind of access to pain medication that would have led them to develop opioid dependencies because of, you know, racism. Ideas about pain tolerance, or for that matter, racist fears of drug abuse. But it could also just be a reflection of Of people who were less likely to have health insurance to begin with, we're going to have that availability through their doctors. And it would be be interesting to see if you bring this up to 2022 if you Kind of relationship now that so much opioid use isn't happening through established channels and has now turned to street drug-seeking.
Well, this seems as good a time as any to remind people that Toulouse's book with Robert Samuels, His Name is George Floyd, One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice is out on May 17th wherever books are available. Sold, you can pre-order now. We'll have that in our show notes. But thank you so much to Lou for being our special guest panelist this week. Yeah, it's been great. Thank you so much. And thanks to Dara as always for being on the panel. Boop! You get a woo too. Our producer is Sophie Lalonde. Libby Nelson is our editorial advisor. Amber Hall is the deputy editorial director for Talk Podcasts, and I'm your host. Dylan Matthews. We will be back in your feeds next week with a special episode for Earth Day.
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Transcript generated on 2024-05-30.