Philip Wegmann: Biden Criticizes Sen. Rick Scott’s ‘Ultra-MAGA Agenda’

Mike Pence wouldn’t let it go, and when the incumbent Republican claimed again and again during the 2020 vice presidential debate that a Biden-Harris administration would make every part of the Green New Deal a reality, then-Sen. Kamala Harris replied, again and again, that wasn’t quite right.

It was true that the Biden-Harris campaign had called the Green New Deal a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” but as the California Democrat made clear to moderator Susan Page, their climate plan was not a carbon copy of what other Green New Deal advocates, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, wanted. “I will repeat, and the American people know,” Harris said, taking Pence’s attack head-on, “that Joe Biden will not ban fracking.”

Watching the exchange from home, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign’s own climate task force and the stateswoman most responsible for catapulting the GND into the national conversation, tweeted, “fracking is bad, actually.” And then … that was that. A month later, Biden and Harris won not just fracking-friendly Pennsylvania but the entire election.

Voters believed Biden and Harris. They accepted that it was possible to adopt the spirit of a plan, even copy-and-paste some of its provisions, without endorsing each and every particular policy proposal. But now in the White House, Biden and Harris have lost that kind of appetite for nuance.

The president claimed Tuesday during remarks about historic inflation that “the Republican plan is to increase taxes on the middle-class families and let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise prices and reap profits in record amounts. And it’s really that simple.” Except that it wasn’t. At least not according to some Republicans and the Washington Post fact-checker.

Biden was talking about Sen. Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Senatorial Committee who released an 11-point plan designed “to rescue America,” who proposed that all Americans pay some income tax as part of that plan, and who sparked a protracted fight among party leadership over policy. The president dubbed it “the Ultra-MAGA Agenda.”

The Scott plan includes more than 120 bullet points covering everything in broad strokes from economic to education policy. But the most controversial provision, the one Biden zeroed in on, reads: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

With regards to that provision, is it fair to say that Scott represents the totality of congressional Republicans? Glen Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker, did not think so. “One cannot instantly assume every person in a political party supports a proposal by a prominent member,” Kessler reported before awarding the claim that Biden repeated on Tuesday “Three Pinocchios” last month.

While Scott has spurred discussion, he has not achieved anything resembling consensus. “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half of the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the two least popular proposals in the Scott plan. “That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda.”

His counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, was also seemingly unimpressed. Asked if the House GOP agenda, due sometime this summer, would overlap with Scott’s plan, McCarthy told reporters flatly, “No, ours will be our own.”

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, meanwhile, dismissed the part of Scott’s plan that would raise taxes as “an unserious presentation.” And even while sitting next to the senator on stage during an event at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative group’s generally supportive president, Kevin Roberts, raised a skeptical eyebrow at the tax proposal. Criticism was so intense that by the end of March, Scott was comparing himself to beleaguered Civil War generals.

“I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that, I’m always going to be perceived as an outsider,” Scott told the Associated Press. “I’m going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not.”

That struggle is ongoing, and so is the feud between McConnell and Scott, but Biden isn’t waiting around to see who ends up on top. The president has declared a winner. “I can’t believe that the majority of Republicans buy on to Scott’s plan,” he said. “But that’s a plan in writing, and he’s in the leadership.”

It may be in writing, but it is hardly settled GOP orthodoxy. It isn’t even an official NRSC document. A spokesperson for Scott told RealClearPolitics that “this is his plan that he put out in his own personal political capacity.” They added, “It’s not an NRSC plan and no NRSC resources were used to create or promote it.”

When pressed on Biden’s claim that a majority of Republicans support the plan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki rattled off a list of Republicans who had voiced support for the effort generally, including the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

Chairman Ronna McDaniel praised Sen. Scott’s proposal as a, quote, ‘clear plan’ for Republicans that offers, quote, ‘real solutions,” Psaki told a Fox News White House reporter. “She’s the chairwoman of the party. Rick Scott is not a random senator. He is literally in charge of winning back the Senate for Republicans and what the plan is. So he is the person who’s put forward this plan.”

But McDaniel, not unlike Biden and Harris with the Green New Deal, has not signed off on every chapter and verse. In an interview with the AP, she voiced support for Scott’s efforts generally. When the conversation turned to the specific provision that would raise taxes, she replied, “I’m not a policymaker.”

And yet, despite McConnell’s condemnation and McCarthy’s tepid rejection, the fact that Republicans in Washington remain divided over whether they need a governing agenda may have created a policy vacuum and an opportunity for the White House to go on offense. As Biden said, the Scott plan is on paper. Some read it and heard echoes of Mitt Romney.

How was ensuring that everyone pay income tax, having “skin in the game” as Scott puts it, materially different than the sentiment Sen. Mitt Romney held during his doomed presidential campaign? After all, at the time, that Utah Republican told supporters that 47% of voters would support President Obama’s reelection because they are “dependent upon government … believe they are victims … believe the government has a responsibility to care for them … [and] pay no income tax.”

That was the question that RCP put to Scott last month at a press conference. The senator said he didn’t remember what his Senate colleague said back then. “I can tell you what I believe in, and you’re welcome to ask Sen. Romney what he believes in,” he said before adding, “I thought what happened in the CARES Act was really bad – that you paid people more not to work than to work, and I don’t think that was good for people.”

“The people that are paying taxes right now – I’m not going to raise their rates; I’ve never done it,” he said at that same event last month, before adding: “I’m focused on the people that can go to work, and decided to be on a government program and not participate in this. I believe whether it’s just a dollar, we all are in this together.”

As the New York Times noted, Scott has promised that his plan would make everyone mad at him, even Republicans. And some, he told a crowd at Heritage, “will do it with anonymous quotes.” A month later, he is still delivering. One senior Republican official told RCP that Scott was giving Biden an opportunity to confuse the GOP message: “The party that traditionally rallies around cutting taxes, confirming judges, and killing terrorists, is now being terrorized by a GOP senator trying to raise taxes.”

The White House has found its foil for now, and the Biden-Scott brawl has become personal.

The senator released a statement early Tuesday morning saying that Biden was “unwell,” “unfit for office,” and “incapable of carrying out his duties.” When that criticism was read aloud by a reporter, the president replied, “I think the man has a problem.”

Inflation, the topic that the two men’s antipathy momentarily overshadowed, has meanwhile hit a 40-year high.

This piece originally ran at RealClearPolitics

 

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