Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) is generally regarded as the brighter of the Evergreen State’s two senators.
But last night, in a major national TV appearance, partnering Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders on the “Democratic” side of the stage, Cantwell delivered an underwhelming and head-scratching performance, flubbing multiple attempted attacks on the Senate tax reform bill and seeming to conflate Socialists with the Democratic Party in a “d’oh” moment seized upon by her Republican rivals, Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
But perhaps Cantwell’s weirdest and most confusing moment (H/T @LizMair) involved her inexplicably suggesting that a loss of deductions for people earning between $50,000 and $200,000 a year would lead to… an income tax in Texas, which she hints that Ted Cruz maybe “wants.”
Cruz is left visibly baffled and mystified. Watch it:
Was Cantwell unwell during the debate, or just poorly prepared?
Her invocation of the possible introduction of an income tax in Texas is an argument in favor of the inclusion of an additional provision dealing with online sales taxes into the Senate tax reform bill, but nothing to do with the issue of deductions.
Though it will not happen at this late stage, Republicans from states with no income tax, including Texas (whose state comptroller and legislature collaborated years ago now to put a so-called “Amazon Tax” on the books) support passage of some sort of federal legislation authorizing states including Texas to require out-of-state, online-only retailers to collect and remit sales taxes on sales to in-state residents to them.
Probably the most persuasive argument in favor of Republicans voting for a bill that does this is, in fact, erosion of the sales tax base (an effect of the surge in online shopping) which in non-income tax states arguably enhances the political appeal of introducing a progressive income tax, and in states currently saddled with an income tax, arguably enhances the appeal of calls to raise progressive income taxes.
But none of this has anything to do with deductions, which is what Cantwell is purportedly talking about here, and the elimination of which would make it more likely that Texas– and other states– would cut their taxes under political pressure from taxpayers who can no longer deduct them and therefore would have to feel the full pain of their states’ heavy tax loads.
Was Cantwell trying to sound like a Republican by inveighing against what some Republicans, primarily from New York, New Jersey and California, see as an income tax-hiking provision, and inadvertently slipping in the most persuasive, conservative argument for something like the Marketplace Fairness Act, notably sponsored by Sen Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), both from states with a sales tax but no income tax? Was this Cantwell’s version of Mitt Romney’s infamous “severely conservative” moment, where a non-conservative individual attempts to speak CSL (Conservative as a Second Language) and ends up accomplishing the political equivalent of the Hungarian in this Monty Python episode?
It’s difficult to say definitively, but Ted Cruz looked about as confused by the whole episode as the tobacconist in this sketch. At least it didn’t end with Cantwell punching him in the face.