Taxpayers for Common Sense Is the Odd Group Out During Tax Overhaul

Taxpayers for Common Sense is the kind of group one would ordinarily expect to be on the side of Republican efforts to overhaul the U.S. tax code.

Part of the group’s mission statement is it “seeks not to give people tools to tear down the government but to build something Americans can believe in: a government that costs less, makes more sense, and works for them.” It coined the term “Bridge to Nowhere” to describe an Alaska infrastructure project that became the poster child for alleged abuse of congressional earmarks in the early 2000s.

But with the House poised to vote on tax reform next week and Senate Finance Committee Republicans unveiling their tax plan Nov. 9, Taxpayers for Common Sense finds itself set apart from many of the anti-spending organizations that also claim to represent the interests of taxpayers: opposed, at least for now.

The group was conspicuously absent from an Oct. 31 meeting of leaders of 14 conservative groups with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that included Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, the Tax Foundation and Americans for Prosperity. Many of those groups were also among 25 signees to a Nov. 3 letter supporting tax reform that didn’t include Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense.

 “This is fiscally irresponsible, and if enacted would have enormous impact across the economy. Tax policy has to be about trade-offs, not giveaways. If Congress wants to lower rates and simplify the structure of the code, it needs to make the hard choices to figure out how to pay for it,” TCS President Ryan Alexander said in a statement Nov. 2.

TCS President Ryan Alexander (in blue) | Getty Images

Alexander told Bloomberg Government Nov. 8 many of the group’s concerns were about decision by Republican leaders to use the reconciliation process that would allow the tax bill to pass the Senate with 50 Republican votes and the vote of the Vice President. “The process is not the right process for us,” she said, characterizing the group as a “no, right now.”

Alexander acknowledged it is somewhat unusual to be on the other side of the fence from many like-minded groups, including the National Taxpayers Union, a group she said TCS works with often.  

“We’re very friendly with all those folks,” she said.

But she said the group looks at both spending and taxes and the idea that faster economic growth would replace the $1.5 trillion in lost revenues under the tax bill “doesn’t seem at all reasonable.”

This time, the group finds itself on the same side as the anti-deficit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Concord Coalition, groups that traditionally care more about whether the ledger balances than how much things cost.

“We work with unusual coalitions all the time,” Alexander said. “Our focus is on both sides of the budget.”