Inside the Meter

Guest column: Tax law fact-check previews midterms messaging

Editor's note: David Jolly is PolitiFact's Republican guest columnist and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Florida's 13th congressional district from 2014-17. Read more about the guest columnist position here.

In this critique, Jolly is writing about a PolitiFact New York fact-check of a claim made by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., which you can read here. His post has been edited only for style and grammar.

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Political debates only occasionally change minds. Instead, political debates often serve to simply harden one’s own beliefs.

Take the recent tax bill enacted by the Republican Congress and President Donald Trump.

Republicans have argued that our nation’s economy, and thus every American, will benefit from a more competitive corporate tax structure, and Congress likewise adjusted personal tax rates so that most individuals and families would benefit from at least some marginal relief in their monthly paychecks. Democrats have argued that the new law unnecessarily favors the wealthiest among us, is tilted to businesses and shareholders, and creates an unnecessary burden of additional national debt. 

Each side is largely correct in their assertions. The glaring contrast between the parties is less a matter of facts, but more of political ideology. And this contrast in ideology will undoubtedly inform many voters heading into this November’s congressional midterm elections — which is why it is critical that both facts and fact-checking are readily available to the American people.

PolitiFact’s recent fact-checking of a statement by U.S. Rep. Chris Collins provides a ready example of the importance of fact-checking this new law. Collins, an early Trump supporter, took issue with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that the tax benefits to the middle-class were "crumbs." He countered in a March 27 tweet that the Republican tax bill had already resulted in 4 million American workers receiving "raises or bonuses" and 90 percent of Americans seeing "bigger paychecks."

Collins is correct with the facts he chose to present, and PolitiFact rightly rated his claim Mostly True. The only deficiency PolitiFact found was that additional information would be helpful in affirming whether lower monthly payroll taxes necessarily translated to higher take home pay for 90 percent of the country, considering the absence of available information regarding increases or decreases in other payroll deductions for employees, namely healthcare premiums.

PolitiFact’s fact-checking also reveals the challenges confronted by disciplined fact-checkers to confine themselves only to a politician’s specific comment, and the challenges equally faced by readers of PolitiFact whose opinions may often be arrived at through a broader analysis of additional facts not addressed in a single fact-checking column. Whether Rep. Collins’ assertion represents the full policy implications of the new law or whether it intentionally avoids the additional complexities of its impact, the fact is his statement was accurate.

The fact that the tax law resulted in raises and bonuses for 4 million people and increased monthly take-home pay for approximately 90 percent of the country is a favorable position on which Republicans will likely run in November — and it is fair for them to do so. Challenging this fact by pointing to the legislation’s statistically valid increase in economic disparity and the national debt is an equally fair message likely to be deployed by Democrats in November.

PolitiFact’s ruling is important. Rep. Collins assertion is true. Whether it changes minds or just hardens existing partisan opinions is a question to be answered in November.