In June 2016, House Republican leadership led by Speaker Paul Ryan introduced with great fanfare “A Better Way,” the tax reform blueprint. One of the blueprint’s core tenets was the Border Adjustment Tax (BAT). Formed as a method of generating revenue in exchange for lower tax rates, the BAT would have upended the traditional model by taxing imports, while exempting exports. House Republican leaders believed the change would favor American manufacturers and discourage domestic companies from offshoring.
The BAT proposal sought to leverage the electorate’s growing distrust of international commerce and foreign enterprise.
It is against this backdrop that the retail community and its leadership in early 2017 engaged PLUS Communications, among peers in the public affairs space, to help stop the BAT. Our engagement meant opposing U.S. House leadership as they sought to implement “A Better Way,” including the Speaker and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady.
Additionally, efforts to defeat the BAT had to contend with the American Made Coalition’s (AMC) “Made in America” campaign. AMC and its members, including some of the largest manufacturers in the nation, attempted to frame the BAT as necessary to fix an antiquated tax system, as it was, in their words, skewed against the interests of American companies and manufacturers.
Critical to our effort was our research-based messaging: that the BAT would cost American families $1,700 in the first year alone. Guided by the research, the Americans for Affordable Products (AAP) coalition was formed and served as the main voice of opposition to the BAT.
Throughout the campaign, AAP mobilized a groundswell of opposition against the BAT influencing key constituencies, including consumer groups, large and small business leaders, and conservative influencers across the country and in key congressional districts. In conjunction with the grassroots campaign, AAP leveraged rapid response and research-driven tactics that defined the issue and drove the debate. From day one, PLUS catalogued all critical voices of opposition against the BAT, from President Trump calling it “too complicated” to the steady drumbeat of criticism that soon followed, resulting in over 130 pages of dissent. Those quotes were deployed daily to the media in press releases amplifying the perception that the BAT was not well supported and losing momentum.
The coalition also created original research that held BAT backers accountable and discredited virtually all of their arguments in favor of the policy. Moreover, the research was used to combat opposition through rapid response deployment as well as disseminated daily, uniquely created content resulting in a formidable anti-BAT echo chamber.
A year after the BAT was introduced as a central pillar of the GOP leadership’s plan to reform the U.S. tax system, our campaign claimed victory as the BAT’s most adamant sponsors declared it dead.
In the media, BAT opponents were credited for their “political muscle-flexing” in defeating the policy and deploying one of the “most furious and successful lobbying campaigns seen in Washington in recent years.”
By the end of July 2017, in the face of relentless opposition from all corners, the “Big Six,” leading tax reform negotiators, including Speaker Ryan, officially declared he would no longer pursue the BAT issuing a joint statement with top White House and Senate officials writing, “While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it, and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform.”
In reaction to the campaign executed by AAP against the BAT, Chairman Brady acknowledged, “To their credit, they mobilized quickly and aggressively, and yes, it had an impact.”