This Ohio Democrat Says He's a Champion of the Working Class. Now, He's Backing a Tax Break for Coastal Millionaires.

Senate hopeful Tim Ryan votes to reinstate SALT deduction after calling policy 'bullshit'

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan (D.) / Getty Images
November 30, 2021

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan (D.), who has fashioned himself as a champion of the working class, is throwing his weight behind a proposal that undercuts that image: a massive tax break for coastal millionaires that he once called "bullshit."

In a Nov. 18 HuffPost interview, Ryan railed against House Democrats' plan to reinstate the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction, calling the provision—which gives wealthy Americans in blue states a sizable tax deduction—"bullshit" to "even think about." Less than 24 hours later, Ryan voted for the policy through President Joe Biden's nearly $2 trillion spending bill, even as one of his Democratic colleagues refused to back the legislation due to its "$280 billion tax giveaway to millionaires."

Ryan's vote in favor of the SALT deduction could harm his blue-collar bonafides as he looks to replace outgoing Ohio Republican senator Rob Portman. Ryan launched his Senate bid with a promise to "fight like hell to cut workers in on the deal," his campaign site laments an economy that isn't "working for working people," and he embarked on a "Workers First" political tour in April. By voting to abolish the limit on the SALT deduction that Republicans passed in 2017, however, Ryan helped advance an annual $60,000 tax cut for households making more than $1 million a year—a decision that Republicans say will come back to bite him in 2022.

"Democrats have completely abandoned hardworking Ohioans by voting for Joe Biden's 'Build Back Broke' agenda, which is a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and a slap in the face to Ohio families who are already experiencing skyrocketing prices and economic hardships," Republican National Committee spokesman Dan Lusheck said.

Ryan, who did not return a request for comment, defended his vote by claiming that Biden's bill would "cut taxes for working families." But according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the legislation would raise taxes on up to 30 percent of middle-class families. In addition, households that make less than $100,000 annually would see virtually no benefit from the SALT tax break, a Committee for a Responsible Budget study found.

"Many of my colleagues argue this major line item is worth accepting to pass the rest of the bill. I disagree: the SALT giveaway in the Build Back Better Act is larger than the child care, pre-K, healthcare or senior care provisions of the bill," fellow Democratic congressman Jared Golden (Maine) said in a statement. "As a result, the legislation would give a millionaire nearly 20 times more money than it would provide a low-income family through the Child Tax Credit."

Ryan also responded to Republican attacks over the SALT provision in a November House floor speech, accusing the GOP of "touting a big tax cut for the top 1 percent" through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. According to the left-leaning Brookings Institution, however, Democrats' SALT deduction proposal "would be much more favorable to the rich—with almost three times as much of the benefit going to the top 1 percent" compared with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Ryan's Senate run comes in the wake of the Democrat's failed presidential bid, which ended after just six months as he consistently polled under 1 percent. Ryan adopted a number of liberal positions during the campaign—during an April 2019 MSNBC appearance, he dismissed concerns over third-trimester abortions as a "non-issue." 

Portman's impending retirement has attracted a wide array of hopeful successors on both sides of the aisle. Liberal activist Morgan Harper is running to Ryan's left in the race's Democratic primary, while state senator Matt Dolan, author J.D. Vance, former state treasurer Josh Mandel, and former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken are jostling for the Republican nomination.