Senate Republicans Have Doubts About Tax Reform Timing

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By Kaustuv Basu and Laura Davison

Senate Republican leaders are expressing fresh doubts about whether a tax reform bill could pass Congress by August, a timeline suggested by the Trump administration.

Asked if the debate over the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act could delay a comprehensive tax bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said, “It could. It sure could because it’s a very complex debate. Tax reform is complex too.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also didn’t commit to a timeline when asked about a tax overhaul bill at a Politico event March 9, Bloomberg reported.

The dithering over what might be possible in terms of a tax overhaul this year comes as Republicans face a rising tide of criticism about the replacement ACA bill from influential health care groups and from within their own ranks. The fate of a House tax blueprint remains unclear because of strong opposition from major retailers and some in the Senate to an import tax proposal.

But Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters that debate over a replacement ACA bill shouldn’t derail the timeline for a tax bill. “I can tell you from the Ways and Means perspective, we’re staying right on the same track, which is to deliver tax reform this summer,” he said.

Parallel Tracks

Brady said that the Ways and Means Committee is continuing to work to improve the tax legislation. “We expect to act in our committee this spring. We are running parallel tracks; they are both equally important,” he said.

Hatch also mentioned a similar possibility, saying “we might have to double track. You never know.”

The Republican resolve in trying to pass both pieces of legislation isn’t in doubt. Hatch reiterated that he would do everything he could to pass a tax overhaul bill, while Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Bloomberg BNA that he remains committed to an April timeline to pass a health care bill to be followed by tax legislation.

But the timing of a health care bill remains crucial. “The ACA schedule is producing a lot of heartburn. You’ve gotta get ACA done by March or April. And that means May, June, July, August to get tax reform,” a lobbyist said.

“If ACA gets done by Easter, tax reform has never been in a better spot,” the lobbyist added.

Freeing Up Time

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told Bloomberg BNA that the passage of the health care bill in Ways and Means would free up time for tax legislation.

“There is so much work to do on tax reform. Now that our portion of health care has been taken care of out of Ways and Means, it gives us more space to focus in on tax reform. They are not mutually exclusive. Now we can turn our attention to tax reform,” Roskam said.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he is hoping to get a shot at tax reform this year.

There “is a lot of stuff, kind of, in the queue right now. We’ve got to take them as they come,” Thune said.

A tax overhaul bill using a fast-track budget process called reconciliation could carry over until next year, he said. “I’m hoping we do it this year.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kaustuv Basu in Washington at kbasu@bna.com and Laura Davison in Washington at ldavison@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

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