Tax reform is not a spectator sport—unless you’re the White House.
For the first three days of the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of the tax overhaul bill, a panel of tax experts have answered senators’ questions about provisions of the bill. But the Treasury Department’s representative, Tax Legislative Counsel Tom West, has been conspicuously silent.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) asked West a series of questions Nov. 14 about the administration’s policies on several provisions in the bill. West replied that he was “not there to talk about the administration’s positions,” just “administrability.”
He has given the same response to questions from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). After receiving the same response about “administrability,” Wyden asked him sharply: “Why are you here?”
Finance Committee Republicans have not asked West questions, preferring to direct them to committee staffers or Tom Barthold, the chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation.
West’s reluctance to articulate policy positions is a reflection of a White House happy to let congressional Republicans lead on tax changes. While the White House has sometimes struggled to remain on message, House and Senate tax writers have been doing the decision making.
And although President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak to House Republicans before a planned Nov. 16 floor vote, House leadership is hustling to whip the votes needed to pass the bill.
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