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There is wide consensus that tax reform is hard. But increasing pressure from President Donald Trump to move faster on a tax rewrite could be making life more complicated for congressional Republicans.
“Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP. Don’t wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!,” Trump said in a tweet the morning of Sept. 8. A day earlier, a White House official said the administration and GOP lawmakers had reached agreement on several specific items in a tax reform bill.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) wouldn’t discuss an estimated timeline when asked about Trump’s comments but said Republicans were on schedule to send a bill to the president’s desk by the end of 2017. “I love the president’s passion on this. He’s all in on it,” Brady said. “And like him, the sooner the better.”
Brady said agreement on key elements was making it easier to work on an “actual bill.”
Trump’s tweet came even as a Republican Congress tries to eke out a legislative victory by passing tax reform legislation this year while grappling with a crowded legislative calendar, unexpected challenges because of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and pressure from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus to see more details on a tax bill.
Growing polarization among House Republicans is not helping.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate who isn’t seeking reelection in 2018, said Sept. 8 that the basic task of governing—such as keeping the government open—had become difficult. “Because we can’t do the basics right, can’t get those down, makes it difficult then to take on the big issues of tax reform, infrastructure, health care,” he said.
Some members of the Freedom Caucus, like Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), have said repeatedly that they want to see more details on a tax reform bill before they vote on the 2018 budget resolution, which is to contain the instructions to pass tax reform with 51 votes—instead of 60—in the Senate. Meadows has previously said he and other members of the group have their own tax ideas, but are willing to give House leadership a chance if they move quickly.
House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) told reporters it’s possible the resolution cold get a vote the last week in September. Black has been trying to generate support for the measure in recent weeks, but several Freedom Caucus members have been withholding support until more details about a tax plan are released.
Meadows said he was confident there aren’t the votes to pass the budget resolution, something he has said for weeks. He estimated about three Freedom Caucus members would support the budget now. “We’ve been very clear we want more details, and until we get more details we aren’t going to pass a budget,” he said. “We’re not going to give them a blank check to figure out what to do based on their less-than-stellar performance on Obamacare.”
Once they vote on a budget, conservatives would “lose any leverage that we might have to shape this tax bill,” caucus member Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told Bloomberg BNA.
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a Ways and Means and Freedom Caucus member, said, “I have a couple members who desperately want to understand what the tax package is going to look like before they vote on a budget.”
“But I don’t think they understand the thousands of hours that will go into the basic calculations of what it actually does in the economy to actually build not only rates but the policy,” he told reporters.
Some Ways and Means Republicans remain unhappy that they don’t have more information on what might be in an actual tax bill.
Trump’s urgency shows he thinks the committee needs to commit to regular order and get information out. The committee needs to “start to bring people into the picture,” member Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio) said.
“You can’t coalesce around an idea unless you know what the idea is,” he said. “Until we get to a true regular order, we end up having this situation where everyone learns about things at the last minute, which is never good.”
But Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said members are eager to see details of a tax bill, not so much frustrated that it hasn’t been released. “This is the season where we will either pass this or this will be the biggest fish that got away,” he said.
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