Republicans face critical week in Congress on tax reform 

Posted: 8:33 pm Sunday, November 12th, 2017

By Staff Writer

GOP leaders in the Congress hope to take a major step forward on tax reform legislation this week, as Republicans plan a vote in the House on a GOP tax package, with the focus again on a small group of lawmakers who have opposed certain details of the plan, while a Senate committee begins work on a slightly different version of tax reform.

Here is what to look for this week:

1. The vote counting starts on Monday in the House. GOP leaders want to vote on the tax reform bill by Thursday – but first, they need to count votes to see where the tax bill stands, what’s known as the whip count. “We’re going to whip the bill Monday night,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House Republican Whip, said on Sunday. The focus will be on the same group of lawmakers who have been signaling for weeks they’re not thrilled with how the bill has been put together, and whether they can be convinced to get behind the GOP plan. To some, the argument will be – keep the process going. But it is obvious that major changes will be needed to get the votes of certain Republicans in difficult swing districts. “This bill has good stimulus, but it has an awful lot of tax increases on some to pay for tax cuts on others, and to me that’s not consistent with Republican values,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has made he’s against the plan as written. On that point, Issa is correct – the House plan has $5.8 trillion in tax cuts along with $4.3 trillion in tax increases over 10 years.

2. The sales pitch still focused on the East Coast GOP. Most of the opposition within the House GOP is centered on more moderate Republicans from New York and New Jersey, who don’t like how the bill reduces deductions for state and local taxes. Some though have been won over by a tweak allowing people to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes. “You can argue that $10,000 isn’t enough,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who had been making noise against the bill, but is now on board. “I’ve come to a different conclusion,” he told reporters last week. MacArthur will be appearing in his district on Monday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump to help sell the tax reform bill to his New Jersey voters. Others though still aren’t sold, one reason the White House is putting on this type of public relations push.

3. The details could still change in the House. We noted above the the House whip count starts Monday on the tax reform bill. The House Rules Committee is slated to meet on the measure Wednesday – and at that point – additional changes could be made in the tax plan, especially if they are needed to bring over any extra votes on the Republican tax reform bill. As it currently stands, here is the most up-to-date version of the House GOP tax reform bill, which now weighs in at 447 pages in all. If you really want to get into the wonky details, here is the link for the ‘estimated revenue effects’ of the House GOP tax reform plan.

4. Senate starts committee markup on tax reform. While House GOP leaders search for votes, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee will begin work on that chamber’s version of tax reform on Monday afternoon. The plan put out on Thursday by Senate Republicans differs in some key respects to the House bill, delaying a cut in corporate taxes until 2019, keeping seven different tax brackets (there are four in the House bill), it maintains the deduction for medical expenses, does not eliminate the estate tax, and completely repeals the state and local tax deduction. Expect this committee markup to be much like the one in the House, where Republicans stave off most – if not all – Democratic amendments. Stay tuned.

5. Speaking of wonky reviews of tax reform plans. One thing released over the weekend was the review of the distributional impacts of the Senate tax reform bill as currently proposed. It was fun to watch experts this weekend take the exact same data, and come to completely different conclusions on who is the winner. (Hint – either the middle class is the winner, or the middle class is the loser, and the rich are the winners.) Here’s your link to some Legislative Nerd Action from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

6. What’s the timeline on tax reform? Here’s what to expect in coming days:
+ Senate Finance Committee starts markup on Monday
+ House Rules Committee meets on Wednesday
+ House debate on tax reform could begin on Thursday
+ GOP would like a vote on Thursday in the House.
+ Senate Finance should approve tax reform bill by Thursday.
+ House and Senate would go home for a Thanksgiving break, return the week of November 27.
+ The goal would be Senate approval of a tax reform bill in early December.
+ Next would be a House-Senate conference to iron out the differences.
+ Then a final vote before Christmas.

Ambitious? Yes. Could it go off the rails? Sure. Could it get done by Christmas? Yes. Stay tuned.

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