Congress Blog

On tax reform, GOP needs to learn from health care mistakes

There's a saying that if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. When it comes to the debate over tax reform in Congress, that menu has real costs for my constituents.

That's why I went to the White House this week to sit down with President Trump on tax reform along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Ways and Means Committee. While the meeting was long on promises and short on details, I left with an important takeaway.

Unless Republicans learn a few valuable lessons from their partisan failure on health care, passing tax reform will be impossible.

The Republican health care bill failed to pass Congress because Americans did not support it. Throughout its consideration, polls showed a majority of Americans opposed TrumpCare, while just a quarter of those polled supported the repeal effort. But the reason for that lack of support, and the failure that Republican leadership needs to learn from, is that TrumpCare focused its savings and benefits on the wealthiest households.

In exchange for slashing health care for working families, TrumpCare funded a massive tax cut for the wealthiest households. In the draft that passed the House, for example, the bill eliminated a Medicaid surtax on income above $200,000 per year, a threshold which less than one percent of my constituents meet.

If the Republican tax plan relies on the same kind of trickle-down economics, then any hope for lasting and meaningful reform is lost.

Tax reform should be an opportunity to help hardworking Americans on the factory floor, not just executives in the C-suite. This year, Congress has a chance to reexamine how we can build a tax code that not only provides relief for today's employees, but makes significant investments in the next generation of American workers.

When reform is worker-focused rather than executive-focused, bipartisan support comes easily. This Congress, I re-introduced the Workforce Development Tax Credit Act (H.R. 1781), a bipartisan bill that prepares our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow by providing federal tax credits for businesses that offer apprenticeship programs.

Studies show that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade, but approximately 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled due to a skilled labor shortage. My legislation seeks to address our country's skilled labor shortage head on by incentivizing businesses to work with high schools, community colleges and universities to develop apprenticeship programs that produce tomorrow's skilled workforce.

But the Workforce Development Tax Credit Act is only one example of tax reform that puts working families first. We could also use tax reform to reverse the troubling trends of economic decline in rural communities by encouraging and incentivizing public-private partnerships that make strategic investments in the areas of the most need.

So far, what we have seen from President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are tax plans that focus their largest cuts on wealthy individuals and corporations. I am a strong believer that we need to lower the corporate tax rate and give entrepreneurs and small business owners a hand up to jump start our economy. But the largest beneficiary of any tax reform and the top priority for tax relief in any bill that passes Congress needs to be working American families.

I went to this week's meeting at the White House because bipartisan tax reform is possible, and because it is in the best interest of the American people for Democrats to be a part of the tax reform process. We cannot allow Republicans to waste this opportunity for reform on another giveaway for wealthy Americans that leaves working families footing the bill.

During our meeting at the White House, President Trump made a promise. He told us that his tax plan would not be a tax cut for the wealthy. But by cutting the top income tax bracket, eliminating the alternative minimum tax (AMT), and giving preferential tax rates to some pass-through businesses, the plan that Republicans offered today fails that promise. I plan on holding our president to his word, and I urge Republican leadership in Congress to work with Democrats to find bipartisan solutions.

While I strongly disagree with a number of the points in Wednesday's proposed tax outline, I will not miss an opportunity to be a strong voice for working families and small businesses in my district. For them, and for all Americans, the success of tax reform depends on us being at the table.

Sewell represents Alabama's 7th District and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

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