This week: Senate Republicans take up tax reform
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are aiming to move their tax-reform legislation this week as they race to get a bill on President Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

House Republicans passed their tax plan before the Thanksgiving holiday, and the Senate GOP hopes to follow suit with its own version.

The margin for error in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE's (R-Ky.) chamber is far narrower than what Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) had to work with.

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Ryan could afford more than 20 defections; McConnell can only lose two of his senators. Even two defections would require Vice President Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote.

No Senate Democrats are expected to support the bill, despite being courted by the White House.

Plenty of obstacles remain before passage is secure in the Senate.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' MORE (R-Wis.) came out against the bill, saying that it helps corporations more than other businesses. But he told a Wisconsin radio station last week that he’s “encouraged” by discussions with the Senate Finance Committee.

Other senators, like Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump seeks to quell Russia furor MORE (R-Tenn.), have expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on the deficit.

Still more senators are skeptical of including a repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

In a positive sign for GOP leaders, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska), a key swing vote, said last week that she supports repealing the individual mandate. 
 
But Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Maine), meanwhile, has said that a bipartisan ObamaCare stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.) and another measure to provide stability funding known as reinsurance should pass before a tax bill with individual mandate repeal.
 
President Trump will attend the Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday, which will be his first meeting with the whole caucus since coming to another lunch with senators in late October.
 
“Great opportunity to build on our momentum to give Americans the tax relief they’ve been waiting for,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act MORE (R-Wyo.) tweeted over the holiday weekend while announcing Trump's visit.

Even if the Senate does pass a tax-reform bill this week, there’s still a long way to go before Republicans can claim a legislative victory.

House and Senate negotiators will have to navigate significant differences between the two chambers’ bills.

House Republicans from high-tax states like New Jersey, New York and California, many of whom voted against the bill, are opposed to the elimination of the state and local tax deduction that many of their constituents currently use. 

The House bill contains a deduction for property taxes up to $10,000, while the Senate GOP version does not. None of the high-tax states with vulnerable House Republicans have GOP senators.

The Senate bill also delays cutting the corporate tax rate until 2019, unlike the House version which would make the change next year.

Spending deal

Republicans are eager to send a tax-reform bill to Trump by year’s end, but a more pressing deadline is coming up sooner. Government funding runs out next Friday unless Congress acts.

Trump and top House and Senate leaders will meet on Tuesday to discuss how to avoid a shutdown and complete the year-end agenda in the next few weeks.

Ryan indicated earlier this month that Congress will likely need to pass a short-term spending bill to give appropriators some more time to craft a longer-term measure. 

Democrats, mindful of the leverage they hold in the bipartisan talks, are pushing for a spending package to include a long-term measure to allow certain young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country.

They’re hoping to strike a deal after the Trump administration announced it will phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary work permits for the young immigrants.

At least 25 House Democrats signed onto an op-ed in The Hill saying that they won’t vote for any government spending bill unless Congress passes the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship.

Ryan has suggested that Congress doesn’t necessarily have to include a solution for DACA recipients in the year-end spending package. The program won’t expire until March under the process ordered by Trump.

But Democrats, as well as some moderate and conservative Republicans, are insistent that lawmakers take action by the end of the year.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiRoby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections Overnight Health Care: Trump officials score a win against Planned Parenthood | Idaho residents to vote on Medicaid expansion | PhRMA, insurers weigh in on Trump drug pricing plan MORE (D-Calif.) has embraced getting a DACA fix done sooner rather than later.

“Kicking the can to next year is just to say ‘We’re not doing this.’ That’s how we see that,” Pelosi said before Congress left for the Thanksgiving recess. “If [Ryan] wants to take it up as a free-standing [bill], or whatever vehicle is leaving the station, we’ll make some judgments as we go along.”

There’s also the need for Congress to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which could potentially be tacked onto the year-end spending package if it’s the last piece of legislation before Congress adjourns for the year.

The authorization for CHIP and a community health center program officially expired at the end of September. Some states have already requested emergency money from the federal government. 

The House passed legislation earlier this month to reauthorize CHIP for five years, but Democrats opposed how it was paid for. Both sides remain at an impasse over offsets.

Sexual harassment fallout

Lawmakers will be expected to address allegations of sexual harassment by yet another colleague that emerged since Congress was last in session.

Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Portland activist stages ‘reparations happy hour’ Conyers III won't appear on primary ballot in race to replace his father MORE Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, has denied the allegations revealed by BuzzFeed News. According to BuzzFeed News, Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former staffer who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.” The staffer agreed to a more than $27,000 settlement in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.

Former aides also accused Conyers of repeatedly making sexual advances to female staff, touching women inappropriately and using congressional resources to fly in women with whom he was suspected of having affairs.

Pelosi and top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee initially called for an ethics investigation of Conyers, similar to how Senate Democrats handled allegations of sexual misconduct by Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenAP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE (D-Minn.) earlier this month.
 
Conyers announced on Sunday that he will step aside as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee amid the ethics investigation.
 
“I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus, and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives,” Conyers said in a statement.
 
Apart from serving atop the House Judiciary Committee, the 88-year-old lawmaker was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and is currently the longest-serving House member. He also previously chaired the House Oversight Committee.
 
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is the most senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee after Conyers, will take over as acting ranking member.
 
Pelosi said in a statement after Conyers announced he would step aside that “no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.”
 
“I commend the brave women coming forward,” Pelosi added.
 
The decision by Conyers to leave his Judiciary post came as the House prepares to vote Wednesday on a resolution requiring sexual harassment awareness training for all members and staff.
 
Lawmakers are hoping to act on more legislation to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill beyond requiring anti-harassment training. 
 
A bill introduced by Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDems demand answers on Pentagon not recognizing Pride Month Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks Overnight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women ‘Abolish ICE’ is going to hurt Democrats in the midterms 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser MORE (D-N.Y.) to overhaul the system available for staff to report harassment has gained momentum in recent weeks. But such a measure to reform a complicated process will likely take more time.
 
The House Administration Committee plans to hold a hearing on Dec. 7 to examine how to reform the reporting and settlement process for harassment complaints.
 
Republicans, meanwhile, are dealing with a sexual harassment scandal of their own. GOP leaders have called for Roy Moore to drop out as the party’s nominee for the Senate in Alabama, but he has defiantly refused ahead of the Dec. 12 special election.
 
Moore has denied allegations that he pursued relationships with teenage girls, including a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old.
 
Complicating matters further, Trump threw Moore a lifeline before leaving Washington for Thanksgiving when he told reporters that "we don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.”
 
Trump drew criticism from fellow Republicans on Sunday for refusing to abandon Moore.
 
“If you think winning with Roy Moore is going to be easy for the Republican Party, you’re mistaken,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.) said in a message to Trump during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”