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 McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE's (R-Ky.) chamber is far narrower than what Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) had to work with.

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 JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations 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 campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics 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 MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (R-Alaska), a key swing vote, said last week that she supports repealing the individual mandate. 
 
But Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine), meanwhile, has said that a bipartisan ObamaCare stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC director to miss fourth hearing because of potential ethics issues Week ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare 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.
 

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 PelosiDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix Trump’s first year in office was the year of the woman 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 ConyersWoman accuses New York state senator of sexual misconduct Dissatisfaction with position of women in US hits new high Republicans on the run: Retirements could be trouble for Trump and party 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 FrankenPawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota EMILY’s List president: Franken did 'right thing for Minnesota' Dem pledges to ask all court nominees about sexual harassment history under oath 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. 
 
 
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 GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.) said in a message to Trump during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”