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 McConnellSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report Paul: Shutting down government not my goal MORE's (R-Ky.) chamber is far narrower than what Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever' Winners and losers from the .3T omnibus Collins: McConnell has 'kept his commitment' on ObamaCare fix 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 JohnsonOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate GOP pushes to change Senate rules for Trump House passes 'right to try' drug bill 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 approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump Senate bracing for possible long weekend Overnight Defense: Trump replaces McMaster with Bolton | .3T omnibus awaits Senate vote | Bill gives Pentagon flexibility on spending | State approves B arms sale to Saudis 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.

But Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Winners and losers from the .3T omnibus Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill MORE (R-Maine), meanwhile, has said that a bipartisan ObamaCare stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Overnight Regulation: Omnibus includes deal on tip-pooling rule | Groups sue over rules for organic livestock | AT&T, DOJ make opening arguments in merger trial Warren presses Mulvaney, Azar on tip pooling MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Overnight Regulation: Omnibus includes deal on tip-pooling rule | Groups sue over rules for organic livestock | AT&T, DOJ make opening arguments in merger trial Warren presses Mulvaney, Azar on tip pooling 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 BarrassoSenators target 'gag clauses' that hide potential savings on prescriptions USPTO needs to be forced to do its job and reject bad patents Senate Dems propose tax cut rollback to pay for infrastructure 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 PelosiSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump House Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever' Senate bracing for possible long weekend 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 ConyersMet opera fires conductor after sexual misconduct probe Keith Ellison calls for Dems to support medicare for all Overnight Health Care: Conservatives brace for ObamaCare payments in funding bill | FDA chief blames 'rigged' system for drug costs | Ellison replaces Conyers on Dem single-payer bill 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 FrankenMcCabe oversaw criminal probe into Sessions over testimony on Russian contacts: report Academy president accused of sexual harassment: report Top Nike executive resigns amid workplace complaints: report 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 GrahamSenators introduced revised version of election cyber bill GOP senators push tougher sentencing for synthetic opioid Dems aim to turn ObamaCare hikes into election weapon MORE (R-S.C.) said in a message to Trump during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”