White House: Tax reform hinges on Democratic support

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on Tuesday emphasized the need for President Trump and Democrats to work together on tax reform, citing Republican lawmakers' past failures to fulfill their campaign promises

“We learned this summer that keeping 50 or 52 Republicans [in the Senate] is not something that’s reliable,” Short said at a roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “Despite promises and commitments they’ve made to the American voters since 2010, we don’t feel like we can assume we can get tax reform done strictly on a partisan basis, so it would be wise for us … to try and reach out and earn the support from Democrats as well.”

Trump and other White House officials have expressed frustration with Republican lawmakers, who hold a majority in the House and Senate, following the failure to pass an ObamaCare repeal bill this summer — something the GOP has promised to do for years.

Short expressed confidence that Democrats will get on board, saying the administration has met with 250 members from both sides of the aisle about tax reform since April.

He also said that Trump’s surprise deal with Democratic leaders to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government has reshaped the political dynamics and created “legislative space” to get tax reform done this year.

“The feedback we’ve received from many Democrats is an interest — they recognize corporate rates are too high and they recognize the corporate tax system is unfair and is causing companies to leave our shores, so there’s an opportunity to partner there,” Short said.

Trump will have dinner on Tuesday night with Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: EPA aims to work more closely with industry Overnight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE (W.Va.), Hiedi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD MORE (Ind.), all of whom face reelection campaigns next year in states that Trump won in last year's presidential election. Several Republicans, including Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (S.D.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNewly declassified memos detail extent of improper Obama-era NSA spying Overnight Tech: FCC won't fine Colbert over Trump joke | Trump budget slashes science funding | Net neutrality comment period opens Appeals court decision keeps lawsuit against NSA surveillance alive MORE (Pa.), will also be on hand.

Short said many of the Democrats he’s talked to agree with the administration on lowering individual rates for low- and middle-income earners but that they’re reluctant to do so for higher earners. Many Democrats, Short said, would like to see tax reform tied to an infrastructure package, although he indicated that’s not something the administration is considering.

A White House proposal on tax reform is expected to come in the next few days.

“This is our window to get this done,” Short said.

The White House also has to worry about getting conservative Republicans on board, including the wildcards in the House Freedom Caucus, many of whom aren’t close with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan GOP eyes limits on investor tax break Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE or National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, former Democrats who are deeply involved with the tax reform process.

ADVERTISEMENT

Short said he talks frequently with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and characterized the White House’s relationship with the conservatives as better than has been reported.

“We’re pretty well in touch with that caucus and will continue to work with them closely,” Short said. “I don’t think there’s a worry we’re leaving them behind.”

Republicans also still have to pass a budget before moving on to tax reform. Democrats have said they won’t deal if the GOP seeks to pass reform through reconciliation, which bypasses the filibuster's 60-vote threshold.

“We’d love to have a bipartisan fix to get 60 votes,” Short said, although he acknowledged that “reconciliation will be the most likely path.”

And intraparty obstacles remain. Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) has said Trump’s goal of cutting corporate tax rates to 15 percent is unrealistic and that 20 percent would be a better marker.

“It doesn’t help ourselves to negotiate against ourselves,” Short said of Ryan. “We should aim for what we think is best while also understanding there is probably compromise to getting to the best deal, but we think what’s best for the American people is a 15 percent corporate rate right now.”

Still, Short said Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) have been “terrific allies” on tax reform. He called the GOP leaders “strong partners in helping us advance our economic agenda,” disputing remarks made by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who said the GOP leaders are trying to “nullify” the 2016 election.

The White House is eager to hang a legislative victory on the board before the end of the year, although Short acknowledged the difficulties inherent in getting Congress to act quickly.

“The legislative process is slow,” he said.