Issues pile up as Ryan, GOP seek focus on taxes

All Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding Dems after briefing: 'No evidence' spy placed in Trump campaign Senate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress MORE wanted to do this fall was pass tax reform.

But a pair of social issues — immigration and gun reform — plus President Trump’s decision to punt key ObamaCare payments and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal to Congress are quickly complicating the Speaker’s tax-reform push and crowding what’s left in a 2017 calendar that has just 28 legislative days left.

At least in public, Ryan (R-Wis.) is not panicking yet. The former Ways and Means Committee chairman, who’s made overhauling the U.S. tax code his life’s work, tried to put a positive spin Monday on how soon Congress would send a tax-reform package to Trump’s desk.

ADVERTISEMENT
“So by early November, we’ll get it out of the House. We’ll send it to the Senate,” Ryan said in a radio interview in his home state of Wisconsin. “The goal: get law in December so that we wake up with New Year’s and a new tax code in 2018.”

But the four thorny issues are threatening to divide congressional Republicans at the very moment they need to unify behind the GOP tax plan.

Tax reform was always going to be a heavy lift — it’s why Congress hasn’t passed a comprehensive tax overhaul since 1986, the year Ryan got his driver’s license.

Ideally, Ryan would like to tackle tax reform in a legislative vacuum, explained Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). But the Speaker is a “mature adult” who understands the top job in Congress often comes with unexpected twists, turns and pitfalls.    

“Paul’s passion is tax reform. But as Speaker, he’s got to deal with more than one thing at a time. It’s a job that throws a lot of curveballs at you,” King told The Hill.

“You just can’t count on things ever going smoothly here, especially when you’re Speaker,” King added. “It’s easier being president; you control the executive branch. All Paul can do is persuade.”

Trump has told lawmakers he wants tax reform done by the end of the year, but he’s not making it easy for the GOP-controlled Congress.

The president has continued to pile more and more items on Congress’s already full plate, and he’s grown increasingly frustrated with GOP inaction on Capitol Hill.

“I’m not going to blame myself. I’ll be honest,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “They are not getting the job done.”

It started in September, when Trump unilaterally moved to end an Obama-era program that shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — then urged Congress to protect the same group within six months.

Last week, Trump dumped two more issues onto Congress’s lap.

He stopped ObamaCare insurer subsidy payments that help millions of low-income people afford health insurance. And he refused to recertify Iran’s compliance with President Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal, calling on Congress to fix “serious flaws” in the multilateral agreement or risk its termination.

The gun debate flared up after a lone gunman killed 58 people and injured 500 others at a Las Vegas country music festival — possibly with the help of “bump stock” devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire more rapidly, mimicking machine guns, which have been banned since the 1980s.

Most Hill Republicans agree something must be done to regulate bump stocks, but they’re divided over whether Congress or the executive branch should be the one to act.

Centrist Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloGOP nearing end game on immigration votes GOP donor threatens to cut off support for Republicans who don't back DACA Three House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding MORE (R-Fla.), a top target of Democrats, has authored legislation that would provide a path to legalization for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He’s also teamed with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) on a bipartisan bill to ban bump stocks and other similar devices, arguing that congressional action would be more permanent than an administrative fix.   

Curbelo plans to gather more GOP co-sponsors before making his case directly to Ryan, who prefers that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulate bump stocks.

“Why suppress the will of the House? [Ryan] knows and everyone in this chamber knows there is broad, bipartisan support for prohibiting these bump stock devices and any device that converts a legal weapon into an illegal weapon, so let the House work its will,” Curbelo told The Hill.

“He’s a courageous leader, and I encourage him to have the courage of his convictions.”

Yet for every moderate like Curbelo, who wants action on immigration and guns, there is a Republican on the far right of the 240-member GOP conference who’s pulling Ryan in the other direction.

“I wouldn’t do the DACA bill at all. I wouldn’t do the [bump stock bill] either,” said Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOvernight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary Arizona GOP tinkers with election rules with an eye on McCain's seat Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “Guns don’t kill; it’s people that kill.”