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GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it

GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it
© Greg Nash

Fresh criticisms of the GOP tax bill emerged Tuesday from centrist and conservative Republicans following reports that the legislation would hike taxes on the middle class, as well as some wealthy Americans.

Conservative Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSasse statement: Trump nominee who spread conspiracy theories has a ‘tinfoil hat’ Coalition of 44 groups calls for passage of drug pricing bill For the sake of our democracy, politicians must stop bickering MORE (R-Texas) called raising taxes on people in high-tax, Democratic states like New York and California “a mistake” — a concern shared by Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaHouse rejects effort to condemn lawmaker for demanding 'Dreamer' arrests Hispanic Dems seek vote to condemn GOP lawmaker for demanding arrests of 'Dreamers' GOP Rep. Hunter posts meager campaign fundraising amid controversy MORE (R-Calif.), who became the first Golden State Republican to reject the current House bill.

The conservative outside group Club for Growth also outlined four areas that it objected to in the tax bill, including the addition of a fourth tax bracket for millionaires and the fact that the bill phases out the estate tax rather than quickly nixing it.

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Still, most Republicans predicted the bill will pass with a big GOP vote next week. And there was a sense that the small group of on-the-fence lawmakers were holding out simply to extract some last-minute changes ahead of their eventual support.

“I’m undecided. We just want to see how the final bill shapes out. … On the business side, [it’s] all good,” said Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoBipartisan group of lawmakers offers ideas for infrastructure plan Why the opioid epidemic could spark bipartisan cooperation House passes bill to fund overtime pay for Secret Service agents MORE (R-N.Y.), who was just elected co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group. Katko has concerns with the bill axing and paring back state and local tax (SALT) deductions that are popular in affluent blue states like New York, New Jersey and California.

“At first glance, it looks like it’s not as bad as I thought,” Katko said of the SALT impact. But “until I get the final numbers, I can’t make a final determination.”

Issa echoed those remarks in an interview with The Hill, saying he backs the corporate tax changes but is opposed to the SALT impacts to his San Diego-area constituents and other Californians.

“The way it’s being structured, it’s unfair to California,” Issa said just off the House floor. “In its current form, it clearly raises taxes on some people, including in my state.”

But centrist Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), one of the most vocal opponents of changes to the SALT deduction, said Tuesday he was now prepared to vote for the bill.

He said he was satisfied with a compromise leaders struck with him and other SALT advocates that would preserve the state and local property tax deduction up to a $10,000 cap.

“I am in the yes column,” MacArthur told reporters. “This is going to be good for the state of New Jersey. I’ll continue to work to make it better, but I intend to support the bill.

“Nobody has demonstrated to me that taxes go up.”

MacArthur said he was continuing to seek other improvements to the bill, such as setting the mortgage deduction cap at $750,000, linking it to inflation and allowing it to apply to second homes.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, described himself as an “undecided lean yes.”

He’s pushing for reducing the rates of all tax brackets, including for the wealthiest individuals, maintaining the adoption tax credit and applying the tax cuts retroactively.

Biggs voted against the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill earlier this year, but he said he could still back the tax legislation even if his proposals aren't included.

“I think we need to do so much better on the individual side,” Biggs told The Hill. “I’m undecided at this point. But I think a lot of people are raising the same issues that I’m raising.”

GOP leaders are scrambling to wrap up support for their tax-code overhaul, a long-held aspiration of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE (R-Wis.), who is also under considerable pressure to secure a legislative victory for President Trump after the failure of ObamaCare repeal earlier in the year.

The House Ways and Means Committee completed its second day of a marathon markup on Tuesday, and Ryan has set a Thanksgiving deadline for considering the bill on the floor. GOP leaders are trumpeting the package as a boon for the middle class, providing the average family of four with a $1,182 tax cut.

“That goes a long ways to bring them relief, to bring them peace of mind,” Ryan told reporters.

Complicating the effort, a series of independent studies have emerged in recent days indicating that millions of middle-class families would be hit with tax increases under the House proposal, particularly when certain benefits are phased out after several years.

Democrats have pounced, accusing Republicans of dishonoring the central promise of their tax-reform push: that the changes would provide across-the-board relief to working families.

“It’s a lie,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSenate leaders say they're zeroing in on two-year budget deal GOP to play hardball with Dems on funding bill GOP lawmakers say Trump would make mistake in firing Rosenstein MORE (R-Ohio), a former Freedom Caucus chairman, is still pressing GOP leaders to include a provision repealing ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate — a notion promoted by Cruz and President Trump but one the House leadership has so far rejected.

Echoing Cruz, Jordan said he won’t support tax increases at any income level, but he argued that eliminating the individual mandate would generate at least $300 billion that could provide tax relief to families who might otherwise face hikes.

“We’ve all voted for it, it’s what we said we were going to do [and] it frees up money to allow families to get more money,” Jordan said. “Come on!”

Some deficit hawks have balked at the tax package because it allows for $1.5 trillion to be added to the federal deficit over a decade. But Jordan rejected that argument, citing a simple mantra he attributed to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.): “You don’t pay for tax cuts, you pay for spending."

“I’ve been against a revenue-neutral approach forever. Let’s just focus on the spending afterwards,” Jordan said.  

At least five Republicans are on the record opposing the GOP bill or strongly leaning against it, according to a running tally kept by The Hill. They are Issa and Reps. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingGOP reps demand release of 'shocking' surveillance memo Top Intel Dem: Lewandowski refused to answer questions in testimony GOP angst over midterms grows MORE (N.Y.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), who announced Tuesday he would not seek a 13th term in office.

GOP leaders can afford to lose up to 22 Republicans when they bring the tax bill to the floor next week.

Niv Ellis, Cristina Marcos and Naomi Jagoda contributed.