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GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework
The hottest feud in Washington is between Republicans and the Tax Policy Center (TPC).
Some prominent GOP lawmakers and conservatives are outraged with the wonky joint venture of the left-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. The group released a study Friday that said the GOP's tax reform framework would mostly benefit the rich, increase taxes on some middle-income people and lower federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade.
The study was widely covered in the press, drawing front-page stories in The New York Times and Washington Post. The coverage ran counter to the White House's messaging, which labeled the tax plan the "middle-class miracle."
Republicans have responded by going after the Tax Policy Center, arguing the group is biased and used inaccurate assumptions to reach its conclusions.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) - the two panels tasked with writing tax legislation guided by the framework - each put out statements on Friday blasting TPC's report. They continued to criticize the group this week.
"Their analysis was a work of fiction that Stephen King would have been proud of," Brady told reporters Monday. "In truth, we are driving tax relief to the middle class."
Hatch said at a hearing Tuesday that "it's odd ... that the analysis came with a disclaimer that it was expressing only the views of the authors, not the think tank itself. Even more unusual, no specific authors were listed on the analysis, probably because no respectable academic or researcher was willing to have their name associated with something so haphazardly cobbled together."
The White House is pushing back as well. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that "the Tax Policy Center analysis is useless and misleading because the unified framework does not include details that are necessary to determine either the cost or distributional effects of the framework."
The conservative-leaning editorial board of The Wall Street Journal bashed the TPC's study and encouraged GOP lawmakers to do the same. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office issued a press release on Tuesday highlighting the editorial and other criticisms of the TPC.
The intensity of the attacks points to the high stakes for the GOP.
Republicans are desperate to score a win on taxes after their failure to repeal ObamaCare. The White House and congressional GOP leaders released their joint tax-reform framework last week to present a unified front, hopeful that they can get a major piece of legislation to President Trump's desk well ahead of the 2018 elections.
But they are already facing some challenges. Democrats used the TPC report to blast the GOP tax framework as a boon for the wealthy, and one member of their party, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), linked to the report in a tweet expressing concerns about the plan.
During the ObamaCare debate, Republicans were repeatedly stymied by analyses finding that their plans would result in millions fewer Americans having insurance. They are aware that studies on their tax plan could have the same effect.
"It's always good to get ahead of the narrative," said Ryan Ellis, senior tax adviser at the Family Business Coalition.
Ellis did his own analysis in a Forbes op-ed applying the TPC's assumptions to three cases involving taxpayers with median income. In each case, the taxpayers would come out ahead from the GOP plan.
"To me, that's the headline, not that this is a giant giveaway to the rich and large corporations," Ellis told The Hill.
Republican animosity toward the TPC goes back several years. They were highly critical of an analysis the group did in 2012 that found then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's tax plan would benefit the rich.
The group "essentially sandbagged a Romney tax proposal," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.
"The lesson here is that if Republicans want to pass tax reform, they better be prepared to fight back at every turn," he added.
Republicans' biggest criticisms of the TPC's latest analysis relate to assumptions the group made about the tax bill. The framework released last week leaves out many of the key details, leaving those decisions to the congressional tax-writing committees.
In its report, the TPC made assumptions about the income levels for each tax bracket and the size of the expanded child tax credit. The report also did not take into account a potential top individual tax rate above 35 percent, nor did it include a "dynamic" score that includes the plan's broader effect on the economy.
In a phone interview with The Hill, TPC Director Mark Mazur defended his group's decision to produce an early analysis of the tax framework, saying there has been a lot of interest in the document. He noted that lawmakers and the administration hadn't come out with their own analysis.
Mazur said that many of the group's assumptions were based on the tax plan that House Republicans released last year and the outline that the White House released in April.
"We feel pretty comfortable that we have something that's consistent with the unified framework and that's directionally correct," Mazur said.
Mazur noted the TPC's report makes it clear that many aspects of the plan are unknown and that the analysis will be updated when more details are released. The group also plans to release a dynamic score in the future.
While Mazur served in former President Barack Obama's Treasury Department, he noted that others involved in the think tank served in GOP administrations.
"We strive really hard to be a nonpartisan organization," Mazur said.
Mazur said the paper was listed as authored by TPC staff because there were a large number of people who worked on the report.