This week: Republicans to unveil long-awaited tax bill
House Republicans plan to unveil their long-awaited tax overhaul legislation to the public this week, setting the wheels in motion to get it through the chamber in the coming weeks.
The House Ways and Means Committee is slated to release its tax bill on Wednesday. A panel markup is expected next Monday.
GOP leaders have set an ambitious timeline of passing the legislation out of the House by Thanksgiving, so it can be enacted by the end of the year.
That breakneck pace would be challenging under any circumstances, but it’s especially so with a divided GOP majority that’s seeking to enact the first tax overhaul since 1986, without the other party.
Last week, the House voted to adopt the Senate-passed budget, unlocking a process known as reconciliation, which will allow tax reform to avoid a filibuster. But that vote showed how difficult tax reform will be.
House Republicans narrowly agreed to the budget with just two votes to spare. More than half of the 20 GOP defectors hail from populous, high-tax states like New York and New Jersey that could stand to lose from the proposed elimination of the state and local tax deduction (SALT).
Many of those lawmakers are among the top Democratic targets in 2018 and don’t want to risk raising taxes on their constituents right before running for reelection. Their defections on the budget served as a warning to GOP leaders that tax reform will be tough to pass without some kind of compromise on SALT.
On Saturday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said he is planning to include a deduction for local property taxes in the upcoming legislation.
“At the urging of lawmakers, we are restoring an itemized property tax deduction to help taxpayers with local tax burdens,” Brady said in a statement.
His announcement comes as GOP leaders are trying to balance the demands of conservatives who want tax reform to be paid for.
Under the budget now agreed to by the House and Senate, the GOP tax plan can add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit.
Eight conservative lawmakers voted against the budget last week out of concerns about deficit spending. Many more were willing to vote for the budget simply to get tax reform moving, but GOP leaders can hardly count on them to automatically vote for the final tax-reform bill.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned that “we’re about to go through Class V rapids” once special-interest lobbyists start rushing to protect prized tax breaks.
“When the details come, that is when you’re going to see K Street coming to Congress. And that’s why this hasn’t been done for 31 years,” Ryan told Reuters.
Across the Capitol, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that he expected the Senate to be about a week behind the House’s timeline, but leadership is pushing to get a bill passed in November.
“We need to get the tax bill out of the Senate before Thanksgiving,” he said late last week.
Children’s health insurance
The House is expected to consider legislation this week to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides low-cost insurance for about nine million children.
Funding for the program officially expired at the end of September, but most states have enough funding to last for a few more months.
But the clock is ticking for Congress to act. Minnesota and other states may run out of funding as soon as November.
Republicans and Democrats have struggled to reach a compromise on how to pay for renewing CHIP.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a bill earlier this month without support from Democrats. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the panel’s chairman, delayed sending the legislation to the House floor to keep negotiations with Democrats alive.
But GOP leaders have run out of patience as the talks stalled.
“The reason why we are bringing it up next week is not because [this] week was the date we wanted. We wanted to get this done long ago. But the reason why we are doing it [this] week is because Minnesota is about to run out of money,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said while announcing a vote on the bill.
Democrats are objecting to offsets that would cut funding to ObamaCare’s public health fund and charge higher premiums to Medicare beneficiaries who earn more than $500,000 annually.
Top members of the Senate Finance Committee announced a five-year deal on CHIP earlier this year.
But Cornyn, asked about timing of the legislation, appeared to signal that it was held up because of Democrats dragging out debate time, and eating up the Senate’s floor schedule, over judicial nominees.
“I suspect it may be part of the year-end legislation, but I don’t know it could be earlier. But right now the latest vote on a cloture on a district court judge was we have a district court judge, it got 85 votes. And 12 noes. And now we have to burn 30 hours post cloture in order to get that result,” he said.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as the majority leader, could file cloture on CHIP and schedule it for a vote.
The House is also slated to consider a bill to repeal ObamaCare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is tasked with coming up with ways to cut Medicare spending.
Critics of IPAB say it takes authority away from Congress to unelected bureaucrats.
“While we certainly need to take steps to preserve Medicare for future generations, I have grave concerns the IPAB could drastically cut Medicare benefits with little to no Congressional oversight,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said when introducing the bill earlier this year.
House Republicans have previously passed legislation to eliminate IPAB as part of their efforts over the last seven years to repeal or undermine the 2010 health-care law.
Unlike the GOP’s failed effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare this year, the bill to do away with IPAB is expected to pass with widespread party support.
McConnell is setting up a frenzy of confirmation fights as Republicans look to break a logjam on nominations.
The Kentucky Republican has filed cloture on four judicial nominees: Amy Barrett to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit, Joan Larsen to be U. S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit, Allison Eid to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the 10th Circuit and Stephanos Bibas to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit.
“By confirming these nominees, we can take a big step toward restoring our nation’s courts to their proper role. Interpreting and applying the law based upon what it actually says not what a judge might wish it to say. It’s quite a departure from the last administration’s philosophy when it came to selecting judicial nominees,” McConnell said from the Senate floor late last week.
A cloture vote on Barrett’s nomination is scheduled for Monday evening.
Democrats, who got rid of the 60-vote filibuster for lower court picks in 2013, can’t block a nominee on their own. But, if they drag out debate time on a nomination, the judicial fights could eat up the Senate’s work week.
With Republicans struggling to score political and legislative wins, lawmakers are pointing to the courts as a shot at securing a long-term GOP victory. When questioned on what the GOP-controlled Senate has accomplished, McConnell frequently cites Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Trump currently has roughly 150 vacancies in the federal courts, with nominations pending for 50 of those positions.
Conservatives have been pressuring Senate leadership to move judicial nominations faster, including either enforcing the 30-hour debate rule by keeping the Senate in session or shrinking the amount of time needed for confirmation.
The Judicial Crisis Network had been prepared to target McConnell specifically, urging the Kentucky Republican to speed up the chamber’s consideration of Trump’s judicial nominees. But the group said earlier this month that it was holding off after outreach from McConnell’s office.
“The campaign, including the advertising, is in a holding pattern for now because Leader McConnell’s office has reached out and wants to have discussions about how best to proceed in the coming months,” said a spokesperson for the group.
Jessie Hellmann contributed.