This week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul

Greg Nash

House Republicans are aiming to advance their tax reform legislation out of committee this week as they race to pass it on the floor by Thanksgiving.

After failing to repeal ObamaCare for most of this year, Republicans are hoping to overhaul the tax code for the first time since 1986 in just eight legislative days.

The House Ways and Means Committee will begin its markup of the legislation, which was unveiled last week, on Monday at noon. Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) wants to finish the markup by Thursday. The House is scheduled to adjourn the following Thursday for Thanksgiving.


“Four days of open, full-throated debate, with all these amendments in the tax code, I think will let the American people see something they haven’t seen in a long time, which is real debate on a real tax-reform plan,” Brady said at an event hosted by Politico on Friday.

Any amendments to the legislation will have to be offered at the committee level, since GOP leaders are not expected to allow lawmakers to propose changes when it reaches the House floor.

Some sticking points remain as GOP leaders seek to corral the votes to pass the tax overhaul. Assuming no Democrats vote for the bill, GOP leaders can afford up to 22 defections and still pass it on their own.

High on the list is the elimination of the state and local tax deduction, which is used by many taxpayers in high-tax states to avoid double taxation. The tax legislation would still allow people to deduct up to $10,000 on local property taxes, but some Republicans from New York and New Jersey say that’s not enough.

At least three Republicans from those blue states — Reps. Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) — have said they cannot support the bill in its current form because of the state and local tax deduction issue. Still others, like Reps. Pete King (N.Y.), Dan Donovan (N.Y.) and Tom MacArthur (N.J.), have indicated they’re not ready to support the bill yet, either.

MacArthur also cited concerns about the bill’s proposal to cap the mortgage home interest deduction for loans up to $500,000, which is half the current $1 million. Typical homes in big cities and surrounding suburbs can easily cost more than $500,000, meaning that many people in urban areas taking out new mortgages would lose out on the deduction.

“Number one, is it good for my constituents and my state, and number two, is it fair when I compare us to everyone else? Those are the two main filters for me,” MacArthur said.

At the other end of the GOP spectrum, many of the lawmakers who are usually thorns in leadership’s side, like Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), are expressing support for the tax bill.

“I am going to vote for this. This is a new experience for me to be excited about a bill,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told CNN.

Still, some key conservatives are calling for the reinstatement of a tax credit for adoptive parents in the bill.

“Tax Bill is strong but needs to include adoption tax credit. Providing a home for a child that is unwanted or special needs is pro-life!” tweeted Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

In the Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, praised House Republicans for introducing a bill while noting he was still working with senators on their own legislation.

“I am working with my Senate colleagues to finalize the policy details of the Senate’s tax-reform proposal to produce a mark for consideration in the Finance Committee once the House Ways and Means Committee completes its work, hopefully toward the end of next week,” he said in a video released late last week.

Senate Republicans have a narrow path to pass tax reform. With a 52-seat majority they can only afford to lose two GOP senators, if every Democrat votes no, and still let Vice President Pence break a tie.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is leading a push by conservatives to use the tax plan to repeal ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate, despite leadership arguing a health-care fight shouldn’t be roped in to the tax plan. And Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) argue the $600 increase for the child tax credit doesn’t go as far as they would like.

GOP senators, including Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), are also signaling that they are concerned about the impact any tax deal would have on the deficit.

“We can’t cut, cut, cut today & assume Congress will grow a backbone later. We’ve got to take our $20T debt seriously,” Flake tweeted, appearing to refer to Trump’s suggestion that the bill be called the “Cut Cut Cut Act.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are casting the tax plan as primarily a giveaway to corporations and the ultrawealthy.

Under the legislation, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from the current 35 percent to 20 percent. Cutting it has been a top priority for Republicans, who say that lowering the corporate rate to match other advanced nations will encourage more businesses to stay stateside.

The bill would also phase out the estate tax, which currently applies to estates of $5.5 million or more, and eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which is meant to limit tax exemptions.

“To our colleagues, get real. Don’t tell the middle class this is for them. You’ve set a banquet for the wealthy and corporate America. And you’re throwing a few crumbs. It’s really making suckers of the American people,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

As House Republicans wait to bring their tax bill to the floor, they’ll consider a series of bills to streamline the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing process for hydropower projects and roll back an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board ruling that expanded the definition of “joint employers.”


Senate Republicans are plowing forward to try to confirm President Trump’s nominees after clearing four circuit court nominations last week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) teed up five of the president’s picks, meaning consideration could easily eat up the chamber’s entire week.

Under the Senate’s rules, nominees get up to an additional 30 hours of debate after they clear an initial procedural hurdle.

The Senate will start with Steven Engle’s nomination to be an assistant attorney general, with a vote to wind down debate scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Senators also agreed to hold a vote on John Gibson to be the deputy chief management officer of the Defense Department before lunch on Tuesday.

After that the Senate is expected to take up Peter Robb to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, William Wehrum to be an assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Derek Kan to be under secretary for policy at the Transportation Department.

GOP senators are becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of confirming Trump’s nominees.

Trump has gotten 204 nominations confirmed as of last week, according to a Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service tracker, with a confirmation taking 65 days on average.

That’s 164 fewer confirmed nominees compared to President Obama at the same point in his term and 204 fewer than President George W. Bush.

Senate Republicans are doubling down on their threat to change the Senate’s rules in order to more quickly clear Trump’s nominees.

GOP senators want to shrink the amount of debate time needed to confirm hundreds of the president’s picks, arguing Democrats are abusing the rules.

“I believe it is time to change the rules of the Senate. To change the rules so that President Trump can get his team in place,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters during a weekly leadership press conference.

If Republicans want to make additional changes to the rules — without going “nuclear” for a second time this year — they would need to win the support of roughly 15 Democrats to get the two-thirds vote normally required.

McConnell noted that Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is the “point person” as Republicans consider the change.

Lankford wants to reduce the amount of debate time from 30 hours down to eight hours after a nominee clears an initial hurdle showing they have the 51 votes to be approved.

The proposal would be similar to a provision from a 2013 resolution on limiting debate for most nominations.

Republicans could try to go it alone and change the Senate’s rules by a simple majority. But with 52 seats they would have little room for error, with some GOP senators saying earlier this year they don’t favor additional changes.

Tags Bob Corker James Lankford Jeff Flake John Barrasso John McCain Kevin Brady Marco Rubio Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Pete King Tom Cotton
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