This week: House GOP pushes tax reform vote
It’s showtime for House Republicans this week as they prepare to vote on their tax reform legislation before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday.
GOP leaders’ vote-counting operation is going into overdrive to ensure enough Republicans will support a bill that many in the party believe to be their last, best chance of securing a major legislative accomplishment before the 2018 elections.
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to set up floor debate, indicating an expected Thursday vote.
The Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey elections last week viewed as a referendum on President Trump have added urgency for Republicans to get moving on their tax reform plan. GOP lawmakers warn they otherwise won’t have much of a case to make to voters when they seek reelection next year, especially after failing to repeal the health-care law.
“This tells me the underlying anger and angst is real,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, said of last week’s election results. “They’re looking for results right now. We have an opportunity to deliver between now and the end of the year and we need to do it.”
Democrats are unlikely to vote for the bill, meaning that GOP leaders can afford up to 22 defections and still pass the legislation on their own.
Less than half that number of Republicans have come out against the bill so far, according to The Hill’s Whip List, in what is likely a good sign for GOP leaders compared to their efforts to repeal ObamaCare earlier this year.
But some Republicans from high-tax states, such as New York and New Jersey, have come out in opposition due to concerns that their middle-class constituents could stand to lose from the elimination of the state and local tax deduction.
Most GOP lawmakers who have long called for reducing the deficit are backing the tax reform bill, even though it’s expected to add more than $1 trillion to the national debt in the next decade. They argue, despite studies that indicate otherwise, that the tax cuts will spur economic growth and ultimately pay for themselves.
A handful of fiscal hawks may still vote against the legislation, such as Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has said he will oppose it.
GOP leaders are trying to gear their sales pitch toward middle-class families. But multiple analyses of the legislation have found that some families could see a tax hike, while other proposals in the bill like eliminating the estate and alternative minimum taxes would result in an expected windfall for the ultra-wealthy.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) initially claimed in interviews touting the tax plan that “it’s a tax cut for everybody” and “everyone enjoys a tax cut across the board.”
Yet, as The Washington Post noted in a fact-check of Ryan’s claims, the Speaker has since adjusted his talking points to say that “the average taxpayer in all income levels gets a tax cut.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) similarly acknowledged that he had misspoken after initially saying in an MSNBC appearance that “nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase.”
“You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase,” McConnell later said, according to The New York Times.
The lack of guarantees is giving lawmakers pause. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted on Friday that tax reform “that raises your taxes is the wrong direction.” He said that he is “still reviewing scenarios” from the House and Senate proposals.
Meanwhile, the Senate is pushing forward with its own tax plan, unveiled on Thursday.
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to start its markup of the bill on Monday at 3 p.m., with the committee action potentially stretching until the end of the week.
Because the panel traditionally does not mark up legislative text, they will consider the tax plan and any amendments written in plain English. Formal legislation will be unveiled after the markup ends.
The legislation includes several key changes from the House version, including delaying the cut to the corporate tax rate, keeping the estate tax and eliminating the state and local tax deduction.
Senate Finance Committee aides told The Washington Post that they would need to make further adjustments to the legislation because it doesn’t currently meet the requirement that it not add to the debt after 10 years.
Some GOP senators are already raising concerns over the tax plan.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said that he is “concerned over how the current tax reform proposals will grow the already staggering national debt by opting for short-term fixes while ignoring long-term problems for taxpayers and the economy.”
And GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah) are pushing for a larger increase to the child tax credit. The Senate bill includes a $1,650 credit, $50 more than the House version. But the two GOP senators are pushing for a $2,000 tax credit.
Republicans face a narrow path to getting a tax plan through the Senate. With a 52-seat majority they can only afford to lose two GOP senators, if every member of the Democratic caucus votes no, and still have Vice President Pence break a tie.
Republicans had hoped to bring the bill up on the Senate floor before lawmakers left for Thanksgiving. But that left a short timeline for senators, who are scheduled to leave town on Friday.
That would have left leadership either trying to push through the bill at a breakneck speed or keep the chamber in session through part of the one-week recess.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told The Hill late last week that the bill was more likely to come to the floor the week after Thanksgiving.
He pointed to “the challenges over here dealing through what budget reconciliation, the Byrd bath and things like that [require]” as the reason for the likely delay.
The Byrd rule and reconciliation both govern the Senate’s consideration of the tax bill because Republicans are trying to pass it with a simple majority, which could allow them to avoid a Democratic filibuster.
Sexual harassment policies
The House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday to discuss preventing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, amid a national push to combat mistreatment of women in the workplace.
Two lawmakers, Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), will testify before the panel to discuss the resources available to mitigate sexual harassment in what remains a male-dominated workplace.
Unlike in the executive branch, sexual harassment awareness training is not mandatory for lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill. The Office of Compliance, Office of the House Chief Administrative Officer and the Office of the House Employment Counsel each offer voluntary training.
Speier has introduced bipartisan legislation that would make sexual harassment training mandatory for lawmakers and staff, who would have to file a certificate of completion with the House Ethics Committee.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently urged lawmakers to undergo the training and mandate it for their staffs, writing in a letter to colleagues that “we can and should lead by example.”
Byrne, the other lawmaker set to testify, practiced labor and employment law in Alabama for more than three decades and advised businesses on harassment policies. He also oversaw multiple harassment investigations.
Across the Capitol, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday to require all senators and staff to undergo sexual harassment awareness training.
Defense policy bill
Before taking up tax reform, the House is expected to consider a final compromise measure to reauthorize annual defense programs.
House and Senate negotiators unveiled a conference report last week that would, among other provisions, require a plan to respond to violations of an arms control treaty with Russia; provide 3,500 more visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops; require Trump to submit a strategy on North Korea; and mandate a study from the Pentagon about the impact of climate change on U.S. military operations.
Some House Republicans had sought to strip the climate change study from the legislation, arguing it shouldn’t be a priority for the military given that other agencies handle environmental issues. But an amendment to remove it from the defense bill failed on the House floor after 46 Republicans joined with Democrats in opposition.
The legislation authorizes nearly $700 billion for defense programs, which includes $66 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. The spending is more than $26 billion above the Trump administration’s budget requests.
While the Senate Finance Committee churns through its work on the tax plan, leadership has scheduled another slate of votes on Trump’s nominees.
McConnell teed up votes on Steven Gill Bradbury to be the Transportation Department’s general counsel, David Zatezalo to be an assistant secretary of Labor, Joseph Otting to be comptroller of the currency, Donald Coggins Jr. to be the judge for the District of South Carolina and Dabney Langhorne Friedrich to be a district judge for D.C.
The Senate will hold its first vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m. on confirming Derek Kan to be an undersecretary at the Transportation Department. Senators will then take an initial vote on Bradbury’s nomination.