Trump kicks off tax reform pitch
President Trump is set to kick off his sales pitch on tax reform Wednesday with a speech in Missouri as he seeks to rally the public behind one of his top legislative priorities.
The speech, held at a manufacturing company in Springfield, is expected to be the first in a series of tax-reform events for Trump. It comes at a critical time for the president’s legislative agenda, which counts tax reform as one of its key elements.
The White House said that the address is not expected to delve into policy details, including specific tax rates. Instead, Trump is expected to make the case for why he believes changes to the tax code are needed to give people a better chance of achieving the American dream.
“The president is going to lay out his vision to bring back Main Street by reducing the crushing tax burden on our companies and our workers and also to restore our competitive advantage by repairing and reforming our badly broken tax code,” a senior White House official told reporters Tuesday.
Administration officials said that Trump will talk about how middle-class tax cuts will result in American workers seeing bigger paychecks and how he plans to “un-rig” the economy and eliminate benefits for special interests.
The officials suggested that Democrats could get on board with remarks about doing away with special-interest tax breaks, targeting tax relief at the middle class and lowering the corporate tax rate.
The speech is being held in the home state of Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of several Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in a state that Trump carried last year. Trump has already started to criticize McCaskill ahead of the speech, tweeting on Sunday that the senator “is opposed to big tax cuts.”
Trump is still seeking his first major legislative win, while the GOP continues to reel from the Senate’s failure to pass legislation repealing ObamaCare in July. Lawmakers only have a few months to pass tax-reform legislation before they will feel a need to shift their focus to campaigning for reelection.
Key GOP lawmakers, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), have been using the August recess to promote tax reform in their districts and across the country. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also pitched tax reform alongside lawmakers in West Virginia and Nevada in recent days.
But this month’s tax-reform efforts have been overshadowed by developments such as Hurricane Harvey as well as by Trump’s recent controversies, including his criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and his pardon of former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said Monday in a radio interview with WPHT’s “Chris Stigall Show” that he thinks “the president has gotten off message too often and hasn’t been able to be an effective spokesman for his own agenda.”
While Senate Republicans are committed to overhauling the tax code, “there’s some frustration that we’re doing it with some headwinds that aren’t necessary,” Toomey added.
Supporters of tax reform say that Wednesday’s speech gives Trump an opportunity to discuss an issue that unites Republicans and the business community.
“This allows him to connect with the American people on an issue that most Americans get,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Senior administration officials argued that if there’s pressure for the White House to deliver on tax reform, it’s to do so in order to boost economic growth. They also noted that stakeholders believe that presidential leadership is important to getting tax-reform legislation across the finish line.
Caroline Harris, vice president for tax policy and chief tax policy counsel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the group “has long said that presidential engagement is a critical component of rallying the American people behind tax reform that will increase wages and make America’s tax code competitive for businesses of all sizes.”
Republicans also think Trump’s use of the bully pulpit will be valuable in order to frame the tax-reform debate as being about job creation and to overcome attacks from Democrats that the GOP’s plans simply amount to tax cuts for the wealthy.
Already, most Senate Democrats signed a letter saying they won’t support a tax plan that cuts taxes for those in the top 1 percent of income, and a coalition of liberal groups has launched a campaign to push back against tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said that in order to get tax-reform legislation through Congress, Trump will have to do one of the best sales jobs of his life.
“He’s really going to have to sell this bill like he’s selling a New York skyscraper,” O’Connell said.
The details of tax legislation are expected to be determined by the congressional tax-writing committees rather than the White House.
Trump’s speech is not expected to provide new specifics, and while tax experts said it’s important for the president to get the public supportive of his tax-reform efforts, they also said that it would be beneficial for him to provide more direction.
“The more specificity, the more it gives the credibility to the notion that a tax-reform package could actually move through the process, given the timing challenges and other priorities,” said Marc Gerson, chair of Miller & Chevalier and a former aide to the House Ways and Means Committee.