GOP plans tax blitzkrieg

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Congressional Republicans are feeling enormous pressure to deliver a win on tax reform before Christmas Day.

After a humiliating defeat on ObamaCare repeal, GOP leaders are desperate for their first major legislative victory of 2017 and are doubling down on their ambitious timeline to overhaul the U.S. tax code.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reiterated this week that House Republicans will pass their tax bill out of their chamber before the Thanksgiving recess kicks off on Nov. 16.

{mosads}Sharing that sense of urgency, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the usually deliberative, slow-moving upper chamber needs to pass tax reform before senators sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner, too.

That could put pressure on senators to remain in Washington and work through part of the weeklong Thanksgiving recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has warned colleagues to expect to be working on weekends this fall.

If both chambers can pull it off, it would give House and Senate tax negotiators several weeks to work out their differences and put a bill on President Trump’s desk by Christmas.

Leaders, however, are under no illusions about how difficult this will be. Republicans said they’re already being bombarded by an onslaught of lobbyists and special-interest groups hellbent on protecting their favored tax breaks.

This week’s narrow 216-212 budget vote also underscored the pitfalls ahead for the tax push. Nearly a dozen Republicans from New York and New Jersey opposed the budget over objections that the tax plan calls for scrapping the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which would force taxpayers in those districts to pay more.

And Republicans are already behind schedule. A memo that GOP leadership had been circulating to K Street last month, titled “Optimistic Timeframe for 2017 Enactment of Tax Reform,” showed the House Ways and Means Committee marking up their tax bill on Oct. 30.

This week, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) confirmed he’ll roll out his bill on Wednesday and begin marking it up in committee on Nov. 6, a week after the memo’s timeline.

“We need to get this done. I think we have to get this done. It’s going to be tough. Big is difficult,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the chief GOP vote counter, told The Hill in an interview in his office.

He conceded that, yes, a major overhaul of the tax code and across-the-board tax cuts is “complicated” and will be pushed through the House with a “fragile majority.” But Scalise argued that Republicans have no choice but to deliver on one of their top campaign promises, especially in the wake of the Senate’s dramatic failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“I think looking at what happened with health care, it’s important that both the House and Senate get this done,” said Scalise, who added that leadership is “committed” to addressing colleagues’ concerns about the SALT deduction.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a leader of the centrist Tuesday Group who isn’t running for reelection, said Republicans have been talking about reforming the tax code for decades, so no lawmakers should act surprised by the aggressive tax push.

Still, he dislikes “setting down arbitrary timelines on an issue this important” and expressed skepticism about leadership’s deadline.

“They have an objective of Thanksgiving, but we’ll see,” said Dent, who is part of Ryan’s group of informal advisers.

Some Republicans said leaders want to quickly vote on the bill soon after rolling it out to prevent opponents from gaining too much momentum. The longer the bill hangs out there, the easier it would be for Democrats and special interests to pick it apart and kill it.

GOP leaders tried a similar ambush strategy with the health-care bill, only to see that effort languish for five months because of intraparty squabbling. A repeal and replace bill ultimately passed the House but failed in the Senate.

“Tax reform’s always challenging because there are winners and losers, and the losers yell louder than the winners,” Dent told reporters. “So this won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.”

Senate Republican aides say they expect the Finance Committee to mark up its own bill rather than pick up whatever measure eventually passes the House.

Republican senators were spotted walking in and out of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office throughout the week to discuss their priorities for tax reform.

They also shared their concerns and preferences with President Trump when he sat down with them for lunch on Tuesday.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told the president the legislation must clearly provide tax relief for the middle class and Trump agreed.

Democrats have criticized the GOP plan by arguing that it would cause taxes for a third of middle-income families to increase.

A senior GOP aide dismissed concerns that the legislation is moving too quickly and that some lawmakers might feel jammed, like they were during the health-care debate when the bill crafted by leadership was kept secret until shortly before a floor vote.

The aide noted that members of the Senate Budget Committee received a briefing from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn last month and that senior administration officials have been in regular contact with the Finance Committee for months.

A second Senate GOP aide said the Senate bill will “reflect the goals” outlined in the tax framework that administration officials and congressional leaders released last month but will also “reflect the desires” of lawmakers who are working to fill in its details.

Cohn was back on the Hill this week meeting with members of the bipsartisan Problem Solvers Caucus on how to solve the SALT conundrum. During that meeting, Dent returned to the idea of tying a major infrastructure package to tax reform, a sweetener to help bring moderates along.

A source in the room described Cohn as “receptive” to the idea.

But in internal deliberations, Ryan and his leadership team have quashed the idea of merging the two policy issues, sources said, arguing it would further complicate and delay an already challenging piece of legislation.

“When you try to cultivate 218 votes in the House and 50 votes in the Senate, there’s gonna be a lot of negotiation,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team who also serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which is writing the tax bill.

“When you’re looking at the tax code itself, it’s 70,000 pages; that’s very complex. You touch one thing, it affects 100 other things, so it’s too complex” to do both tax reform and infrastructure in the same bill.

Freshman Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, called a joint tax reform and infrastructure bill “a bad idea.”

“Tax reform is a very complex issue. Infrastructure needs and funding for it is a complex issue. We can barely get one complex issue done at a time,” Biggs told The Hill. “Sticking another complex issue right on top of it is a bad idea.”

Naomi Jagoda contributed.

Tags Charlie Dent Deb Fischer John Cornyn Kevin Brady Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Steven Mnuchin Tax reform

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