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Senate GOP: We are unified on controversial tax policy change

Senate GOP: We are unified on controversial tax policy change
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans say that a brewing controversy in the House on state and local tax deductions won’t be much of a problem in the upper chamber.

They point out that a test vote held earlier this year shows the Senate GOP conference is unified on changing the deductibility of state and local taxes to pay for significant reductions to individual and corporate rates.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ky.) is helped by the fact that there isn’t one Senate Republican who represents the nation’s largest high-tax states — California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. 

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“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (R-Utah), when asked Monday if any of his Senate colleagues are demanding that the deduction for state and local taxes remain in the law. “I don’t know anybody who’s advocating strongly for that.”

“Not on this side,” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (Texas) said Monday when pressed if anyone in his conference is opposed to eliminating the deductions.

It’s more of a problem in the House, where 35 Republicans hail from those four states, enough to defeat a tax-reform package if Democrats vote en bloc against it, as expected.

Republican leaders have rallied around eliminating deductibility for state and local taxes as a reform that would raise $1.3 trillion in revenue and help offset the cost of overhauling the tax code.

Senate Republicans voted mostly along party lines earlier this month for an amendment by Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows GOP shrugs off dire study warning of global warming Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths MORE (R-W.Va.) to the budget resolution favoring the elimination of the tax break and using the money saved to “provide tax relief to the middle class.”

Only conservative Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks MORE (R-Ky.), who regularly differs with his party leadership, voted no.

The Senate also voted during the budget debate against an amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund MORE (Wash.) that would have established a higher procedural hurdle for changing or scrapping the state and local tax deduction.

Every single Republican senator voted against the Cantwell amendment. 

A senior Senate Republican aide said GOP moderates in the upper chamber are more concerned about making sure their colleagues are willing to make hard choices about ending deductions and tax credits that can be used to keep the cost of the bill in check.

“We have our own problems,” the aide said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins and the mob mentality Graham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh St. Lawrence alumni, faculty want honorary degree for Collins revoked MORE (R-Maine), a key moderate, on Monday told Bloomberg News that she does not support repealing the tax on large estates or cutting taxes for millionaires.

Senate Republicans control 52 seats and cannot afford any more than two defections, as Vice President Pence would break a 50-50 tie. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Some ObamaCare premiums to decrease next year | Sanders hits back at Trump over 'Medicare for all' | Panel to investigate rising maternal mortality rates House committee to investigate rising maternal mortality rates How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch MORE (R-Texas) told reporters last week that he expects the Senate to accept whatever deal House Republicans strike on state and local taxes.

“My discussions with Chairman Hatch are pretty regular, and he’s fully aware that this is an important issue for our House members and that we are taking the lead to find a solution,” Brady told reporters. “I’m confident that will be honored.”

A group of House Republicans from New York and New Jersey voted against the budget last week in an effort to send a message that the state and local tax deduction can’t be fully repealed. The resolution, however, passed despite their concerns.


Even so, Brady has modified the bill to keep opposition from growing.

He pledged in a statement over the weekend to include language in the tax package that would allow people to take deductions for property taxes.

“At the urging of lawmakers, we are restoring an itemized property tax deduction to help taxpayers with local tax burdens,” he said.

It’s not much of an issue in the Senate, where moderate Republicans such as Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Poll: GOP's Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race MORE (R-Tenn.) are more concerned about how much the tax package will add to future deficits.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he’s not aware of any significant Senate GOP opposition to eliminating the so-called SALT deduction.

He argues that it would affect relatively few people, as many Americans would stop itemizing their tax deductions and instead take advantage of the doubling of the standard deduction — a core component of President Trump’s plan.

Many wealthy taxpayers already cannot deduct state and local taxes because their incomes exceed the threshold set by the alternative minimum tax, which would be scrapped by the GOP plan.

“In the Senate, I don’t see it” as a problem, Norquist said in an interview. “It’s not a very defensible tax credit. It’s a subsidy for big government.”

He contends the deduction favors states with big governments that need to be funded with heavier tax burdens and that taxpayers in states with lower taxes such as Texas have to pay comparatively more in federal taxes.

“I thought it would be a bigger deal than it appears to be,” he said.

Senate Republicans are waiting for the House Ways and Means Committee to unveil its package later this week, but they are coalescing around a plan that would only keep intact deductions for charitable contributions, home mortgage interest payments and complex medical expenses.

“The proposal on the Senate side is going to be to double the standard deduction, keep the mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction and for some complex medical issues,” Cornyn said Monday. “That’s sort of the current discussion.”