Just a week before Thanksgiving, Republicans in the House and Senate are hoping to move ahead on tax reform.
But with a predictable collection of deadlines and crises looming, Senate Republicans are signaling plans to combine tax policy with another key agenda item before the end of the year — ending ObamaCare’s controversial individual mandate in a calculus that could produce the first tangible healthcare reform to date in the Trump administration.
Alternatively, it could fall victim to the same factors that sunk previous efforts.
On Tuesday, Senate leadership announced that they would include a provision in the tax plan ending the Affordable Care Act’s mandate. This is important not just as a salvo to uneasy conservatives who want long-promised policy advancements, but also for a very practical reason.
In order to pass muster under reconciliation, which allows the bill to be filibuster-proof, the tax reform package cannot add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit. Somewhat counterintuitively, ending the mandate would save over $300 billion in 10 years, as fewer people are forced to purchase government-subsidized insurance plans.
Ending the mandate isn’t the only thing that the Senate would change in its version of tax reform. While largely similar to the House framework, a Joint Committee on Taxation study suggests that the Senate version goes further in cutting taxes for the middle class, with “moderate-income people” consistently seeing the biggest tax breaks.
Both the House and Senate version have taken the adoption tax credit off the table after widespread backlash.
Meanwhile, government funding deadlines are adding another wrinkle. On Tuesday, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) suggested that another short-term spending measure would keep the government running after the Dec. 8 deadline, as Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE said at an event that Congress would agree on the next-year spending levels by the end of this month.
Assuming any of the above manages to pass easily, of course, is the most optimistic version of possible events.
With several deadlines nearing for these expensive “must-pass” pieces of legislation, and Puerto Rico officially seeking nearly $100 billion in disaster aid, it remains to be seen whether tax reform will offer the opportunity to take concrete steps toward fiscally conservative goals or produce another standoff that ends with fiscal conservatives getting the short end of the stick.
Even in the best-case scenario where Congress manages to end the mandate, pass sweeping tax reform and postpone hiking spending — much work is still to be done.
The unfortunate reality is that the current Congress has been anything but committed to their past promises of reducing federal spending, whether by passing sky-high budgets, hiking the debt limit for nothing in return or failing to repeal ObamaCare.
While it’s no secret that many members have always been a bit dodgy in their commitment to dealing with the deficit, even many fiscal hawks have recently been willing to backburner their principles in return for any legislative victory.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up a pyrrhic one.
With the scheduled expiration of the Budget Control Act caps rapidly nearing, the Republican conference needs to get its act together on spending, and fast, if leaders want to maintain tax cuts into the future and make good on countless promises to rein in deficits and debt.
Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, an advocate for lower federal spending and the creator of SpendingTracker.org. He is a fiscal policy expert and also served as director of fundraising on Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign. Follow him on Twitter @jbydlak and @Reduce_Spending.