House GOP not sold on Ryan’s tax reform plan

House GOP not sold on Ryan’s tax reform plan
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Dozens of Republican lawmakers are raising concerns or say they are undecided on Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE’s (R-Wis.) proposed tax on imports, suggesting the Speaker’s broader tax reform plan may not have the votes to pass the House.

The Hill has been tracking House Republicans’ positions on the border-adjustment tax for the last several months based on interviews with lawmakers and their aides, as well as comments made to other media outlets. Of the more than 50 GOP House members whose stances The Hill has learned, only about 15 appear supportive, while more than three dozen have either raised concerns about the provision or said they do not yet have a position.

Tax reform is unlikely to attract Democratic support in the House, so in order for a bill to pass, Republican leaders will need to minimize defections. 

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Ryan’s proposal is designed to raise revenue by imposing a tax on imports while lifting a tax on products that are made domestically and exported to alleviate the cost of lowering tax rates. The Speaker argues this would foster investment in the United States and help U.S. manufacturers.

But the plan has powerful enemies in the business community and has received a cool reception from Republican senators, casting doubt on whether it could survive a vote in the upper chamber.

In February, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.) said the House tax plan wouldn’t get 10 votes in the Senate.

The White House, meanwhile, didn’t even include the border-tax proposal in its recently released tax principles.

Ryan had hoped to build momentum for the proposal in the House, but even there it is in trouble. Interviews with, and statements from, dozens of Republicans and their aides find that many are unwilling to offer support for the controversial idea, while others say they have serious reservations.

 Those who have concerns about the proposal span the spectrum of the House GOP conference.

Several of the most vocal critics are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“I’ve said all along, I have real, real concerns with that tax,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told The Hill in late March.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) in April posted a link to an anti-border-tax ad from the National Retail Federation on his Facebook page. 

“We’ll continue to stand strong against changes to our Tax Code that fail to put people first,” Perry said.

Several members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee have also expressed reservations.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) told reporters in March that he wants to make sure lawmakers have studied it thoroughly. While many economists argue that the tax won’t lead to higher prices because the value of the dollar will strengthen, Kelly said, “I don’t want to go by theory, and I’d want to know for sure, because it hurts American consumers.”

Several GOP lawmakers who are being targeted in the 2018 midterm elections, including Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Dan Donovan (N.Y.), also have concerns about the House plan.

Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsLawmakers shame ex-Wells Fargo directors for failing to reboot bank Democrats 'frustrated' by administration's coronavirus response after closed-door briefing Republicans sense momentum after impeachment win MORE (R-Texas), who participated in an event with an anti-border-adjustment tax coalition of retailers called Americans for Affordable Products, told reporters, “The problem with a border tax — it’s a tax increase.”

While the White House has been lukewarm on Ryan’s plan, the administration hasn’t publicly closed the door on it. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at an event hosted by The Hill last month that the administration doesn’t think it “works in its current form” but is discussing revisions with lawmakers.

Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyMnuchin says Social Security recipients will automatically get coronavirus checks Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing Democrat refuses to yield House floor, underscoring tensions on coronavirus vote MORE (R-Texas) acknowledge that they are working on changes to the provision. They are also engaging in a dialogue with other legislators. Brady is expected to discuss tax reform with several members of the conservative Republican Study Committee this week, and the Ways and Means Committee is starting tax reform hearings on Thursday.

“Chairman Brady and all members of our committee speak regularly with other members of the conference about bold ideas for pro-growth tax reform, including ending the ‘Made in America tax,’ ” said Brady spokeswoman Emily Schillinger. “They will continue to speak with members individually and in groups about how pro-growth reforms ... will create jobs and increase paychecks in members’ districts across America.”

Ryan defended the border-adjustment proposal in an interview with John Catsimatidis that aired Sunday.

“Equalizing the tax treatment of American goods and services will help put us in a better competitive playing field,” he said. “So the border adjustment is basically getting us in sync with the rest of the world because the rest of the world already border adjusts their taxes.”

 Freedom Caucus members are not unified in their opposition, and Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has repeatedly stressed that the group has not taken a formal position.

Besides Ryan and Brady, Republicans who appear supportive include tax-writing committee members Peter Roskam (Ill.), Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertBottom Line The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lymphedema Treatment Act would provide a commonsense solution to a fixable problem MORE (Wash.) and Devin Nunes (Calif.). Roskam and Reichert are both chairmen of Ways and Means subcommittees.

There are also some lawmakers who are not on the tax-writing panel who appear supportive of the border-adjustment tax.

Rep. Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithOvernight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops House passes measure limiting Trump's ability to take military action against Iran Abortion wars flare up in Congress MORE (R-Va.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, spoke favorably of the proposal in a newsletter to constituents last month.

“Implementing the border adjusted tax will stop penalizing products Made in America,” he said.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of the first lawmakers to endorse President Trump, told reporters in March that the border adjustment tax is “such a win-win-win-win.”

Many other House GOP members across the ideological spectrum have not taken a public position.

Those who are undecided say they’re still weighing the benefits and drawbacks or are awaiting more details.

“It’s early,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group who played a prominent role in the House Republican healthcare reform effort. “We haven’t really gotten into that to the degree that I’m willing to stake out a position.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally who nonetheless is undecided on the provision, said it would be difficult to get a full count on what people think about Ryan’s proposal until there’s an actual bill that includes the provision. He also said that the proposal’s fate would ultimately have a lot to do with what lawmakers think about other components in a tax reform bill.

“There’s no question that border adjustment doesn’t unify Republicans; it divides them,” he said.

House Republicans undecided on, or skeptical of, border-adjustment tax

Justin AmashJustin AmashCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Amash calls stimulus package 'a raw deal' for 'those who need the most help' MORE (Mich.)

Andy Biggs (Ariz.)

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Vern Buchanan (Fla.)

Ken Buck (Colo.)

Tom Cole (Okla.)

Charlie Dent (Pa.)

Dan Donovan (N.Y.)

Jeff Duncan (S.C.)

Bob Gibbs (Ohio)

Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Conservative lawmakers tell Trump to 'back off' attacks on GOP colleague Lawmakers highlight flights back to DC for huge coronavirus vote MORE (Ariz.)

French Hill (Ark.)

Darrell Issa (Calif.)

Jim Jordan (Ohio)

Mike Kelly (Pa.)

Raúl Labrador (Idaho)

Leonard Lance (N.J.)

Tom MacArthur (N.J.)

Mark Meadows (N.C.)

Patrick Meehan (Pa.)

Gary Palmer (Ala.)

Scott Perry (Pa.)

Robert Pittenger (N.C.)

Jim Renacci (Ohio)

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Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.)

Mark Sanford (S.C.)

Steve Stivers (Ohio)

Scott Taylor (Va.)

Claudia Tenney (N.Y.)

Pat Tiberi (Ohio)

Mac Thornberry (Texas)

Greg Walden (Ore.)

Roger Williams (Texas)

Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungDon Young dismissed 'beer virus,' told seniors to 'go forth with everyday activities' Pelosi stands firm amid calls to close Capitol Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (Alaska)

Lee Zeldin (N.Y.)

Cristina Marcos and Niv Elis contributed.