GOP leaders differ on tax timing expectations

GOP leaders differ on tax timing expectations
© Greg Nash

GOP leaders are working to manage expectations on tax reform — though they sometimes seem at cross-purposes.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.) has laid out an ambitious timeline that would see the House approve legislation in November.


“So by early November, we’ll get it out of the House. We’ll send it to the Senate,” Ryan said during a Wisconsin radio interview on Monday. “The goal: get law in December so that we wake up with New Year’s and a new tax code in 2018.”

Not so fast, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE (R-Ky.) seemed to suggest the same day.

“If we get it done, that’s a great achievement,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden on Monday while standing next to McConnell. “But don’t forget it took years for the Reagan administration to get taxes done. I’ve been here for nine months, a little more than nine months.”

McConnell then made the point that President Obama didn’t secure victories on health care and Wall Street reform until his second year in office.

“The goal is to get it done this calendar year. But it is important to remember that Obama signed ObamaCare in March of year two. Obama signed Dodd-Frank in July of year two,” McConnell said.

Ryan has already had to back down from some of his tax-reform expectations.

Earlier this year, Ryan pushed for including a border-adjustment tax, which would levy taxes on imported goods, to raise revenue. But that proposal ultimately faded due to lack of support from Republicans and Trump.

Ryan also initially pushed to make the entire tax-reform package permanent. Yet Senate budget rules that limit the GOP’s ability to increase the deficit and divisions among Republicans about offsets make it more likely that goal won’t be actualized either.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts The case for Russia sanctions Treasury issues final rules on key part of Trump's tax law MORE said late last week that some parts of the tax plan may only be temporary. 

Pushing an ambitious timeline carries some rewards and some risks.

On the one hand, a manufactured deadline can help create momentum, pushing lawmakers to take positions. On the other, the GOP could risk being labeled ineffective if the marker is missed.

In January, Ryan initially outlined a goal of passing a health-care plan by Trump’s 100th day in office, at the end of April. That didn’t happen.

Ryan insists Republicans have a better shot at passing tax reform because the party is more unified on this issue than it was on health care.

“Republicans are more in agreement on how to do it,” he said in the Wisconsin interview. “And we pre-agreed with the House, the Senate and the White House at the front end of this on how to do it. And that’s where we stand and that’s why we’re on track.”

Republicans face plenty of obstacles in both the House and Senate for their tax overhaul.

GOP lawmakers hailing from populous states are already balking at a proposal to eliminate a deduction for state and local taxes. Still others, including Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (R-Tenn.), a key voice who has been tangling with Trump, are adamant that tax cuts shouldn’t add to the deficit.

When asked if it was realistic to believe Congress could enact tax reform by year’s end, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE (R-Ariz.) initially sidestepped the question by responding: “I think it’s important.”

Pressed on whether the timeline is realistic, McCain said, “I don’t know. We’ll have to find out.”

Ryan, who has devoted his career to overhauling the tax code, is embracing the more hurried approach.

His campaign arm has sent out multiple emails to supporters highlighting his remarks at a Heritage Foundation event last week, where he threatened to cancel lawmakers’ holiday break in December to finish a tax bill. Ryan’s latest fundraising email had a three-word subject line: “Christmas is canceled?”

“I don’t care if I have to keep members of Congress working through Christmas — we will get tax reform done,” Ryan wrote.

That may be the case, but Republicans must first leap over a few hurdles.

The GOP has not introduced a bill and likely won’t for at least a few more weeks due to a variety of procedural steps and unresolved policy issues.

The Senate hopes to match the House this week by approving a budget, but the two chambers will then need to reconcile differences in order to unlock the budgetary rules known as reconciliation that will allow them to pass a tax bill without Democratic votes to break a filibuster in the Senate.

And there are still thorny issues to work out as part of a budget deal. The House is expected to agree to the Senate budget’s outline of $1.5 trillion in possible tax cuts. But senators are not likely to accept the House’s $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts.