Republicans launch into sales push for tax plan

Camille Fine

House Republicans have rolled out their long-awaited tax reform bill. Now they have to sell it.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a policy wonk and former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, joined fellow GOP leaders at a news conference Thursday to make the case that the legislation gives a windfall to the middle class.

“This plan is for the middle-class families in this country who deserve a break,” he said, flanked by families who were invited to the press conference. 

{mosads}Under the GOP plan, a typical family of four, Ryan said, would save $1,182 a year on their taxes, a figure he repeated over and over.  

“That $1,182 more covers about a year’s worth of gas for your car. … That $1,182 more  — it can help you pay down your debt faster. It can help you start to renovate your home faster,” the Speaker said. “That’s $1,182 more for the average family that will help you put more money away for college. It will help you save for retirement. It will help you save for a rainy day.”

Moments later, Ryan was hustling back to the Capitol through an underground tunnel for a live CNN interview in his Speaker’s office, where he continued pitching the bill. 

“The whole purpose of this is a middle-class tax cut to give people more take home pay,” Ryan told CNN.

Thursday marked the start of Republicans’ mad dash to rally support in Washington and around the country for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — the GOP’s attempt to overhaul the federal tax system for the first time in more than three decades.

Ryan’s message is directed as much at his own 239-member GOP conference as it is the voting public. Tax reform has been Ryan’s highest priority since long before he became Speaker, and with the Republicans controlling all levers of power in Washington, he thinks now is the time to make legislation a reality.

The pressure is on Republicans to deliver a major legislative win to President Trump, especially after their failure to repeal ObamaCare earlier this year.

The tax bill would cut corporate and individual tax rates, eliminate the alternative minimum tax and phase out the estate tax, among a slew of other provisions.

But a number of Republicans are balking at elements of the plan they fear will lead to tax increases for their constituents, rather than the promised tax cuts. Lawmakers in wealthier states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, in particular, are leery of a reduction in the state and local tax deduction, which could harm their districts. 

GOP leaders can only afford to lose 22 Republican votes and still pass the legislation, assuming Democrats are united against it.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, tried to assuage those concerns by allowing taxpayers to deduct their state and local property taxes, but only up to $10,000. It would not allow people to deduct state and local income or sales taxes, and some Republicans quickly rejected the compromise as insufficient. 

“Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 is progress, but not enough progress,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who is opposed to the package “in its current form.”

“If I’m not fighting for New Yorkers,” he said, “I can’t expect anyone else from another state to do it for me.”

Most Democrats, meanwhile, are bashing the plan as a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

“It is, again, deficit-exploding, multitrillion-dollar giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations, delivered on the backs of our children, our seniors and hard-working Americans,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in the Capitol.

GOP leaders have left themselves a short window to make changes, twist arms and change minds. Ryan plans to bring the 429-page bill to the House floor by Nov. 16, before the House leaves for its annual Thanksgiving recess.

But before that happens, Ryan and other GOP backers will need to shield the bill from a slew of arrows from lobbyists, special-interest groups, Democrats and deficit-averse Republicans.

The Republican plan has also raised plenty of eyebrows for allowing a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal debt over the next decade. Some fiscal hawks, like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), have warned they won’t support a tax package that adds a penny to deficit spending. And outside fiscal watchdogs mobilized quickly on Thursday to hammer the GOP’s plan as irresponsible. 

“While it is encouraging to see the House move forward on tax reform, it seems each new vote and milestone is a step backwards for the cause of fiscal responsibility,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan policy group.

There are other pitfalls. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for instance, wasted no time objecting to a child tax credit provision he deems inadequate.

“House #TaxReform plan is only starting point,” Rubio tweeted. “But $600 #ChildTaxCredit increase doesn’t achieve our & @potus goal of helping working families.”

Tags Bob Corker Kevin Brady Marco Rubio Paul Ryan
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