Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock
Republicans are feeling the pressure to move quickly on tax legislation ahead of next month’s Senate election in Alabama.
Senate Republicans already have little margin for error, as they can afford only two defections and still pass their tax-cut bill if Democrats are united against it.
But that margin would fall to one vote if the Democrat in the Alabama race, Doug Jones, defeats GOP candidate Roy Moore on Dec. 12. Polls have suggested a Jones victory is a real possibility in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.
An Alabama election official on Friday said the winner of the race could be seated as early as Dec. 26, giving Republicans a short window for action.
Republicans had already talked of getting a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas — and that deadline appears even more critical now, likely forcing a furious push in December.
“They’ve got to find a way to get to 50 votes [on a tax bill] as fast as possible,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
The House has already passed its version of the tax bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning to start floor consideration of the upper chamber bill’s next week, when senators return from the Thanksgiving recess.
Looming over the push is Alabama’s special election, which pits Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, against Jones, a former U.S. Attorney.
The winner of the election will succeed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who was appointed to the seat after Jeff Sessions became Attorney General. Strange is expected to vote yes on the tax bill.
Jones, on the other hand, would likely join other Democrats in voting against the tax legislation, cutting the number of GOP senators who can oppose the measure without dooming it to one. He signaled his opposition to the measure at a rally in October.
“What I see now troubles me a lot. I don’t care about the wealthiest in this country getting huge tax cuts … while the poor suffer,” Jones said, according to AL.com.
White House aide Kellyanne Conway noted Jones’s opposition to the tax bill in a Fox News interview on Monday.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He’ll be a vote against tax cuts,” she said.
Moore would be expected to vote for the GOP’s legislation, but also has his own ideas for what an overhaul of the tax code should look like, making his vote far from assured.
“Roy Moore will work hard to pass any plan that cuts taxes but believes the Senate should be even more aggressive about bringing long-term relief to the middle class,” said Brett Doster, a paid media strategist for the Moore campaign. “He wants a national sales tax system that will equitably spread the overall burden, eliminate the IRS, and help make America the most competitive economy in the world.”
Moore also has been antagonistic toward McConnell, repeatedly calling for him to step aside.
Until several weeks ago, it seemed certain that the Alabama seat would stay in GOP hands. But that changed after several women accused Moore of pursuing them romantically when they were teenagers, in some cases with forcible touching.
The RealClearPolitics polling average of the race from Nov. 9 to Nov. 15 shows Jones narrowly ahead.
“The scandal that rocked Alabama has really put Republicans and their tax bill in very difficult situation because we may actually have a Democrat coming from Alabama,” said one GOP strategist who asked not to be named.
The Alabama Senate race only adds to the sense of urgency that Republicans feel on taxes following their failure earlier this year to repeal ObamaCare. They want to be able to deliver a major legislative victory ahead of the midterm elections, and they also argue that their tax bills would help to boost the economy and increase job and wage growth.
“There is a widely held sense of necessity on tax reform,” the strategist said.
GOP lawmakers and their staffs are working to keep McConnell’s timetable on the Senate’s tax bill. The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure last week on a party-line vote and is working to turn its plain-English proposal into legislative text.
Still, turning the bill into law will be no small task.
One GOP senator, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has come out against the bill in its current form, saying it helps corporations more than other businesses, though he told a Wisconsin radio station on Monday that he’s “encouraged” by the cooperation he’s getting from the Finance Committee.
Several other senators have raised concerns about the bill’s repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate and its impact on the debt.
If the Senate passes a bill, it will still have to be reconciled with the bill approved by the House. The compromise measure would then need to be voted on again in each chamber.
Negotiators from the House and Senate may have trouble reaching an agreement, given that their tax bills have significant differences.
The House bill, for example, contains a deduction for property taxes up to $10,000 while the Senate bill does not, and the Senate bill delays cutting the corporate tax rate until 2019, while the cut would take effect in 2018 under the House’s measure.
But the pressure on the conference committee negotiators to reach a deal will be intense, particularly if Jones wins in Alabama.
“This Jones guy’s not going to help us on anything that Trump wants to do,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.
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