Congressional GOP upbeat about prospects for tax overhaul
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday projected confidence about delivering on an overhaul of the nation’s tax code with President Donald Trump planning an in-person appeal to lawmakers ahead of a crucial House vote this week.
“This bill will make things better for hard-working Americans,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters.
House GOP leaders rallied support with the rank-and-file at a closed-door meeting. Underscoring the sharp political stakes for Trump, who lacks a major legislative achievement after nearly 10 months in office, is his planned meeting with House Republicans on Thursday ahead of an expected vote on the legislation.
Across the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee began its second day of work on the Senate version of legislation revamping the tax system. Minority Democrats on the panel complained that the bill would enable U.S. corporations with foreign operations and wealthy individuals and families to exploit loopholes to skirt millions in taxes.
“It sure looks like a lot of gaming to me,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s senior Democrat.
On Monday, a nonpartisan analysis of the Senate bill showed it actually would increase taxes for some 13.8 million moderate-income American households.
Promoted as needed relief for the middle class, the House and Senate bills would deeply cut corporate taxes, double the standard deduction used by most Americans and limit or repeal completely the federal deduction for state and local property, income and sales taxes. Republican leaders in Congress view passage of the first major tax revamp in 30 years as imperative for the GOP to preserve its majorities in next year’s elections.
Trump’s planned pitch on Capitol Hill, after returning from his Asia trip, was disclosed by a White House official who wasn’t authorized to discuss publicly the president’s schedule and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. In the meantime, Trump tweeted into the debate Monday by urging Republican leaders to get more aggressive in the tax legislation. He called for a steeper tax cut for wealthy Americans and the addition of a contentious health care change to the already complex mix.
Trump’s latest tweet injected a dose of uncertainty into the process as the Republicans try to deliver on his top legislative priority. He commended GOP leaders for getting the tax legislation closer to passage in recent weeks and then said, “Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?”
That puts him at odds with the House legislation that leaves the top rate at the current 39.6 percent and with the Senate bill, which has the top rate eased to 38.5 percent.
Trump prodded the lawmakers: “Now how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular individual mandate in (Obama)care and reducing taxes even further?”
With few votes to spare, Republican leaders hope to finalize a tax overhaul by Christmas and send the legislation to Trump for his signature.
The key House leader on the effort, GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, said he’s “very confident” that Republicans “do and will have the votes to pass” the measure this week.
Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he doesn’t expect major changes to the bill as it moves to a final vote in the House. Still, he said, Trump’s call for removing the requirement to have health insurance as part of the tax agreement “remains under consideration.”
Trump and the Republicans have promoted the legislation as a boon to the middle class, bringing tax relief to people with moderate incomes and boosting the economy to create new jobs.
The congressional analysts previously found a similar magnitude of tax increases under the House bill.
Neither bill includes a repeal of the individual mandate of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the requirement that Americans get health insurance or face a penalty. Several top Republicans have warned that including the provision, as Trump wants, would draw opposition and make passage tougher.
Among the biggest differences in the two bills: the House bill allows homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes while the Senate proposal eliminates the entire deduction. Both versions would eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes and sales taxes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked whether the Senate’s proposed repeal of the property tax deduction could bring higher taxes for some middle-class Americans, acknowledged some taxpayers would end up with higher tax bills.
“Any way you cut it, there is a possibility that some taxpayers would get a higher rate,” McConnell told reporters after a forum in Louisville, Kentucky, with local business owners and employees. “You can’t craft any tax bill that guarantees that every single taxpayer in America gets a tax break. What I’m telling you is the overall majority of taxpayers in every bracket would get relief.”