Why the House Tax Bill Looks on Track for Passage

Republicans have mostly avoided the mistakes and dividing lines that complicated their Obamacare-repeal efforts.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, followed at right by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, walks past boxes of petitions supporting the Republican tax-reform bill that is set for a vote later this week, as he arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Nov. 14, 2017, 8 p.m.

House Republicans are poised to pass their tax-reform package on Thursday, hoping to overcome a shaky start to President Trump’s first year in office by handing him his first major piece of legislation.

Unlike in the tempestuous health care debate, House Republicans are on solid footing heading into the vote. Several Republicans, particularly moderate and vulnerable members, remain unsold on the bill. But for the most part, conservatives are united behind it, meaning leadership can afford to lose a few of their more moderate members.

An electoral drubbing in multiple states last week and lack of signature legislation this Congress are all spurring Republicans to move quickly to pass this bill. But it is also the process and the nature of the issue itself putting wind at the GOP’s back.

“We’re more unified than we were on the health care bill, because with health care we had a lot of different factions in the conference pulling people in different directions,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise said. “Now, we’re all together on the rollout. The president was all in on Day One, and that’s been incredibly helpful.”

Republicans broadly agree that the federal government should cut taxes. That makes this issue much different than health care reform, because many in the party ideologically oppose a federal presence in the health care market. Passing a health care bill was inherently challenging because no amount of changes to Obamacare were enough for some members.

“It’s in the Republican platform to cut taxes,” said Rep. Dave Brat, a House Freedom Caucus member who said he will support the tax bill. “To run a health care plan at a federal level is not in the Republican platform. To repeal it is. So that’s a fundamental policy difference.”

Many Republicans, Trump included, griped after the failure of their health bill that they shouldn’t have taken up that measure first. But in a sense, the failure is also helping them pass this tax bill; Republicans simply do not think voters will abide another legislative failure.

After Democrats dominated in last week’s elections—particularly in Virginia and New Jersey—many Republicans are looking for a win more than ever before. Cutting taxes has become the outlet for that frustration.

Rep. Tom Reed of New York said that feeling has in part helped pull his support toward the bill, even though he had been trying to work on a bipartisan tax measure and even though the bill digs deeper into state and local taxes than he would have liked.

“What I really see is we have to deliver. Tax reform is critical,” Reed said. “That’s the lesson I took away from [the election]. I didn’t see in those numbers a Democratic wave. I saw Democratic energy and turnout, and I saw [GOP] base suppression in regards to, I think, some folks saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re not delivering anything.’”

House members also credit leadership with establishing a collaborative process. The principles of tax reform have been discussed exhaustively over the year, even if the hearings have been few and light on witnesses. Leaders bent to concerns from members about a border-adjustment tax and gave ground on completely eliminating the state and local deduction by preserving it for property taxes up to $10,000 per year.

“It’s some of the best unity I’ve seen in the conference. There’s an understanding of where we’ve got to go and even some disagreements we know that we’ve got to go to conference [to work out],” said Rep. Doug Collins, a member of House leadership.

Still, it is clear some see another lesson in the vote totals. Members vulnerable to being unseated are wary of taking away many popular tax breaks, even if leaders are trying to convince them that voters will receive a net tax break.

“They’ve convinced a lot of people to vote for it only to move the process, but I’ve been down that road before and this bill’s not going to get acceptable in the Senate. So I’m not going to vote for a bill and have it come back and be substantially similar and be told, ‘Well, you voted for it once,’” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who is concerned about scaling back the state and local tax deduction.

Other members, however, are looking to the Senate with excitement, especially after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday afternoon that his chamber’s bill would repeal Obamacare’s mandate that individuals buy health coverage, as Trump has repeatedly requested.

The House Freedom Caucus, in particular, has been strident in pushing for the tax bill to take a shot at Obamacare because some have worried that the bill cuts too much on the corporate side and not enough for middle-income individuals. They want to take the savings from repealing the mandate and use them to further lower taxes.

“Yes, we want growth, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that in getting the growth we have to actually make sure that hardworking families are benefiting, not just corporations,” said Rep. Warren Davidson. “One of the biggest pay-fors that’s not been on the table is the link to health care.”

With so many members in favor of the bill, it remains a possibility that leaders could allow some of their vulnerable members off the hook and release them to vote against it, leadership aides said.

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