by RACHAEL BADE · November 12, 2017
Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers hold a news conference at the Capitol on Nov. 7. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Republican leaders are confident they have the votes to pass their once-in-a-generation tax reform bill in the House this week.
There was little arm-twisting over the weekend, multiple sources close to leadership told POLITICO. And unlike with the Obamacare repeal effort earlier this year, when leaders made final-hour tweaks to win over resistant members, Speaker Paul Ryan’s team doesn’t intend to make significant changes to the legislation before the vote this time.
“I think they’ve made the calculation that they have 218,” Rep. Peter King said in a Saturday phone interview.
The New York Republican, currently a “no” on the bill, said he hasn’t heard from leadership in more than two weeks. Fellow New York Rep. Dan Donovan, another GOP opponent of the legislation, said the same.
The lack of outreach to GOP holdouts suggests leadership feels good about the level of support in the conference — though the Republican whip team won’t officially count votes until Monday night.
Passage in the House this week would be a big boon to the tax reform effort after widespread skepticism that Republicans could shepherd legislation through the chamber by Thanksgiving, as they had promised. The Senate — where the GOP has a slim margin and the tax bill is markedly different from the House’s — remains a bigger obstacle.
“In the end, I think what you’re going to see is the House pass a bill,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Sunday on “Fox & Friends.” He added that GOP leaders hope to “pass the bill hopefully by the end of the week and then let the Senate go do their job.”
The bill is expected to go to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, where no amendments will be made except for perhaps a few technical corrections, GOP sources said. Republicans intend to hold a floor vote Thursday but are keeping Friday open in case any problems crop up this week.
Leadership’s confidence could be misplaced. Some Republicans worry that Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) defection on the bill last week could trigger an exodus of other California Republicans.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), for one, has been emphasizing to leadership since January that the bill must preserve the state and local tax deduction, which relieves a financial burden for people from high-tax states. It’s possible that “with Issa going over, that could make a few of the California people nervous,” said one Republican lawmaker.
GOP leaders will also have to grapple this week with concerns about the Senate bill. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) immediately went on record against the Senate’s plan to phase in the corporate tax cut until 2019.
“That’s a problem,” said Meadows. “I don’t know why you would phase in [a corporate tax cut]. If you’re looking for economic growth, why do you phase it in?”
The Senate bill also does not include a $10,000 property tax deduction included in the House bill. That was a delicately crafted olive branch to members from high-tax districts that was critical to securing their support for the overall bill. Without the provision, GOP leaders don’t think the tax bill can clear the House.
On “Fox News Sunday,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) sent a warning to the Senate that any tax bill must include the property tax deduction.
“I’m convinced that this is where we’re going to end up because it’s important … to make sure people keep more of what they earn, even in these high-tax states,” Brady said.
Ryan has also tried to head off internal concerns about the Senate bill by promising to go to conference committee and negotiate a compromise, instead of simply swallowing the other chamber’s version. Ryan made a similar promise on the budget earlier this year, but the House ended up having to accept a Senate blueprint that many Republican members despised.
“The House will pass its bill, the Senate will pass its bill, and then we will get together and reconcile the differences, which is the legislative process,” Ryan said last week.
There’s concern that Ryan and Brady will get squeezed by an impatient President Donald Trump to accept the Senate bill if the process drags out until the end of the year.
“We must have a Conference Committee to resolve differences between the House & Senate #taxreform bills,” Republican Study Committee executive director Scott Parkinson tweeted last week. “The House will not just eat the Senate bill as … the lowest common denominator.”
For now, though, House leaders are focused on the task at hand: getting a bill through the House.
Their challenge has shifted dramatically from past controversial votes: Typically, they’re most worried about Freedom Caucus members banding together and sinking legislation. This time, they’re watching Republicans from swing districts in New York, New Jersey and California — members who are typically in leadership’s corner.
Freedom Caucus members have given leaders room to maneuver on tax reform, largely praising the bill or at least refusing to draw red lines on provisions they dislike.
“We’ve been working really well with them, and I talk to Mark Meadows on a regular basis, and most of the members of the Freedom Caucus that we talk to, they are really supportive of this bill, as are most members of our conference,” Scalise said Sunday in his Fox interview.
In addition to King and Donovan, sources say New Yorkers Elise Stefanik, John Faso, Lee Zeldin and Claudia Tenney are leaning “no” on the legislation. Most Republicans in the New Jersey delegation are also unlikely to back the bill.
“For New Yorkers and some people in New Jersey, this is going to result in a tax increase,” Donovan said in a Saturday interview. “My teachers, my firefighters, my construction workers, my bus drivers — these are the people that are not going to see tax relief. … The tax cuts that other parts of the nation will enjoy [are] going to be paid for by these people.”
Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey has given leaders hope that they can win over some of those GOP holdouts, however. After initially opposing the bill, the Republican advocate of the state and local tax deduction suddenly changed his mind and decided to support the bill.
He’s already being rewarded for that change of heart: On Monday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, will visit MacArthur’s district to tout the legislation by his side.