WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers are heading back to their home districts for the August break to promote plans to reshape the federal tax code, fresh off the collapse of their party’s efforts to overhaul the health care system.
Legislators hope the GOP can rally and pull together better than it did on the push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“I think it’s obvious that there were some lessons learned from health care,” said U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican from Eden Prairie who voted for the health care bill in the House. “It’s not good to have competing versions. You don’t need to have artificial deadlines to pass bills. It’s better to get the policy right.”
Both Paulsen and fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis of Woodbury sit on key House committees involved in two huge and connected Republican priorities: the tax code rewrite and a budget resolution that would enable a procedural tool permitting the tax plan to pass Congress without Democratic votes. But the budget resolution is still awaiting passage by the full House, where it faces resistance from the conservative Freedom Caucus.
“It’s time for the grown-ups in the room to stand up and get the job done,” said Lewis.
The unpredictability and frequent chaos that have come to characterize the Trump administration have dogged Republicans as they try to enact a governing agenda after voters handed them the reins of Washington power in the last election. The pressure to act intensified Thursday, when the “Big Six” group of Republican leaders announced they were united in their drive to fix the tax code and charged the House and Senate tax-writing committees with passing the necessary legislation this fall.
‘Getting our work done’
“Minnesota has beautiful summers and really cold winters, but no matter the weather, we get up every day and head to our jobs with the expectation of getting our work done,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from St. Paul, during the party’s weekly address on Capitol Hill. “That’s exactly the opposite of what’s happening right now in Republican-controlled Washington.”
She added that she agreed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when he told the upper chamber, “We are getting nothing done.”
One of the Big Six negotiators is Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who is pushing Republicans to tout tax reform in events with their constituents in coming weeks. Brady is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and lives with Paulsen, a member of the panel, in Washington. He’s talking up the number 31, in a reference to the number of days in August and the number of years since the last major overhaul of the tax code.
“Every day we’re going to have a message about why it’s important to have tax reform,” Paulsen said.
He plans to visit businesses and hold roundtable discussions on taxes, health care and trade during the recess. He wants lower tax rates for businesses of all sizes and to make it quicker and easier for people to file their taxes. He also wants to incentivize companies to keep their headquarters in the United States and to offer companies more long-term certainty about their tax liabilities.
Paulsen is even trying to persuade Brady to visit Minnesota at some point.
The statement by the Big Six last week confirmed that the border-adjustment tax proposal was dead, though it was otherwise short on specifics. Republicans want to grow the economy by 3 percent a year.
Brady has been adamant that legislators can’t reshape taxes without the passage of the budget bill, which unlocks a legislative tool called reconciliation that would allow the tax bill to pass Congress with limited debate and a simple majority, rather than a 60 percent supermajority. Republicans only control the upper chamber by a 52-48 margin.
“Our argument has been without budget reconciliation, you don’t have tax reform. … It’s really important to keep engaging in bipartisan conversation and also recognize at the end of the day that we have to use every tool we can to get across the finish line,” Paulsen said.
He added: “We have some in our conference who are not used to governing or who have always been in the opposition only, so there’s a little resistance.”
This month, the House Budget Committee that Lewis sits on passed a budget resolution along party lines that calls for $621 billion in military spending and $511 billion in nondefense spending. The nonbinding measure calls for cutting tax rates and moving to a system in which only corporations’ domestic income is taxed. It reduces the deficit by $6.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
It also seeks $203 billion in reductions over the next decade for “mandatory spending” for programs such as Social Security and Medicaid. But some conservatives want even deeper cuts.
“I think every single member on the House Budget Committee on the majority side … we’re just pushing hard to get it passed,” Lewis said.
He added: “I just think we’re beyond the stage of Democrats going to Washington and cutting Republican programs and Republicans going to Washington and cutting Democratic programs. We’ve got to have real, shared sacrifice.”
A nod to progress
Both Paulsen and Lewis maintain that despite the broader perception of dysfunction in Washington, the House has productively moved through its agenda. But several key measures haven’t gained traction in the Senate, from health care to a rollback of banking regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 in response to the financial crisis.
“I don’t think the Senate has moved fast enough on all this stuff. … If the Senate doesn’t do their job, then yeah, it doesn’t look like we’re getting that much done,” Lewis said.
On Friday, during an interview on Fox Business, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., described tax reform as having more consensus than health care.
“It is more important for us than anything that we get tax reform done because we think it is absolutely critical for strong economic growth,” he said.