President Trump plans to head to Capitol Hill on Thursday and make a final pitch to House Republicans just before they vote on a sweeping tax cut bill, hoping to keep lawmakers focused on his top legislative priority.
Trump will speak Thursday with the Republican members of the House of Representatives, before a planned vote later in the day on the chamber’s tax bill.
Some Republicans have raised objections to the bill, citing the potential for tax increases for people living in states such as New York and New Jersey. But GOP leaders are convinced they have enough votes to pass the measure, and Trump had made passing the tax cut bill his primary focus.
Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement the president would speak to House Republicans ahead of the tax vote “about how important cuts and reform are to jumpstart our economy, make our businesses more competitive, and let hardworking Americans keep more of their well-earned paychecks.”
House Republican leaders felt increasingly confident Monday that they had the votes to pass the bill. Two GOP deputy whips, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal doings, said they had not encountered any hard “no” votes during their initial survey of colleagues Monday night.
Republicans are under growing pressure to pass the tax cut package quickly, and they are pushing forward without even collecting complete analysis by government scorekeepers. The Joint Committee on Taxation, for example, is supposed to analyze how the tax cut bill would impact the economy.
But this committee has indicated “it is not practicable for a macroeconomic analysis to incorporate the full effects of all of the provisions in the bill, including interactions between these provisions, within the very short time available between completion of the bill and the filing of the committee report,” the Congressional Budget Office said on Monday. That means there might not be any official estimate of the economic impact of the bill before House lawmakers vote on it Thursday.
The White House wants the bill to be passed into law before the end of the year, but it might be forced to accelerate its timeline because of a special election for the Senate seat in Alabama that is currently dividing the Republican Party. The vote for that seat will be held Dec. 12, and the winner will be put in office immediately following the election. If Democrat Doug Jones is able to win the seat be defeating embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore, it would slice into the GOP’s already narrow Senate majority, giving them even less flexibility as they try to pass the legislation.
It is not unusual for presidents to go to Capitol Hill before a big vote, but Trump’s visit comes as some lawmakers are wrestling with whether to back a major White House priority even if it could be unpopular in their district.
The visit would come as the tax effort has completely consumed both chambers of Congress. As the House plans to vote on its bill Thursday, Senate Finance Committee members on Monday began debating their own version of the bill on Monday. There are a number of differences between the House and Senate tax cut bills, but GOP leaders are confident these issues can be resolved and that the bill can be signed into law before the end of the year.
Senate Republicans hope their tax cut bill will pass the finance committee by the end of this week, setting up a possible vote in the full Senate the week after Thanksgiving.
But there are still many issues that must be sorted out.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said changes would have to be made in order to ensure that the legislation complies with Senate rules that essentially prohibit the bill from adding to the debt after 10 years. This could require lawmakers to allow the tax cuts to expire after 10 years, but Hatch said he would work to ensure that would not happen.
“We are, of course, aware of this problem and are working to ensure that the reduced rates and additional reforms designed to bring investment back to the United States and create more American jobs remain in place past the 10-year budget window,” Hatch said. “There’s no real cause for concern at this point.”
Democrats lack the votes to block the bill, but they are trying to make the case that the tax bill would drive up taxes on some families and unfairly benefit the wealthy and corporations.
“What started out as a promise of a significant middle-class tax cut has become a multi-trillion dollar bait and switch, a massive handout to multinational corporations, and a bonanza for tax cheats and powerful political donors,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the finance committee.
Congressional Republicans are trying to stay unified, but they are still facing pressure to make a number of other major changes in the coming days.
Earlier on Monday, Trump called for a major change to the tax bills in both the House and the Senate, saying Republicans should use the bills to repeal a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
The demand from Trump is nothing new, but it has been mostly ignored so far by congressional leaders as they try to hold together a fragile coalition of Republicans who can help push these bills into law.
Trump wants the tax cut bills to repeal a requirement of the Affordable Care Act known as the “individual mandate,” which sets up penalties if Americans don’t have health insurance. Repealing that provision would save more than $300 billion, budget officials have said, and Trump wants that money to be used to offset more tax cuts.
Trump’s Twitter post includes a new idea for what the White House wants to do with the money it would save from repealing the individual mandate. He calls for lowering the tax rate to 35 percent, which is probably a reference to the top rate paid by the wealthiest Americans. The House bill retains the top tax rate of 39.6 percent but only charges this rate on income above $1 million, which is more than double the current threshold.
Trump, in his tweet, appears to call for lowering the top rate to 35 percent and then use whatever revenue is leftover for additional middle-class tax cuts.
The Senate bill would lower the top tax rate to 38.5 percent.
There have been complaints from wealthy GOP donors that the Republican tax bills would not do enough to lower their taxes, though several studies have found that the wealthy would be major beneficiaries of both the House and Senate plan.
His Twitter post, which was sent as he is on a trip in Asia, comes during a crucial time in the tax cut debate. The House of Representatives is hoping to pass its version of the tax cut bill by the end of this week. The Senate Finance Committee will begin voting on its own version later Monday.
Both the House and Senate bills have significant differences that will need to be resolved, but neither bill includes a repeal of the individual mandate. Congressional leaders have said they are studying the issue and have not decided whether to include it in the bill, but many remain concerned that injecting a health-care provision into the tax bill could end up costing them the votes of centrist Republicans who have objected to these changes in the past.
But if Trump is successful and the health-care change is added to the tax bill and it passes both the House and the Senate, he would have accomplished two of his top legislative goals in one bill.