Days ahead of the plan’s release, even rank-and-file Republicans are alarmed that they’re being kept in the dark.
Rank-and-file House Republicans are increasingly alarmed by the secrecy shrouding the massive tax bill their party leaders plan to ram through Congress next month.
Just days ahead of the legislation’s release, GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee are still in the dark on numerous details being ironed out by the powerful tax-writing committee’s chairman, Kevin Brady (R-Texas), and his staff. And they’re blaming the panel’s top-down approach for the uncertainty.
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“There are a lot of open issues,” said Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), echoing comments made by several of his colleagues on the committee.
Heading into the weekend, question marks remained on at least two high-profile proposals to offset the cost of slashing individual and business tax rates: curbing federal deductions for state and local taxes and business interest as well as potential changes to taxing retirement savings.
The uneasy feeling among members extends to their tax aides, who’ve been excluded from a recent series of hours-long member meetings with Brady and his tax counsels.
Several personal office tax staffers to committee Republicans indicated that they’re grappling with how to brace their bosses for the coming lobbyist wave. Well-funded special interests are ready to pounce on the tax bill when Brady brings it out Nov. 1; aides are worried about the onslaught, particularly over any surprises in the legislation.
“You could potentially see some bombs in there,” one aide said.
Part of the logic behind restricting access to the text stems from an eagerness to keep lobbyists at bay for as long as possible. There’s also precedent; former Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp introduced tax reform legislation in 2014 after keeping final language under tight wraps until soon before the now-retired Michigan Republican released it. (And when he did, the bill bombed.)
But lawmakers, even those on the tax-writing committee, simply don’t always have the same level of understanding of the issues in play as their professional staff, the same aide said on condition of anonymity because of sensitivities around the talks.
Aides aren’t expected to join the next series of Ways and Means Republican meetings, which are scheduled for Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday. Brady has said he plans to introduce the tax bill on Wednesday, and begin considering it in committee the following week.
“Chairman Brady and Ways and Means members will meet next week to discuss final details before they introduce the tax reform text,” said a spokeswoman.
Aides have been told they’d receive a briefing before the bill emerges, but that huddle could come as late as Tuesday night, another Ways and Means staffer said.
Even President Donald Trump’s chief tax negotiators haven’t been fully briefed, though Treasury Department officials were supposed to get looped in a bit more over the weekend, a Ways and Means aide said.
The approach by House Republicans stands in stark contrast to the other end of the Capitol, where top Senate Republicans want to ensure all GOP senators feel they have buy-in from the start — a desire to avoid retracing the steps that led to their failed Obamacare repeal attempt.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has convened meetings with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a handful of key Republicans on the Senate’s tax-writing panel, as well as GOP senators not on the committee, to gauge their needs, aides said.
“It’s so complex and there are so many moving parts,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “We’ve tried to learn our experience on health care and do better on taxes.”
Republicans on the Finance Committee have paired up with other GOP senators in a buddy system of sorts to ensure all GOP senators are included in the process. For instance, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican who sits on the Finance Committee, has been in touch with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who in turn has been lobbying to include her paid leave tax credit proposal in the overall GOP blueprint.
Sen. Bob Corker, the retiring Tennessee Republican who has repeatedly raised concerns about the potential deficit-busting impact of a GOP tax bill, has also met privately with McConnell and Finance Committee Republicans to lay out his priorities, a spokeswoman said. Corker has also spoken with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Senate GOP leaders will also ensure their tax proposal, expected to be released sometime after House Republicans unveil their legislation next week, gets considered by the Senate Finance Committee — another marked difference from the botched health care process.
Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, sketched out an ambitious goal of passing its tax legislation by Thanksgiving — giving GOP senators just under four weeks to move legislation overhauling the tax code even though the actual bill has not been released.
“We can be up and running in a day. We know where we want to go,” insisted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chairman of the Finance Committee. Still, Hatch added of the GOP conference-wide lobbying effort: “Everybody wants something. They’re all over us on what they want.”
House and Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have been almost completely shut out of the discussions.Republicans plan to use powerful budget reconciliation procedures that circumvent Democratic filibusters, so broad bipartisan support won’t be required.