EDITOR'S NOTE: Boris Epshteyn formerly served as a Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign and served in the White House as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations.
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) -
BORIS EPSHTEYN: Hello, we’re joined today by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Thanks for having me.
BORIS: Let’s dive right in. On tax reform - that is the major issue that’s dominating the headlines. It’s the focus of Congress as you head into the end of the year. The House Republicans just put out a bill that’s backed by the White House. When that happened, you released a statement, you said “it didn’t reflect the goals President Trump and I had discussed over the last several months,” referring to the GOP bill. What specifically is missing from the bill that you’ve discussed with the president?
MANCHIN: Well the president and I had dinner and we had other senators there with us in a bipartisan way. The president was very clear in starting the conversation saying this is not going to be a tax cut for the wealthy. This is going to be a tax cut for working America and they are the ones who got left behind the last two decades and not seeing any personal gains. I said that’s a great place to start, Mr. President. So we talked a little bit about that, but the plans that I see coming out doesn’t really reflect the work the president was thinking and what he conversed with me. So I’m thinking, the president hasn’t put his stamp of approval on anything yet so let’s keep working trying to find that bipartisan middle if we can. The only thing that I conveyed at that time and I convey today, that in the Senate, we’ve never done a major overhaul a major piece of policy change especially in tax reform without a bipartisan effort, without what we call regular order so we’ve never used the budget reconciliation which allows the Senate in certain instances to operate the same as the House. Simple majority - there’s 100 senators so 50 plus 1, 51. The House we know, who’s ever in control of the House that’s how it’s going to roll. But it’s the Senate that kind of brings it back to the sensible middle. And we don’t have that today and that’s what Democrats you hear from all spectrums are saying, let us have input. And so we’re hoping that this process allows more input and we can go through more regular order.
BORIS: What changes would you want to see from the House version, the House GOP version, of the tax reform plan?
MANCHIN: Well my concern is this- the House version starts out assuming that there could be, if things don’t go exactly as planned, $1.5 trillion in new debt. I think that’s been scored, they said this could happen. They are saying that won’t happen though, my friends on the Republican side, because we’re going to have X amount of growth. Okay, if we’re going to have X amount of growth but let’s say that this doesn’t happen exactly the way you think it might happen, don’t you think we ought to have some checks and balances that prevent us from digging a hole deeper. And all I’ve said is we’re trying to look at triggers so if you want to reduce from 35 to 20 remember this, every point every 1 percent of corporate taxes $100 billion. 100 billion. So I was looking at something more reasonable at 25 percent that kept us more competitive plus gave us a 10 percent reduction of a trillion dollars and I’ve talked to a lot of corporations. But the president is determined at 20 percent. Well if you’re trying to find that middle do you say okay let’s reduce the 3 percent a year down to 25 or 26 percent. We stop there to see if the GDP to debt. If GDP to debt is not in sync, if we’re still going further in debt and GDP hasn’t grown like you thought it would then we don’t dig that hole deeper. There’s some middle ground, there’s always middle ground, and people want to work together.
BORIS: On tax reform, you just had a meeting with Gary Cohn, the director for National Economic Council, and Marc Short who is the White House director of legislative affairs. What specifics were discussed in that meeting and did it get you any closer to being a yes on tax reform?
MANCHIN: Well it got us closer to saying, they want to work. Gary kept saying wait until the Senate version comes out and the Senate version is going to come out soon. So when the Senate version comes out we really have something to look at. But if they bring the Senate version out with the Republican senators the only ones working on that, This is the first, the meeting with Gary was the first meeting we’ve had --
BORIS: There were other Democratic senators in that meeting, right?
MANCHIN: Oh there were 12 of us. I brought 12. I talked to Marc Short and Marc said, “Joe bring some people together” and I said “I’ll do that Mark.” So we had a meeting. We met at the Library of Congress, it was a wonderful meeting, very informative. And Gary says wait until the Senate version comes out. He says now the House version I don’t believe is a version that you’re going to see in the final version. And I said fine, that’s good...So rather than going out and trashing it, let’s wait until the Senate version. But if the Senate version comes out in a quick timeline and let’s say they introduce it at the end of the week and all of a sudden next week let’s start markup, that doesn’t give you much time. I mean the last time they did any sort of tax reform There was a 9, 12, 14 month review. Everybody had input. Brought all the professions in from all sides to see how we fit. That’s all we’re asking. We’re not saying it needs to be 12 months or so but it needs to have some time for everybody to have input on this thing to see how this impacts every category. They’re saying this 20-40,000. First of all, what I see is I like the doubling of the tax exemption...
BORIS: That’s a standard reduction, zero rate...
MANCHIN: I mean yeah it used to be, it doubled from 6 to 12 for single, 12 to 24 for married, that’s great, that’s fine. Because that affects a lot of West Virginians who don’t do itemization. Those 20 percent or more who itemize their taxes, it’s not so fine for them. They’re concerned. Small businesses right now are concerned. Because every small business in the 75,000 range pays with pass throughs of about 15 percent. They’re gonna pay a minimum 25. They get a 10 percent increase. We’re looking at all this and it needs to be taken in consideration because if you really want to help the working, middle class, then that’s small businesses and people that are working. And we have to make sure they are all part of this.
BORIS: Are you expecting further meetings between you, leading this group of other Democratic senators, and the White House?
MANCHIN: Oh yes, we will continue to do that because I think the White House is going to have an awful lot. Because I think that’s when you’re going to see the president and his thought process what he conveyed with me kick in…
BORIS: The president called into this meeting, right?
MANCHIN: He called in to the meeting. He’s over in Japan, he called in and he was on there and he told us what his thoughts are. It’s good to have him concerned and interested. And it’s also good that he knows there’s a group of Democrats who want to work with you. We want to work with you. The values that we have and the concerns that we have are going to be expressed and if there’s a practical way forward, fine, if not, if it’s so serious enough to think no way in the world can I vote for this, that’s fine too, they’ll make that decision. I’m still looking and I feel confident that we can find that pathway forward.