As a conference committee held a public meeting Wednesday on its efforts to reconcile differences between tax reform legislation passed in the House and the Senate, House Republicans remained optimistic that they can get a final bill on President Donald Trump’s desk by Christmas.
“I think we’re bridging the differences with the Senate,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. “I’m still confident we’re going to hit the target of voting on this early next week and get it to the president’s desk to get taxpayer relief to people across the country.”
The versions of the bill initially passed in both chambers would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, reduce rates for most taxpayers, eliminate most deductions, and change the tax code’s treatment of so-called pass-through businesses.
“There’s still some details to ferret out here and we hope at the end of the day we’re going to have a good package,” Reed said.
There were a number of significant discrepancies between the bills to resolve, but the Associated Press reported Wednesday that House and Senate Republicans had reached an agreement in principle.
“I think we’re making a lot of good progress on that,” said Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., predicting a Senate vote next Monday and a House vote Tuesday.
Lawmakers have not yet released full details of their agreement, but media reports indicate it may involve a slightly smaller corporate rate cut to 21 percent to offset a reduction in the tax rate for the highest individual bracket to 37 percent.
According to Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., cutting rates for the wealthy will help those who would otherwise pay more without the benefit of the state and local income tax deduction, which is one of the biggest issues the conference committee is wrestling with.
“Lowering that tax rate is really about providing relief to people who live in those high-tax states,” she said.
McMorris-Rodgers called the bill “pro-family” and “pro-economic growth,” aimed at creating more jobs and higher-paying jobs by encouraging businesses to stay in the U.S.
“It’s a great Christmas gift,” she said.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., also promised widespread impact from the reforms.
“This is a win for the American people,” he said. “We’re cutting taxes by $1.5 trillion. Regardless of what people are saying out there, there is a tax cut for everybody in this.”
LaHood listed a number of specific provisions that he believes should be retained in the final legislation to help his constituents in Illinois, including preserving deductions for college education, mortgage interest, and property taxes.
“Those provisions along with the estate and the death tax we believe will stay in there and I’m optimistic that they will,” he said.
President Trump delivered what the White House described as a “closing argument” Wednesday, highlighting five specific families that would benefit from the proposed changes to the tax code and imploring Congress to act.
In light of the reported agreement between Republicans, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., blasted Wednesday’s conference committee meeting as a “total sham.”
“Deal reached before the committee ever met,” he tweeted. “Everyone but a handful of Republicans shut out. American people shut out.”
“Republicans told the public the tax conference today would ‘be an opportunity for the conferees to discuss our best, most pro-growth tax reform ideas’; apparently they couldn’t wait for anyone’s input and just struck a deal amongst themselves,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., on Twitter.
Republicans have seen passing a tax reform bill as a political necessity since they failed to advance a repeal of the Affordable Care Act earlier this year. With a slim majority in the Senate, they can only afford to lose two GOP votes and still have Vice President Mike Pence break a tie.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only Republican who opposed the original bill, citing concerns about its impact on the deficit. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted for the Senate bill, but she has waffled a bit on supporting final passage of the legislation if assurances made to her by leadership are not honored.
Republican Roy Moore’s loss in a special election in Alabama Tuesday means the GOP will likely soon lose another vote if they cannot pass the bill before incoming Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is sworn in early next month.
Some Democrats have floated the idea of waiting to vote until after Jones is seated, citing past statements by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. as precedent. Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who is currently filling the seat, is a supporter of the legislation.
Although Reed deferred to Senate leadership on when to hold a vote, he saw no need to delay it.
“At the end of the day, we have a representative there ready to vote,” he said. “It’s time to move forward. We want to get this on the books for the upcoming year.”
Reed also rejected criticism from Democrats who claim the Republican plan does not offer enough for the middle class.
“People are going to see a tax benefit of $1,600 in my district,” he said. “I am 100 percent confident in that number.”
Independent analyses of the House and Senate bills have concluded that most middle-class families would see their taxes drop, but most of the legislation’s benefits would go to the wealthy and businesses. Under the Senate bill, the cuts in rates for individuals would expire in 2025, so many workers would be paying more after that. Republicans maintain that was only done to comply with Senate procedural rules and they expect a future Congress would extend the cuts.
The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and other groups have pegged the overall impact on the national debt from these bills at about $1 trillion, a calculation McMorris-Rodgers seemed to cast some doubt on by suggesting the tax cuts will ultimately increase revenue.
“This bill is about increasing the growth rates in this country so that it brings in more money to the federal government,” she said.
McMorris-Rodgers also highlighted the simplicity these changes would instill in the tax code, enabling most filers to do their taxes on a form the size of a postcard.
“You think about doing your taxes right now, it’s complicated, it takes time, and it also costs money…,” she said. “You think about being able to file your taxes in less than an hour, filling out a postcard, that’s pretty cool.”
Though there is much work left to be done and polls suggest the public is not yet sold on the plan, Republicans aim to push the legislation through in time for Americans to start seeing less withheld from their paychecks in January.
“That’s a significant amount of money I want them to keep in their pockets sooner rather than have to wait because of politics out of Washington, D.C.,” Reed said.