The White House said President Donald Trump cut a short-term debt ceiling and government spending deal with Democrats to clear the deck for a major tax bill. But the agreement could be complicating tax efforts by eroding trust within his own party.
Not only has the deal sowed doubt among the GOP about its unpredictable president, but it’s also driving a wedge between Republicans and their leaders in Congress, just as the party is desperate to deliver on one of its top priorities.
And the calendar is unforgiving. Congress needs to reauthorize funds for the children’s health insurance program and federal aviation programs before Sept. 30 and lawmakers are still trying to address the Affordable Care Act. In addition, they may need to provide additional hurricane relief funds after the devastation in Florida following Hurricane Irma prompted the state’s Sen. Bill Nelson to push for Congress to approve another emergency aid package by mid-October.
Republicans also have to agree on a 2018 budget resolution — a necessary step to unlock the procedural maneuver they intend to use to pass the tax plan with 50 votes in the Senate. The lack of details of a tax plan is frustrating members of the House Freedom Caucus, who are making clear they’re ready to effectively hold the budget resolution hostage until they get some specifics from their leaders.
“It’s very hard to hard to vote on a budget resolution, which has as its sole objective to move tax reform, when you don’t know what tax reform looks like,” said Rep. Dave Brat, a House Freedom Caucus member from Virginia. “That’s our objection. There’s problems across the whole conference, from moderates to fiscal conservatives.”
‘Enemy is Time’
The Freedom Caucus’s chairman, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said last week “the enemy is time” and called for passage of a bill by Thanksgiving.
Even if Republicans are able to work through their differences and cobble together a plan, it’s likely the final pieces would be put in place just as negotiations heat up again over the next debt ceiling-government spending battle, with funding set to run out Dec. 8.
“Tax reform may be more difficult after this deal as it was before,” said Stan Collender, a former budget aide for congressional Democrats. “Getting a budget resolution through the House with a frustrated and angry Freedom Caucus and emboldened Democrats will be a real problem, and without a budget resolution there will be no tax reform.”
Completing a tax bill before the end of the year is an ambitious timetable. The last comprehensive U.S. tax rewrite, which was in 1986, was a bipartisan effort and took more than two years of debate and negotiation to complete.
A White House official said the six key tax negotiators in the administration and Congress had an extremely positive meeting last week. Despite that statement, there’s been no evidence of what the so-called Big Six agree on exactly since the July release of a two-page press release outlining broad tax principles. There’s also confusion about whether the tax details are still being decided on by the Big Six, or are in the hands of the tax-writing committees, and if that group will release more specifics by the end of the month.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the chief House tax writer and a member of the Big Six, wouldn’t confirm whether any specific decisions have been made and declined to offer a timetable for releasing details or marking up legislation during a recent press conference.
(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)