House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) outlined a way forward for Republicans' tax reform plans on Wednesday, starting with the release of more details on Sept. 25, completing a budget that will carry tax language by mid-October and then having the committee take up legislation.
Speaker Paul Ryan called it “the beginning of the process … to achieve for the first time in a generation, overhauling our tax system and giving middle class families a much deserved break.”
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Brady laid out the plan to House Republicans to assuage concerns from rank-and-file lawmakers over a lack of visible progress on an issue that GOP leaders see as their best hope for a major legislative accomplishment before the 2018 midterm elections. He told members 'the stakes are higher than ever that we deliver,' a source present in the room said.
Republicans want to avoid a repeat of their failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. GOP congressional leaders and top Trump administration officials — collectively known as the Big Six — have been meeting for months to try to hammer out a consensus on cutting corporate and individual tax rates and making other changes to the tax code.
'The whole point of all of this is the House, the Senate and the White House are starting from the same page and the same outline and tax writers are going to take it from there,' Ryan said.
But consensus on major top-line goals remains elusive, as does a budget that will serve as a vehicle to move tax reform.
“No budget, no tax reform,” Brady reminded the Republicans at the meeting.
Some GOP lawmakers made clear their growing frustration with the lack of progress on a budget, particularly in the Senate.
Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.), a Ways and Means member, said it's high time for Senate Republicans to catch up with the House.
“There’s a lot of frustration with the Senate,” he said. “We’re reaching the apex level right now.”
'There's a sense of urgency to get this done,' Bishop added. “Chairman Brady was reminding us of that and put some pressure on those who might be dragging behind. We have to get this done.”
Bishop also said some skeptics in the House Republican conference need to be pressured.
Freedom Caucus members have expressed concern that they're being asked to support a budget plan without details on tax reform. But one of them, Andy Harris (R-Md.), said Brady has gotten the message and he's anxious to see the specifics Brady is promising.
“Show us the money, in essence, tell us what the plans are for tax reform,” Harris said. “We’re told that we’re actually going to see rates at some point in the near future, and before we’re going to have to vote on the budget plan.”
Brady told members he would incorporate their feedback into a bill he would introduce in October, after completing the budget process and establishing an expected amount of money for the government to collect as part of tax reform.
Ryan said he doesn't want to simply cut taxes because the tax code needs broader structural changes.
“It’s not just narrow cuts in taxes that will do the job,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “You can’t just do what [President George W.] Bush did in 2001 and 2003 — you have to overhaul the system itself.”
However, Ryan wouldn't pledge that the Republican plan will not add to the deficit, which would play a role in whether some or all of the tax changes would have to expire under budget rules GOP leaders plan to use to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Republicans are crafting a bill that won’t simply cut rates, said Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), another Ways and Means member. Fundamental tax law changes remain the focus.
“It’s harder, but I think it’s doable,” Nunes said.
The legislation can yield lower tax rates and a simpler system, he said. Brady’s message was meant to assure GOP colleagues that the plan will improve jobs and wages, Nunes said.
The House Republican Whip’s office, as well as Brady, will lead another meeting of Republicans at 4 p.m. Wednesday to talk tax reform. In addition, Trump will meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House.
Trump has stepped up his outreach to Democrats on tax reform, which has made some Republicans nervous after he struck a surprise deal with Democrats to temporarily boost the debt ceiling and fund the government.
Ryan defended the Republican-only negotiations over the tax plan, as well as their willingness to use a budget tactic known as 'reconciliation' to shut down Democratic opposition in the Senate.
“The Republican majority has an obligation and opportunity to take legislation all the way to the president’s desk and if we have a process that allows us to avoid filibusters? Shame on us for not using that process — we’re going to use that process,' Ryan said.
Rachael Bade and Brian Faler contributed to this report.
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