Politics

Ready or Not, House Republicans Set Vote on Tax Overhaul

But floor delay remains a possibility as GOP leaders wrangle votes

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the health care debate taught him not to set an “artificial deadline” for passing legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The scenario is all too familiar: House Republican leaders schedule a floor vote on a major legislative priority and exude confidence the bill will pass despite a chorus of rank-and-file concern. 

GOP leaders insist the tax overhaul they plan to vote on this week is different from the health care bill they had to pull from the floor this spring. But the reality is they are still wrangling the 218 votes needed to pass their tax measure. A possible repeat scenario of the health care debacle looms.

The House eventually passed the health care overhaul May 4, but that was six weeks after it was originally scheduled for a floor vote. The Senate then failed to pass its own health care measure, killing the effort for now.

After pulling the health care bill from the floor in March, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he learned not to set an “artificial deadline” for passing legislation. Yet for the past several weeks, Republicans have been working toward a goal of passing a tax overhaul through the House by Thanksgiving and the entire Congress by year’s end. Watch: A Busy Week for Republican Tax Bills in Both House and Senate

Republicans say their urgency is based on the desire for tax changes to become effective at the start of the new year. That way, businesses and families can immediately start making financial decisions based on a revised tax code, which they predict will spur economic growth and job creation at rates not seen in recent years. Many also acknowledge that having a legislative win to tout is crucial heading into the 2018 midterms.

“We’re doing this the right way. We’re doing this the regular order way,” Ryan said Thursday at his weekly news conference. “It takes time, but trust me, we’re going to get this over the finish line.”

House Republicans introduced their tax bill Nov. 2 and wrapped up a four-day markup a week later after making additional changes to the measure. The floor vote on the 447-page measure is planned for Nov. 16.

That compressed timeline between the bill’s introduction and passage alone suggests a delay in the floor vote is possible, if not likely. But another more important factor is the whip count.

Nine say ‘no’ — for now

The maximum number of votes Republicans can lose and still pass the bill without Democratic support is 22. While Ryan has said he wouldn’t be surprised if a few Democrats voted for the bill, he acknowledged last week that won’t happen unless Republicans already have 218 of their own members voting “yes.”

There are already nine Republicans who have come out in opposition to the bill because of its changes to the state and local tax deduction, also known as SALT — the measure fully repeals the deduction for state and local income or sales taxes and caps the tax break for property taxes at $10,000.

Absent further changes to the SALT deduction, which appears unlikely, New Jersey Reps. Leonard LanceFrank A. LoBiondo and Christopher H. Smith, New York Reps. Peter T. KingLee ZeldinElise Stefanik and Dan Donovan, and California Reps. Darrell Issa and Tom McClintock are expected to vote “no.”

That leaves GOP leaders with just 13 votes to spare.

As the House wrapped up its legislative week Thursday, many rank-and-file members said they were waiting to review changes the Ways and Means Committee adopted to the bill that afternoon before making a decision about how they would vote.

While members spent their weekends reviewing the changes and analyzing the bill’s overall effects on their districts, they will have likely heard from constituents back home about what they like or don’t like about the legislation.

That input will help members solidify their opinions as they return to Washington on Monday when the House GOP whip team — which has been working on members for weeks, even before the bill was released — will begin the formal vote counting process.

Undecideds

Some of the undecided members include New York Reps. John Katko and John J. Faso and California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher said he’s still evaluating the overall effect the bill would have on his constituents.

“If they’re taxed at a higher level, it’s going to be very difficult for me to think that I’m sitting here voting to increase taxes,” he said.

Asked if the whip’s office has presented him with data to try to convince him to support the bill, Rohrabacher said, “They’ve been talking to everybody — everybody.”

Faso, like his fellow New York Republicans, is worried about the partial repeal of the SALT deduction but was still reviewing the bill late last week. He also had concerns about small-business provisions dealing with taxation of so-called pass-through income.

“I wouldn’t have as much problem with that if we were dealing with SALT in a better way because a lot of those highly paid professionals that wouldn’t be eligible under this arrangement are also now going to get a double whammy on SALT,” he said Wednesday. “And I don’t like the fact that we’re removing the benefit of lower marginal rates on the earlier parts of their income.”

Although the Ways and Means Committee amended the small-business provisions Thursday, none of those changes would address Faso’s concerns. The amendment did win over the National Federation of Independent Business, which had initially come out in opposition to the bill. But since it was targeted to small businesses with taxable incomes below $225,000, it did not address concerns some members had about businesses whose incomes exceed that amount.

For example, small-business owners or shareholders who file joint tax returns with incomes between $260,000 and $417,000 and don’t meet the bill’s specifications to qualify for the reduced 25 percent small-business rate would be subject to a 35 percent top rate rather than 33 percent under current law.

The bill also does not include a repeal of the 2010 health care law’s individual mandate, something conservatives had been pushing. While they had not made their votes conditional on repealing the mandate, its exclusion from the bill — coupled with other concerns some members had about the small-business provisions and effective dates of the individual tax relief, among other topics — might make it tough for them to vote “yes.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said last week he did not expect his group to take an official position on the tax bill, which suggests the caucus is likely divided. With nine members already voting “no,” it would only take opposition from less than half of the 36-member Freedom Caucus for the bill to fail.

While the bill will not be amended on the floor to accommodate members’ concerns, it still needs to go through the Rules Committee, where a substitute amendment could be adopted to accommodate any last-minute changes needed to win over hesitant lawmakers.

As with health care, the deal-making needed to solidify enough support for passage may take time. Bottom line: a floor vote delay is possible but not necessarily fatal.

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