House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said February 16 that Democrats have been invited to discuss tax reform with Republicans as they pursue what he has often called a "once-in-a-generation" overhaul, but several Democratic lawmakers painted a different picture.
"My preference is that Democrats will engage with us, as we have invited them to do," Brady said in keynote remarks at the annual Tax Council Policy Institute symposium in Washington. "I'd love to see bipartisan tax reform, but as we know, Democrats are in a tough place these days. I don't know what the future holds for their approach."
Brady added that Democrats face the same pressures for tax reform, such as the need for stronger economic growth, and that they have their own ideas. However, he warned that "if there is obstructionism, we will use 2018 [budget] reconciliation to move tax reform to the president's desk without the filibuster in the Senate." Congressional Republicans are expected to pass a fiscal 2018 budget resolution allowing the use of the fast-track reconciliation process to pass tax reform legislation.
Despite Brady's remark that he'd like to work in a bipartisan manner on tax reform, Ways and Means ranking minority member Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and several of his colleagues said they still have not talked with the chair about his specific plans.
Neal told Tax Analysts that he met with Brady over a month ago informally but that no communication has ensued. When asked if Brady has invited him to talk about tax reform, Neal said, "Not specifically. Did we have a general conversation? Yes, we did."
Other senior Ways and Means Democrats told Tax Analysts that even though they have not received invitations to discuss tax reform from the majority, they would be interested in discussing tax proposals with Republicans and holding public hearings on the border-adjustable tax proposal in the House GOP's "A Better Way" tax reform blueprint.
Committee member Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., said he has several thoughts on tax reform he would share if given the opportunity but that he has yet to hear from Brady or other Republican colleagues.
Ways and Means member Ron Kind, D-Wis., shared similar desires to work with Republicans on tax reform, even offering to invite Brady to a future New Democrat Coalition lunch to talk about tax and healthcare policy.
"My sense is he's still trying to develop consensus within his own ranks now, and he's having some problems doing that," Kind said of Brady. "So what I hope we can do is at least tee up some hearings on the border adjustment tax, because that's a huge change with a lot of potential unintended consequences."
Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee ranking minority member Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, also said he supports holding hearings on the GOP tax reform proposal, but added that he has no knowledge of their being discussed.
"I think [former Ways and Means Chair] Dave Camp had a very collaborative process. There were some problems with it, but it's quite a contrast with what has happened this year," Doggett said. He added that Camp's approach, which incorporated distributional neutrality and implemented bipartisan working groups, seems to have been overlooked during the current effort.
"It's amazing to me that this academic concept, with border adjustment tax and exchange rates will compensate for everything, has not been discussed," Doggett said. "It's not just a matter of engaging Democrats, but [there] hasn't been engaging of the public in any way. No hearings. No witnesses."
Doggett called the closed-door nature of work on tax reform and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act a "jack-in-the-box approach."
Ways and Means member Mike Thompson, D-Calif., agreed. "I think everybody has concerns, and everybody has questions. We haven't had any hearings, we haven't seen anything," Thompson said, adding that bipartisan work would provide the best chance to pass a successful tax reform bill.
Stephen K. Cooper contributed to this article.
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Correction, February 17, 2017: The original date of Brady's remarks was incorrect.