Republicans’ tax reform push got an additional nudge from President Trump over the weekend, who asked Congress to speed its efforts in response to Hurricane Irma, as congressional leaders prepared to show their progress with tax reform this week.
In remarks ahead of a Cabinet meeting at Camp David September 9, Trump said, “I think now with what's happened with the hurricane, I'm going to ask for a speedup [on tax reform]. I wanted a speedup anyway, but now we need it even more so.”
The previous day, Trump posted on Twitter: “Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP. Don't wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!”
Republican tax reformers have planned a September 12 meeting between White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Budget Committee members to sketch out a plan to pass a budget for tax reform, Politico reported September 11.
The following day, House Republican lawmakers will receive a tax reform briefing, according to an invitation from the office of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas, will join Scalise’s staff to discuss international tax reform and efforts to lower taxes for businesses, families, and individuals, a Brady spokesperson said.
The tax reform members’ meeting was rescheduled because of travel delays caused by Hurricane Irma.
Relations between the White House and Republican congressional leaders remain strained following a surprise debt ceiling deal struck by Trump with Democratic leadership against his own party’s wishes. And in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes that aired September 10, former White House adviser Steve Bannon blasted House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and McConnell, saying that it was an “open secret on Capitol Hill” that the two Republican leaders did not support Trump’s agenda.
“They do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented,” Bannon said. “It’s very obvious.”
At a September 11 press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Bannon’s remarks as exaggerations while offering a muted endorsement of the Republican leadership in Congress. “Right now, the president is committed to working with the leadership that we have,” she said. Sanders also praised Trump’s leadership in striking the debt ceiling deal. “The president wants to work with all members of Congress; obviously, that includes Republican leadership as well as Democrats,” she said.
Not So Fast
Tax reform observers who spoke with Tax Analysts agreed that Trump’s call for faster progress on reform was unlikely to materially affect the pace of legislative progress.
“Tax reform is already on a fast track, and there are certain necessary legislative steps that must occur at their own pace — otherwise you risk a repeat of the recent Affordable Care Act repeal efforts,” Jorge Castro of Castro Strategies LLC cautioned.
Castro, a former congressional tax counsel and senior IRS official, explained that “lawmakers will need time to develop legislative language, get comfortable with the proposals, gather congressional support, and work with stakeholder groups. For tax reform to have any chance of success, lawmakers will need to feel like they are part of the process and are not being sidestepped.”
Moving too fast on tax reform could risk not leaving enough time for congressional leaders and the chairs of the taxwriting committees to “negotiate internally and determine the pace for how to roll out tax reform,” he said.
Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, likewise said that while it is “certainly possible to move faster on tax reform . . . it will require greater cooperation among Republican legislators and better coordination between Capitol Hill and the administration.” He added, “There currently isn't enough unity to accelerate the process, but hopefully that will materialize as discussions continue.”
As for whether passing tax reform is an appropriate way for lawmakers to address the damage caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Arnold said that it “would certainly help the local economies that were damaged by the storms, but its policy merits stand on their own.”
Stephen K. Cooper contributed to this story.
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