To continue the classic-pop reference: does anybody really care? Now that Congress has (barely) passed a budget resolution for FY2018 and enabled reconciliation for its tax reform plan, all they need is … a plan. So far, Politico reports today, few on Capitol Hill know what it might look like, including most of the Republicans — and they’re not happy about it:
Rank-and-file House Republicans are increasingly alarmed by the secrecy shrouding the massive tax bill their party leaders plan to ram through Congress next month.
Just days ahead of the legislation’s release, GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee are still in the dark on numerous details being ironed out by the powerful tax-writing committee’s chairman, Kevin Brady (R-Texas), and his staff. And they’re blaming the panel’s top-down approach for the uncertainty. …
Heading into the weekend, question marks remained on at least two high-profile proposals to offset the cost of slashing individual and business tax rates: curbing federal deductions for state and local taxes and business interest as well as potential changes to taxing retirement savings.
The uneasy feeling among members extends to their tax aides, who’ve been excluded from a recent series of hours-long member meetings with Brady and his tax counsels.
As Politico notes, Brady is following the playbook of his Ways and Means predecessor, Rep. Dave Camp, who also kept the 2014 tax reform bill close to the vest. The Tax Reform Act of 2014 attempted to solve the same problems that Republican leaders cite today: uncompetitive corporate tax rates, complicated filing processes, marooned capital, tax breaks that were inaccessible to middle-class families, and so on. It took most of 2014 for the bill to finally emerge in the final days of the legislative session (December 10th, 2014) and died at the end of the session three weeks later.
The GOP won’t have that problem on timing — this session expires in a little over fourteen months — but the lack of progress and openness has begun to look problematic. Republicans on both ends of Capitol Hill keep floating and shooting down trial balloons, which makes this look less like a plan and more like a constant spitballing session. As I wrote earlier for The Week, it’s beginning to look like a rerun of ObamaCare repeal:
Republicans spent the first seven months of the Trump presidency expecting to pass a repeal of ObamaCare at the end of seven years of promises to do so. That historic achievement eluded them as the GOP caucuses in both chambers split on the details, eventually ending in frustration on Capitol Hill and anger among Republican voters over their lawmakers’ lack of preparation for governing.
These voters should wonder whether they’re in for a rerun when it comes to tax reform. Over the last few days, even before these renewed verbal spats between Corker, Flake, and Trump, Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been doing more spitballing than ever, with some worrisome results. At times, they give the impression of making it up as they go, which sounds uncomfortably familiar in 2017. …
In other words, the Republican tax reform plan doesn’t exist. Even in conceptual form, the general proposal has so many moving parts that it will almost certainly lose GOP votes in whatever final form it does take, especially given the trade-offs necessary to qualify for reconciliation. The specifics will have to get drafted in a hurry by a handful of House and Senate Republicans and then rushed through quickly to prevent any agreement from falling apart. And in case you forgot, two key Republican senators spent the day yesterday publicly berating the president.
If that all sounds familiar, it should. Republicans have promised tax reform for two years on the campaign trail. Clearly they didn’t do any better preparing to meet that pledge than they did with ObamaCare — and it shows.
On top of that, the budget resolution itself opened up some old wounds between fiscal conservatives and moderates in the Republican caucuses. Rather than address overspending, as the GOP promised to do if it regained power in Washington, the 2019 budget maintains the same red-ink status quo. Instead, Republican leadership has promised to address spending reductions next year. No really, they promise:
Roll Call interviewed half a dozen House Budget Committee members, as well as a few other fiscal hawks in the GOP conference, and they all said they anticipate mandatory spending cuts being a priority for the fiscal 2019 budget reconciliation process.
The Senate rejected the target of $203 billion in mandatory savings the House attempted to include in its own budget resolution. House Republicans are expected to accept the Senate’s show of force — many acknowledge they got rolled — and pass the budget Thursday.
That’s based on promises that the tax overhaul will get done this year and deficit reduction will follow in 2018.
“There is going to be, by the acknowledgement of our leadership, some real attention on that next year,” House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black said.
We’ll just hold our breath on that one, thankyewverahmuch. At some point next year, expect to hear that a 52-vote majority in the Senate isn’t enough to actually get anything done, and that it will take 60 votes. And after that … well, you know the drill.