Smooth sailing? McCain endorses budget-reconciliation plan for tax reform

Maybe that Trump-McConnell presser worked some magic after all. For the past few months, John McCain has insisted on fighting health-care legislation that does not pass through regular order, and helped to kill two ObamaCare repeal bills via reconciliation. For the chance at passing a significant tax reform bill, however, McCain signaled his assent to the budget resolution for a reconciliation vehicle — maybe:


The White House’s push for tax cuts made crucial progress on Tuesday as Senate Republicans rallied behind a budget proposal the party needs to pass to keep alive its hopes of enacting sharp reductions in tax rates later this year.

Senate Republican leaders earned a series of much-needed victories Tuesday, first with the return of ailing Sen. Thad Cochran (R – Miss.) and later with an announcement from Sen. John McCain (R – Ariz.) that he would back the budget resolution in order to help passage of tax cuts. Senate Republicans are now hopeful they can agree on a final budget resolution later this week, which is a key procedural step to help them pass a tax cut plan later in the year without relying on support from any Democrats. …

“I support the Senate budget resolution because it provides a path forward on tax reform,” McCain said in a statement. “I have long supported efforts to fix our burdensome tax system and hope Congress will produce meaningful reform that simplifies the tax code, strengthens America’s middle class and boosts our economy.”

Note, though, that McCain says nothing overt about agreeing to passing it under reconciliation in this statement. It’s implied, at least, since the Senate GOP could introduce a tax-reform plan outside of the budget resolution process to have it considered under regular order. But then again, McCain also supported the budget resolution in January for FY2018 that allowed for reconciliation on ObamaCare repeal too, and later demanded regular order instead. By the time this gets around to passage, McCain may suddenly demand regular order again.


Or maybe not. Both the Senate and the White House have begun to patch up the feuding that has derailed the Trump-GOP agenda, and both sides stand to lose plenty if that doesn’t change. McCain may not be alone in realizing it, as I write in my column at The Week:

However, it seems that both McConnell and Trump have come around on the conclusion that they need wins now, not later, and the biggest agenda item — tax reform and the budget — will take as much Republican unity as they can get. Trump’s economic agenda relies on significant changes to the tax code, hoping to boost the economy high enough in the short run to get more political room to maneuver ahead of the midterms. At the moment, they have built more support for those efforts than McConnell managed with the ObamaCare repeal. Both Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski announced that they would likely support the combined effort under reconciliation as it is currently proposed, and Rand Paul has signaled that he’s a probable yes, too.

Those three sunk ObamaCare repeal more than once. Getting the senators from Maine and Alaska — and hopefully Kentucky — onboard gives McConnell some breathing room — but he still needs Corker, McCain, and Flake to stay within the caucus. That leaves McConnell and Trump perilously close to failure on yet another bill. Both will take heat from constituents if they can’t get Trump’s economic agenda off the launch pad.

For now, Trump’s economic agenda eclipses his disruptor agenda, which left Bannon and his project out in the cold on Monday … for now, anyway. If the tax package and budget passes under reconciliation, it may take some of the steam out of the “war on the Republican establishment, reminding voters of McConnell’s observation on Monday. “You have to nominate people who can actually win,” he told the press in reference to Bannon’s effort, “because winners make policy and losers go home.”

That’s true. But when winners don’t make policy either, then there isn’t much point to winning. If McConnell and Trump can’t get tax reform and the budget passed on Republican terms, then their phony bromance will have all been for nought.


McCain may be calculating that tax reform is more of a business-as-usual issue than health care policy. Resorting to reconciliation has no life-or-death consequences, real or imagined, and that he can justify using it to get around party-line obstructionism. Or, perhaps, he’s going along to help McConnell recover some of his mojo and gain a little more discipline within the caucus.

For now, prospects look good for passage of the budget resolution and then tax reform. But what happens then? Politico’s Matt Latimer wonders what will keep Republicans on Capitol Hill in Trump’s corner (if and) when they succeed on this key economic policy issue:

One of the most curious storylines in Season One of The President Trump Show is that so many Washington Republicans, inside and outside Congress, are still on board, publicly at least, with a president they clearly denigrate and despise. His own secretary of state may or may not have called his boss a moron. A respected Republican senator publicly questioned Trump’s competence and stability and said he was moving America to the brink of World War III. A special counsel is aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption and collusion that could go all the way to the Oval Office. Trump’s poll ratings are, to borrow a word, sad. He has repeatedly insulted the Republican Senate leader and his colleagues.

Faced with all that, especially after Charlottesville and Puerto Rico and endless Twitter feuds and casual falsehoods, you might think any number of GOPers, who notoriously place a priority on their own reputations and careers, would have jumped ship by now—even calling the president unfit to serve in office. Many of them assuredly think that, but none of them has gone as far as to say so publicly. Not yet.

There’s a good reason for this—and it’s not that they are gutless wonders, though some undoubtedly are. Trump still has one crucial final task before he can be thrown to the wolves: He must sign a tax reform bill. After that, the wolves can have their quarry. …

But once Trump signs that bill, he faces his greatest danger: Republicans will finally have an achievement to run on as they seek reelection in 2018. Their donors and supporters will have a prize that eluded them through eight years of Obama, who reversed the Bush-era tax cuts and made them feel like Scrooges who wrecked the global economy. Simply put, they won’t need the president anymore. After that, the investigative team assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller can do its worst. Mueller would actually be doing GOP leaders a favor.


Assuming, of course, that Mueller winds up with anything at all on Trump. So far, we’ve seen zero evidence of collusion, and the most cited piece of influence is the $100,000 ad buy on Facebook. We’ll have more on that later, but don’t expect that to lead to a cheap way out of the populist cul-de-sac in which Republicans find themselves these days.

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