Paul to Senate GOP: "Step up" and support the agenda, people!

Quite the statement from Senator No. Rand Paul, who helped scuttle multiple attempts to pass quasi-repeals of ObamaCare, failures which demoralized the Republican base, argued at those times that half a loaf was worse than none at all while holding out for a simple repeal-only approach. Purity above all!

Now that Paul got what he wanted out of the tax-reform bill, however, he’s become the voice for unity within the caucus:

I spoke out all year against the GOP leaders’ initial plan to make their tax reform “revenue neutral” — meaning not really a cut. I’m pleased to see my point of view has prevailed, and the current tax plan calls for a $1.5 trillion cut over the next ten years. I would have liked to see more — in fact, I offered an amendment to move it up to $2.5 trillion — but I’ve stated many times that as long as it is a real cut, I’ll vote for it, even if it isn’t as large as I would prefer.

I’m also pleased to note that, in part by my urging, the Senate tax-plan writers have included repeal of the ObamaCare individual mandate in the tax plan. The mandate is clearly a tax, a fact that was established by the Supreme Court when it upheld ObamaCare. So including it in the tax bill only makes sense. In addition, with CBO scoring it as a $350 billion savings, repealing the mandate helped pave the way for increased middle-class tax cuts, like an expanded child tax credit. …

This tax bill is a true test for my colleagues. I’m not getting everything I want — far from it. But I’ve been immersed in this process. I’ve fought for and received major changes for the better — and I plan to vote for this bill as it stands right now.

I urge my colleagues to do the same. I urge you, their constituents, to make sure they hear from you.

We’ll get to the merits of this argument for a moment. The chutzpah of this goes off the recordable charts. Several members of Paul’s caucus went out on a political limb to vote for the previous versions of ObamaCare repeal, only to have it sawed off by Paul, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. Regardless of how they view the current tax-reform bill, they’re not going to be happy about being lectured on caucus cohesion from the resident gadfly, especially since Paul’s only making the argument because he got most of what he wanted from the bill.

Nevertheless, it’s good advice, if somewhat belated. The failures on ObamaCare repeal have left Republicans in Congress with very few opportunities for major legislative wins. The upcoming disaster of a special election in Alabama might leave them with even fewer by the end of December. If this comes to a final vote after Luther Strange gets replaced, they may have to work around Doug Jones to get to 50 votes, leaving them only a single vote margin of error.

The process will likely take much longer than that:

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee approved and sent to the floor a tax bill that immediately reduces the corporate rate to 20 percent, repeals the estate tax by 2024, collapses seven individual income brackets to four, and scales back popular tax deductions for mortgage interest and medical expenses.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, unveiled their own tax plan, which contains key differences: It would delay changes to the corporate rate to save money, maintain the estate tax and the seven income brackets, and keep the mortgage-interest and medical-expense tax breaks where they are. But while those differences address political challenges in the House bill, the Senate plan introduces a few of its own: namely, by reducing the top marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans and completely eliminating the deductions for state-and-local taxes, known as SALT. That latter change could make the bill politically untenable in the House, where Republicans representing high-tax states already demanded a compromise keeping a deduction for property taxes capped at $10,000.

While downplaying the split, Ryan acknowledged the two chambers would have to iron out their differences in a conference committee—another difficult negotiation that could threaten the GOP’s self-imposed target of enacting a new tax law before the end of the year. “Yes, the Senate bill is going to be different than the House bill, because that’s the legislative process,” the speaker told reporters on Thursday.

The only way to avoid a drawn-out and difficult conference process would be for the House to just approve whatever the Senate produces, assuming it produces anything. The differences between the two approaches are significant enough to strongly suggest that the idea will be a non-starter in the lower chamber, no matter how much sweet-talking Paul Ryan tries. That means that the conference report will have to be good enough to get majorities again in both chambers when it’s likely to be as much of a Frankenstein monster of a bill as were the ObamaCare repeal proposals … which Rand Paul routinely shot down. And if so, would Rand Paul still be ringing the ol’ party-unity bell? Doubtful.

Paul’s not the only potential you-know-what in the tax-reform punch bowl, either. CNBC noted that the lines are drawn differently than on ObamaCare, but three wild cards still exist. And they look awfully familiar:

Senate plans to vote on tax reform bill this week from CNBC.