President Donald Trump rallied his party footsoldiers in Congress Thursday, calling on them to pass a historic tax overhaul as he seeks to lock down a first major legislative win by year’s end.
The House of Representatives votes on its version of tax reform later in the day, and the Republicans who control Congress expressed confidence that the bill, which aims to reduce taxes for corporations and American workers, has enough support to pass.
“This is like a do-or-die vote from his perspective, a vital vote that we’ve got to get done,” House Republican Don Bacon told reporters after Trump spoke with party members behind closed doors in the US Capitol for about an hour.
Bacon paraphrased Trump telling the room: “Hey, you got a chance to be mediocre or to be great. Today’s your chance to get it right.”
The bill is expected to pass despite concerns by some Republicans in high-tax states like New Jersey that their constituents could end up paying more to Uncle Sam.
After that, said conservative congressman Dave Brat, Trump’s role will be as messenger in chief.
“We just want him to sell it to America,” Brat said.
The overhaul is a dicier proposition in the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-seat majority, 52-48.
Ron Johnson became the first Senate Republican to publicly oppose the measure, warning that it hands major tax breaks to corporations while smaller, “pass-through” businesses in which owners are taxed individually are treated differently.
“If they can pass it without me, let them,” Johnson told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, adding that the plan unfairly benefits corporations more than other types of businesses.
“I’m not going to vote for this tax package.”
With lawmakers expected to vote along party lines, Senate Republicans can afford only two defectors. If three vote no, the bill fails.
Adding a new twist to the ambitious legislation, Senate Republicans have bowed to Trump pressure and included a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in their tax overhaul.
Republicans are keen to take another stab at crippling the 2010 health care law, something they have failed to achieve despite multiple attempts this year.
By sliding the repeal of the rule that requires individuals to have health insurance or pay a fine into a successful tax bill, Republicans could claim a double victory.
Repealing the mandate would save $338 billion, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected, money that could help pay for the cuts.
But CBO also projected it would raise health insurance costs by 10 percent, and lead to 13 million fewer people with coverage over the next decade.
– ‘If we fail…’ –
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said such cost increases could “more than wipe out” the tax cuts seen by middle-class families.
“If (Republicans) do this, every problem in health care will be on their backs,” he said.
A handful of Senate Republicans could make or break the legislation.
They include John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who together sank Trump’s Obamacare repeal effort this summer, and Bob Corker, who has said he will oppose the measure if it raises the deficit.
Senator Lindsey Graham sounded a dire political warning.
“Whatever is wrong with this bill, we’ve got to make it better,” he told Fox News. “If we fail, we are dead…. That’s the end of the Republican majority.”
Congress is off next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and when they return there will be little room for delay.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to hold a vote right after Thanksgiving.
Then come the negotiations to synchronize the House and Senate versions, and the fusion could be tricky.
While the House version permanently cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, effective in 2018, the Senate’s would delay that cut by a year.
The House version also maintains the nation’s top tax bracket for the wealthiest individuals at 39.6 percent, while the Senate lowers the top tier to 38.5 percent.Did Trump express preference for one bill over the other?
“He pressed us to negotiate it out between ourselves,” House Republican Tom Cole said, noting that the president did not address the individual mandate repeal.
Cole also stressed it was lawmaker’s “responsibility,” not Trump’s to work out a compromise.”We’ll come to a common point and we’ll get this to his desk at Christmas,” he said.