After the Senate voted late Friday night to approve a GOP tax reform bill, Republicans in the Congress this week will start work on final negotiations between the House and Senate on tax legislation, as GOP leaders and President Donald Trump look to produce the first sweeping reforms of the federal tax code since 1986.
If you look at the calendar, Christmas is just three weeks away. Congress had been aiming to wrap up work by Friday, December 15, but now a stop gap budget plan may extend work until December 22.
So, that means the GOP has about two and a half weeks to wrap up work on the tax reform bill, and get that to the President for his signature.
And he is certainly ready for that.
What are the next moves on Capitol Hill?
1. Republicans should get the tax bill to the finish line. Several months ago, I wrote that tax reform might be more complicated – and present more potholes – to Republicans than the effort to overhaul the Obama health law, which failed in the Senate. But this outcome looks like it will be different. Why? For one, Republican lawmakers – especially conservatives – did something very unusual for them in the Congress. They actually compromised. Instead of drawing a line in the sand, they supported a bill that didn’t fulfill all of their stated legislative goals and beliefs. One thing I have noted in my over three decades of covering Capitol Hill is how many times conservatives have refused to accept a bill that does much of what they want, hotly opposed to one particular provision. It seems hard to imagine how the GOP will screw this up over the next couple of weeks. No bill is ever perfect, especially one this big.
2. What’s next? House-Senate negotiations. With the House not in favor of just accepting the Senate-passed tax reform measure, lawmakers on Monday evening will vote to go to “conference” on the bill, as GOP leaders hope to quickly come up with a final deal that can be approved and sent to the President’s desk before Christmas. The conference committee used to be a staple of Capitol Hill, but has faded away for the most part in recent years – now we’ll see it make a comeback for the GOP tax reform bill. Originally, the House was not supposed to be in session on Monday. But House leaders added the work day in order to keep the train moving on tax reform.
3. What still might change in the tax reform bill? There are a number of differences between the two bills – for example, the House plan has four tax brackets, while the Senate bill has seven brackets, with different rates on both sides; the House bill eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, while the Senate decided late in the debate to keep the AMT in the Internal Revenue Code, but make changes in the levels at which it would affect individual taxpayers. The list is long, but here’s a few of the more well-known differences:
4. Will President Trump press for anything specific? For the most part, President Trump has cajoled lawmakers on the overall effort to get tax cuts and tax reforms through the Congress, and has avoided weighing in on specifics. But Mr. Trump made a curious suggestion on Saturday at the White House, as he said it was possible that the 20 percent corporate tax rate – in both the House and Senate bills – might end up a bit higher at 22 percent, in order to help fund overall tax reduction efforts in the GOP plan. For the President, that was somewhat of a surprise, and top officials tried to downplay the idea on the Sunday talk shows – but you never know, key lawmakers could always take him up on the idea.
5. If you didn’t stay up late on Friday night. If you were otherwise occupied at 2 am on Saturday morning, the Senate voted 51-49 to approve the GOP tax reform bill. The narrow victory (only Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) broke ranks and voted against the plan) was a reminder in the negotiations ahead that Republicans can only lose one more vote in the Senate, and still get the bill approved. The Senate bill added a number of late changes made by Republicans. We’ll see whether or not these get kept around in the final bill. This list was tweeted out by Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO):
6. There were also some hand written additions in the Senate bill. Things were done so hastily on Friday night by the GOP that sections were simply crossed out by hand, with extra changes made that was as well. Some were minor, like changing a date from one year to the next, others added in a couple of extra words, but one particular change caught the eye of Democrats, as they complained about the process. Let’s be honest though, this is not the first time we have seen hand written additions on a bill, but it was a reminder as to how fast the GOP is moving on tax reform in 2017.
7. Tax reform versus tax cuts. If you think back to the debate in the House, there was much more emphasis by GOP leaders there about tax reforms in the bill, which would allow many people to file their tax returns ‘on a postcard.’ But in the Senate, I would be surprised if I heard that a few times in the floor debate – if at all. President Trump has also been mentioning the phrase ‘tax cuts’ much more frequently than the phrase ‘tax reform’ of late. In a speech about the bill last week in Missouri, the President made that clear.
Stay tuned. It promises to be an active next couple of weeks in the U.S. Congress.