Trump looks to rally senators for overhaul plan

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017

President Trump will travel to Capitol Hill today to try to lock down votes for the Senate Republican tax overhaul, with the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge hanging in the balance.

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on the fiscal 2018 budget reconciliation package, the vehicle for tax reform, this afternoon.

But Republicans last night were still working to line up enough votes. They cannot afford to lose anyone in committee, but at least two members were expressing doubts. Republicans yesterday were also still scrambling to secure the 50 votes needed to pass the measure on the floor later this week.

Under the reconciliation process, legislation can advance in the Senate by a simple majority. With Vice President Mike Pence available to break a tie, Senate Republicans can afford to lose the support of just two of their 52-member caucus.

There were roughly a half-dozen GOP senators whose support was still in play yesterday, as leaders and the president discussed changes to bring undecided Republicans in line.

“We intend to get to 50,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the plan’s leading authors, said after having lunch with Trump and other committee Republicans.

The tax bill “is coming along very well, great support,” the president tweeted yesterday. “With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings and the pass through provision becomes simpler and really works well!”

Trump’s tweet appeared to reference concerns by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who sits on Budget, and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that the 17.4 percent “pass-through” rate for businesses was too low compared with the reduction in the corporate rate. Senate leaders are reportedly raising the pass-through rate to 20 percent.

“As we make American businesses more competitive, which is imperative, let’s not leave any businesses behind. Let’s make sure we maintain the competitive position and balance within our economy,” Johnson said yesterday.

Asked whether he would accept a fix after the Budget vote, Johnson said, “I need it fixed beforehand. This needs to be in the manager’s amendment. I’ve got to have assurances in there.”

The decision to repeal the individual mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act is another hurdle for Republicans. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins — who joined Arizona’s Sen. John McCain and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to tank Obamacare repeal legislation in July — has qualms about the issue being folded into the tax bill.

Murkowski last week reiterated support for repealing the mandate, although she did not explicitly commit to backing the Senate tax bill.

Deficit concerns

A bigger problem for Republicans is concerns over the tax bill’s price tag from Senate deficit hawks, including McCain and Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said debt and deficit issues cannot be ignored in the tax bill, which he called “not a finished product.”

Lankford added he was looking for a “backstop” in case projections for economic growth don’t pan out to make up for lost tax revenue.

“My issue is, is that everything that’s there? What if we don’t get 0.4 percent growth? Is there any backstop, is there an emergency that’s going to come behind us and say what if that does not occur and how are we going to protect ourselves and the economy days ahead,” Lankford said.

He noted, however, he wanted to arrive at “a solution” on the legislation.

“I think there’s broad need for tax reform. I’m not opposed to doing tax reform,” he said. “We just need to make sure that when we do it, we do it right because we won’t hit this again for another 30 years or so.”

Corker, a member of the Budget Committee, told reporters yesterday he wouldn’t rule out voting against the bill in committee if lawmakers cannot work out a deal on a backstop.

“I’m not threatening anything, I’m just saying that it’s very important for me to know that we’ve got this resolved,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk about that publicly because it just messes everything up, but I’m talking with other members that share [these] concerns,” Corker added, noting he has had numerous conversations with administration officials as well.

Flake was also noncommittal. When asked if he would support the bill as it stands, he responded, “We’re still working on it.”

Republicans got a boost yesterday though when one uncommitted GOP senator — Kentucky’s Rand Paul — announced he will back the bill, citing in part the repeal of the individual mandate.

Aside from the plan allowing drilling in Alaska’s ANWR, it’s unclear whether any other energy and environment tax issues will emerge in the coming days. Senate leaders have said they want to address those in a separate package.

Reporters Kevin Bogardus, Nick Sobczyk and Corbin Hiar contributed.