White House hopes to get Democrats to back tax re­form

Cecil Whig - - REGIONAL - By LES­LEY CLARK McClatchy Wash­ing­ton Bureau

WASH­ING­TON — Wor­ried about the Repub­li­can Se­nate’s in­abil­ity to de­liver on big cam­paign prom­ises, the White House and its al­lies are mak­ing a strong push to get at least three vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate Democrats to back the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tax re­form agenda.

The shaky Democrats, all up for re-elec­tion next year in states that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump won hand­ily, have al­ready sig­naled in­ter­est in work­ing across the aisle — even as their Demo­cratic col­leagues have urged unity in fight­ing any GOP tax plan that dis­pro­por­tion­ately helps the rich.

“We are con­fi­dent right now that we will be able to earn (Democrats’) sup­port with our tax re­form agenda,” said Marc Short, the White House di­rec­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, he said, have had dis­cus­sions with vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate and House Democrats.

Repub­li­cans were par­tic­u­larly cheered when Demo­cratic Sens. Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia de­clined to sign a Se­nate Demo­cratic cau­cus let­ter to Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers de­tail­ing what is not ac­cept­able in a tax plan, no­tably a tax cut for the top 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans. Ev­ery other Demo­crat and the two sen­a­tors who cau­cus with them signed the let­ter.

In­stead, Manchin said in a state­ment that he’s “par­tic­u­larly ex­cited” to work on tax re­form with Trump, who crushed Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton in West Vir­ginia, win­ning 68 per­cent of the vote.

Trump drew thou­sands to a rally in Hunt­ing­ton Thurs­day night, cel­e­brat­ing the de­ci­sion Thurs­day by West Vir­ginia’s Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Jim Jus­tice, to change party af­fil­i­a­tion and be­come a Repub­li­can.

In Wash­ing­ton, Manchin dis­missed the Demo­cratic tax let­ter as a stunt.

“Press re­leases don’t solve prob­lems, peo­ple do,” he said. “Now is not the time to make tax re­form harder. Now is the time to get ev­ery­one in­volved and put ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble.”

Heitkamp is up for re-elec­tion in a state Trump won by 36 per­cent­age points. She de­clined to sign the let­ter, say­ing “We shouldn’t pre­judge any of this.” Don­nelly rep­re­sents In­di­ana, where Trump won by 19.

In ad­di­tion to the White House, the po­lit­i­cal net­work as­so­ci­ated with the bil­lion­aire brothers Charles Koch and David Koch has is try­ing to prod the vul­ner­a­ble Democrats to join the Repub­li­cans.

“With the op­por­tu­nity to un­rig the Amer­i­can econ­omy now in front of him, Manchin shouldn’t let this chance at mean­ing­ful tax re­form pass by,” Free­dom Part­ners, part of the Koch net­work, said in an email show­cas­ing Manchin’s past re­marks in fa­vor of tax re­form.

The pitch to Se­nate Democrats comes as Repub­li­cans have strug­gled to reach con­sen­sus within their own ranks and give Trump a big leg­isla­tive vic­tory. A years­long pledge to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act col­lapsed in the Se­nate last month when three Repub­li­cans re­jected the GOP lead­er­ship’s ini­tia­tive.

Al­though Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has said he’ll try to use a pro­ce­dural ma­neu­ver to al­low de­bate on the tax over­haul to be cut off with 51 votes in­stead of the tra­di­tional 60, Repub­li­cans hold a nar­row mar­gin of just 52 seats in the cham­ber. That means Democrats could cast de­cid­ing votes.

The White House has “learned how dif­fi­cult it is to thread the nee­dle with 52 sen­a­tors,” Short said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready had con­ver­sa­tions with more than 200 mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the House’s Blue Dog Coali­tion of fis­cally con­ser­va­tive Democrats and the Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus, a group of Repub­li­cans and Democrats. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has also spo­ken with red state Se­nate Democrats, Short said.

Democrats next year will de­fend the seats of 25 sen­a­tors who cau­cus with them. Among them are in­cum­bents from 10 states that Trump won in Novem­ber.

It’s im­por­tant for the three tar­geted Democrats to show in­de­pen­dence, said David Heller, a Demo­cratic cam­paign strate­gist whose clients in­clude Don­nelly and other red-state Democrats.

“They’re ea­ger to show vot­ers that they will work with Democrats and Repub­li­cans to do what­ever is best for their state,” he said. “They’re will­ing to buck the party line on is­sues like this.”

Democrats dis­played un­com­mon unity in fight­ing Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare, but tax re­form is “not some­thing that Democrats would go to the mats on like they did on health care,” Heller said. “If Joe Manchin and the other Democrats can say ‘I re­duced taxes and pro­tected your health care,’ that’s a win­ning mes­sage.”

Manchin is fac­ing a pri­mary chal­lenge from Paula Jean Swearen­gin, an ac­tivist backed by Brand New Congress, a group launched by for­mer staffers of Bernie San­ders’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

David Don­nelly, pres­i­dent and CEO of the money-in­pol­i­tics watch­dog group, Ev­ery Voice, warned that Democrats who vote for a tax cut that solely ben­e­fits the rich could find them­selves in trou­ble with mid­dle class vot­ers.

“They may have the strate­gic need to say ‘I’m lis­ten­ing,’ but even in red states, giv­ing tax cuts to mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires is not nec­es­sar­ily the strong­est po­si­tion to be in,” said Don­nelly. His group says the in­volve­ment of the Koch net­work “is a sign the ad­min­is­tra­tion is pri­or­i­tiz­ing pass­ing poli­cies to ben­e­fit wealthy donors.”

Manchin, who won re­elec­tion in 2012 with 60.6 per­cent of the vote, al­ready has Repub­li­can chal­lengers: Rep. Evan Jenk­ins, R-W.Va., state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Patrick Mor­risey.

RON SACHS/CNP/SIPA USA/TNS

United States Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin (D — W.V.) is one of the demo­cratic sen­a­tors the White House hopes will back its tax re­form agenda.

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