White House isn’t sweat­ing de­tails of tax over­haul bill

Ad­min­is­tra­tion nar­ra­tive echoed

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - National - By Tra­cie Mau­riello and Jim Provance

Block News Al­liance

As the Congress sets the stage for a long and con­tentious de­bate over the tax over­haul, the White House is con­fi­dent that the overall frame­work — if not ev­ery de­tail — will pass and be signed into law by year end.

And the de­tails don’t much mat­ter to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, said Bud­get Di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney in Wash­ing­ton, as long as the end re­sult re­duces in­di­vid­ual taxes through a sim­pler rev­enue code and cuts cor­po­rate taxes to a rate not ex­ceed­ing 20 per­cent. In Colum­bus, U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin had the same message in an ad­dress to the Ohio Coun­cil of Re­tail Mer­chants.

“As long as those two things are pre­served, we’re likely to sup­port any­thing” that Congress can pass, Mr. Mul­vaney told a small group of re­porters at the White House on Tues­day.

“The House and the Senate fun­da­men­tally have the same plan,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “While there are slight vari­a­tions, it’s the same ob­jec­tives.”

Both pre­dicted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will sign a tax over­haul pack­age into law by year’s end.

The House and Senate are op­er­at­ing on sep­a­rate tracks with the lower cham­ber ex­pected to vote Thurs­day and the up­per cham­ber some­time after Thanks­giv­ing.

The bill doesn’t even have to nix the Af­ford­able Care Act’s in­di­vid­ual in­sur­ance man­date, Mr. Mul­vaney said. Re­peal was added to the mix Tues­day as an ap­par­ent sweet­ener for anti-Oba­macare Repub­li­cans in high-tax states who are on the fence be­cause of how the frame­work han­dles write-offs for state and lo­cal taxes.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, RPa., is among the back­ers of the ef­fort to use the tax leg­is­la­tion as a ve­hi­cle for re­peal­ing the man­date.

The White House isn’t tak­ing a firm po­si­tion on in­clud­ing it in the tax bill, al­though it does sup­port re­peal gen­er­ally.

“We want the best tax bill that can pass. If adding a re­peal of the in­di­vid­ual man­date makes it able to pass, great,” Mr. Mul­vaney said as he took ques­tions 1½ miles away from the Capi­tol, where House and Senate Repub­li­cans were work­ing to ad­vance the sep­a­rate plans.

The plans dif­fer in the num­ber of tax brack­ets, the top tax rates, al­low­able de­duc­tions, amount of es­tate­tax de­duc­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion date, for ex­am­ple.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t taken a side on those dif­fer­ences.

“A lot of those de­tails are [law­mak­ers’] de­tails, stuff they’ve hashed out,” Mr. Mul­vaney said. “We like the House bill, and we like what we see in the Senate bill,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing we’ve seen out of the House and the Senate we could sup­port.”

Democrats have ac­cused Repub­li­cans of pur­su­ing tax cuts for the wealthy and cor­po­ra­tions at the ex­pense of work­ing­class Amer­i­cans.

“If the driv­ing force of this is a mas­sive tax cut for cor­po­ra­tions … it’s very hard to see how they could dress that up in a way that Democrats would sup­port it,” Ohio Demo­cratic Party Chair­man David Pep­per said out­side the Ath­letic Club of Colum­bus where Mr. Mnuchin spoke.

“What’s driv­ing this is … CEOs in rooms say­ing ‘This is im­por­tant to us’ and donors say­ing, ‘If you don’t do this again, we’ll never sup­port­you’,” he said.

Democrat­sand some non­par­ti­san an­a­lysts say the bill won’t do what Repub­li­cans in­sist it will: re­duce mid­dle classtaxes.

The White House doesn’t trust­their analy­ses.

“We don’t put much cre­dence in the larger stud­ies, the groups we know don’t like what the pres­i­dent is go­ing to ac­com­plish. There’s a lot of folks that have a vested in­ter­est in see­ing this fail,” Mr. Mul­vaney said.

Democrats in­clud­ing U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., have been ar­gu­ing strongly against the leg­is­la­tion and plan to of­fer hun­dreds of amend­ments to force tough votes, slow down the process and stop what they char­ac­ter­ize as a cor­po­rate tax give­away off­set by pro­gram cuts and shaky pro­jec­tions about eco­nomic gains.

Repub­li­cans have con­cerns, too, es­pe­cially those from high-tax states that would lose out on valu­able de­duc­tions they cur­rently take for state and lo­cal taxes.

“I’ve heard folks say it’s re­ally dou­ble tax­a­tion,” Mr. Mul­vaney said. “No. We’re only tax­ing you once. Some­body else just hap­pens to be tax­ing you.”

Be­cause of the de­duc­tion, peo­ple in low-tax ju­ris­dic­tions are sub­si­diz­ing those in high-tax ju­ris­dic­tions, Mr. Mul­vaney said.

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