How far is Con­gress from pass­ing Trump tax over­haul?

House bud­get moves law­mak­ers only a lit­tle closer to GOP’s goal

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Herb Jack­son

The House ap­proved a bud­get out­line Thurs­day that opens the door for Pres­i­dent Trump and Repub­li­can lead­ers to pass the tax code over­haul they re­leased last month, but that is only a first step in a long and un­cer­tain path.

Repub­li­cans have out­lined an am­bi­tious plan to col­lapse brack­ets, change rates, elim­i­nate de­duc­tions, and re­vamp how big and small busi­nesses are taxed.

“We want the Amer­i­can peo­ple to wake up in the new year with a new sys­tem,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

But Trump and Con­gress will have to move with agility and po­lit­i­cal co­or­di­na­tion that they could not muster on other priorities this year.

Here’s what must oc­cur for a bill to reach Trump’s desk — and what could get in the way.

FIRST STEP: PASS A BUD­GET

Repub­li­can lead­ers say they would wel­come bi­par­ti­san in­volve­ment, but they have de­cided to use a pro­ce­dure called rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to pre­vent Democrats from block­ing a tax bill through a fil­i­buster in the Se­nate. Repub­li­cans hold 52 Se­nate seats. Un­der rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, a bill can pass with only 50 votes, with the vice pres­i­dent break­ing the tie.

To use rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the House and Se­nate both must pass a bud­get res­o­lu­tion for 2018 that spells out the im­pact tax changes will have on fed­eral rev­enues. Once they do that, a bill that meets those con­di­tions would be fil­i­buster-proof.

The House bud­get says tax cuts should be off­set by other changes to the tax code and spend­ing cuts.

The Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee ap­proved a dif­fer­ent mea­sure Thurs­day that says tax breaks could cost as much as $1.5 tril­lion over 10 years. The Se­nate is out of ses­sion next week, and pas­sage will take time be­cause the rules al­low se­na­tors to of­fer amend­ments.

These amend­ments of­ten do not have the force of law, but both par­ties tend to de­mand votes de­signed to get se­na­tors fac­ing re­elec­tion to cast dif­fi­cult votes that can be used in cam­paign ads.

Lib­eral groups try­ing to de­rail the tax pack­age have set their sights on de­feat­ing the bud­get. One tac­tic is to fo­cus on the res­o­lu­tion’s call for $5.1 tril­lion in spend­ing cuts over the com­ing decade, ar­gu­ing that cuts that deep would af­fect pop­u­lar pro­grams such as Medi­care.

Some con­ser­va­tives have also sounded the alarm about po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion of the na­tional debt, chal­leng­ing the ar­gu­ments by sup­port­ers of the tax over­haul who be­lieve eco­nomic growth pro­duced by tax changes will off­set re­duced rev­enues.

Once the Se­nate passes a bud­get, a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee would have to work out dif­fer­ences with the House ver­sion. Then each cham­ber would have to vote again.

RE­LEASE A BILL

Though months of meet­ings be­hind closed doors pre­ceded the tax plan’s re­lease, it lacked vi­tal de­tails, such as the in­come lev­els for the new in­di­vid­ual tax brack­ets and how the plan to shift cor­po­rate taxes from a global sys­tem to a do­mes­tic one would work.

Fill­ing in those blanks re­quires leg­is­la­tion, which the Con­sti­tu­tion says must orig­i­nate in the House. The chair­man of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said that once the bud­get res­o­lu­tion “pro­vides our run­way to land bold tax re­form on,” his com­mit­tee will un­veil a bill.

To get around bud­get rules de­signed to pre­vent in­creas­ing the deficit, for ex­am­ple, some tax cuts might be crafted to be tem­po­rary so that the money that would come in when they ex­pire would off­set the up­front rev­enue loss of cut­ting the taxes in the first place. This would count even if law­mak­ers have no in­ten­tion of ac­tu­ally let­ting the tax breaks ex­pire.

PASS THE HOUSE

Af­ter the bill gets out of Ways and Means, the full House will be able to weigh in. Ryan could re­strict amend­ments, but if a bloc of rep­re­sen­ta­tives seek­ing changes en­dan­gers pas­sage, he could open the bill up to changes.

To date, sup­port­ers of a tax over­haul have been try­ing to build mo­men­tum for the bill by ar­gu­ing it will be a boon to mid­dle-class fam­i­lies. They have brushed aside crit­i­cisms about the pos­si­ble cost of the plan, say­ing de­tails still are be­ing de­cided, so any bot­tom-line anal­y­sis is pre­ma­ture. But an ac­tual bill will show who the win­ners and losers are.

SE­NATE COULD BRING TWIST

It is al­most cer­tain the Se­nate would want to make its own changes.

The chair­man of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, Repub­li­can Or­rin Hatch of Utah, as­sured the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon, on Tues­day that there would be a full com­mit­tee process where mem­bers could of­fer amend­ments.

Se­nate rules also give the en­tire cham­ber the op­por­tu­nity to of­fer amend­ments when the bill gets to the floor.

“Every­body gets a vote on their amend­ments, and they’re go­ing to en­joy mak­ing the Se­nate vote on some po­lit­i­cally painful amend­ments,” said Mac Camp­bell, a former deputy staff di­rec­tor and gen­eral coun­sel of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee. “That’s just go­ing to be ugly.”

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., would have to im­pose strict party dis­ci­pline to pre­vent the Se­nate from pass­ing a change that might en­dan­ger the re­vised bill pass­ing the House.

“They’re go­ing to en­joy mak­ing the Se­nate vote on some po­lit­i­cally painful amend­ments.”

Mac Camp­bell, a former deputy staff di­rec­tor and gen­eral coun­sel of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee

ALEX WONG,

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, front left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cen­ter right, take part in a press event on tax re­form last month at the Capi­tol.

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