GOP Delays Unveiling Of Tax Bill

Nov 1, 2017
Originally published on November 1, 2017 7:12 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now to Capitol Hill where Republicans like Congressman Donovan have been searching for agreement on a tax bill. The GOP bill was expected to be unveiled today. The key word there - expected. GOP leaders are promising the biggest overhaul of the nation's tax code since the 1980s, but this is now being held up until tomorrow. Republicans still have not agreed on how to pay for large tax cuts for individuals and corporations. Yesterday, President Trump urged Congress to get on with it.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want the House to pass a bill by Thanksgiving. I want all of the people standing by my side when we get ready to sign by Christmas.

GREENE: I want to bring in NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

GREENE: So what exactly do we know now about where this bill stands?

MONTANARO: Well, we know that it's delayed until Thursday, tomorrow, to be unveiled is what they're saying at this point. We know that staffers have worked through the night the last two nights trying to work on some of the biggest sticking points here. There's lots of disagreements over things like eliminating tax breaks because they have to close a gap in what's allowed in the budget process that they use for how much they can actually cost the deficit. You know, some estimates say that these tax cuts could cost up to $5.5 trillion, and the budget process only allows for $1.5 trillion. So there's a huge four-trillion-dollar gap there that they're going to have to try to make up, and a lot of those things are trying to be made up with some popular tax deductions.

GREENE: OK. So you have to - you have to offset these tax cuts with some sort of savings, eliminating tax breaks so the deficit doesn't go up that much. Where is the real controversy? Where are lawmakers really grappling with exactly what they - what tax breaks they'd be willing to give up?

MONTANARO: Well, a big thing that could hit a lot of people is how much money you're allowed to put into your 401(k) retirement fund. Right now, people are allowed to put about $18,000 into that. And there had been some talk of curtailing that down to, you know, just $2,400, which is hard to see lawmakers going ahead with because once that gets a lot of attention, that will be hugely unpopular. So there may be some compromise room in there. The Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady says that anything that's done in this is going to strengthen retirement, which is difficult to see how that would be done through 401(k) if there's that kind of elimination, you know, unless they do something else with the tax code.

There's also a lot of state and local tax deductions that are opposed by a lot of Republicans in some of these high-cost-of-living states like New York, New Jersey and California. And eliminating that would obviously be very difficult, and they really have a small margin of error. They can't lose that whole slew of Republicans from those three states.

GREENE: Well, I mean, talk to me about the reality in the party, Domenico. You have President Trump promising big tax cuts. Republicans like talking about tax cuts. A lot of Republicans also like talking about, you know, not raising the deficit. Isn't that an inherent pressure? Aren't there Republicans who talk about not wanting to raise the deficit at all? And if that's the case, what do you do when you overhaul the tax code?

MONTANARO: Yeah, you, know, the big issue here is, you know, this issue of dynamic scoring and growth, you know, when they talk about - you know, Republicans will say that tax cuts equal growth. There's some disagreement, obviously, among economists on whether or not that's true. The evidence is at best mixed on that. And you have this problem when you get to the Senate of a lot of Republicans - well, not a lot but a few Republicans who don't think that this should cost the government any money. So Bob Corker, for example, from Tennessee, Rand Paul from Kentucky have already said they won't vote for anything that increases the deficit - anything.

So if that's the case, then Republicans are at a very narrow margin here where they'd be at 50 votes. They would need Vice President Pence to come in again to break a tie. And if they lose another Republican, someone like Susan Collins from Maine who's had some problems with, for example, wanting to allow the wealthiest to get a tax cut, there's actually some talk of increasing taxes on the very wealthiest people to try to keep people like her on board. If they lose a Collins, they're going to have to make up for that with possibly a Democrat. And this is not an easy thing to do, and it's why the tax code has not been overhauled in 30 years.

GREENE: Well, it's an explanation for that and also, I mean, we saw the reality of what happens with these narrow vote counts, I mean, with health care and the Republican Party. So, I mean, is this bill in serious trouble, or do you get the sense they're just trying to work out details and they're going to come out with something tomorrow?

MONTANARO: They're promising they'll come out with something tomorrow. They say that they are still going to be able to bring this to the committee by Monday. And they're also saying that there is the possibility that, you know, once it does become public that they could make more changes.

GREENE: NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro, Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome as always.

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