House GOP Members Worry About Trump's Commitment to Their Tax Bill

By Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson Features Dow Jones Newswires

House Republican leaders on Tuesday were working to lock in votes for a 10-year, $1.4 trillion tax cut up for consideration this week, a task complicated by lingering worries among rank-and-file lawmakers about whether President Donald Trump would turn against them in favor of the Senate's version.

Continue Reading Below

Emerging from a closed-door House GOP conference meeting, most Republicans said that they expected to vote for the tax legislation, which calls for deep cuts in corporate rates, a collapse in individual tax brackets to four from seven, and the eventual repeal of the estate tax.

Among the biggest outstanding worries was whether Mr. Trump would criticize their plan, as he did during a health-care fight earlier this year, and whether Senate Republicans would be able to pass tax legislation and avoid a repeat of the tensions that doomed their health-care bill.

"We just want to know if we're headed for the same rocks for being the first kid to go to the blackboard to try to spell the word," said Rep. Mark Amodei (R., Nev.), who has told House Republican leaders that he is still undecided. "After the experience with health care, when we were first to go, it's not that our product was perfect but it was like, you get absolutely shredded by the folks on the other side of the building, and even some of the president's comments."

The House is expected to vote on its tax bill on Thursday, while the Senate is expected to vote on its version the week after Thanksgiving. In the House, Republicans can lose no more than 22 votes if they are to pass the bill without the support of Democrats, who have remained unified against the bill. The math is even harder in the Senate, where Republicans control 52 seats and need 50 votes for passage.

Republicans want to deliver Mr. Trump a major legislative victory in order to have something to show for the first year of all-GOP control of Congress and the White House in a decade. But memories are long on Capitol Hill, where Republicans remember that in June, Mr. Trump told Senate Republicans that a House GOP health plan was "mean" and that Mr. Trump made similar disparaging remarks about the House GOP tax plan to Senate Democrats earlier this month.

Continue Reading Below

The question of whether the White House would be a reliable partner came up late Monday night in a closed-door meeting of the House Republican whip team, which is responsible for rounding up votes. House Republicans pressed White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who attended the meeting, about whether he told Senate Democrats at a recent meeting that they would prefer the Senate bill over the House bill, according to Mr. Amodei.

"He said he didn't say it," said Mr. Amodei, who expects Mr. Trump to be asked a similar question when the president visits House Republicans on Thursday.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Amodei's remark about Mr. Cohn.

Working to tamp down on Republican fears that there was distance between the White House and Congress on the tax overhaul, House Republican leaders showed the GOP conference a Monday tweet from Mr. Trump in which the president said that he was "excited to be heading home to see the House pass a GREAT Tax Bill," one lawmaker said.

"The president is on board with this and back during the health-care business it wasn't quite the same," said Rep. Brian Babin (R., Texas), who plans to vote for the House tax bill.

But at the same time that they were working to show unity, Republican leaders also had to contend with a matter that Mr. Trump has stirred up by insisting that Congress, as part of its tax bill, repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, a requirement that individuals have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Repealing the mandate would raise $338 billion over a decade because fewer people would be insured and the government would spend less on Medicaid and health-insurance subsidies. Mr. Trump wants to use the money to pay for lowering the top income rate to 35% from 39.6%. But it would introduce the messy politics of health care into tax policy.

"We're pushing this bill as we have it," ahead of a vote expected Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) told reporters. He said there would still be opportunities to tweak the tax bill when the House and Senate try to merge their different versions of the bill. "This is a work in progress."

Beyond the question of trust in the White House, the House bill's path to passage is complicated by the fact that some individuals would pay more taxes under the GOP bills.

Most taxpayers are likely to see lower tax bills under the Republican plan, but millions are at risk of higher taxes immediately, with the number losing out growing over time, according to analyses by Congress's nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Among the individual taxpayers who are most nervous are those with high medical expenses, which could no longer be deducted under the House GOP plan, and taxpayers from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois who would lose the ability to deduct state and local taxes and would see their property-tax deduction capped at $10,000.

"Is it real tax relief for them? I just want to see proof of it," said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R., Ill.), who said Tuesday he had been glad to see the adoption tax credit restored, but that he was undecided on the bill while he crunched the numbers to see how it would affect middle-income families in his district.

One bloc of Republican lawmakers that is likely to vote against the tax bill are those from high-tax areas of New York and New Jersey. Republicans from those states met late Monday with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and other GOP leaders.

"I think they're really trying," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), who nonetheless plans to vote no. "I can't go home and tell my constituents I voted to give them a tax increase."

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 14, 2017 14:08 ET (19:08 GMT)