Pence Presses CEOs to Help Sell Tax Overhaul

By Peter Nicholas Features Dow Jones Newswires

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday he believes that Republicans will secure the votes to pass a tax overhaul that is now making its way through Congress, whatever the outcome of the volatile Senate race in Alabama.

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Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council gathering, Mr. Pence also called on the business executives in the audience to help make the case for passage of the tax plan. He exhorted them to talk to employees and suppliers and to hold "town hall" style events in company cafeterias to build momentum for the tax plan.

The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote this week on one version of the tax package, while a Senate committee considers another.

Senate Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority. Should Alabama's embattled Republican senate candidate, Roy Moore, lose the special election set for next month and Democrats pick up the seat, the GOP majority would slip to 51-49.

Mr. Moore is facing accusations of sexual misconduct -- charges that he denies. Earlier in the day, at the same event, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that Mr. Moore's candidacy was "collapsing" and that he and others were discussing "how to salvage this seat if possible."

Mr. Pence voiced optimism that the tax overhaul, which would reduce corporate and individual tax rates and eliminate some deductions, is on track to pass.

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"We believe we'll have the votes," Mr. Pence said. "We believe we're making steady progress" in both the House and Senate.

"Regardless of the outcome in an upcoming special election" in Alabama, he continued, "the American people in both political parties I believe know that we need tax relief. They know the time has come for tax cuts. They know that American businesses are operating under an uncompetitive tax code."

Still, Mr. Pence said he would welcome public support from the executives who came to hear him speak. Polling shows that Americans are dubious about the tax package touted by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last month showed that only 25% rated the tax plan a "good idea" compared with 35% who deemed it a bad one. Some 40% had no opinion or weren't sure.

"As you all know in your businesses what a barrier our tax code has been to growth and to jobs," Mr. Pence said. "But make no mistake about it: We need business leaders in this country to go tell that story, too."

In a question relayed from the audience, Mr. Pence was asked how, as a "sensible Midwesterner," he put up with all the "chaos and periodic silliness" in Washington.

He paused, shook his head and smiled.

Mr. Pence said that, as a former congressman and governor, he had been dismayed by what he called the "calcified" political atmosphere in the city. He went on to describe his evolving friendship with Mr. Trump and predicted the 45th president's tenure would prove historic.

"I'm absolutely confident that seven years from now we'll look back and say it was President Donald Trump who led a tremendous renewal of the American spirit," he said.

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 14, 2017 19:12 ET (00:12 GMT)