Democrats being shunned on tax reform talks? White House cries foul

By Politics FOXBusiness

(AP)

While the Senate Finance Committee has been tasked with working with other members of Congress to craft President Trump’s tax reform agenda, some of the Democrats within the committee are telling FOX Business that they’ve been kept on the sidelines for almost the entire process.

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White House officials have not met with them as a group or privately with some individual members since May 17, when they met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, according to Democrat committee aides familiar with the matter. 

Natalie Strom, assistant White House press secretary, denies that the White House has ignored members of the opposing party by insisting officials are always meeting with them privately.

“There have been additional private one-on-one meetings with principals. We’re not going to get into the specific dates as those were private meetings. We have been discussing tax reform with both sides and will continue to do so,” Strom said.

Strom also confirmed to FOX Business that the administration has met with Democrats from the House including members from the Ways and Means Committee, Blue Dog Coalition and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

There are also some Senate Democrats throwing shade on Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch’s, R-Utah, attempts at having discussions on a tax reform bill with members of their party. According to one aide, they haven’t spoken with Hatch about how to move forward on tax reform since January and even then, no details were discussed.

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“The most detailed the meeting got was agreeing that good tax reform would be…good,” said the aide. 

Hatch told reporters last week at a press scrum on Capitol Hill that he's spoken with everyone on the Senate Finance Committee.

"I've had conversations with every member of the Finance Committee – both Republican and Democrat – about tax reform priorities" Hatch said.

A spokesman for Hatch declined to comment further.

Congressional aides also noted that Hatch has been meeting with ranking member Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., every week since the beginning of the new Congress about where the Democrats stand on tax reform.

In a statement to FOX Business, the Senate Finance Committee also insisted that Hatch has been consistently meeting with members from both parties.

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“As chairman, Sen. Hatch promotes a collaborative process at the committee level and always welcomes input from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” a committee spokeswoman said.

Four of the 12 Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee have told FOX Business through their offices and committee aides that they haven’t heard from anyone within the administration since their original meeting in May.

Congressional aides from the offices of ranking member Wyden, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., have all told FOX Business that they have not met with White House officials on tax reform since that meeting.

A Senate Committee aide told FOX Business that Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has also not heard from White House officials since their meeting in May.

Spokespersons for the eight other members did not return calls for comment.

This comes as the White House and Republican leadership insist they are open to working with lawmakers from across the aisle and as Democrats make their list of demands on what they want to see in a tax reform package.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., President Trump and Sen. Hatch last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and 45 other Democrats urged Republicans to work with them on a bipartisan basis while also insisting that to get their support, any tax bill could not increase the tax burden on the middle class nor shrink tax bills for the wealthiest Americans.

After the letter was released, McConnell announced that Republicans would go at tax reform alone.

“We will need to use reconciliation because we have been informed by the majority of the Democrats in a letter I just received today that most of the principles that would get the country growing again, they’re not interested in addressing,” McConnell said.

Reconciliation would allow Republicans to pass a tax reform bill with only 50 votes in the Senate and having Vice President Mike Pence be the tie breaker if needed. While it could make it easier to pass some form of tax legislation, Republicans tried the same tactic with their ObamaCare repeal bill and still did not receive enough votes to get it passed.

The tone of taking on tax reform alone without a bipartisan consensus is not a consistent theme within Republican leadership. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., recently said in an interview that he hoped his party could find a way to strike a deal with the Democrats.

"It would be nice if we could do something through the regular order process," Thune told the Washington Examiner.

In an interview on Fox News Channel, Hatch said he believed the success of tax reform could come down to the work his party does with the Democrats.

"It is going to take Democrats and Republicans getting together, putting aside their stupid differences and saying ‘look, this one time let's do this for our country, let’s do this for our American citizens, let's do this for our economy,’” Hatch told Sunday Morning Futures.

According to Mark Mazur, director of the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center and former assistant secretary for tax policy in the Treasury, the only way comprehensive tax reform was agreed upon in the past was through bipartisan negotiations.

“When undertaking true reform of the ‘broaden the tax base, lower the tax rate’ variety, key constituencies often break along geographic or demographic or industry lines, not partisan ones… this committee’s long tradition of bipartisan legislating bodes well for playing a leading role in developing a durable consensus on tax reform,” Mazur told the Senate Finance Committee in July. 

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