WASHINGTON – Republicans’ partisan push to overhaul the health care system failed in the Senate, but House GOP lawmakers say they plan to stick to that approach in rewriting the tax code.
Since the start of the year, Republicans have said the health care and tax overhauls, the top two items on their legislative agenda, would likely be partisan efforts given wide policy gaps with Democrats on both issues.
With that strategy in mind, they decided to move both overhauls through the budget reconciliation process – health care in fiscal 2017 and taxes in fiscal 2018 – to allow for a simple-majority vote in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy is not working on health care.
“This has been a very, very challenging experience for all of us,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement.”
Senate Republicans could only afford two defections from their 52-member conference in a scenario under which Vice President Mike Pence would cast a tie-breaking vote.
McConnell acknowledged if Republicans fail to call up a repeal-only vote – based on expected objections from three senators – they’ll move on to other priorities, such as a tax overhaul and an infrastructure package.
Despite the problems their Senate colleagues have faced making the math work on health care, House Republicans at least appear ready to take the same approach to overhauling the tax code.
“I feel like it’s our only option,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said.
The GOP shouldn’t abandon the effort to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, the North Carolina Republican said.
“I talked the speaker earlier today. I don’t feel like that we can give up just because the Senate laid an egg,” Walker said. “I think it’s time for bicameral meetings to get together and talk about our differences and try to put something together. We owe it to the American people.”
With health care stalled, Republicans could rewrite the fiscal 2017 reconciliation instructions for a tax overhaul and save the fiscal 2018 vehicle for a possible health care breakthrough, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.
The North Carolina Republican said the mandatory savings cuts that conservatives have pushed to include in the fiscal 2018 reconciliation process could probably remain in that vehicle rather than be moved up with the tax overhaul but he hadn’t yet given the idea much thought.
New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, who authored an amendment to the House health care bill that was ultimately key to its passage, said a tax overhaul should still move through reconciliation but acknowledged it will be more difficult because of the health care stumbles.
“While it ratchets up pressure on us to get something done, it also makes it difficult to move forward with anything controversial because of a fear of it falling apart,” he said. “So I think it makes it more perilous. But the imperative is absolutely there.”
The House Budget Committee released its fiscal 2018 budget resolution Tuesday with reconciliation instructions for a deficit neutral tax overhaul and $203 billion in mandatory savings. The blueprint calls for combining the tax and spending proposals the committees come up with under those instructions into a single reconciliation measure. It’s unlikely the Senate will back that approach.
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said reconciliation gives Republicans a vehicle to get a tax overhaul to President Donald Trump’s desk.
“And by the way, it doesn’t preclude Democratic engagement and support to get there,” the Texas Republican said. “In fact, we continue to welcome those ideas and engagement, certainly here in the House.”
Bipartisan engagement doesn’t seem to be occurring, said Texas Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Ways and Means member.
“I don’t know of any Democrats that have come over and said, ‘Let’s do tax reform,’” he said.
Rep. James B. Renacci, a member of the Ways and Means and Budget committees, said it would be nice for Republicans and Democrats to come together to rewrite the tax code but that reconciliation remains the more pragmatic approach because it allows for a 51-vote threshold in the Senate.
“Otherwise, you’re going to be held hostage to 7 or 8 votes out of 535, which isn’t fair either,” the Ohio Republican said. Eight is the minimum number of Democrats that would be needed to pass a tax bill in the Senate if it didn’t move through reconciliation.
New York Rep. Tom Reed, also a Ways and Means member, said he would like to see a bipartisan tax overhaul. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group he co-chairs, has discussed the topic, he said. However, GOP leaders appear set on using reconciliation to set up a partisan process.
“The fundamental decision has already been made, and they’re going to go that path,” Reed said. “But you know, I’m always a proponent of . have a Plan A but always have a Plan B. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. So if we find ourselves in the exact same position where I think we possibly could be, I’m going to continue to work across the aisle to see if we can’t put a deal together.”
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