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White House Floats Aggressive Tax Timetable in Fall

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is helping push the GOP tax overhaul plan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is helping push the GOP tax overhaul plan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The White House is not wed to having congressional Republicans use the budget reconciliation process to advance a tax overhaul and is eyeing red state Democrats up for re-election as possible partners in the effort, legislative affairs director Marc Short said Monday.

“We’ve learned how difficult it is to thread the needle with 52 [Republican] senators,” Short said at an event hosted by the conservative Americans for Prosperity at the Newseum.

Short outlined an anticipated timetable for putting together a still unwritten tax bill that presumably would not be written including reconciliation instructions, given the description he offered. He said he expects text to be drafted over the August recess and the tax-writing committees to begin markups “right away” when Congress returns after Labor Day.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to mark up a bill first, hopefully the first week back in September, Short said. The Senate Finance Committee will also be holding hearings and markups on the bill around the same time, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have completion by mid-November,” Short said of when a final bill could make it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Short said he is not expecting drastically different House and Senate bills, as the committees have been working with the administration to ensure all parties are on the same page.

The committees are drafting the bills with the goal of making them revenue neutral, the White House legislative director said, but suggested that is not a top priority for the administration.

With the committees acting in early September, Short suggested they’ll be able to determine whether the tax bill can garner bipartisan support or whether they’ll need to use the budget reconciliation process to get around the Senate filibuster.

Short’s comments came in response to a question about where the congressional budget process stands. While he did not specifically address the fact that the House is struggling to find the votes to pass a fiscal 2018 budget resolution or that the Senate has yet to draft one, his answer about not being locked into reconciliation appears to be a partial reflection of that political reality.

“If that’s the vehicle we’ll use, so be it,” Short said, but added, “We’re not necessarily locked into that direction.”

In order to use reconciliation, the House and Senate would have to agree upon a budget blueprint containing reconciliation instructions for the authorizing committees. The House Budget Committee has adopted a resolution but it faces an uncertain future on the floor. The Senate has not yet acted on a budget resolution and has not set a date for consideration.

Notably, House Republicans have said they remain committed to using reconciliation, saying that’s the only vehicle in which they anticipate getting a tax bill through Congress given widespread differences on the issue with Democrats. The reconciliation process would allow the Senate to pass a tax bill with only 51 Republican votes, instead of 60 votes that would require the support of eight Democrats under regular order.

Short, however, said he’s hopeful some Democrats will want to work with Republicans on a tax bill, noting the administration has already had conversations with the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats and the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, as well as red state Democrats in the Senate.

Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats in the mid-term elections, including in 10 states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin won by Trump in November.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin accompanied Short at the Americans for Prosperity event, but he was much more reserved in outlining details of what’s to come on taxes. Mnuchin did, however, promise the tax overhaul effort would be successful.

“We will have success,” he said. “This is a pass/fail exercise, and will we pass tax reform.”

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