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Are Trump, GOP on Same Page on Bipartisan Outreach?

Tax overhaul, debt ceiling could test overtures

President Donald Trump addresses the media during a recent meeting with Republican and Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee at the White House. (Getty Images File Photo)
President Donald Trump addresses the media during a recent meeting with Republican and Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee at the White House. (Getty Images File Photo)

President Donald Trump is reaching out to Democrats as his party struggles to deliver on key legislation, but rather than embrace that strategy, congressional Republicans keep returning to the same playbook that has failed to give their team a win.

Fresh off another Senate failure to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, Republicans are moving from one partisan plan to the next. On Wednesday, Trump and GOP congressional leaders will unveil a framework for overhauling the tax code, a measure they plan to advance using the budget reconciliation process.

The procedure would allow the GOP to pass a bill with a simple-majority vote in the Senate, but the same process ultimately didn’t help them get a health care overhaul through that chamber.

Yet Republicans still feel reconciliation is the best way to get a tax overhaul through Congress, even though it comes with rules that stipulate that revenue-losing aspects of the bill have to sunset after 10 years.

While Republicans say reconciliation doesn’t preclude them from working across the aisle to pass a tax plan, Democrats say it signals the GOP is not serious about having their input.

Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind said he mentioned that to Trump on Tuesday during a bipartisan meeting at the White House with members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Just the fact that they’re taking the reconciliation route again with tax reform sends a very bad message that they’re really not that interested in working with us,” Kind said. “It’s more, peel off a couple here and there just to get them over the top and not really work in a bipartisan fashion.”

The bipartisan Ways and Means meeting comes after months of closed-door Republican sessions to craft the parameters for a tax overhaul they will announce Wednesday.

Trump recently held two other bipartisan meetings on the issue, but most of the lawmakers that participated in those discussions were not tax writers.

Ulterior motives?

Connecticut Democratic Rep. John B. Larson said the president does seem genuinely interested in working with Democrats. He recalled Trump saying repeatedly Tuesday that a tax overhaul should be bipartisan. But Larson had other thoughts about the main purpose of the meeting.

“Tomorrow, they want to be able to say that [they’ve] sat down with Democrats,” he said.

Kind also questioned Republicans’ intentions.

“You want to be there on the takeoff, not just for the landing — no matter what the landing looks like,” he said. “And to bring Dems into the White House less than 24 hours before the big rollout tomorrow doesn’t really make you feel included in putting a plan together. It’s take it or leave it at that point.”

One reason for that is likely that Trump’s interest in bipartisan legislation has not yet permeated the halls of Congress.

A small group of GOP lawmakers appears to be seriously interested in dealing with Democrats, but most Republicans remain skeptical that the parties can get on the same page.

“While we all certainly hope that tax reform can be bipartisan … we’re already starting to hear from our friends on the other side of the aisle and some critics in the media that this is tax cuts for the rich and this is focused on the 1 percent,” Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr said. “We’re not focused on the 1 percent. We’re focused on the bottom 20 percent. We’re focused on taking the limit off economic mobility.”

Democrats said Trump also promised during the Ways and Means meeting that the wealthy would not benefit from the tax plan. But the minority party members also noted they want to see distributional tables breaking down the tax plan’s impacts across income levels rather than take Republicans at their word on that matter.

GOP promises

Barr’s attempt to flip the narrative on what he referred to as “class-warfare rhetoric” came during a Republican Study Committee press conference announcing three promises the more-than 150-member conservative caucus hopes to fulfill within three months.

“Repeal, reform, secure,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina said of the actions members are seeking on health care, taxes and border security over the next three months.

Given the Senate’s unsuccessful attempts at repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law in one fell swoop, Walker offered an alternative strategy: “If we have to do it piece by piece, one bill at a time, we refuse to quit.”

In that plan is a familiar House GOP strategy: Don’t worry about whether the legislation can pass the Senate.

“We will not filter our work by what the Senate may and may not do,” Walker said.

While he did not specify whether a piecemeal approach would include input from Democrats, Walker’s intention to disregard whether the bills could pass the Senate suggests that it is most likely to be composed of GOP legislation.

“We’re going to continue to put the heat on the Senate to make sure that we’re sending one piece of legislation after another,” he said. “Even if it starts with buying insurance across state lines.”

Disregarding Democrats is also what the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus wants to do on the debt ceiling. The group is urging Trump and GOP leaders to consider the next debt ceiling increase through reconciliation so it can be paired with conservative policies that address spending.

“It is the only way that we’re going to keep eight Democrats from telling us what to do on the debt ceiling,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Tuesday during a “Conversation with Conservatives” event.

The North Carolina Republican clarified that the Freedom Caucus is “pushing, not demanding” the debt ceiling be addressed through the fiscal 2018 reconciliation vehicle.

And it’s not just the Freedom Caucus that is looking for a Republican-led solution to the next debt ceiling crisis.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced to the GOP conference Tuesday that he is forming a task force to look into the matter.

The group will include about 10 to 15 members and will likely start meeting next week, GOP conference Vice Chairman Doug Collins, who is leading the task force, told Roll Call.

“Many of us look at our debt and our deficits and say, ‘We can’t continue just to do this without making structural changes,’” the Georgia Republican said.

The task force members, Collins said, will speak to colleagues from across the conference about their ideas on how to make what is never an easy vote for Republicans better.

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