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Top Republicans Pursue Blue Dogs to Back Tax Bill

Cuellar says details will be key in nailing down his support

Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar is among the fiscally conservative Democrats being wooed by Republicans seeking to pass their tax overhaul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar is among the fiscally conservative Democrats being wooed by Republicans seeking to pass their tax overhaul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Donald Trump and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady are trying to woo fiscally conservative Democrats, as Republicans seek consensus for an ambitious overhaul based on the GOP’s tax framework.

Passing a tax bill with just Republican votes in the House is far from a sure thing, as some GOP lawmakers have said they want more details about the size and reach of tax cuts and the impact of contentious offsets such as the elimination of the popular deduction for state and local taxes.

With a 240-seat majority, House Republicans can afford to lose no more than 22 members of their conference to get 218 votes for passage. Faced with potential defections, Trump and key Republicans like Brady are working the Blue Dog Coalition — the 18 Democrats who sometimes cross party lines on fiscal issues.

Blue Dogs such as Texas’ Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez said they are keeping the door open to possibly supporting the House GOP tax bill being written using the framework released Wednesday as a guide.

“We are definitely interested in talking. We have a lot of questions. We’ve got to look at the details,” said Cuellar, co-chairman of the coalition.

Cuellar, Gonzalez and other Blue Dogs met with Trump and members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus about two weeks ago, and Gonzalez said he had a private dinner with Trump and two other Blue Dogs at the White House in June.

“I’m open to looking at it. Our corporate tax rates are some of the highest in the world. We need to adjust them somehow, make it a little friendlier,” said Gonzalez, a freshman lawmaker. He said he was cool to the GOP proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, adding he would be open to “maybe 25” percent.

While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have castigated the GOP’s tax framework as a giveaway to the rich, some Blue Dogs have taken a measured approach as the Ways and Means Committee fleshes out details. 

Blue Dogs such as Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jim Cooper of Tennessee have raised concerns about deficits from proposed tax cuts and the lack of many revenue-raising offsets in the framework.

“There should be no blowing a hole in the deficit. That’s the big issue,” Schrader said.

Finding common ground

Others, including California Rep. Lou Correa, said they were focusing on how tax cuts would be structured and whether they would benefit working families in their districts.

“The key is to better their lives. I want to make sure this tax package doesn’t hurt them,” said Correa, whose district based in Orange County, California, has a median income of about $52,000.

Brady met with a number of Blue Dogs about two weeks ago and said late last week he remained hopeful that some of them would break ranks and vote for the emerging GOP tax plan.

Illinois GOP Rep. Peter Roskam chairman of the Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee, said he’s also met with some Blue Dogs, and tried to address their “distributional sensitivity,” meaning their focus on benefits for working families.

By emphasizing such incentives, Republicans are hoping Blue Dogs will be more willing to switch sides on a big tax bill than on the short-lived GOP proposals to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

“It’s very different on health care where you’ve got strong, strong feelings in defense of the status quo. No one is defending the status quo on the Internal Revenue Code, which means there is an opportunity,” Roskam said.

He believes Democratic support for a GOP tax package would help to build momentum, and attract more lawmakers from both parties.

“The more people that vote for it, it always gets easier,” Roskam said.

Correction Oct. 3, 2017, 2:51 p.m. | An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes and information to Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz. It was Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, who had concerns about the GOP tax framework and dined with President Donald Trump and two other Blue Dog Coalition members.

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