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With Tax Deal in the Works, Questions Turn to Timing

Deal could be announced as early as Tuesday, with votes next week

Capitol Hill was relatively calm Tuesday morning, as Washington braced for the results of the Alabama Senate election and timing on a vote on tax overhaul and spending is in flux. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Capitol Hill was relatively calm Tuesday morning, as Washington braced for the results of the Alabama Senate election and timing on a vote on tax overhaul and spending is in flux. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill was relatively calm Tuesday morning, even as the timing on two big-ticket items — voting on a tax overhaul package and what to do about year-end spending questions — hung in the air unresolved and the nation remained fixated on Alabama’s special Senate election, where voting is underway.

House Republicans meeting as a conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters said there was no specific timeline for voting on the tax package, as the formal conference committee is set to meet, perhaps for the only time, Wednesday.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a close ally of House GOP leaders, said he “thinks” his chamber is on track to vote on the tax bill next Tuesday, although no specific date has been announced by leadership.

“They want to be able to vote early next week,” he said.

That jibes with reports that the conferees have a deal in principle that they can work through to get to legislative language. 

“We hope to have an agreement with the House soon. We’ve got work to do here to work with the parliamentarian. … My hope would be that we’re prepared to go to the floor next week,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Tuesday morning on the opposite side of the Capitol complex. The Texas Republican said they could have a deal in place as early as Tuesday.

At a House leadership press event following the conference meeting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy would only say that when the conference is done, it will post its report in time for everyone to read and then pass it.

Democrats, and some Republicans, acknowledge the formal conference committee isn’t exactly where the fine details of the legislation are being worked out. 

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said there was an expectation that Republicans would file their final tax bill Friday, which would be an “extraordinary superficial conferencing of a bill.”

While mum on timing, House GOP leaders were eager to tout a Treasury Department analysis that, while lacking detailed analysis, said the Senate version of the tax measure would raise $300 billion, assuming an economic growth rate not matched by congressional scorekeepers.

“I think that estimate makes a lot of sense. … I do think we’re going to have a big positive dynamic effect,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said. “I do believe the Treasury when they say this is going to unleash a lot of economic growth, which will release more revenues.”

The Wisconsin Republican said the regulatory and welfare changes Treasury cited in its analysis are things Congress is in the middle of doing.

As for the Joint Committee on Taxation’s dynamic estimate of the House bill that put the cost at $1 trillion, Ryan said the JCT “usually runs all models and gives you a fan chart of ranges.” He said the JCT gave Congress the low range for the tax bill and that other dynamic models are “more reflective of how the world actually works.”

Groups such as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget mocked the Treasury Department’s conclusions. 

“Real dynamic scoring relies on sophisticated models to determine the effect of tax changes on labor, investment, interest rates, and income growth. Every true dynamic estimate of the House and Senate plans find they will have a much more modest effect on the economy than what the Treasury claims,” CRFB President Maya MacGuineas said in a statement. 

Regardless of who is right, GOP leadership is charging ahead, and looking toward wrapping up spending negotiations as well. 

“After tax reform, our plan is to send an appropriations bill over to the Senate, so they can start dealing with appropriations,” Ryan said about the plan for a third stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Dec. 22. “So that is what we’re going to do then. We are going to put together a bill that reflects our priorities and send that over to the Senate after tax reform.”

But Rep. Tom Graves, the chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, indicated the next stopgap spending bill could originate in the Senate and not the House.

“I guess what I’m suggesting is the Senate could return a bill we’ve already passed to them,” the Georgia Republican said, referring to the two appropriations packages the House sent to the Senate earlier this year. “So there is a lot of expectation that the House must go first, but that is not necessarily the only option.”

Graves said the Senate moving the next CR first could “speed the process up.”

Kellie Mejdrich, Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt, contributed to this report.

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