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House GOP Tax Package Still In Limbo as Clock Winds Down

Time remaining in 115th Congress does not bode well for proponents

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, hopes the chamber can still pass a tax package in the time before the 115th Congress ends. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, hopes the chamber can still pass a tax package in the time before the 115th Congress ends. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House is leaving in limbo an $80 billion package of tax breaks as it leaves for the weekend on Thursday, though in theory there’s still time to take up the measure next week before lawmakers leave town for the holidays.

The second time had been shaping up to be the charm for House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s now refurbished year-end tax bill, as Republicans appeared to be lining up behind it Wednesday. An earlier version expected on the floor two weeks ago never made it due to objections from rank-and-file Republicans.

There’s little appetite for the bill in the Senate, however, where Democrats object to fixing errors included in the 2017 tax code overhaul that passed without a single vote from their side of the aisle.

There are other politically charged items in the House GOP bill as well, such as repealing the so-called Johnson amendment, which prohibits nonprofits, such as church groups, from endorsing political candidates.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left the measure off of Thursday’s brief floor agenda. The House is not scheduled to be in session Friday, which means the window is closing as lawmakers want to wrap up the 115th Congress next week in time for Christmas.

“We feel good about where we are and will continue to have discussions with members over the weekend,” said Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

House GOP whip-counters reported positive numbers coming in Wednesday as leadership polled members for the second time in two weeks on package.

A planned Nov. 30 vote on an earlier version was pulled because of a lack of support from the GOP caucus, whose members were concerned about the bill including an extension of an excise tax on coal, among other worries.

That provision is gone, and so are extensions of 26 various tax breaks that had added $29.9 billion in costs to the bill. What is left is more popular, leaders say.

‘Good, Strong Count’

“Really good right now,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said of the in-process whip count on Brady’s new version of the bill.

“We were literally just whipping it now, but you know how tough it is to get Republicans to vote for a tax cut,” he said with a chuckle.

“I think we’ll have a good, strong count,” Cole added.

The nearly $30 billion in tax breaks were replaced with more than $50 billion worth of delayed taxes related to the 2010 health care law.

The revised bill would extend a suspension of the medical device tax for five years through 2024, the health insurer fee for two years through 2021, and the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans for one additional year through 2022.

Those three delays would cost the Treasury about $52 billion, Brady, R-Texas, has said. The measure also would repeal the law’s tax on indoor tanning services, at a relatively small cost of about $40 million a year.

The tax has brought in a lot less revenue than initially estimated — the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2010 said it would be raising $300 million annually by now.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said he thinks Brady’s revamped bill seems to have gathered enough votes to pass the House.

“I think there’s enough in there, certainly for me, to whip ‘yes,’ and we’ll just have to see if there’s enough in there for the rest of them to whip ’yes,’” Byrne said. “I generally support changes to the tax code that are going to save people money. But we just weren’t prepared for that last time — clearly — I mean, I talked to members of the Ways and Means Committee that weren’t for it, so that’s a pretty bad sign.”

Although Brady dropped the tax extenders from his bill, he has said he hopes the Senate picks up that part of the package. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Finance Committee, has said he expects the extenders, along with other less controversial parts of Brady’s bill could end up in a wrap-up spending bill.

The main features of Brady’s new bill that have bipartisan support include language to overhaul the IRS that passed as a stand-alone bill by a vote of 414-0 earlier this year; temporary tax breaks for residents in areas hit by hurricanes Michael and Florence, among other natural disasters; and retirement savings provisions. Democrats, though, have been vocal about opposing Brady’s effort to include technical corrections to the 2017 tax code overhaul.

Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., on Nov. 30 blamed pulling the original vote on the tax package on Republicans trying “to do big policy in the final hours” as they were still adjusting to the new realities wrought by the election.

But on Wednesday, Lucas reported members he’d polled were in favor of the revised measure.

“My whip card’s actually positive, and I have some of the more contrarian members,” he said.

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