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Johnson’s plan to expedite tax deal already faces backlash

Blue-state Republicans threaten to vote against unrelated rules if priorities aren't addressed

Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Jan. 17.
Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Jan. 17. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Mike Johnson said Monday that the $78 billion bipartisan family and business tax break bill would go to the floor likely under suspension of the rules, though the move already faces pushback from members of his party.

Johnson, R-La., did not specify when the package would go to the floor in his remarks at the Congressional Institute, though some members thought the bill could go to the floor as early as this week. House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., who negotiated the deal with Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is due to pitch the GOP conference on the deal Tuesday.

The possibility of a suspension vote, which would allow leadership to bypass the Rules Committee and limit floor debate and amendments, angered both blue state Republicans and the right flank of the party, with some members threatening to tank unrelated rules in retaliation.

“The reality is in this Congress, in order for individual members to have their voices heard when leadership doesn’t listen to them, they have called the rules into question. I think that is now on the table,” said Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., adding that he could employ the tactic as soon as Tuesday. He and other New York Republicans want to see the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions increased in the package.

The bill would devote about $33 billion to resurrect a trio of business tax credits and roughly the same amount to expand the child tax credit. It would also boost an affordable housing credit, extend tax-treaty-like benefits to Taiwan and provide tax relief for victims of natural disasters.

‘Take, take, take and no give’

One option SALT Republicans asked Johnson to consider would be raising the cap to $20,000 for married couples, LaLota said.

“If we in these tough Biden districts are going to vote for the things that those in the deep red districts want and to be good teammates, [if] we do that, we would expect on the very small things that we ask in return — things like funding the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program, funding flood insurance back home, giving us a little bit of SALT relief — we would ask for those little things to show that we too are valued members of the team,” LaLota said. “It can’t just be take, take, take and no give.”

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., said he would also consider voting down unrelated rules on the floor without SALT relief, a tactic that conservative hard-liners in the party have used multiple times over the past year.

“Perhaps it’s time that us, rational, become radical,” D’Esposito said.

The prospect of considering the bill under suspension also angered members of the House Freedom Caucus, who share concerns of conservative think tanks opposed to the child credit expansion, among other provisions.

“Look, if this place is going to turn into essentially, ‘the rule is there are no rules,’ and we’re going to suspend all the rules. OK, I see your hand and I raise it. That’s not the way this place is supposed to function,” said Byron Donalds, R-Fla. “We cannot have this place be governed just by suspension votes. It doesn’t work.”

Heritage Action, the conservative policy group affiliated with the Heritage Foundation think tank, informed lawmakers Monday of its opposition to the package. The group said the measure “continues a long-standing push by Congress to claim welfare benefits as ‘tax relief'” said that the measure claims phony savings from ending the “deficit funded, fraud ridden” employee retention tax credit.

Heritage Action spent $820,000 on lobbying last year, up from $430,000 in 2022, according to disclosures. The Sentinel Action Fund, a super PAC affiliated with the group, spent $13.3 million in support of GOP candidates and against Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

Democratic votes wanted

Passing the bill on suspension would require a two-thirds majority of voting members, meaning it would have to pick up significant support from Democrats. But House Democrats have criticized the bill for doing too little to expand the child tax credit.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, ramped up criticism of the package, releasing a pair of fact sheets Monday. One listed corporations that pay little or no taxes that would benefit from the package’s revival of a trio of tax breaks.

The other outlined how the deal falls short of the 2021 child tax credit expansion included in the pandemic relief law. The package would allow low-income families to qualify for more of the credit faster, but would not resurrect provisions in place in 2021 that allowed families to collect the full credit even with little or no taxable income.

Many Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, including ranking member Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., shared DeLauro’s criticism of the deal’s child tax credit provisions, though all but three threw support behind the bill in the panel’s markup this month.

Neal said he wasn’t surprised to see backlash against moving the legislation on suspension, and wouldn’t say whether the Democrat votes would be there to carry it over the finish line.

“It’s always the case with legislation, I mean, there are a series of choices you make. Did we approve the bill considerably? Yes, we did. Is it what we wanted? No, it’s not,” Neal said. “I was not one who thought this was going to be easily done.”

Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kan., a Ways and Means member who voted for the bill in committee, dismissed the criticism from disgruntled members, saying it didn’t reflect the strong support for the legislation.

“A lot of good bills that start to gain momentum, a lot of people want to add a provision that they like. I think that’s what’s driving a lot of the conversation around this,” Estes said. “It’s not the end all be all for tax policy to move forward, but it addresses a lot of key provisions.”

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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