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‘SALTy’ House Republicans nearly sink rule over tax deal

New York Republicans almost killed a rule for the sixth time this Congress before backing down

Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday.
Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A handful of House Republicans flipped their votes to back a rule for floor debate Tuesday after initially voting “no” in protest against a separate $78 billion bipartisan tax package’s silence on state and local tax deduction limits.

Blue-state Republicans, who want to see the “SALT” cap raised, at first voted down the rule that would provide for consideration of several unrelated immigration policy measures. But after huddling with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La, Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., and others during the vote, they came out and changed their votes, allowing the rule to be adopted, 216-210.

It wasn’t immediately clear what concessions had been promised to members seeking changes to the tax bill, which Ways and Means approved 40-3 earlier this month. Smith declined to comment after the rule vote Tuesday, walking into his office off the House floor and slamming the door.

New York Republicans Nick LaLota, Mike Lawler, Anthony D’Esposito and Andrew Garbarino initially voted against the rule before changing their votes. Democrats also voted against the rule, which is typical of the party in the minority.

“I want to be in a conference where I live on a two-way street, where my input is valued, my constituents’ input is valued,” LaLota said ahead of the floor vote. “I voted for a lot of things over the last 13 or 14 months, and helped out a lot of my teammates. Now I’m asking for my teammates to help step up for myself and my Long Island constituents.”

LaLota pitched a bill he introduced that would increase the $10,000 cap to $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples filing taxes together. But he said he’d be open to more modest changes, specifically inclusion of a bill introduced by Lawler that would double the cap to $20,000 for married couples.

Conversations with leadership are still ongoing, LaLota said.

“The good news is nobody said it’s coming to the floor yet in its current form, so we’re going to continue to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “Hopefully add a little ‘SALT’ to the tax bill to make it better.”

‘Very clear picture’

Johnson said earlier Monday the tax bill would go to the floor, likely under suspension of the rules. He shared no updates on timing at a news conference Tuesday morning, but said he hoped “to be able to present a very clear picture here very soon.”

LaLota and other blue-state Republicans facing tough elections this fall had been threatening to find common cause with members of the House Freedom Caucus, who’ve banded together to reject five other rules this Congress.

While none of the conservative hard-liners voted “no” on Tuesday’s rule, the two groups share concerns about moving the tax package under suspension of the rules. To do so would limit amendments and debate, but rely on Democratic votes to reach the two-thirds majority of voting members needed to pass.

“A lot of them are very big on process and procedure,” LaLota said of the Freedom Caucus. “To bring a bill, a significant, ginormous tax bill to the floor under suspension, literally suspending the rules to fast track it is something that has offended them. Things like that have offended them for 13 months, and it offends us. So we have some common ground on this right now.”

During the rule vote, the New Yorkers were seen huddling with Johnson; Smith; Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, the Freedom Caucus’ policy director; and the chief deputy GOP whip, Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania, among others. After the huddle, the group was seen heading off into the Republican cloakroom.

The vote was held open to accommodate the cloakroom meeting, which lasted roughly 30 minutes. After the meeting the four New York Republicans changed their votes to “yea” on the rule.

Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., voted for the rule at first but shares concerns about the SALT issue. He said discussions during the vote were productive but declined to elaborate.

“In fairness to all parties, including Chairman Smith, it was productive conversation about some … detail that we hope will … confront the concerns regarding SALT,” Molinaro said, declining to get into specifics. “It was a very fruitful conversation that … will lead to more fruitful conversations.”

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good said considering bills via suspension is doing Democrats’ bidding.

“That’s a problem because when we do that we’re joining the Democrats to do what they want to do, passing legislation the Senate will pass and the White House will sign,” Good, R-Va., said. “And that’s not good for the country.”

Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said conservatives’ penchant for killing rules on the floor had forced leadership to govern through suspension.

“If you vote for the rule, we wouldn’t have to use suspension,” Cole said. “Some of the people who complain are some of the people who brought down rules, so they’ve got to decide whether or not they want to vote for rules.”

Child credit critiques

In addition to objections to the process, conservatives criticized the bill, saying it would allow undocumented immigrants to collect child tax credits. The package, which would devote $33 billion to expanding the credit, would maintain the requirements currently in place for families collecting the credit, including providing the child’s Social Security number.

Smith, who negotiated the package with Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called that criticism “completely false.”

“It’s the same language that was in Trump’s tax cuts in 2017,” he said referring to the 2017 law. “There’s very few items in the code that require a Social Security number. You have to have a Social Security number as a child in order to get it.”

Meanwhile, some Democrats watched gleefully as Republicans scrambled to save the rule and avoid killing the procedural measure on the floor for the sixth time this Congress.

California Rep. Ted Lieu, vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, said the threats by some Republicans to block legislation on the floor underscored their political vulnerability.

“The New York Republicans, many of them ran on one issue: to fix the SALT issue. They literally had one job and they failed. It shows how incompetent and weak and ineffective that they are,” Lieu said at a news conference. “It also shows me that the Republican caucus has largely given up on trying to protect the vulnerable New York Republicans in New York, and so that is the takeaway from that.”

But caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California said Democrats stood ready to work with Republican leadership to find a bipartisan path forward on the bill, which would also revive a trio of business tax credits, boost affordable housing construction incentives, end double-taxation of American companies operating in Taiwan and provide tax relief for natural disaster victims.

“It’s not the tax bill that we would have drawn up and will draw when Chairman Neal is holding the gavel again,” Aguilar said, referring to Ways and Means ranking member Richard E. Neal, D-Mass. “But clearly, this will be a suspension bill and clearly this is something that Democrats are relied upon in order to go forward with.”

David Lerman, Briana Reilly and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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