GOP leaders to exclude most lawmakers from tax talks

Josh Boak
Associated Press

Washington — The White House plans to privately negotiate a massive overhaul of the tax system with Republican leaders in Congress, possibly giving rank-and-file members little if any say over the finished product, a top aide to President Donald Trump said Tuesday.

Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic aide, said the administration doesn’t want to engage in prolonged negotiations after the package is made public this fall. Cohn said the goal is to release the overhaul in the first two weeks of September.

“We don’t want to be negotiating the tax bill on the floor,” Cohn said at a meeting of technology executives.

This type of top-down approach has a sketchy record on Capitol Hill, especially on issues as difficult to maneuver as the first remake of the nation’s tax code in 31 years. Earlier this year, House members balked when Trump officials demanded that they vote on a bill to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health law.

The House narrowly passed the bill only after lengthy negotiations among lawmakers.

Such an approach also would come as Senate Republicans have been widely criticized for crafting a health care bill behind closed doors, with even some in the GOP complaining about the secretive process.

Nonetheless, Republican leaders put a happy face on their efforts Tuesday, despite offering no evidence of progress in overcoming their differences.

“Let’s not talk about why we can’t do something. Let’s talk about how fantastic things will be if we get this done,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told the National Association of Manufacturers. “Let’s not talk about this little tax break or that little tax break. Let’s talk about the big picture.”

In April, the administration unveiled a one-page proposal that called for massive tax cuts for businesses and a bigger standard tax deduction for middle-income families, lower investment taxes for the wealthy and an end to the federal estate tax for the superrich — like the president and his family.

The plan also calls for eliminating the federal deduction for state and local taxes, a proposal opposed by Democrats and some Republicans in states like New York, New Jersey and California.

Ryan said he is confident Congress can pass a tax package by the end of the year, despite political divisions among Republicans and a crowded legislative agenda.

He acknowledged it won’t be easy. But he preached against settling for something less than a complete overhaul.