Last night, Sen. Ron Johnson surprised the GOP Senate leadership by coming out against the republican tax plan “in its current form,” the latest sign that the Republican push to pass comprehensive tax reform by New Year’s will struggle in the Senate.
Still, that won’t stop the more Trump-friendly House of Representatives from passing their version of the bill, which they’re expected to do this afternoon following a meeting with the president.
While the vote totals are expected to be tight, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady both said the bill will likely pass, and they wouldn’t be pushing for a vote unless they had it in the bag. President Trump will visit Capitol Hill ahead of the vote to rally support, but, according to the Hill, it appears there will be little need to twist arms. All three of the House’s major Republican factions have given the bill the green light.
And the days leading up to the vote have been relatively drama-free, as the three main House GOP factions – the far-right Freedom Caucus, conservative Republican Study Committee and moderate Tuesday Group – have either backed the bill or stayed on the sidelines.
Already, House Republicans are heralding the accomplishment as a sign that the Republicans can still get it done in Congress.
In what may have helped House leaders, Trump took a step back in the process of whipping up votes (he was conveniently touring Asia when most of the heavy lifting was being done). And though Republicans credit him with “remaining engaged” with the process, some fear that he could veer off message in this afternoon’s pep talk and somehow disrupt the carefully assembled Republican coalition.
The big tax-reform vote will allow Republicans to recapture the headlines in a week that has been dominated by allegations of sexual misconduct made against Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.
But there’s also a small concern among some Republicans that Trump could veer off message during his visit to the Capitol and somehow disrupt the coalition for the tax bill that GOP leaders have so carefully assembled.
Republicans – having learned from their failure to repeal Obamacare which also passed the House relatively easily – will take care not to gloat too much, as things can always unravel in the Senate.
That Senate collapse is part of the reason GOP lawmakers aren’t expecting to take a victory lap in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday like they did after the House’s successful ObamaCare repeal vote. They don’t want to be seen as celebrating prematurely before Congress can send a final tax package to Trump’s desk.
In the long run, a legislative victory in the House won’t have much impact on the bill’s long-term chances of passing, because the risk is primarily centered in the upper chamber. Furthermore, the Senate and House tax plans must eventually be reconciled and merged into a final plan that can pass both chambers before it goes to Trump to sign into law. But to get to that point, the Senate first needs to pass its own version of the bill. Johnson is a confirmed ‘No’ – his opposition stemming from his view that the bill unfairly benefits corporations over other pass-through entities like S-Corps and LLCs – but as many as seven other senators have hinted that they’re dissatisfied with the bill as it stands.
In summary, passing the House version of the plan is the easy part. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady and Speaker Paul Ryan only needed to create a sop that would win over enough blue-state Republicans (rejecting the mortgage deduction but preserving a scaled-back version of the SALT deduction), the only intransigent faction in the Trump-friendly House.
In the Senate, the political calculus is much more complex. And with such a slim majority, Republicans can only afford to lose two votes to bring in Vice President Mike Pence for the tiebreaker.
Given the Trump administration’s legislative record to date, there’s still a chance the bill could fail in a surprise upset (there is precedent for that, of course). If that happens, the chances of passing the tax plan by year end will fall to virtually nothing.