House Republicans release their tax plan with high hopes and a tight deadline
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ducked out of an all-member briefing on the GOP tax plan on Thursday morning to tell reporters that the conference was unified behind the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
"It looks positive. People are very excited," McCarthy said. Only fifteen minutes earlier, there was a loud cheer from behind the closed doors. "This is why people came to Congress," he added.
Many members left the meeting brimming with optimism over the draft bill that would simplify the tax code from seven brackets down to four, slash corporate tax rates from 35 percent down to 20 percent, and double the standard minimum deduction for all individuals and households.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) a ranking House appropriator, described the tax talk as "probably the most unified conversation in a long time around here." He added, "It was actually fun!"
Other members were more cautious and reserved judgment on the draft. A number of Republicans exited the meeting repeating the phrase, "the devil is in the details."
While the Thursday unveiling of the bill was met with fanfare and a GOP visit to the White House, the details will really start to be hashed out next week as the House Ways and Means Committee takes on the task of trying to revamp the country's thirty-year-old tax code.
After releasing their plan, House tax writers met with President Donald Trump at the White House. The president praised GOP efforts and encouraged them to "maintain a momentum" on the plan so he can have a bill ready to sign "by Thanksgiving."
The president's deadline may be overly ambitious.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) anticipates having a bill ready for the Senate by Thanksgiving, a timetable that gives the House just eight scheduled legislative days to mark-up and pass their tax reform plan. The bill could also hit a snag in the Senate, where they can only afford to lose two Republican votes, but the GOP leadership says they are confident they can pass a final bill by the end of the calendar year.
In a morning press conference, the chief architect of the bill, Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), described the plan in glowing terms, promising "more jobs, fair taxes and bigger paychecks to Americans of all walks of life."
According to the GOP calculations, the proposed bill would give a $1,182 tax break to the average American family of four earning $59,000 per year. The average "Main Street" business making $62,000 per year will see $3,000 in tax cuts.
The proposal will repeal many existing deductions, which could spell trouble for taxpayers who itemize deductions. The plan hopes to offset some of those losses in a few ways, including by doubling the standard minimum deduction making the first $24,00 in income earned by a couple tax-free. Families will also see an increase in the child tax credit from $1,000 to $1,600.
Contrary to earlier drafts of the plan, there will be changes to individuals' ability to park up to $18,000 per year in a 401 (k) account. The draft also tries to sidestep the controversial repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, allowing people to write off SALT property taxes up to $10,000.
Businesses and corporations are also expected to come out on top with a lower 20 percent corporate tax rate and a 25 percent rate on business income. They are also getting an incentive to make capital investments with a provision allowing businesses to write off the full cost of new equipment.
"It's really going to help manufacturers compete on a world stage," said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), "which is something I've always been excited for."
Like most members of Congress, Katko will be poring over the details of the 429-page draft bill in the coming days to see how it will impact his constituents in central New York. "It looks like the vast majority of my constituents will get tax relief," he noted, "but I want to make sure before I pass judgment on whether I fully support it or not."
So far, the bill has broad Republican support in the House, though that could change as lawmakers digest the bill and hear from constituents and special interests.
Some conservatives in high-tax states, like New York, New Jersey and California, have already expressed their distaste for the partial SALT repeal. Only one congressman has made it a line in the sand, Lee Zeldin of New York, whose district includes the high-income Hamptons.
On Thursday, Zeldin released a statement saying, "I am a No to this bill in its current form." He went on to denounce the $10,000 cap on state and local tax write-offs as "a geographic redistribution of wealth."
The main opposition to the bill is coming from Democrats in the House and Senate, who have almost uniformly denounced the bill as a tax break for high-income earners and corporations on the backs of the middle class.
Before the full text of the bill was released, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the GOP plan as a "deficit-increasing, job-killing, tax-cutting for the rich bill."
A number of Democrats preemptively attacked the Republican plan claiming it would raise taxes for middle-class families earning less than $86,000. That argument was refuted by the Washington Post Fact Checker, which concluded the opposite, namely that most families in that income range would actually get a tax cut.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) returned to the argument on Tuesday afternoon, charging that "millions" of middle-income families will end up paying more in taxes if Republicans repeal current itemized deductions for medical costs, student loans, mortgage interest and other breaks.
According to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, approximately 30 percent of households itemize deductions, the majority of whom earn $75,000 and up.
While Democratic leaders have been mostly unified in opposing the tax plan, Donald Trump has been courting red-state Democrats in recent months, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
On Tuesday, Trump remained optimistic about bringing some Democrats on board with the tax plan, saying, "I think it's going to be very, very hard for them not to support it."
As Trump was musing about picking up Democratic votes, Schumer was questioning whether Republicans have the votes to move the bill forward in the Senate.
"They're in a difficult position," Schumer said, crippling the bill's chances of getting past the conservative "deficit hawks" in the Senate. The bill currently includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts with no clear plan to pay for them.
While the possibility of adding $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit has caused some discomfort among fiscal conservatives, it did not deter them from approving those cuts in their latest budget vote. The White House and congressional Republicans defended the unfunded tax breaks arguing that they will pay for themselves with increased economic growth.
Republicans now have a sprint to the finish line starting Monday at noon, when the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to mark-up the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.