Senate Republicans are sticking to their plans to pass a tax bill with 50 Republican votes, despite Democratic pleas not to be sidelined as they were on health care.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday reaffirmed the GOP’s longstanding intention to shield any tax overhaul from a likely Democratic filibuster by using the procedural protections of budget reconciliation.
In explaining his decision to reporters, the Kentucky Republican cited a Tuesday letter from 45 Democratic senators urging Republicans not to use reconciliation and vowing to oppose a tax plan that adds to the deficit or cuts the annual bill of the richest 1 percent of taxpayers.
“We will need to use reconciliation” for taxes in the wake of Democrats’ statement that they are “not interested in addressing” Republicans’ priorities, McConnell said.
“I don’t think this is going to be 1986, when you had a bipartisan effort to scrub the code,” McConnell added, though he left the door open to winning votes from the “Democratic senators who did not sign the letter who may be open to pro-growth tax reform.”
The three Democratic senators who did not lay down explicit conditions were Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all of whom face tough reelections next year.
McConnell also said that unlike the closed-door process the Senate GOP employed to write its Obamacare repeal bill, the party would hold hearings in both chambers on taxes after lawmakers return from their recess next month. Republicans hope to finish work on tax reform “some time this year,” McConnell said.
President Donald Trump has responded to the Senate GOP’s struggles to repeal Obamacare by calling for the demise of the filibuster — although that rules change would have made no difference in McConnell’s elusive quest for 50 votes to uproot the seven-year-old health care law. The majority leader acknowledged that reality Tuesday, even as he reiterated his longstanding opposition to killing the legislative filibuster.
“It’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care was not the Democrats," McConnell told reporters. "We didn’t have 50 Republicans."
McConnell added that "the good news is, the top two priorities of the president don’t require anything more than a simple majority: tax reform and health care."
Democrats pushed back quickly against McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that unless the GOP brings in Democrats as it crafts a tax bill, Trump’s party risks a stumble that parallels its collapse on Obamacare repeal.
"We saw the trouble of going at it alone with health care," Schumer told reporters Tuesday. "If they decide to cut Democrats out of the process and do it by themselves, the same thing is likely to await them."
Schumer also challenged McConnell to explain why the GOP would not commit to avoiding any bill that increases the deficit or cuts taxes for the top 1 percent.
"Which of our three principles don’t you agree with?" Schumer asked McConnell. "Do you not agree that tax cuts shouldn’t go to the very wealthy? Do you not agree that we should work in a bipartisan way? Do you not agree that we should not increase the deficit?"
Bernie Becker contributed to this report.