Senate Democrats laid down a marker Tuesday for any future tax reform legislation, urging President Donald Trump and the GOP to seek a bipartisan bill and outlining the conditions to secure their votes.
Many Republicans are pressing their leaders to move past the controversial Obamacare repeal debate and dig in on a tax overhaul, but the tax reform debate looks increasingly likely to reflect the same partisan divisions. Still, Democrats are making their move early in hopes of trying to secure the seats at the negotiating table that the GOP denied them on Obamacare.
In a letter to Trump and GOP leaders Tuesday, 45 of the 48 members in the Senate Democratic caucus urged the GOP not to use arcane budget reconciliation procedures to shield any tax reform bill from a filibuster. As the Obamacare repeal effort fell apart, some Republican senators began calling for the inclusion of Democrats on a bill that could win 60 votes.
"Using a fast-track process like reconciliation would undoubtedly result in outsized political influence on the process and significantly hinder lawmakers’ ability to close loopholes and end special interest favoritism that plagues our current tax system," wrote the Democratic senators.
Although Republicans have long indicated they plan to sidestep Democrats again by using reconciliation to pass a tax bill, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short suggested Monday that Democrats representing states Trump carried in November might be inclined to work with his party on the legislation.
The three caucus members who declined to sign Tuesday’s tax letter are all up for reelection next year and hail from Trump-won states: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
The Democrats who signed onto Tuesday’s letter, spearheaded by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Schumer and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, also made two blunt demands on taxes: They will not back any bill that gives new breaks to the wealthiest individuals and will not back any legislation that adds to the deficit.
"Tax reform cannot be a cover story for delivering tax cuts to the wealthiest," the senators wrote. "We will not support any tax plan that includes tax cuts for the top 1 percent."
The Democrats added that they "will not support any effort to pass deficit-financed tax cuts, which would endanger critical programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other public investments in the future."
The White House has released few details on its preferred parameters for a tax package, with congressional Republicans likely to fill in many details. But the administration’s broad tax reform principles suggest that Trump is entertaining a tax bill that would slash rates for upper-income earners. There is still debate within the GOP over whether the tax bill should be entirely paid for or whether it could add to the deficit.