House members on both sides seek focus on middle class in tax reform
As Republicans unveiled the blueprint of their plans for tax reform Wednesday, Democrats on Capitol Hill indicated they may support some provisions, but they suggested a wide gap remains on tax cuts that would benefit top earners.
“I think there is bipartisan support for tax relief for middle income Americans and for small businesses,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said. “I think that if we stick with that and we focus on making our tax system simpler and fairer…this is a real opportunity for Congress to come together.”
Under the framework, the top tax bracket would be cut from 39 percent to 35 percent. The bottom bracket would rise from 10 percent to 12 percent, but a doubling of the standard deduction means most would still pay less or nothing at all in federal income taxes. The proposal would also cut corporate taxes from 35 percent to 20 percent.
Costa backs efforts to make the system fairer and simpler, but he cautioned it should not be done at the cost of raising the federal deficit.
“It’s a debt we leave America’s next generation and it weakens our economy in the long term as well as our strength and our security,” he said.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., called for a focus on working families and protecting the deductions that are important to them, like those for charitable giving and mortgage interest, but she also suggested lawmakers will face significant hurdles in eliminating other tax breaks.
“Lots of groups come in to see me and they all say we want tax reform, everybody from car dealers to credit unions, but don’t touch the deduction that affects us, so this is not going to be an easy task,” she said.
So far, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, has seen little substantive engagement from the other side.
“My Republican colleagues haven’t learned much from the health care fiasco and they appear to be set to do a partisan tax bill within the next 30 days without giving us any details until we begin to mark it up,” he said.
Doggett, who attended a meeting with President Trump Tuesday suggested the details revealed so far do not match some of the promises the White House has made.
“President Trump sat there close by saying there won’t be any tax cuts for the rich in this bill and yet they lower the tax rate for those at the top, they repeal the estate tax, and they expand a loophole that President Trump’s family will personally benefit from,” he said.
Some Democrats are taking a firm stance against those cuts for the top tax brackets.
“Democrats will not go along with tax breaks for the wealthy,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Like Doggett, he cited Trump’s own words claiming the tax bill would be aimed at middle class workers.
“If he sticks to his stated principle of wanting to help the middle class, he’ll find Democrats willing to work with him,” he said.
While Democrats expressed reservations, House Republicans were enthusiastic about the plan after attending a retreat with Vice President Mike Pence earlier in the day.
“I’m excited for this opportunity because we have in front of us the chance to do something very significant for this country,” Newhouse said.
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., predicted speedy passage for the final bill.
“We were told today that the president, the Senate leadership, and the House leadership have all agreed that this thing is going to be done and to the president before the end of this calendar year,” he said.
Some experts and pundits have said tax reform will be more difficult than health care, but Byrne expects the opposite.
“A lot of people have talked about tax reform, a lot of people have campaigned on it, a lot of people have put out very concrete plans,” he said. “There’s a lot more support going in on the front end of this effort than I think we saw on the health care fight.”
After the repeated failures to pass a health care bill in the Senate, he added that Republicans there will be under immense pressure to actually get something done.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said he is interested in helping “the average guy” and doing so responsibly without ballooning the deficit.
“I think it’s important that we look out for the middle class,” he said.
Republicans seemed less willing to completely close the door to bipartisan cooperation on taxes than they did when they embarked on their Obamacare repeal earlier this year.
“It’s a win-win for the American people and hopefully it will be a bipartisan effort to get this done,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.
“There’s a lot of common ground here that we can find,” Newhouse said. “I don’t know that many people would stand up and say our tax system is the best it can possibly be.”