Donald Trump, tax reform

Will Tax Reform Pass The Finish Line?

By David Malcolm

It’s a familiar scene by now: GOP lawmakers debate a bill that most of them probably haven’t seen just yet. There’s a real difference this time though. Unlike the Obamacare repeal though, the GOP leadership is actually looking hopeful that they can pass one of the biggest tax shake-ups in recent memory. This time, they have fifty-one votes plus Mike Pence’s tiebreaker vote if the number slips to fifty. What could possibly go wrong?

Trump’s new tax reform is looking more likely to pass into law as Mitch McConnell and top Republicans scrambled for to reach a deal with their members and their often extremely diverse interests. After a year of arguing and divisions, the GOP is finally united under a single purpose: reforming the US tax code and achieving a major legislative victory. Such a victory is sorely needed by Trump after a bruising and humiliating year. The recent arrest of Flynn and Mueller’s Russia probe makes the need to bury bad news all the more urgent.

It’s also a pet project, the result of a life’s ambition. Donald Trump wants the US tax code to be fairer to poor, hard-up billionaires like himself. If he can pass it off as a jobs creator and the chance to give the middle class a tax cut, that’s just a Christmas bonus. Unlike the repeal of Obamacare, a hasty promise based on a newfound hatred of its creator, tax reform is one of Trump’s biggest bedbugs and his great project.

It was always going to be a big ask though. Powerful business interests have lined up against the bill and the Republicans have faced enormous pressure from competing interests. As such, frantic, last-minute deal-making has become the new norm for the Congressional leadership. It was never going to be an easy thing to unite fifty senators with different and often competing interests, but it’s holding together…just.

So, is tax reform inevitable? Will Trump get his win? It certainly seems possible but nothing is entirely certain.

For a start, there is still time for some of the more hesitant and wavering Republicans to have a last-minute change of heart. With such a slim majority, a ‘no’ vote will sink the bill at the last minute. McConnell is confident that it won’t happen, but as the debate goes on, it is possible that someone might waver. The biggest issue is that, with all the last minute changes, very few Republicans have actually seen the complete bill and what it offers.

Despite the fifty votes, the coalition of the willing is a fragile one. All it would take is a moment of doubt or a sudden thought that the bill isn’t ready isn’t good for business, will harm the key voters etc and BOOM! Another failed bill!
It wouldn’t take much. The tax reform bill is hardly popular with the public and the Democrats are dead set against it. The last-minute changes are good for quick victories but their implementation and their long-term effects might cause some to reconsider.

The vote looks likely to pass through, but after that comes the tricky part. The Senate’s version is at odds with the version the House gave them. The two need to reconcile the differences via the House Committee before the House votes on it. The Senate might get another round of voting and then Trump finally gets to sign it into law.

The problem is this: will the House simply pass the Senate’s version or will they object to the changes made? Certainly, there are a lot of changes and while the House is more likely to pass legislation quickly than the Senate is, they have just as many competing interests.
It’s even possible that, if they take issue with it and try to change it yet again, we could be in for a lengthy game of Congressional ping-pong.

Nothing is certain though. The House might pass the Senate’s version regardless and Trump gets his first real victory. All that remains is to count the cost. With the bill sitting at extremely low approval ratings (almost on par with Trump’s), it might be too high a cost to consider. If the arguing over the debt ceiling doesn’t get resolved in time, Trump’s victory could turn sour.

Trump is inches away from victory while the GOP debates a bill that they haven’t really been able to look at. It’s all so familiar, but perhaps this time, we might be in for a different ending.

I’m a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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