Politics & Government

Who to watch as Republicans begin debating their tax overhaul

House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, center, speaks with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Washington.
House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, center, speaks with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Washington. AP

Republicans eager to get a tax overhaul on President Donald Trump’s desk will begin dissecting the legislation on Monday — but instead of high drama, look for only a few tweaks and a robust defense against Democratic attacks.

The House Ways and Means Committee will begin writing the bill Monday afternoon, but it’s largely a done deal.

Though House Republican leaders accepted some ideas from rank-and-file lawmakers who aren’t on the committee, much of the legislation was crafted behind closed doors by the GOP panel members.

That gave the 24 committee Republicans more influence than they might have otherwise had in this process. Since these members worked on the plan, they are overwhelmingly predisposed to support it.

Leading the committee is its genial chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who represents a district just outside Houston that might have kept him busy with Hurricane Harvey relief. But the Texas delegation appointed others to take up that charge.

“He has the temperament that suits the kind of stress we’re going through right now,” Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, a Ways and Means member, said of Brady. “He doesn’t easily anger, he’s very deliberative, everybody gets to have their say, everybody gets to ask questions.”

Brady’s turn at the chair earned him plaudits from Trump, who introduced him at the White House this week as “a man named Kevin Brady. Boy, oh boy.

“He doesn't stop. He doesn't stop,” Trump said of Brady, who Friday promised a four-day marathon starting Monday to write the tax bill.

"Four days of open, full-throated debate,” Brady said at an event Friday sponsored by Politico. That, he pledged, “will let the American people see something they haven't seen in a long time, which is real debate on a real tax reform plan.”

Democrats vigorously dispute that assertion, noting that during the last tax overhaul in 1986, the committee took testimony from 450 witnesses at 30 hearings.

“That is not what's happened here,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee who said that the markup will begin without a single hearing or witness.

Here’s who to watch during the four days of debate:

▪  Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., said his focus has been how to help small businesses, after years as a tax attorney where he said he “formed hundreds of small businesses.”

Rice told McClatchy he’ll take some credit for a provision in the bill that would allow small businesses to deduct interest up to $25 million, which wasn’t initially going to make it into the final product.

“At the initial rollout, (Republican leaders) said they were going to do away with this on the premise that … it was risky and people were competing for limited dollars available,” Rice said. He said he argued in favor, noting that if lawmakers did away with the ability of small businesses to deduct interest, “we would be favoring large national companies that could go get equity financing” unlike the smaller companies.

The National Federation of Independent Business, which said the GOP tax bill “leaves too many small businesses behind,” did not take issue with Rice’s provision. But he said he wants to help get the NFIB and other like-minded groups closer to “yes” on other issues of concern.

▪  Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said he expected “opportunities to improve the bill,” but figures most Republicans are satisfied. He backed increasing the child tax credit to $1,600 from the current $1,000, though some Senate Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have suggested $1,600 isn't enough to help working families.

"That family credit is de facto permanent, you can take that to the bank," Curbelo said. "I know members on both sides will be supportive of continuing that."

Curbelo is also helping Republicans pitch the package to Hispanics, delivering remarks in English and Spanish as the House and Senate in September released a tax framework.

Though Curbelo said before the bill’s introduction that he wanted a revenue-neutral tax plan so the federal deficit would not balloon, he joined most Republicans in saying he was willing to compromise to get something passed.

"In that sense I wish we could have done better, but politics is the art of the possible and this is where we are and we have to make the best of it," Curbelo said.

▪  Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., said he’d like to cut even more deductions so rates could be lower.

“We could have gone further," said Holding. "You’re trying to make good public policy, create a tax bill which will incentivize growth throughout the entire economy, but you’re doing it in the world of politics."

Holding had wanted to eliminate the gift tax along with the estate tax. The estate tax would be scrapped within six years under the Republican plan. The gift tax limits how much tax-free money someone can receive each year and provides a lifetime tax-free cap for the giver.

Holding said he didn’t have an issue with increasing the national debt because he believes the bill will boost the economy.

"When I look at the deficit spending that will be incurred to have this tax reform, that’s borrowing money to make money,” he said. “Go to any business guy or gal and they’ll tell you if I can borrow money to make money, I’ll borrow money. It’s a lot different than just borrowing money to pay your credit card bills or just the interest on your credit card bills."

▪  Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, a certified public accountant, said she’s certain “no American will feel like they’ve been shorted when (the gross domestic product) increases and the growth starts to happen.”

She said she put in seven years writing the bill.

The tax overhaul, Jenkins said, will be “the most significant legislation that Congress will pass in the last 30 years. It will do more for our economy than any other piece of legislation that we’ve seen in decades.”

Alex Daugherty, Emma Dumain, Brian Murphy, Lindsay Wise, Joseph Cooke and Andrea Drusch of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this report

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark