USA Politics First Look

President Trump urges House GOP to focus on tax reform

Trump personally implored House GOP members to adopt the budget that was passed last week by the Senate, with the hope of clearing the way for what he describs as historic tax cuts.

President Trump arrives to the North Lawn of White House in Washington on Oct. 22, 2017, after a weekend at his golf course in Virginia.
Andrew Harnik/AP
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Caption
  • Jill Colvin and Alan Fram
    Associated Press

House Republicans, with the urging of President Trump, will strive to pass a budget this week so they can turn their attention to tax reform. Mr. Trump warned that action on tax reform is crucial to avoiding political failure in 2018.

Trump on Sunday personally implored House GOP members on a conference call to swiftly adopt the budget that was passed last week by the Senate, with the hope of clearing the way for what he described as historic tax cuts.

Trump told the lawmakers they were on the verge of doing something historic, according to one Republican official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly what was intended as a private update for members.

Another GOP aide familiar with the conversation said Trump told the members again and again that the party would pay a steep price in next year's midterm elections if it failed to pass his plan. The Trump proposal would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and double the standard deduction used by most Americans. The president also said multiple times that his plan was the right thing to do for country, this person said.

The Senate last week passed a budget plan that includes rules that will allow Republicans to get tax legislation through the Senate without Democratic votes or fear of a Democratic filibuster. House Republicans signaled Friday they would simply accept the Senate plan to avoid any potential delay on the tax measure.

Republicans are desperate to rack up a legislative win after a series of embarrassing failures that have come despite the fact that the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. At the top of the list: their stalled attempts to pass legislation repealing and replacing "Obamacare." If tax reform doesn't pass, many in the party fear an all-out revolt in 2018.

On the conference call Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told members he hoped to pass the Senate version of the budget bill this week to increase the chances that tax reform can be enacted by the end of the year.

The leaders emphasized the need for the House to pass the Senate budget to avoid negotiations between the two chambers that could slow the process, said two lawmakers on the call, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. They said the goal is for House passage of the budget this week, putting it on track to approve a tax bill by Thanksgiving. Yet lawmakers have yet to work out crucial details of the plan, including which income levels would be framed in what way by new tax-brackets.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News earlier Sunday that the House was working "very quickly to accept the Senate amendments," and said the plan "may save as many as 10 or 12 legislative days, which is a big deal."

Trump will also work to rally support for the plan on the Hill Tuesday at a lunch with Senate Republicans. He said he'll be available to talk with members about the tax bill, one lawmaker said.

But as the focus turns to taxes, Congress continues to struggle with health care legislation.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he'd be willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor – if Trump makes clear he supports it. A proposal by two senators – Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee and Patty Murray (D) of Washington – would extend for two years federal insurance payments that Trump has blocked, in an effort to stabilize insurance markets. But Trump has offered mixed signals, alternately praising, and condemning the effort – confusing Democrats and Republicans alike.

Asked whether he would bring the bill to the floor, Senator McConnell said on CNN's "State of the Union" that he was waiting "to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign."

"If there's a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign.  And I'm not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it," McConnell said. He added of Trump: "I think he hasn't made a final decision."

The plan unveiled last week likely has 60 votes in the Senate, mostly from Democrats, and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged McConnell to bring it to the floor "immediately, this week."

"This is a good compromise," Mr. Schumer said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Mulvaney said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Trump doesn't want to back a plan "without also getting something for folks who are being hurt."

"I think there's actually a pretty good chance to get a deal," he said. "It's just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn't far enough yet."

This story was reported by the Associated Press. AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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