March 29, 2023

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Politics: Republicans’ process for passing a tax plan looks strikingly similar to that for healthcare — but they say this time will be different

  • Republicans are set on using reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote threshold for their tax plan.
  • GOP senators say an increased number of hearings opens the process as much as possible.
  • Democrats still say they feel left in the dark and unable to contribute to the first tax-code overhaul in 30 years.

WASHINGTON — A significant factor in the downfall of the repeated attempts to overhaul the US healthcare system was the Senate’s intent on not passing legislation through the regular order, instead bypassing the 60-vote threshold in favor of the process known as reconciliation.

Republicans are now employing the same tactics, with a handful of small changes, to their tax plan.

The Senate passed its fiscal-year 2018 budget resolution Thursday, opening the door for the passage of Republican leadership’s massive package to overhaul the tax code.

The budget’s passage allows for budget reconciliation, which gives Republicans the chance to pass a tax bill through the chamber with a simple majority and no help from Democrats. The GOP holds only 52 seats in the Senate, a slim majority.

Still, in a shift from the process that doomed the healthcare overhaul, Republicans are now holding multiple hearings and will have a markup in which Democrats will be able to offer amendments to the budget, which GOP senators have suggested is a considerable improvement and as close as they can get to a regular order without having to work in too much of a bipartisan fashion.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota on Thursday said reconciliation was necessary and would be a more open process than that of the healthcare fiasco, which plagued most of the year in Congress.

“It is regular order in the sense that everybody will have an opportunity to offer amendments and get votes,” he said.

“If it becomes clear there are Democrats who want to participate and that we can pass a bill at the 60-vote threshold, that would be great,” Thune added. “But reconciliation is an option that enables us to move the ball down the field and to ultimately get a result.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was one of the primary Republican critics during the healthcare debate, said the increased number of hearings and a markup were “a lot closer to normal process” than before.

Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Finance Committee and has been touting the GOP tax plan, noted that in addition to the hearings this year there had been several over the past half-decade on tax reform.

“We’ve had several the last couple years, and they say we’ve had like seven in the last five years, so the reality of it is we’ve had hearings this year on tax reform,” Scott said. “We’ll continue to have probably another hearing, I believe, and then we’ll ultimately have all the members of the Finance Committee be having a chance to offer an amendment.”

“It’s about as close as regular order as you can get from my perspective,” Scott added.

But the handful of hearings and an open amendment process may not cut it for Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

“One of the major surveys during the October break had the American people saying overwhelmingly that you’ve got to do big issues in a bipartisan way,” Wyden told reporters. “So we’re talking about taxes and healthcare and the like, and now they’re looking at using a fast-track process as an off-ramp for the most partisan way to do taxes.”

In Wyden’s view, the fast and secretive pace in which Republicans are moving on their tax plan without an actual bill is a recipe for failure.

“They obviously frittered away an enormous amount of time, and I think right now playing catch-up ball is really key,” he said, noting its similarities to the several failed healthcare bills.

And Wyden said that President Donald Trump was in agreement with what much of the Democrats requested during their meeting at the White House on Wednesday but that what Trump agreed to hardly translated to any action by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“There’s such a big gap between what [Trump] said and then what’s actually on a piece of paper, and that’s their big challenge,” Wyden said.

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