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Conservative Mulvaney struggles to sell tax bill to new constituency: Moderates

Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, long considered a "fiscal conservative whisperer" on Capitol Hill, is trying to woo an entirely different constituency to support his party's tax bill: moderates.

So far, the effort is largely falling flat.

This is a new dynamic for the former South Carolina Republican congressman. He was given his job at the Office of Management and Budget in part because administration officials saw his ties to the House Freedom Caucus helping advance President Donald Trump's legislative agenda.

But in the legislative debate over taxes, it's not members of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus who need convincing. In fact, Mulvaney said at a brief with a small group of reporters at the Old Executive Office Building on Tuesday that he's barely heard from those lawmakers over the past days and weeks, even as the House prepares to vote for the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" on Thursday.

Instead of Freedom Caucus-types, it's now mostly the center-right Republicans from New York, New Jersey and California who are potential obstacles to the party fulfilling a major campaign promise to overhaul the nation's tax code.

Lawmakers from these states are irked by proposals to fiddle with existing state and local tax, or SALT, deductions in the high cost-of-living areas they represent. Republicans have 240 of the House's 435 seats, meaning they can only afford to lose 22 GOP votes if the tax bill is to pass. No Democrats are expected to vote yes.

The House tax plan would drop caps on mortgage interest deductions to $500,000 for new homes and allow taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of their local property taxes. It eliminates deductions for state and local income tax.

The original draft of the Senate bill, which is being considered by the Finance Committee this week, would cap the mortgage interest deduction at $1 million and eliminate all state and local tax deductions.

Lawmakers from New York, New Jersey and California say they are being courted mainly by national economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence. Mulvaney is mostly being dispatched to appear on cable news shows, radio news programs and reporter roundtables to make the case that all GOP lawmakers should support tax overhaul legislation.

Many aren't being moved by their messaging.

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