October 19, 2017 22:15 GMT by nytimes.com

Republicans Ready to Move on a Tax Plan Few Have Seen

Republicans Ready to Move on a Tax Plan Few Have Seen

Republicans are set to move quickly to pass a tax bill that they have drafted in secret.

WASHINGTON — Almost no one on or off Capitol Hill has seen the tax overhaul bill that Republicans are drafting behind closed doors. Congressional staff members have not settled on many key details. Yet party leaders are preparing to move ahead on a timeline even more aggressive than their unsuccessful attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The swift pace to complete, release and quickly vote on a tax cut is aimed at leaving little time for the type of dissent that has scuttled previous tax proposals.

Senators are expected to approve a budget resolution for the 2018 fiscal year by early Friday, setting up a rapid series of hearings and votes with the aim of getting a bill to President Trump by Christmas.

Republicans have been meeting for weeks in closed-door sessions to debate details of the tax plan, including two half-day retreats for House members late last month. House leaders will hold two smaller-group sessions next week, scheduled to last three to four hours each.

The speed is striking — and strategic — for tax legislation that lobbyists believe could span 1,000 pages. Republicans hope the breakneck pace will help hold their narrow Senate majority together against what will almost certainly be a deluge of lobbying and Democratic criticism.

The last major tax overhaul, which passed in 1986, took nearly 11 months from introduction to presidential signature.

“Some have described Washington as the slowest town until it is the fastest town,” said Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy in the House Ways and Means Committee, “and I think that’s what’s going to happen here.”

Congressional Republicans are under intense pressure from campaign donors, business groups and the White House to deliver a major legislative victory after nine months of congressional disappointment on big issues. Party leaders say they have learned from those setbacks, including the collapse of the health care push this summer.

Lawmakers “should have had a bill six months ago,” said Stephen Moore, a senior fellow in economics at the Heritage Foundation, who is advising the White House on the tax effort. “They will look so incompetent if they don’t get this done,” he said, adding that Republicans know the economy could suffer and that they could lose badly in the midterm elections next year if they do not pass something quickly. “Ultimately, that’s why I’m optimistic.”

The bills being drafted, as described by top Republicans and lobbyists, would affect family budgets across the United States, by altering tax brackets and some popular deductions, and investment decisions around the globe, by changing the way the United States taxes multinational companies. It centers on deep cuts to business tax rates, which Republicans promise will deliver income gains to middle-class workers.

Mr. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress released an outline of their plan in September, which included reducing the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, a doubling of the standard deduction for individual income tax filers and the elimination of several widely claimed deductions for individuals. The framework put down a marker but left dozens of questions unresolved, many of them potentially worth billions of dollars to businesses and the federal government.

Business groups are meeting frequently with key Republicans, seeking to shape the bill, but no snippets of legislative text have yet become public.

However, party leaders cannot finalize a bill until another budget hurdle is cleared — the Senate and House must agree on a consensus budget document, which will include instructions for how much a tax bill could reduce federal tax revenues over the next decade. That document, which would be an agreement between the House and Senate, is crucial to allowing Republicans to change tax law without any Democratic support. Such agreement could come quickly or drag out over a week or more, depending on whether House members agree to the Senate version or demand substantial changes to it.

Republican leaders hope to finalize and introduce the House version of the tax bill as soon as early November, allow amendments from both parties in committee and on the House floor, and pass something by Thanksgiving. Senate leaders hope to pass a bill by December or early next year.

Democrats say that process does not allow time for careful consideration of the bill, or for the sort of bipartisan compromise that marked the 1986 effort.

“I can’t imagine that something this momentous would be done without hearings, when you consider they’re about to fundamentally alter the architecture of the nation’s revenue collection,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.

Republican leaders say there has been enough discussion of tax issues to warrant a fast vote. The House Ways and Means Committee has conducted more than 40 hearings on tax issues over the past five years, and the Senate Finance Committee has held 70.

“The quicker we can get this done, the quicker we can start growing the economy,” said Matthew M. Miller, a vice president for the Business Roundtable who handles tax issues. “There’s been thorough opportunity to have discussions on what the policy needs to be.”

Michael A. Steel, a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies in Washington and a longtime aide John A. Boehner, the former House speaker, said that he expected “an intense, if not frenetic” debate between the introduction of the bill and the votes in committee and on the floor. Businesses, he added, were preparing their arguments in the hopes of changing any provisions that could hurt them financially.

He said he was optimistic that the House could finish its work by the end of November — a contrast to several fiscal fights waged in late December when Mr. Boehner was speaker and Barack Obama was president.

“This is a wrinkle, having a legislative deadline threaten Thanksgiving,” Mr. Steel said. “We usually screw up Christmas.”

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