Administration willing to bend the rules to enact tax reform

Administration willing to bend the rules to enact tax reformTrump administration officials are expressing an increasing willingness to change, bend, or break current procedural rules to push tax reform through the Senate on a simple majority vote.

The Republican election sweep created a historic opportunity for tax reform, but Senate rules have emerged as a key hurdle. Republicans only have 52 seats, and 60 votes are generally needed to overcome Senate procedural objections. Trump has endorsed the most direct approach, suggesting that Republicans abandon current 60-vote rules altogether.

“The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get healthcare and tax cuts approved, fast and easy,” Trump tweeted. “Dems would do it, no doubt!”

Senate Republicans have already changed the rules to allow for 50-vote majorities on Supreme Court nominees, but have so far rebuffed any suggestions of eroding the rules further. Congressional lawmakers are instead pursuing the reconciliation process.

Reconciliation allows tax legislation to pass with simple majority votes, but comes with severe restrictions. The most critical is that a tax bill cannot lose revenue outside the 10-year budget window. Keeping tax reform revenue neutral is proving to be a huge challenge, and administration officials have begun openly discussing ways to get around or change the scoring rules.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney have both said they would consider expanding the budget window beyond 10 years. This would allow tax reform to be constructed as net tax cut as long as it expired within a budget window that could be extended to anywhere from 20 to 50 years or longer. Mulvaney has been particularly dismissive of revenue neutrality and traditional congressional scoring rules.

“The days of relying on some nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to do that work for us has probably come and gone,” Mulvaney said. In a separate interview, he added that “several folks in the White House have said that they are interested in pushing a larger tax bill that would add to the deficit.”

Mnuchin has been slightly more tepid in his comments and has even continued to make the case for revenue neutrality at times. Congressional Republicans have so far expressed little appetite for bending or changing the scoring rules, and remain committed for now to revenue neutral reform.

Dustin Stamper
Director, Washington National Tax Office
T +1 202 861 4144

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