Is the Republican Tax Plan Sailing or Stalling?

(Bloomberg View) -- How's the tax bill doing?

The House version is heading to the House floor for a vote this week. In normal Congresses, party leaders don't move a bill to that stage unless they have the votes. So that would suggest that it will pass. On the other hand, have you been watching this Congress? 

The Senate version is ready for committee consideration on Wednesday. Bloomberg's Steven Dennis has been reporting that the bill is "moving like a freight train" with no Republican senators so far coming out against it. That's where things stand, but that is no guarantee they won't fall apart. Republicans on Tuesday added repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, among several changes to the bill. Here's the thing: Why do you make major last-minute changes to a bill, adding something controversial?

Perhaps because it is certain to pass, and so the party adds something that needs a vehicle because it can't pass by itself. That's possible, I suppose, but it seems very unlikely to me.

Perhaps because it is in trouble, and needs help. Odds are that's it. The mandate repeal will appeal to some Republicans on its own, but it also scores as a savings and therefore can lower the deficit increases in the bill or pay for some goodies for particular senators or both. The downside is that destabilizing the individual health insurance market might not appeal to all Senate Republicans. 

Or, perhaps they have no idea what they're doing, and they're just flailing around aimlessly. I don't actually think that's the case. On the other hand, have you been watching this Congress?

I'll add that both Speaker Paul Ryan and especially Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have repeatedly used bandwagon tactics to try to get bills through that were a little short. That presumably involves convincing tentative "no" votes to keep quiet for the moment, with the hope that if everyone thinks something will pass, then it really will. It's not necessarily a foolish thing to try, and it may be going on now. Or not! They may really have the votes for now. Don't forget that because this is being done through the reconciliation process, there's still a "Byrd bath" ahead on the Senate side which could knock out major provisions and, in doing so, potentially lose some votes. The bill authors know that and have written the bill with it in mind, but there's always uncertainty about it.

The House and Senate bills are very different, which means that getting each one through its own chamber is only the first step. They could then move to a formal conference committee and work out a compromise. Or one chamber can take the product of the other and just pass it as-is. Or a chamber can take the other bill, pass it with changes to bring it closer to their own version, and then send it back across the Capitol. Even if both Houses of Congress manage to pass their original bills, there's a ways to go. 

So will it pass, or collapse? I'm sticking with what I've been saying: The key variable is simply how much Republicans in Congress collectively care about passing something. Yes, there are plenty of tricky provisions and difficult compromises to make, and it already polls badly and is likely if anything to look even more unpopular if it stays in the spotlight. But if it's what members really want, then I don't see any obstacles that just can't be overcome. Or at least shouldn't be impossible to overcome. On the other hand, have you been watching this Congress? 


1. Babak Bahador at the Monkey Cage on why pro-Trump Facebook ads probably had little effect. Of course, in a very close election, tiny effects can be decisive, and as a foreign policy matter that's not the question that matters anyway. 

2. Also at the Monkey Cage: Kathy Goldschmidt and Lorelei Kelly on a Congress unable to do its job

3. Dave Hopkins on the Roy Moore saga

4. Michelle Goldberg has a reasonable assessment of the old charges against Bill Clinton and why Democrats weren't unfairly dismissive in doubting them -- which doesn't mean none of it was true. 

5. Catherine Rampell wants to know why Republicans can't tell the truth about their own tax bills

6. Ezra Klein looks at how the party decided for Hillary Clinton before 2016, and argues that they would have been better served had they waited. Perhaps. It's easy to see the downside of things as they actually worked out, but that doesn't mean other paths didn't have significant downsides as well. It's also hard to blame the Clinton campaign for trying their hardest to nail things down early after her experience in 2008. One nitpick. The "party decides" idea of presidential nominations, and the larger party network approach to U.S. political parties, was always quite contested within political science, but was overrepresented in political science blogs, especially during the 2012 election cycle. 

7. Here at View, Komal Sri-Kumar on Trump trade policy.

8. And Fred Kaplan on the nuclear launch hearing

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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