President Donald Trump had a tough message for House Republicans on Sunday: Get to work on tax reform and pass the Senate budget immediately — or face a bloodbath in 2018.
Trump sought on an afternoon conference call with the House Republican Conference to urge reluctant conservatives to move forward a budget plan they despise, according to three people on the call.
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That budget’s passage would allow Republicans to fast-track their tax plan and move it forward without Senate Democratic votes, setting them on a path toward a desperately needed legislative accomplishment after they fumbled Obamacare repeal this year. Trump, joined on the call by Vice President Mike Pence, told Republicans that holding up the budget would only slow down tax reform — and that failure to pass tax legislation could hurt them in next year’s midterm elections.
“We are on the verge of doing something very, very historic,” Trump said, according to one of the people on the call.
Trump’s presence on the call highlights the sensitivity of this week’s budget vote for House Republicans. Backing the Senate bill would require House Republicans to endorse a budget that is not balanced over 10 years, adds $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit through tax cuts, and does not include spending reductions the House had incorporated in its own earlier draft of the budget.
It’s not the first time House Republicans have been asked to swallow a budget they dislike. In January, conservatives balked when Speaker Paul Ryan insisted they support a budget that did little to tackle the nearly $20 trillion debt in order to advance a bill to repeal Obamacare.
The Wisconsin Republican promised at the time that the next budget bill would incorporate more conservative principles. Instead, House conservatives feel they are again being asked to accept a budget deal they disagree with again, this time so that tax reform talks can move forward.
GOP leaders and the White House argue that haggling with the Senate over the fiscal blueprint would delay the introduction of their tax bill by three or more weeks. Better to just accept the Senate version and move quickly, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry of North Carolina have told their members in phone calls over the past several days.
On the call Sunday, Ryan said passing the Senate budget would allow the House to potentially clear a tax bill before Thanksgiving. He said they need to move the tax package to the Senate by then if they want any hope of passing tax cuts by the end of the year, his long-stated goal.
Members of GOP leadership all echoed Ryan and Trump in their call to pass the budget this week, according to the people on the call. Even House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who fought tooth-and-nail for the House’s more conservative blueprint, told members that she supported the Senate document if it meant quicker tax actions.
Seeming in a cheery mood, according to the three Republicans on the call, Trump said Republicans could make their 2018 midterm elections a huge success if they pass the tax bill.
Trump also predicted the package would get some support from Senate Democrats, whom he’s hosted at the White House recently.
But Trump promised the group he’s ultimately on their team: “I’m a Republican inside-out and backwards,” one person recounted him saying.
Republicans on the Hill have a hard time predicting the president, especially given his recent negotiations with Democratic leaders. He’s undercut his party before, striking an impromptu deal on the debt ceiling, for example. Some lawmakers fear he could upend Republicans’ carefully laid tax plans, too.
Beyond the conference call, Trump in recent days has spoken to some House Republicans one-on-one, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker. The North Carolina Republican — a vocal proponent of the House’s proposed $200 billion in cuts to welfare programs, which were sidelined in the Senate — asked GOP leaders to commit to separate votes on a balanced budget amendment and other deficit-reduction legislation.
The House Freedom Caucus also decided during a Friday conference call to seek a promise from Ryan to bring a tax bill to committee next week and a floor vote on the matter by mid-November.
Many senior Republicans following the tax bill have said they also want to pass a bill as quickly as possible. But congressional leadership wants to move cautiously and ensure members are on the same page, as it did with a tax blueprint in September. They want to avoid the fate of the GOP Obamacare replacement bill, which was crafted largely in secret and then drew criticism from conservatives when it was unveiled.
Right now, GOP leaders hope to release and mark up a tax bill in the next two weeks, according to multiple sources. The plan is to pass the tax bill in the House by Thanksgiving.
“It all pivots off the budget,” Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told Fox News on Friday when he was asked when the tax bill could be released. “When that is signed, sealed and delivered, we’ll announce both the date for the tax reform plan and the Ways and Means Committee markup as well. So the answer is: very soon.”
The pressure by Trump, the White House and GOP leaders to back the budget appears to be working. Even conservatives who dislike the Senate plan say they feel it has momentum.
In a Saturday statement, Walker said the “Senate ignored the House’s attempt to balance the budget and reform mandatory entitlement programs” but that the Republican Study Committee “reached our decision to support the Senate Budget Resolution based on the premise of beginning markup of tax reform legislation within a couple of weeks.”
The group also got a thumbs-up from leadership on a balanced budget vote and deficit reducing legislation, which will likely die in the Senate.
It is unclear, however, whether the Freedom Caucus would make their own support for the budget contingent on House leaders publicly promising to hold a vote on tax reform by mid-November. A decision to block the budget would likely prompt pushback from the White House.