President Trump heads to Missouri today to build on a key message from his speech in Phoenix last week: that he’s going to give Americans “the biggest tax cut in the history of our country.”
But there is no tax reform plan yet.
The last official paper from the White House on tax reform was a one-page outline of principles released by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn from April, and congressional leaders have given little indication of when they might be ready to start voting on a bill.
The Mnuchin/Cohn proposal centered on reducing the seven current tax brackets to three, lowering taxes on business, eliminating tax breaks that mainly benefit wealthy individuals, and encouraging the repatriation of overseas profits.
“Everybody has an agreement we are going to move this as fast as we can,” Mnuchin said during a briefing on April 27 in which he and Cohn talked through the proposal with reporters.
But since then, there are indications that even those pillars of the plan may have shifted. The New York Times reported yesterday that the original Mnuchin/Cohn proposal for a 15 percent corporate tax rate has shifted to the 20 to 25 percent range, and that a proposed 35 percent ceiling for income tax could be scrapped altogether, keeping the current 39.6 percent rate intact.
In response to a question about the White House’s reportedly evolving preferences, White House Assistant Press Secretary Natalie Strom told ABC News via email: “The NYT reporting was based on their sources and we don’t confirm speculation. Those types of decisions are being hammered out in our collaborative process with Congress. We have nothing to release at this time.”
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the Missouri speech, billed as a tax reform-specific event, will not flesh out any details.
“The specifics of the plan are extraordinarily important, but right now what the President is doing is casting a vision, and I think that’s just as important,” the official, who insisted on anonymity to speak to reporters, said.
But Trump continues to refer to progress on a tax reform plan in a much more concrete way.
“We’re giving you the biggest tax cut in the history of our country,” he said during a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona last week.
Cohn made clear in an interview with the Financial Times last week that Congress, not the president, is taking the lead on crafting the actual tax reform legislation.
“In the next three or four weeks, the tax bill will be written in the Ways and Means Committee and Congress is going to own the writing of legislation — that is key,” Cohn told the Financial Times.
But that House panel, which will take the first stab at writing a bill, has not yet publicly said when it will introduce the legislation. A House Committee on Ways and Means spokeswoman declined to say whether the committee envisions working on the same timeline as the one Cohn has suggested.
The White House also insists that the congressional drafting process should be a bipartisan exercise. But while the White House’s economic team has held regular meetings with Republicans on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, Senate Democrats have not been part of the conversation since May, when Mnuchin and Cohn met with the entire committee at the request of Senate Republicans.
“There are no conversations being had between the administration and Senate Democrats,” an aide to Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden told ABC.
Previous administrations have not been as deferential to Congress as Trump’s. Former President Ronald Reagan sent a 489-page proposal to Congress in 1985 to make his thoughts on tax reform clear.
But it’s possible that congressional leaders prefer that Trump focus on his PR campaign rather than delve into the nitty-gritty of tax policy specifics.
During an interview with the Washington Examiner last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been doing his own tax reform road show around the country, suggested that he doesn’t mind the White House being occupied with other issues, saying it “actually helps us concentrate our minds and focus on getting this done, especially because of the acrimony that’s in America and the distraction.”