Republicans look to accelerate tax reform after averting spending and debt crises


Republicans are expected to try to accelerate behind-the-scenes work on tax reform and a possible revival of healthcare reform, now that Congress has avoided a fiscal crisis by passing a three-month spending and debt ceiling bill.

But some of that work may be delayed next week, as Hurricane Irma could keep Congress shuttered on Monday, at least on the House side, according to GOP aides, in order to allow lawmakers from the Southeast to remain home to deal with the aftermath of the storm.

Republicans worked over the August recess to bolster support for the tax plan, but like other spending issues, it has divided the GOP. Some Republicans are demanding fewer cuts in spending, and others are asking for greater spending reform, and passing a budget soon may help clarify the situation.

Republicans in the House have yet to endorse a 2018 budget bill that is to serve as the legislative vehicle for tax reform.

“We still have some work to do, but we are encouraged by the results we were getting over the recess,” said House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn. “We are hoping to be able to get the budget done in the next couple of weeks.”

Trump, who endorsed the three-month debt limit deal to make room for tax reform, has stepped up pressure on the GOP on taxes, which so far has failed to pass a major agenda item.

“Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP.” Trump tweeted Friday. “Don’t wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!”

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, a top lawmaker on the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he believes the GOP will advance a bill, despite internal divide.

“I don’t see it causing any problems on tax reform,” Flores said. “I think we can get something passed.”

House, Senate and White House key players met twice on tax reform last week and plan more meetings in the days ahead.

In the meantime, House lawmakers next week will continue debating an unfinished package of 2018 spending bills and associated amendments that will fund the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies.

In addition to spending legislation, the House is also expected to vote on the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, which would ban gang members from entering the United States and would detain and remove “criminal gang members,” or those who participate in gang activity, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a sponsor of the bill.

Over in the Senate, lawmakers next week will debate a $640 billion measure to fund the Department of Defense and other national security programs for fiscal 2018. The measure is sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who has returned to Congress while undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Off the Senate floor, a trio of GOP senators — Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dean Heller of Nevada — will continue trying to revive efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with a measure that would turn Obamacare funding in to a block grant program for states to control. They received a tepid endorsement last week from McCain, the holdout Republican who blocked an earlier effort to replace the embattled healthcare law.

The last-ditch push comes after the Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers their legislative vehicle to pass the bill with just 51 votes will expire at the end of the month.