Republicans' process for passing tax reform looks strikingly similar to healthcare -- but they say this time will be different

Donald trump mitch mcconnellChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesDonald Trump and Mitch McConnell
  • Republicans are set on using the reconciliation process to bypass the 60-vote threshold.
  • GOP senators believe an increased number of hearings opens the process as much as possible.
  • Democrats are still feeling left in the dark and unable to contribute to the first tax code overhaul in 30 years.

WASHINGTON — A significant factor in the downfall of the repeated attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare was the Senate’s intent on not passing legislation through the regular order, instead bypassing the 60-vote threshold in favour of the reconciliation process.

Republicans are now employing the same tactics, with a handful of small changes, to tax reform.

The Senate passed its fiscal-year 2018 budget resolution Thursday, opening the door for the passage of Republican leadership’s massive package to overhaul the tax code.

The budget’s passage allows for budget reconciliation, which gives Republicans the chance to pass a tax bill through the chamber with a simple majority and no help from Democrats. The GOP holds only 52 seats in the Senate, a slim majority.

Still, in a shift from the process that doomed healthcare reform, Republicans are now holding multiple hearings and will have a markup in which Democrats will be able to offer amendments to the budget, which GOP senators think is considerable improvement and as close as they can possibly get to a regular order without having to work too much in a bipartisan fashion.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune said Thursday that reconciliation is necessary and will be a more open process than the healthcare fiasco that plagued most of the year in Congress.

“It is regular order in the sense that everybody will have an opportunity to offer amendments and get votes,” he said.

“If it becomes clear there are Democrats who want to participate and that we can pass a bill at the 60-vote threshold that would be great,” Thune added. “But reconciliation is an option that enables us to move the ball down the field and to ultimately get a result.”

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who was one of the primary Republican critics during the healthcare debate, said the increased number of hearings and a markup are “a lot closer to normal process” than before.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who sits on the Finance Committee and has been touting the tax reform effort, noted that in addition to the hearings this year, there have been several over the past half decade on tax reform.

“We’ve had several the last couple years and they say we’ve had like seven in the last five years, so the reality of it is we’ve had hearings this year on tax reform,” Scott said. “We’ll continue to have probably another hearing I believe and then we’ll ultimately have all the members of the finance committee be having a chance to offer an amendment.”

“It’s about as close as regular order as you can get from my perspective,” Scott added.

But the handful of hearings and an open amendment process might not cut it for Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

“One of the major surveys during the October break had the American people saying overwhelmingly that you’ve got to do big issues in a bipartisan way,” Wyden told reporters. “So we’re talking about taxes and health care and the like and now they’re looking at using a fast-track process as an off ramp for the most partisan way to do taxes.”

The fast and secretive pace in which Republicans are moving on the tax reform plan without an actual bill is a recipe for failure, according to Wyden.

“They obviously frittered away an enormous amount of time and I think right now playing catch up ball is really key,” he said, noting its similarities to the several failed Obamacare repeal efforts.

And Wyden said President Donald Trump was in agreement with what much of the Democrats requested during their meeting at the White House on Wednesday, but that what Trump agrees to hardly translates to any action by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“There’s such a big gap between what [Trump] said and then what’s actually on a piece of paper and that’s their big challenge,” Wyden said.

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