Things are already getting testy in the tax reform fight, as Democrats struggle to derail the massive GOP bill

  • Republicans angered Democrats on Monday by introducing several amendments without warning.
  • Democrats can do very little to slow down the Republican tax reform effort.

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have a very narrow path forward if they want to derail or engage Republicans’ attempt to overhaul the federal tax code, using their allotted time to raise issues with the parts of the bill they deem to be bad policy.

The next few days in the House, as tax writers markup the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was unveiled just last Thursday, will be crucial to the fate of the bill. Because Democrats are essentially frozen out of the process, partly due to their dwindling numbers on the committee, all they can do is speak out — loudly.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of determining that,” California Rep. Mike Thompson said of engaging in any bipartisan fashion. “This is their show and they set the rules and they’re driving the bus and they have decided that they’re not going to allow Democrats to participate. And this is a huge mistake, I think, when you’re doing something as big as once-every-30-whatever-years tax reform.”

Democrats will be allowed to offer their own amendments going forward, but it is likely to fall along a strict 24-16 party line vote in the Congress’ oldest continuous committee.

Since it is likely that every Democratic amendment is slated to fail, and most Republican ones would have very high chance of passing, Thompson said the only things Democrats can do is raise issue with what the GOP lawmakers propose.

“We’re going to try and get smart on the amendments that they have. We’re going to raise issues of concern that we have,” he said.

And it becomes more difficult when the amendments are dropped without notice. “They have made no effort” to engage Democrats ahead of time, Michigan Rep. Sander Levin told Business Insider.

“They just sprung out an amendment with a number of pieces and they want to combine it,” Levin added. “They never talked to us. We didn’t find out anything about it until they handed it to us. So even when it comes to amendments, they don’t want to work together.”

Things are already getting testy

Levin and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Republican, engaged in a heated back and forth on Monday when the amendments were dropped without notice. Levin raged at Brady for not introducing the amendments separately and allowing for ample discussion on each one, calling it “disgraceful” and making “a mockery out of this committee.”

“Are you people essentially authoritarians?” Levin asked of Brady. “And you just throw this down to us. This is utter disgrace. Don’t you have enough confidence in your own position to present these in advance to us and let” Joint Committee on Taxation chief of staff Thomas Barthold “discuss each and every one of separately?”

The amendments passed Monday evening 24-16, a party line vote. But Brady might not be done springing more amendments on the committee in the coming days.

“There’s a possibility that there will be more amendments by me that incorporate solutions as we get to them in these areas,” Brady told reporters later Monday evening. “It depends upon how the solutions are designed and moving forward.”

And Republicans dispute the notion that they are excluding Democrats from the process. Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, who chairs the subcommittee on taxation, told Business Insider, “We’ve proposed any number of opportunities for the Democrats to engage this process.” He said he hopes they will try to cooperate over the next few days.

As to whether any alterations to the bill will transcend rigid party lines, Roskam said, “I wouldn’t count it out.”

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