House Rules Committee Adopts Closed Rule for GOP Tax Bill

With last hurdle cleared, measure heads to the floor

House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, center, and Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, seen here with a staffer in March, joined six other Republicans Tuesday night to send the GOP tax bill to the floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Republican tax bill cleared the Rules Committee late Tuesday night with no changes or amendments made in order for floor debate.

The panel adopted a closed rule in an 8-3 party-line vote, the last hurdle for the bill to clear before it reaches the floor.

The panel met for more than five hours, listening to lawmakers eager to amend the tax bill.

The panel had been scheduled to debate the tax bill Wednesday afternoon but the deliberations were moved to Tuesday night. Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said Speaker Paul D. Ryan had requested the change to provide for more floor debate time prior to Thursday’s anticipated vote.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings noted the late decision to move the Rules meeting meant C-SPAN couldn’t record it. Sessions said that was not an intended result.

The Florida Democrat mused that C-SPAN’s absence could create another effect.

“Maybe members won’t be posturing, me included,” he said.

But posturing is exactly what the Rules Committee spent hours doing, as Democrats attacked the bill and Republicans defended it.

Ways and Means ranking member Richard E. Neal criticized GOP tax writers for crafting the bill without a single hearing. He conceded the tax-writing panel has held many hearings on tax overhaul issues, but “not on this piece of legislation.” 

“This was, ‘Let’s go get a victory and find a policy,’” the Massachusetts Democrat said, accusing Republicans of trying to score political points.

Republicans on the Rules panel, Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Rob Woodall of Georgia, praised Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady for his transparency, both arguing that he’s been the most open tax-writing chairman they have worked with during their time in Congress.

Brady spent more time defending his tax bill than himself, continuing to insist that the measure would provide relief for all taxpayers.

The Texas Republican cited an analysis from the liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center that showed every income group in 2018 would see a tax cut. And even though some provisions such as the $300 family tax credit for parents and nonchild dependents are set to expire, the organization that is a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution found that all income levels would still get a tax cut 10 years from now “except for a $10-$20 tax increase” in a few areas, Brady said.

One amendment many Republican members had hoped to include would have repealed the individual mandate in the 2010 health care law.

Brady said the House did not need to add it to meet the budget reconciliation instructions that the measure not add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit. He noted, however, that the Senate intends to add the mandate repeal in its tax plan and that the issue could be considered during conference committee negotiations.

“There is a lot of merit to that. … We are open to that in this final bill,” Brady said.

After addressing the Rules Committee, Brady said his decision not to offer a manager’s amendment does not mean he’s foreclosed to further changes. He said those changes would come during conference committee negotiations with the Senate.

“There’s plenty of areas I still want to, frankly, after listening to members, that we want to improve during that process,” he said. “So this isn’t the end of the road at all, but it does demonstrate there’s strong support for taking that next big step, which is passage out of the House.”

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