Sen. Ted Cruz has his eye on shaping the tax code and other fiscal priorities as he turns his full attention back to Congress after suspending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Texan told CQ Roll Call that he would like to advance a number of the ideas from his campaign's economic plan, including some from his $8.6 trillion tax proposal.
The new push by Cruz to help mold the GOP fiscal agenda comes as Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, huddled on Thursday with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and the House Republican leadership, and then with Senate Republican leaders in an effort to find common ground.
Trump and Ryan issued a joint statement after their meeting saying they still had differences, but that they had a constructive discussion and pledged to work together to unite the Republican Party this fall.
The Cruz blueprint calls for slashing tax rates across the board for individuals and corporations, including a plan to streamline the seven individual tax rates into a single 10-percent flat tax. The individual tax rates now range from 10 percent to 39.6 percent. He also would create a 16 percent business transfer tax, similar to a business consumption tax, which would replace the 35 percent corporate tax rate and payroll taxes.
Although he is not a tax writer on the Finance Committee, Cruz has worked in recent months on a range of issues with allies such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee.
Cruz said he would prod the GOP to emphasize incentives for economic growth as an alternative to liberal proposals for dealing with income inequality, such as increased federal spending and new mandates such as a higher minimum wage.
“A point that I made frequently on the campaign trail is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton often bring up income inequality. Income inequality has increased dramatically under their policies," Cruz said. "The rich have gotten richer under big government."
“That’s why my No. 1 priority if I had been elected president — and my No. 1 priority here in the Senate is fighting for jobs and economic growth because the people who are benefited the most are the most vulnerable. It’s young people, Hispanics, African Americans, single moms, it’s the working men and women of America,” Cruz said.
He said he was looking for ways to advance his ideas in bills, amendments and potential add-ons to the GOP campaign agenda and the party platform at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
“I am eager to advance free-market principles using any vehicle that is available. I’ve said for a long time, my domestic political philosophy is opportunity conservatism. Every policy we think about and talk about should focus on easing the means of ascent up the economic ladder,” he added.
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Cruz has voiced concerns since last year that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, and Ryan, his running mate, erred by emphasizing efforts to help taxpayers on the upper half of the income scale, without focusing enough on those on the lower end of the economic ladder.
Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, said Cruz’s efforts to advance his priorities could be part of a broader strategy for mending fences with colleagues while also preparing for a return to the presidential campaign trail, possibly in 2020. Cruz on Wednesday filed paperwork in Texas to seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2018.
“He may be interested in making amends and perhaps working on some legislation with colleagues. It would work to improve his image, either setting him up for a more productive career in the Senate or possibly for another run president,” Masket said.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said Cruz would need to woo Republican colleagues in order to move legislation -- which could be a challenge because of his reputation for objecting to bills on the floor and helping to instigate the 2013 government shutdown.
He said Cruz likely was aiming to try to shoehorn some of his ideas into the 2016 Republican platform, with the help of supportive delegates to the GOP convention, who are seeking seats on the party's platform committee.
“There is an opportunity to influence the economic planks in that platform,” Jillson said.
As for securing legislative trophies, Jillson said Cruz would need to find more allies willing to second his procedural motions on the floor, and back his proposals.
“He’s got to pick a few major issue areas in which he can visibly begin to develop expertise. And he has to work cooperatively with his colleagues. If he doesn’t support them, that’s not going to engender the kind of reciprocity that he needs,” Jillson said.