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These House Republicans Could Cause Problems For The Tax Bill

The Republicans in the House look like they have the votes to pass their big tax policy bill, which is scheduled to come up for a vote this week, because none of the big factions in the chamber are decidedly against the legislation.

House passage isn’t everything, of course. (Remember when President Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House after the House passed an Obamacare repeal in May?) Senate Republicans are working on taxes, too, and they have a substantially different bill than the one that’s being considered in the House. Given the differences, passing a bill out of the House is the only the first of what could be as many as four votes in the House and the Senate before the GOP tax policy becomes law.1

But since it’s a necessary first step, let’s look more closely at the House and why it’s likely to adopt this legislation. The bill can’t move forward if 23 of the 240 GOP members are against it (assuming that all the Democrats remain in opposition). Unlike the Senate, House votes are usually less about individual members and more about coalitions in the chamber, so that’s the framework I’m using to evaluate the likelihood of the bill passing. I’ve listed these groups in order of how much House GOP leaders should worry about them, from least to most.

The House Freedom Caucus (about 30 members)

Back in March, the Freedom Caucus, a bloc of the most conservative House Republicans, opposed the initial House version of Obamacare repeal, forcing House Speaker Paul Ryan to cancel a planned vote because it was likely to fail. Republicans then changed the bill to make it more to the Freedom Caucus’s liking, and it passed in early May.

Party leaders seem to have learned their lesson. They got early buy-in from the Freedom Caucus, which successfully pushed for a large cut in the corporate tax rate, which under this bill will drop from 35 percent to 20 percent. The vast majority of the 30-something member caucus is expected to vote “yes.” (The Freedom Caucus has not publicly released a list of its members, so we don’t know exactly how many members it has.)

The Tuesday Group (about 50 members)

The Tuesday Group defines itself as composed of “center-right” Republicans, and these more liberal members are generally at the other end of the ideological spectrum from the Freedom Caucus. (The Tuesday Group does not publicize its membership list either but has said that it has “more than 50” members, including some whose identities we know because they have announced their affiliation or received donations from the group’s political action committee.)

The majority of the 20 Republican representatives who voted against the health care legislation that passed the House in May were in this bloc. So far, Tuesday Group members, some of whom strongly opposed the health care bill’s Medicaid cuts, do not appear to have found anything they feel is too conservative in this bill.

I’ll be watching some of them closely, though, in particular Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent and Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of whom announced earlier this year that they would be retiring from Congress. That leaves them free to vote in ways that would annoy the party base, although there is no indication that they oppose this legislation.

Clinton-district members (23 members)

These are Republicans who represent districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Some of these members are also in the Tuesday Group, but it’s worth thinking about this collective as a group of people facing electoral danger rather than as a group of moderates.

There are two reasons that Republican House leaders should be worried about this contingent. First, last week’s elections in New Jersey and Virginia suggest that Clinton backers are very motivated and likely to vote in next year’s midterms. The huge gains that Democrats made in the Virginia House of Delegates were largely in areas where Clinton ran ahead of Trump. For these members, opposing a bill supported by the president could be a good political move. Secondly, the House bill (like the Senate bill) would end individuals’ ability to deduct state and local income taxes from their federal returns. Who claims that deduction? Generally, upper-income people in wealthy and high-tax areas. Many of these 23 members represent such areas. For example, according to the Tax Policy Center, more than half of the people in House Republican Barbara Comstock’s suburban Virginia district just outside of D.C. claim this deduction.

At least one of the members in this group, California’s Darrell Issa, has already said that he will vote against the bill — citing the elimination of the state and local tax deductions. Issa is not generally considered a moderate, but the Cook Political Report includes him on its list of 13 GOP incumbents who are in “toss-up” races.

Comstock is also on this list, and I’ll be watching to see if she gets spooked by last week’s results in Virginia. And there are six other House Republicans from California (a state where a high number of people use the state and local deduction) in districts Clinton won. They could well join Issa.

Republicans from New Jersey and New York (14 members)

Several of the New York and New Jersey Republicans are either in the Tuesday Group or represent a district that went for Clinton. But I’ve grouped them separately as well because they seem particularly frustrated by the limitations on state and local deductions, which will also disproportionately affect New Jersey and New York residents.

This faction has already made its displeasure known. When Republicans had to pass a budget bill last month to get started on the tax legislation, it squeaked through on a 216-212 vote after 20 Republicans — including 11 of the 14 House Republicans from New Jersey and New York — opposed it. They cited the potential elimination of state and local tax deductions.

Republican leaders have attempted to placate this group by preserving a deduction for up to $10,000 in local property taxes. But they did not budge on state and local income taxes, because eliminating that deduction helps raise money for the federal government and therefore ensures that the bill doesn’t increase the deficit too much. So far, at least one member of this bloc who had planned to vote “no” has been satisfied with the compromise and agreed to back the bill, but I expect most of the other 10 to remain against it.


So the math here suggests a fairly close vote, as at least 11 of the 23 “no” votes it would take to tank the bill already seem clear (that’s the 10 members from New York and New Jersey, plus Issa).

But House GOP leaders have two key advantages. First, Republicans are desperate to accomplish something big, and party leaders are telling members that the defeats last week in New Jersey and Virginia were partly spurred by voters feeling that Republicans aren’t getting enough done. (Whether this claim is true is likely less important than whether Republican members believe it’s true.) Second, party donors really want this bill to pass, and even members in Clinton districts may feel like they can’t afford to irritate their donors in an election cycle where they will likely need millions of dollars to be competitive.

So assume that this bill will pass the House. But for now, don’t assume that it will get further than that.

Footnotes

  1. Eventually, both chambers have to pass the same bill. So the process could be that the House adopts its version, the Senate passes a different version, there is a conference to reach agreement on a third version of the legislation and both chambers vote on that.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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