Wyoming’s Senior Senator, Mike Enzi, is getting a seat at the head table in the GOP’s rush to get a tax reform bill passed in the coming weeks.
As chair of the Senate Budget Committee Enzi has played a key role in getting the Republican tax reform proposal as far along as it currently is, but now comes the really hard part: melding the Senate bill with the House bill. Enzi is on the conference committee tasked with wedding the two divergent bills. He says he’s not just hearing input from all corners of Capitol.
“No, I'm hearing from all corners of the continent. There are a lot of people who have ideas on what they thought should be in there, many of them were shared before the time that we actually voted on the bill.”
Since Congress did nothing with Obamacare, this makes the stakes higher. But since the House and Senate bills diverge on major policy areas, like what you can deduct for medical expenses, how much of your mortgage you can deduct and even what school teachers can deduct when they buy school supplies, it’s going to be tough to reach a compromise. Enzi says a conference committee is unique.
“I have but it's surprising how few people have ever been through a conference, because they haven't been done for years, primarily. So to have a major conference is really different.”
In Wyoming, many people fear that the Senate bill will end your ability to deduct what you pay annually in sales tax because you don’t have a state income tax. Washington State also doesn’t have a state income tax. Their senior Democratic Senator Patty Murray released a statement accusing the GOP of ending that deduction “in order to line the pockets of billionaires and big corporations.” But Enzi maintains their bill makes that deduction up in other places.
“And so we said, if they personal income tax deductions, we should get sales tax deductions. The personal income tax deductions are going away. So we don't have the same argument for the sales tax. But we doubled the standard deduction, so I suspect that most people don't have that much in sales tax.”
On the conference committee, Enzi will be sitting across from Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper. He says his goal is to bring the GOP proposal back to the middle, which he says means it should match what President Trump has actually promised.
“One, the final tax bill should not benefit people like the president – people with great wealth. Two, it should help middle-class families. And three, it should simplify the tax code. And we want to make sure at the end of the day it looks like what the president said he would sign.”
Enzi dismisses those complaints along with concerns raised by his fellow Republicans that the bill will make the nation’s deficit balloon. He also brushes aside independent analysis of the competing tax proposals that claim they’re tilted towards the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
“It's all businesses that will get a break in this, which will allow them to hire more people, to pay higher wages.”
But Democrats disagree. They say the bill is tilted towards corporations especially towards the oil and gas industry because it maintains their tax breaks while unwinding some breaks for renewables. Raul Grijalva is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and also a member of the conference committee. He says his party is still trying to figure out what their role is because they’ve been locked out of the process.
“We are going to get together and figure out what.. if there is a game plan.”
Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney says she wants Enzi and the Senators to ditch their Alternative Minimum Tax proposal.
“It will end up having a double taxation effect on a number businesses, including in the coal industry. And I think it’s part of being able to provide people with a simpler, fairer code is to get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax.”
But Cheney brushes aside criticisms from the left that the GOP needs to slow down before overhauling the U.S. economy on a party-line vote.
“One of the things that I’ve learned while being up here is we get criticized for moving too fast and we get criticized for moving too slow. So from my perspective, I think it’s always good to move with haste and responsibly when it comes to things that matters so much for folks back home.”
As for Senator Enzi, he says his job in melding the House and Senate bills in the coming weeks - not just to protect Senate priorities.
“You are going to try to come up with the best of each bill. And there are parts of ours that I suspect some people don't like and we've got to hear a lot about parts of the House one that people didn't like, because there's has been hanging out quite a while.”
Enzi and his counterparts on the conference committee only have a couple weeks left to meld the two different tax bills together if they hope to meet Trump’s end of year deadline to pass a unified tax bill. And the clock’s ticking, and Democrats are praying time runs out.