Grover Norquist: Renegade Senators Won’t Hold Up Senate Tax Bill
The head of Americans for Tax Reform says he's confident that reform package will be signed into law before December 12
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) cheered Thursday’s passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut, but he was feeling as much trepidation as elation knowing his party’s number-one domestic policy goal is now in the hands of the fickle Senate.
Byrne was blunt in the statement he released after the 227-205 vote.
“I truly hope the Senate does not let us down yet again,” he stated. “They should pass a tax reform bill, and let’s get the job done.”
Byrne’s concern is understandable. The House in May passed a bill to repeal Obamacare only to see the Senate fumble it away. The upper chamber has not even acted on hundreds of other bills sent up by the House.
In addition, there are already signs of discontent within the GOP’s narrow Senate majority. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) says he will not vote for the bill unless it offers more relief to small-business owners who do not file returns under the corporate tax. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has expressed concerns over a proposal to repeal the Obamacare tax penalty on people who do not buy insurance.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is complaining about the process, as he did during the Obamacare debate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and others have serious reservations about adding to the deficit. And if those were not enough obstacles, sexual abuse allegations against Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore suddenly have jeopardized the GOP’s hold on that seat.
Amid those worries, however, America’s leading anti-tax activist remains as serene as ever.
Holding out on an important piece of legislation supported by almost every other Republican offers a quick trip to a national TV news show.
“There’s going to be a parade of people expressing concern and some saying they’ll vote against it,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “It always happens.”
Norquist said some senators are trying to leverage specific changes as the bill works its way through the Senate. Others, he suggested, are looking for publicity. Holding out on an important piece of legislation supported by almost every other Republican offers a quick trip to a national TV news show.
What does announcing support for the bill get a Republican senator? Nothing, Norquist said.
“There is no radio talk show,” he said. “There is no national television show.”
But Norquist said he does not believe the bumpy ride will prevent the bill from arriving at its intended destination.
“Will they vote ‘no’? I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s not quite crying wolf.”
Other activists are concerned but hopeful.
“Like the Obamacare repeal, it’s sort of becoming immensely complicated,” said Michael Johns, executive director of Tea Party Community.
But Johns, who previously worked as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, said the demands of the conservative base and President Donald Trump provide a powerful incentive.
“All of that said, the political expectations … collectively are that these tax cuts and tax reforms be passed urgently,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”
David Bozell, president of ForAmerica, agreed the Senate is under great pressure to deliver. That does not mean the final product will be great, he added.
“I think they’ll get a very weak bill across the finish line,” he said.
Bozell added that some conservatives are less than enthusiastic about the House-passed bill.
“Once the Senate gets its grubby hands on it, they’ll be less and less excited about it,” he said.
Excitement would dwindle even further, said Bozell, if the Senate takes steps such as back-loading the tax cuts to the latter part of the 10-year budget window — or delaying a planned repeal of the tax penalty imposed under the Affordable Care Act on people who fail to obtain insurance.
Bozell also said Senate leaders should have taken steps to head off some of the criticism they now are getting. For instance, he said, the Senate Finance Committee could have addressed McCain’s concerns by holding a series of hearings with witnesses testifying about the economic benefits of a lower tax burden and a simple tax code.
“If John McCain wants to have some hearings, just give him some hearings,” he said.
Johns said Collins raised some legitimate concerns during the Obamacare debate — for instance, how Medicaid changes might affect low-income Americans. But he said her objection to repealing the mandate is not reasonable. No one should be forced to buy a product or service he does not want, Johns said.
Norquist said the proposal to eliminate the insurance requirement has led to absurd charges that millions of Americans would “lose” their insurance coverage.
“Opening the Berlin Wall did not throw millions of people out of East Germany,” he said.
Norquist said he thinks tax cuts are on track to pass — before the Alabama Senate election — and get to Trump’s desk.
“I think it’s possible two people will vote ‘no’ if their votes aren’t needed,” he said.