I just returned from two days on The Hill and can report that the Border Adjustment Tax is not dead. The body is still twitching.
I had meetings with four House offices and one Senate office, and appeared on a panel before a group of moderate Republicans. We got to present to the moderates before the pro-BAT group, which annoyed some of the staffers. That tells you a lot.
Some Members remain strong in support of the BAT for reasons that have nothing to do with public policy or their constituents. Some of them lierally live with leadership. Congressmen often bunk together to save money, like dorm mates. Kevin Brady has four or five roommates. I have encountered two of them. On this trip, the Deputy COS of one of them told me that they had heard from many people about the BAT and the issues related to the BAT, but her boss was "best friends" with Brady, lived with him and thought he "deserved a chance" to set his tax agenda. No matter the consequences, apparently.
Other members crave being close to leadership and will do what they must to stay there. Being on Ways and Means brings in significantly more campaign contributions, making it easy to outspend your opponent in any given year. So your seat becomes very safe if you play along with leadership.
And finally, there are the threats. It is my understanding from several sources that Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee have been told in no uncertain terms that they must vote for the BAT or they will get tossed off the committee. See above for why this threat would be highly motivating. This is THE committee to be on in the House. In other words, Members on Ways and Means are going to vote for this bill whether or not they have "concerns" (constituents who will go bust), unless they are planning to leave Congress.
Politics is a dirty business. This is part of the dirt of Washington. Despite the fixed game and the lonely battle to overturn this tax proposal, we are not without our weapons. We have a lot of support and the media has been on our side. There is no question that the problems with the BAT are known and clearly set out for all to see. Congressmen cannot claim ignorance.
The Senate remains a firebreak even if Trump comes out in favor of the BAT, which is not certain by any stretch. Senate hostility to the BAT is open and strong, and there seems to be no way for the "Brady Plan" to get through that body. Under these circumstances, it is hard to believe Brady and Ryan will demand a vote on the BAT. Barron's cover story this weekend ("Kill the Border Tax Before It Kills Us") made the observation that the BAT is a tax increase, hiding among tax reductions. Making members vote to increase taxes is a dangerous "ask", especially if it is clear that the bill has no chance in the Senate. [This same argument is starting to pop up re healthcare.] It's a campaign-in-a-can for the Democrats.
And finally, there is the maelstrom Congress already faces: healthcare legislation, a Russian investigation, unfounded allegations of wiretapping, and a budget battle. And there is also a looming debt limit crisis. Trump and Ryan will have to spend a lot of political capital to get through all of this And nothing stops time from ebbing away, marching toward dangerous midterm elections. Tax reform is not likely to become law in 2017. That's a long time and lots can happen.
It's a war, and will remain a war until Ryan and Brady officially withdraw the proposal. That's not around the corner. Keep fighting!
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