When House Speaker Paul Ryan warned President Donald Trump during a Tuesday Oval Office meeting that the rollout of the long-awaited tax reform bill might have to be postponed a day, the president said that was fine.
The White House has so far been blasé about the delay, provided it doesn’t extend into the weekend, according to three senior administration officials—and Trump even told Ryan he’d be fine if it takes until Friday, said two people briefed on their conversation.
“It’s an additional 24 hours of suspense — not great for the blood pressure, but by no means fatal,” said Sage Eastman, former deputy staff director to Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), former chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, which released its own tax proposal in 2014.
But if the delays continue, it will signal to rank-and-file lawmakers, outside groups and donors that momentum surrounding tax reform—which the White House has painted as a fast-moving, inevitable legislative win—is stalling.
The delay foreshadows the hiccups inherent in any tax reform effort. Republicans face the huge challenge of finding enough breaks to eliminate or curb to pay for tax cuts – and some members have already indicated that they feel they haven’t been consulted on what tradeoffs will be made in the proposed bill.
“If we get to Friday afternoon and we still haven’t seen a bill, people will start to get genuinely concerned,” said one person close to the administration.
Postponing the release of the House tax bill also eats into precious time in an already tight schedule, while complicating the White House’s efforts to publicly sell a tax plan.
“Every day that it gets delayed is a setback if we’re aiming to sign a bill by Christmas Eve,” said Stephen Moore, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and informal economic adviser to the president. “They key is not get bogged down.”
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump had originally planned to host Republican members of the House Ways & Means Committee at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. The photo-op was rescheduled to Thursday, when Trump is also due to announce his pick for Federal Reserve chair. He leaves Friday for his first trip to Asia.
“We’re still on schedule for our overall goals and still on track to have the mark-up next week, said one of the senior administration officials. “Hopefully, we’ll get the bill out of House next week.”
But the delay complicated the plans of tax experts, wonks and lobbyists who had scheduled their week around a Wednesday bill release.
Moore, for instance, had planned to do a handful of television hits about the House bill on Wednesday and then attend a meeting with economic policy officials at the White House. All of it got cancelled, so Moore found himself with a free day to mostly sit around his office.
“Hopefully, it’s just a one-day delay,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.
The White House is proceeding with an aggressive sales pitch despite the absence of legislation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was in Southern California, visiting Republican congressional districts to talk up the necessity of tweaking the tax code. He also plans to give a speech Sunday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, according to a senior Treasury official.
Vice President Mike Pence plans to travel to Orlando, Florida, on Thursday, along with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, to give remarks about tax reform at an American manufacturer called Correct Craft.
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn attended the Senate Republican steering lunch on Thursday, where he stressed that Congress needs to pass a tax bill soon, according to two attendees.
Cohn told lawmakers that the IRS needed time to propagate new rules and that the House Republicans needed to release their tax legislation before the president left for Asia – a timeframe that now seems unclear.
“It’s funny… they’ve been telling us for a month, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be ready, we’ll be ready, we’ll be ready’ And now here we are,” said one White House staffer.
But with the last tax overhaul in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan, a slight delay in releasing the House Republican tax bill wound up not hobbling the final bill.
“Advocates of tax reform should pray this is the worst stumble they have,” said Jeffrey Birnbaum, the author of the seminal book on the 1986 tax legislation, Showdown at Gucci Gulch, and president of BGR Public Relations. “Deadlines were broken all of the time in 1986.”
Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim contributed reporting.
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