Partisan Sparks Fly at Ways and Means Tax Markup

Date posted: November 6, 2017

California Democrat Mike Thompson calls GOP bill “cruel” and “heartless”

The fireworks started early at a Ways and Means Committee markup Monday of the House Republican tax plan, as a top Democrat slammed a provision that would end certain tax write-offs for properties damaged by fires.

California Rep. Mike Thompson said the sweeping legislation was “cruel” and “heartless” for repealing such tax benefits for his constituents in Northern California, where devastating wildfires burned through parts of Sonoma, Napa and Yuba counties in early October and elsewhere in the state. He pointed out that victims of recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and other states would be grandfathered in and be able to deduct some of their uninsured property losses.

“I’ve got 9,000 people who had their homes burned to the ground,” Thompson said. “You’re pulling the rug right out from underneath them.”

The dispute over disaster losses is just a sample of the partisan debate about who will benefit or lose under the 400-page GOP tax bill that will be repeated throughout the marathon markup. The line-by-line process of amending the measure began at noon Monday and is expected to run for four days.

Democrats also trained their fire on the bill’s effect on the deficit and projections from the Joint Committee on Taxation that certain taxpayers would actually see tax hikes under the plan after five years. Asked about the JCT’s distribution tables, committee Chief of Staff Tom Barthold said 38 million households making between $20,000 and $40,000 per year could see an increase in taxes on average beginning in 2023, when certain tax benefits in the legislation would expire.

Monday’s portion of the markup was expected to run through 7 p.m. Barthold was on hand to take questions about the JCT analysis released late Friday.

The debate on disaster losses grew heated as Thompson turned to Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady and asked the Texas Republican several times, “Why would you have done that?” The two lawmakers began to talk over each other.

Brady said he expects another “tax relief package to come forward” within a month that would help Californians and other Americans affected by wildfires and other disasters. Senate Democrats sent a wish list to the Trump administration Monday.

In his opening statement, Brady promised his constituents in Texas an average $2,500 after-tax raise in their paychecks.

He also pitched the plan as a win for Californians and New Yorkers — two key states with several House Republicans who could be key to passage of the legislation. Middle-income families in California would see a $2,900 boost to their paycheck and those in New York would see a $2,700 increase, Brady said.

Democrats noted the bill would blow a projected $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit over 10 years, which was the target set under the fiscal 2018 budget resolution agreed to by Republicans. Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, top Democrat on the panel, disputed Republican promises that the revenue lost by cutting tax rates would be covered by booming economic growth that would result from the tax code overhaul.

“History has proven it does not work,” Neal said.

Neal and his Democratic colleagues also criticized the process behind writing the tax plan as top-down and purely partisan.

The first vote of the markup came when Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, requested a one-week delay so members could have more time to scrutinize the tax bill. He cited the rushed process on efforts to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law earlier this year as an example of the wrong way to consider a major piece of legislation.

“We need to learn from this experience,” he said. “This bill needs some vetting. In the president’s words, it needs extreme vetting.”

Doggett’s motion was defeated 16-24 along party lines.

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