House Republicans still bullish on tax bill after whip effort

House Republicans are stepping up their whip effort behind major tax legislation poised for a floor vote Thursday and expressing confidence they’ll have the votes to pass it.

With many Republicans calling it a “make-or-break” moment for their majority, House GOP leaders and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady are sounding decidedly bullish.

"We do and will have the votes for passage," Brady (R-Texas) said, heading into a whip meeting on Monday night.

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said he felt “very good” about the whip check. And a half-dozen deputy whips echoed those comments after huddling with White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn in the basement of the Capitol, where there was no talk of delaying the vote.

Indeed, leadership sources say the process has gone surprisingly well — a sign of how desperate Republicans are to notch a legislative victory after their failure to Obamacare.

“I think it’ll be there,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas). “I mean if guys like me are voting for it, after all the issues I had with it? I had a different idea of what it should look like, but it’s got some good stuff in it that will help jumpstart our country.”

The movement comes as Trump returns to Washington from a five-nation tour of Asia. Some Republicans have worried privately that the president could upset the talks with off-the-cuff tweets. Many Republicans were relieved that Trump was gone for much of the House’s legislative work on the bill.

As if on cue, Trump tweeted Monday morning that while he is “proud” of Congress’ tax reform progress, he still wants them to include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of the bill — and slash the top individual rate from 39.6 percent in the House to 35 percent.

“How about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further? Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?” he wrote.

While Brady said Monday that the such changes “remains under consideration,” GOP leadership sources say neither is going to happen. Many Republicans agree in theory with Trump on rescinding the individual mandate. But leaders worry that adding controversial health care policy into the mix would sink their tax bill.

Cutting the top individual rate to 35 percent is also unlikely due to the sheer cost — money Republicans can’t spare if they want to circumvent Democrats and pass the tax bill by a majority vote in the Senate. Trump originally urged the House to keep the top rate at 39.6 percent, and Republicans are trying to sell their bill as a boon to the middle class, not the wealthy.

Republican supporters of Trump’s ideas aren’t prepared to fight for them at this point — if only because they want to move the process along. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Monday that while he’d prefer to include the individual mandate repeal, he and his fellow conservatives weren’t going to hold up the tax bill this week.

The group, typically a thorn in leadership’s side, has given leaders rare space to write and negotiate the tax bill. While the caucus did not endorse the tax bill during its weekly meeting Monday evening, Meadows said he believe members are mostly "cautious yeses."

“I do fully expect that the bill will move forward and pass on Thursday, based on our whip count and based on the general understanding of where the rest of the conference is,” Meadows said. “If anything it’s just a cautious ‘yes’ on moving the process forward with the full understanding that there’s still a number of issues that have to be worked out before final passage.”

However, Meadows said the group has a number of outstanding concerns that need to be addressed in conference committee.

“Some of the private conversations have indicated a greater willingness to look at changing it in conference," he said "and ultimately the reason why we believe we have that is we have enough votes to make sure it doesn’t pass on final passage if they’re not addressed.”

Despite caution where Trump is concerned, Republican leaders have invited the president to come rally the House GOP conference Thursday morning before passage. The White House also stands at the ready to make any calls necessary to get the bill over the finish line.

Cohn told lawmakers at the whip meeting that “the president is happy with the progress, and supportive of the House bill,” according to Williams. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the plan is to vote Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Cohn said he’s been in touch daily with Trump about the tax bill, sometimes multiple times a day, as the president flew around Asia.

“It’s obvious the president is very much engaged on the unfolding tax reform efforts,” Barr said.

GOP leaders, meanwhile, are still working behind the scenes to bolster their numbers. They met Monday night at 9 p.m. with lawmakers from high-tax states like New York and New Jersey, who are currently opposed to the legislation.

It is unlikely that leaders can win over those members, whose constituents rely on the state and local tax deduction. But Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a Ways and Means member close with leaders, predicted Monday that there aren’t opponents from high-tax states to defeat the bill.

After Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) came out against the legislation last week, GOP leaders worried other California Republicans would follow suit. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said supports the Republican legislation, though he expects it to be improved in conference committee in order to win his vote on final passage.

“That’s the one that better have the right things in it,” LaMalfa said.

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