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Top House Democrat says Trump tax plan faces tough road in Congress

May 17, 2017
In The News

By Michael Levenson Globe Staff  May 17, 2017

The allegations that President Trump tried to stop the probe into his campaign’s ties to Russia have made it even harder for Congress to consider a comprehensive overhaul of the US tax code, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee said Wednesday.

US Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Springfield, described the controversy as a distraction for Trump and Republicans who are hoping to refocus on their legislative agenda.

“You’re talking about tax reform, health reform, the investigation into Russian meddling – it’s a lot for Congress to digest at once,” Neal said.

Neal, who discussed tax reform with Treasurer Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday morning, indicated that Trump needs to be more engaged on the issue if he hopes to become the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1986 to sign a major rewrite of US tax laws.

“You can’t tweet your way to something as complicated as tax reform,” Neal said. “And you need an element of good will to talk about tax reform.”

Neal, like other Democrats, said he remains skeptical of the tax plan that Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, released last month.

That plan proposed deep reductions for wealthy Americans and corporations combined with what appeared to be more modest relief for the middle class.

Neal said he urged Mnuchin to embrace broader tax cuts for the middle class and to flesh out the details of the plan, which was laid out in a bare-bones one-page list of bullet points.

“None of us can point to any specifics,” Neal said, calling the Trump plan “a thin road map.”

Top Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also discussed tax reform with Mnuchin and Cohn on Wednesday afternoon.

“This Republican Congress has been working to get our economy moving again and to spur job creation,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Passing tax reform legislation would mark a major achievement in bringing us closer to that goal.”

Neal said he was not certain Republicans can reach a consensus. He indicated that one sticking point appears to be a border adjustment tax, which would levy a 20 percent tax on imports. Both McConnell and Mnuchin have been cool to the tax, but it was included in a House plan.

“There’s broad agreement on what’s wrong,” Neal said, calling the tax code inefficient and unproductive. “There’s less agreement on how to fix it.”

A veteran of Washington tax battles who has served in the House since 1989, Neal said that, despite the long odds, he still believes that bipartisan tax legislation could emerge in Congress.

“Of course, I’m hopeful but I’ve been down this road many times,” he said. “I’ve heard six or seven treasury sectaries tell me it’s going to get done.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.