Vulnerable Democratic Senators Want More Details on GOP Tax Plan

Three weeks after release of tax-reform blueprint, McCaskill and Heitkamp say they are still awaiting specifics

President Donald Trump speaks during the Heritage Foundation's President's Club meeting on Oct. 17 in Washington. (Photo by Martin H. Simon - Pool/Getty Images)

Three weeks after the White House and GOP leaders released their much-anticipated proposal for tax reform, vulnerable Senate Democrats in red states say they are still waiting for details before deciding whether they can support any aspects of the Republican-backed plan.

President Donald Trump’s latest remarks on the topic, delivered in a speech to the Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club on Tuesday, didn’t offer new information on proposed changes, which he promised will result in “total, beautiful prosperity” for the nation.

But he acknowledged the challenge of garnering Democratic support.

“It’ll be hard getting the Democrats because they’re obstructionists and they vote in blocs,” Trump said. “But if we get the Republicans we need, which is virtually every single one of them, because that’s what we need, we will get the largest tax cut in the history of our country and you will see things happen like have never happened before.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) noted the lack of specifics in a plan that has already drawn criticism from Democratic lawmakers who say it primarily benefits the wealthy.

“It’s really difficult when people ask, ‘Will you support it?’ — I don’t know what it is,” said Heitkamp, who is up for re-election in a state that Trump won last year with 64 percent of the vote.

Heitkamp said she is open to discussions, but so far she’s not convinced the GOP proposal benefits average American households.

“Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see a plan that actually lives up to the commitment of focusing exclusively on the middle class,” Heitkamp said in a brief interview on Capitol Hill.

The North Dakota lawmaker was one of three Democratic senators, along with Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who did not sign an Aug. 1 letter to Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) outlining demands for cooperation on tax reform.

McCaskill, who’s seeking re-election next year in a state Trump carried by almost 57 percent, said she needs to see something “more than just broad strokes.”

“We need to know specifics of simplification,” McCaskill, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a brief Capitol Hill interview. “We need to know specifics of child tax credit. We need to know specifics of how this is going to help people living paycheck to paycheck instead of the millionaires and billionaires.”

On Wednesday, Trumped hosted members of the Senate Finance Committee at the White House. In remarks before the meeting started, Trump said he has “people on both sides” supporting his tax plan who “are liking this very much.”

The White House later said the gathering was productive and that the group emphasized the need for tax relief for the middle class.

Heritage Foundation Policy Analyst Adam Michel said Trump’s wooing of Democrats is likely a tactic to “decrease the margin of error,” rather than a signal toward bipartisanship.

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and they plan to use a fast-track reconciliation process to pass forthcoming tax-reform legislation, a procedural maneuver that would require only 50 votes for passage.

“The process that they’ve chosen to use, which I think is the right one, focuses on getting tax reform right, rather than making friends,” Michel said Tuesday after Trump’s speech. “At the end of the day, once a package is put together, I find it hard to believe some Democrats won’t vote for what’s on the table.”

But getting 50 Republican votes may prove challenging, with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) reiterating as recently as Tuesday that he will not vote for a plan that increases the deficit without specifying how the tax cuts will be paid for.

“The thing that I think has been soft-pedaled here, which is the most important part, and that is the actual loophole closings, because without closing $4 trillion worth of loopholes, you don’t have tax reform,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “You don’t have the kind of things occurring that have been laid out.”

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