WASHINGTON – President Trump is once again trying his hand at bipartisanship – even suggesting on Wednesday that rich people may be taxed higher under a plan he would negotiate with congressional Democrats.
After meeting with moderate members of Congress on Wednesday, Trump said he expects wealthy Americans to be “pretty much where they are” under a new tax plan – but it’s possible their tax bills could increase.
“If they have to go higher, they’ll go higher, frankly,” Trump told reporters after meeting with a group of Democratic and Republican House members who could hold the balance of power on close votes.
Trump’s comments could open another rift with Republicans, who oppose tax hikes. But Trump’s eagerness to strike a deal on tax reform may mean he’s willing to partner with Democrats.
As part of his tax push, Trump also scheduled a private dinner at the White House on Wednesday with congressional Democratic leaders, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
The meetings come just one week after Trump made a deal to raise the debt ceiling with the Democratic leaders he referred to as “Chuck and Nancy,” angering some Republicans and scrambling their legislative strategy through the end of the year.
Buoyed by last week’s deal, Trump appeared confident about an even bigger agreement over taxes.
“The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan,” Trump said. “We are looking for the middle class and we are looking for jobs – jobs being the economy. So we’re looking at middle class and we’re looking at jobs.”
Earlier, Trump tweeted: “The approval process for the biggest Tax Cut and Tax Reform package in the history of our country will soon begin. Move fast Congress!”
The approval process for the biggest Tax Cut & Tax Reform package in the history of our country will soon begin. Move fast Congress!
In his morning tweets, Trump linked his efforts to pass tax cuts with the need for recovery efforts from hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “With Irma and Harvey devastation, Tax Cuts and Tax Reform is needed more than ever before. Go Congress, go!” Trump tweeted.
Some Republicans who generally oppose tax hikes said they would not reject out of hand Trump’s idea that the wealthy may face higher taxes.
“That’s not a non-starter for me,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Meadows says his priorities are cutting corporate taxes and doubling the standard deduction, but said, “I’m willing to look at everything in trying to make sure that we get hard working American taxpayers the most relief that we can.”
Trump has argued that cutting taxes and simplifying the tax code will spur economic growth, helping recovery in communities damaged in the recent storms.
Most of the House moderates – eight Democrats, five Republicans – who met with Trump on Wednesday belong to the self-described “Problem Solvers” caucus, led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.
Trump and his team, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, will work with any Democrat “willing to work with us to deliver this critical relief for the American people.”
The president is in no way abandoning Republicans, she said.
Asked why GOP congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan weren’t invited to dinner with Schumer and Pelosi, Sanders said simply: “You’ve got the leader of the Republican Party sitting at the table.”
A tax overhaul is a key promise for Trump and other Republcians. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said the GOP base is “very frustrated” about the failure of Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, so the party must now deliver on tax reform. “They want to see a pelt on the wall,” he said of conservative voters. “If it’s not this, I don’t know what it is.”
Despite Trump’s enthusiasm for a deal, skeptics note that that neither the Trump administration nor Congress have a specific tax plan yet.
What’s more, Trump’s own positions remain unclear, as has called for reducing the corporate tax rate, a move that would benefit wealthier taxpayers.
And others questioned the connection between tax reform and hurricane relief – including key congressional Democrats such as Schumer.
“With all due respect to the president, a tax cut, particularly one for the very wealthy, is not going to help Florida or Texas rebuild from these storms,” the Senate Democratic leader said.
Economic analyst Stan Collender, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, said the president has no way to leverage hurricane relief against a tax bill when it comes to votes in Congress.
“Trump isn’t going to veto a hurricane relief bill if it doesn’t include tax reform and Congress isn’t going to be ready to do tax reform when the next relief dollars are needed,” Collender said. “More than anything, this shows that Trump doesn’t understand legislative politics or process.”
Republicans are wary of Trump’s outreach to Democrats after last week’s deal with Schumer and Pelosi that secured a three-month extension of the debt ceiling and the current federal spending plan.
Trump’s dinner meeting with Schumer and Pelosi could open the door to cooperation on other fronts.
For example, Schumer and Pelosi are pushing to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents. Trump has announced the end of the Obama-era policy that protected these 800,000 young immigrants from deportation, and but he gave Congress a six months deadline to address the issue and has indicated sympathy for these immigrants.
Trump’s bipartisan push this week began at dinner Tuesday night at the White House with a group of senators in both parties.
The White House said that Trump and his guests discussed “advancing the administration’s legislative priorities, in particular tax cuts for the middle class.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has clashed with Trump on some issues, said he would “love to have the Democrats supporting and working with us in a constructive way on tax reform,” but he pointedly added that “we’re going to do it no matter what.”