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No conference necessary: The House should just pass the Senate GOP tax bill and send it to Trump's desk

120417 Hillyer Blog Post pic
Yes, the House bill is better in some ways than the Senate bill. But the Senate bill is better in some ways - indeed, in more important ways - than the House bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House of Representatives should accept the Senate-passed tax-reform bill as a bird in the hand and pass it exactly as is.

No conference committee. No amendments. No need to send a revised bill back to the Senate, and thus no risk of seeing some hard-won Senate votes fall away, dooming tax reform entirely.

Yes, the House bill is better in some ways than the Senate bill. But the Senate bill is better in some ways – indeed, in more important ways – than the House bill. The Senate version is a thoroughly acceptable piece of legislation that would markedly improve the tax code and the economy. As usual, there is no need to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s time to bank the progress and move on.

(Then, if some tweaks really are needed, try the tweaks later as smaller, discrete, stand-alone bills. One of Congress’ major problems is its habit of trying to do too much at once, thus creating mammoth, complicated legislation with too many moving parts. The post-legislation, small-bill tweaking process would be a nice tonic for that procedural illness.)

First, let’s understand the precarious nature of the Senate’s passage of its version of tax reform.

The victory was hard won, by a 51-49 vote, with no Democrats in favor and with at least four other Republicans (Sens. Ron Johnson, Steve Daines, Jeff Flake, and Susan Collins) barely on board. Two more Republican defections could kill it. In addition, there remains a real chance that liberal Democrat Doug Jones could win the special election in Alabama on December 12 and, if the conference committee process takes a little too long, replace Republican Luther Strange before the Senate gets to vote on final passage.

Then there’s Sen. John McCain, always a somewhat mercurial wild card – and also, alas, suffering from ill health that (Lord forbid) could suddenly require his absence from the Senate floor for treatment or recuperation therefrom.

It makes absolutely no sense to risk another Senate vote. The whole edifice of reform could be undermined, and toppled, by the slightest change in its dimensions or its building materials.

Second, let’s understand that the Senate bill is a rather good bill. Like the House bill, it would cut the top corporate tax rate nearly in half, to 20 percent. Like the House bill, it would greatly simplify individual filing for most Americans and nearly double the standard deduction. Both bills immediately double the exclusion for estate taxes; both expand education tax credits; both of them at least reduce the burdens (to different extents) of the Alternative Minimum Tax, of taxes on international earnings, and of taxes on “pass-through” corporations (i.e., most small businesses).

If implemented, these would all be vast improvements over current law.

Yet the Senate bill is considerably better than the House bill in aspects that really make a difference. Its individual tax-rate structure, unlike a horrid House provision, does not include a “bubble rate” that effectively raises rather than lowers taxes on many earners. Its solution for pass-through businesses is far simpler than the House version and quite generous.

And, in a huge win for good government, it would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate that is both bad policy and, no matter what Chief Justice John Roberts says, a constitutional atrocity. The House bill doesn’t touch the mandate.

Anything the conference committee could do might risk some of these Senate-passed policy advantages. The few changes the House could make for the better, meanwhile, would amount to mere nibbling around the edges.

The House immediately should publish the Senate bill in a clean fashion, allow it to be studied for three days (as per House rules), and then pass it, as is, before the week is out. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of receiving a long-sought Christmas present, only to send it back to ask that it be wrapped in different paper – by a relative who wasn’t really sure he wanted to give the present in the first place, and who might just change his mind.

Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.

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