As the House voted along party lines on Thursday to approve a sweeping package of GOP tax reforms, one peculiar part of the floor debate came when a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – took to the floor to request changes in the their party’s plan, as some highlighted unintended consequences, while others objected to the basics of the measure.
Known in parliamentary parlance as a “colloquy,” the scripted exchanges between lawmakers are often done to clarify the legislative intent of a bill, or in this case, to urge action in a specific way in House-Senate negotiations.
And for some Republicans in this week’s tax reform debate, it was clear they wanted some provisions altered.
Some requests were specific, like Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who made the case for historic preservation tax credits, which were eradicated by the House GOP tax reform bill.
“Without the credit, projects that transform communities in all 50 states, from West Virginia to Texas, to Wisconsin, simply will not happen,” McKinley said on the House floor, as he asked for the word of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady that he would help reverse the decision.
That didn’t happen.
“I commit to working with him and continuing to work with him on this issue because I know the importance of it,” Brady responded, making sure not to guarantee anything in some of these floor exchanges.
For Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a staunch advocate of the GOP bill, he was assured by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee that more would be done in terms of tax help for the people of Puerto Rico, whose island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
“I look forward to working with you on ideas to best serve the people of this island,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who thanked fellow GOP lawmakers for their concerns, but made no promises.
For Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the issue was with a new excise tax from Republicans that would be levied on the endowments of private colleges and universities.
Barr said that would harm Berea College in his district, a ‘work college’ that uses its endowment money to pay the tuition of all students. It was noted in press stories back home.
“I was pleased to learn that the Senate version of the bill exempts schools with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from the excise tax,” Barr said, urging Brady to accept that position in any House-Senate negotiation.
Brady said he would try.
“Mr. Speaker, we will work together for a mutually accepted solution to make sure we exempt work colleges to use their endowments to provide tuition-free education,” the panel chairman responded.
For Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the problem he brought to the House floor was under the heading of unintended consequences, as the GOP tax bill would subject native settlement trusts in Alaska to a higher rate of taxation.
“This would make it more difficult for Alaska Native Settlement Trusts to provide long-term benefits to Alaska Natives,” Young said on the House floor, asking Brady to include provisions of a bill to remedy that and more.
Unlike some of the other requests, Brady acknowledged that the GOP tax bill would “unintentionally” change the tax rate for the Alaskan settlements, agreeing to focus on this in conference as we finalize individual rate structures between the House and the Senate.”
Others weren’t so lucky to get a guarantee of action, as they pressed for changes in maybe the most controversial part of the GOP plan, which limits a deduction for state and local taxes.
“I am concerned about its impact on some of my constituents in Maryland who pay high state and local income taxes,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), the only Republican member of the House from that state, which would be one of the biggest losers on the SALT issue.
That subject also drew two California Republicans to make the same appeal to Brady later in the debate; Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) echoed the concerns of Harris – all of them got a murky assurance of help.
“I am happy to commit to working with both of them to ensure we reach a positive outcome for their constituents and families as we reconcile our differences with the Senate,” Brady said, making no promises.
Other Republicans brought up education, and a provision in the GOP tax reform bill that would hinder colleges and universities from providing tax free tuition waivers and reimbursements, a matter that has drawn more and more attention in recent days.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) – whose district includes Dayton University – and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – whose district includes the University of Illinois – both appealed to Brady to make a change.
“I believe that an unintended consequence of this bill would hinder middle class Americans pursuing a higher education degree in an attempt to better their lives,” Turner said.
“I am worried it is going to have an impact on the custodians and the assistants in the Registrar’s Office who are just working at these institutions to be able to send their son or daughter to college,” said Davis.
There was no guarantee that the provision would be changed.
“I have a keen interest in this issue,” Brady told Turner and Davis. “I will work with you toward a positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.”
Democrats noted the exchanges on both days of the House tax reform debate, arguing that it showed off the haphazard nature of how the bill was put together.
“I also was intrigued by the colloquy where Members came to ask the leadership if they will work with them to take out egregious elements of this tax proposal,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI).
“We get this sort of, “Yes, I will work with the gentleman,” answer,” Kildee added, raising his voice on the floor.
“Why did you put it in in the first place?” Kildee yelled. “Why are you cutting historic tax credits in the first place?” he said.
GOP lawmakers said this past week that anyone can find a reason to vote against a big bill like this tax reform plan – we’ll see in coming weeks whether these publicly voiced concerns become an issue for the final version of tax reform in the Congress.