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Will Tuesday's Election Results Interfere With GOP Plans For Tax Overhaul?


And Republicans have a whole lot to do and not much time. President Trump wants a tax overhaul on his desk by Christmas, and today marks a major checkpoint if that is going to happen. Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their outline of a tax bill just a couple days after the party took a beating in some states and local elections. Let's talk this through with NPR's senior political editor Ron Elving, who's on the line. Hey there, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I know this is, like so much these days, it seems, evolving by the minute, but any idea what we're going to expect in this tax bill coming from the Senate?

ELVING: We know that the Senate was still talking about details even last night. Orrin Hatch, who is the Senate Finance Committee chairman and the guru of taxes on that side, has been talking to White House officials. He's been talking to his own leadership in the Senate. And they know they have a needle that they have to thread here, and they don't have much time because they have set themselves a self-imposed deadline of Thanksgiving for bills out of House and Senate, and then something to the president by Christmas. And in order to do that, they can't be terribly different from the House bill. So we expect it to look a lot like what the House is going to be marking up on the fourth day of its markup in the Ways and Means Committee later today.

GREENE: You know, Ron, Republicans have been very honest about how much pressure is on them after, you know, the repeal and replace failed votes that we saw. They say the tax overhaul is a promise they made to voters. It's very important that they show that they can move on their agenda. On Tuesday we saw Democrats win the governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey. Democrats felt like it was a pretty good day. Republicans sort of took a beating, and there was some anti-Trump sentiment out there. Does that put even more pressure on the party?

ELVING: You know, David, as journalists we have a tendency to sometimes over-interpret the results of an election.

GREENE: No. We would never do that.

ELVING: And I would say we got that habit from the people that we cover because politicians have rabbit ears, and they take in a lot of information. They have very long antennae. And any House member who saw some of the voting in New Jersey and Virginia is going to say, I wonder if there could be any sign of that in my district next year. And some of the northeastern House members know perfectly well that the state and local tax issue is very important. The property tax issue is very important to their voters. And so they're going to be feeling a little bit of a chill. And I think people in some other states are going to feel it, as well. So this is information that has cranked into this process at an extraordinarily delicate time in both the House and the Senate.

GREENE: Well, delicate, and it's really interesting you bring this up because in some ways I could see Republicans feeling like, wow, we're under pressure, voters want to see something done. But you've raised the question of how this tax legislation could be playing in districts. I mean, particularly some of these northeast Republicans, very worried about this state and local deduction, that being eliminated. I mean, it really does feel delicate for them, how to figure out how this will play politically at home.

ELVING: Yes. And there has been talk of repealing the individual mandate from Obamacare as part of all this because it would get them some money to play with, and that would make it easier to thread that needle in many respects. But here's the thing. The Congressional Budget Office says, yeah, you save over $300 billion, but at the expense of probably costing 13 million people their health insurance. Now, what we did see on Tuesday was voting where wherever the issue of medical care and who's going to pay for it reared its head, that hurt Republicans. And so Republicans are going to be very sensitive, particularly on the suggestion of repealing the individual mandate.

GREENE: Let me just ask you about President Trump. I mean, such a question for so many presidents when their party is trying to get something done - do you invest all of your political capital, do you take it easy, or do you sort of stay on the sidelines because you don't want to be tied to something? The president is in the middle of an Asia trip right now. Any idea what his strategy is going to be when it comes to this tax overhaul when he lands back in the United States?

ELVING: If the House and Senate can get bills done in the next two weeks before Thanksgiving as they say they're going to do, or early in December, the president is going to pull out all the stops to pressure them to work out their differences and put something on his desk. That's the way the process works. And the president has everything invested in this because of the failure of the Obamacare repeal and replace action. And so at this point this is really the ballgame for the first year of the Trump presidency.

GREENE: NPR senior political editor Ron Elving. Always good to talk to you, Ron. Thanks.

ELVING: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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