- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Conservative groups that served as a hurdle to the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts are far more united as Republicans begin to tackle tax reform, leading congressional leaders to hope for fewer headaches during this next fight.

Some strategic early moves by GOP leaders, including nixing a controversial border adjustment tax proposal, have helped clear the way, forging unity among key constituent groups that was lacking in the health debate.

All sides of the conservative coalition say they at least agree on the broad outlines of a tax overhaul, and are working — and spending their money — to boost the effort, rather than attacking each other.

“We’re going all-in,” said Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips. “We have no illusions about how difficult this is going to be or frankly how much of a lift this is going to be, but the stakes are high for our country and we believe the time is now to get this done.”

AFP was one of the groups that helped stymie the House GOP’s original Obamacare repeal bill, arguing the legislation wasn’t conservative enough. Leaders canceled votes and rewrote the bill, producing a new version that President Trump then labeled as “mean” — underscoring the nasty intraparty conversation on health care.

Republicans have tried to head those battles off on taxes, particularly by ditching the $1 trillion border tax House Speaker Paul D. Ryan had been pushing. House, Senate and administration principals all signed onto a statement of goals that discarded the border tax and laid out goals all sides could stomach.

“I think leadership and the White House kind of learned some lessons from [the] health care debate, and decided to create unity on the front end before the tax reform debate started, and that is very much the case,” said Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs at the pro-free market Club for Growth.

Lowering taxes has always been a unifying principle for Republicans, which could help grease the skids as they try to meet the White House’s aggressive timeline for an overhaul.

That contrasts with Obamacare where, despite similar timelines, Republicans were unsure of strategy and policy. Some in the GOP wanted a flat repeal, while others said they had to have a replacement ready to go — and demanded some of Obamacare’s provisions be kept in place.

While Democrats remain generally united in opposition, the internal GOP fights are less about big philosophical issues and more about the nuts and bolts of specific taxes and rate levels.

“It’s not necessarily that Republicans and the conservative movement are more united on tax reform,” said Dan Holler, vice president of Heritage Action for America. “But directionally, where you go sort of after that first step — there seems to be more agreement. So whereas repealing Obamacare seemed obvious, nobody knew where to go next.”

Conservative groups that fought each other over Obamacare are finding common ground.

The American Action Network, which is closely aligned with Mr. Ryan, announced a $2.5 million TV ad campaign Wednesday as part of its “Middle-Class Growth Initiative” boosting the tax reform effort, and the Koch brothers’ deep-pocketed political network is also lined up.

The GOP should also benefit from industry support this time around, with top business groups begging for tax reforms. That contrasts with the health overhaul, where advocates for insurers and doctors were vociferously opposed.

“It’s a complete different situation than we faced with health care, where the organized lobbies were all against health care reform,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“Because the only people who actively lobbied were people who said, oh the ball might bounce so that there’s less government money for my favorite structures or for me,” he said.

The opposition this time around, he said, is more “left-wing, ideological” — and they’re vowing severe resistance.

Tax March, a group that has tried to to pressure Mr. Trump to release his tax returns, is teaming up with more than a dozen other groups on a “Not One Penny” campaign to demand tax reform doesn’t benefit the wealthy.

The advocacy efforts will include a seven-figure ad buy in August targeting a handful of House Republicans in battleground districts, such as Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona.

“Progressives have known for a while that tax cuts were the number two priority for Trump, after Obamacare repeal,” said Nicole Gill, executive director of Tax March. “They have the money, and we have the millions — we have actual people who want to fight this.”

But after health care, conservative activists are pining for a win, said Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy at FreedomWorks.

“I think from our activists’ perspective, they’re anxious — very anxious — for a win,” Mr. Wall said. “I think it’s something that we can realistically get a bill passed that would give us a win that would really, I think, motivate our grass-roots activists going into 2018.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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