- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Even though President Trump is on the other side of the world while his biggest priority — tax reform — gets worked over in a House committee this week, a White House team is working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to push the boss’ priorities and keep the legislation on track.

They call it the “Tax Team” and say it’s made up of the same White House players who kept pressure on House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, to back off a proposal to mess with the popular 401(k) retirement plans to help pay for tax cuts.

The Tax Team meets at least once a week at the White House, and members are in regular contact — sometimes on an hourly basis — with the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which is marking up the bill this week.

“All these entities at the White House that have a stake in tax reform have come together and formed this team. We meet at least once a week as a team just coordinating all of those efforts,” said a senior White House official.

Mr. Trump remains committed to allowing Congress to work its will, and the Tax Team is keeping the president’s priorities front and center, said the official.

“The fact that we haven’t needed to really twist many arms publicly throughout this process is a sign of our success in that,” said another White House official involved in the effort.

Before the bill was introduced, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, joked that his party’s conference wasn’t concerned about pushback from Mr. Trump because “he’s going to be in Asia, No. 1.”

The quip fueled Washington chatter about the uneasy alliance between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Mr. Brady scoffed at the suggestion that House Republican leaders were trying to pass the bill before Mr. Trump returns from Asia.

“We want to be on the same page with the president in a major way. He’s leading the charge. He wants to see big, bold tax cuts,” Mr. Brady said on Fox News.

He said Mr. Trump called him Monday from Japan to discuss the tax reform bill.

“In our conversations,” Mr. Brady said, “he clearly is pleased with the progress we are making.”

Meanwhile, a group of administration officials dubbed the “Tax Cabinet” is fanning out across the county for events and local media hits that target lawmakers in places such as Arizona, California, New York and New Jersey to shore up support for the bill.

The public relations offensive, which includes Ivanka Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, is intended to fill the void left by Mr. Trump, who usually serves as salesman in chief for tax reform.

Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, is on a 68-city tour to promote tax reform. She pitched the plan at a business roundtable Monday in Syracuse, New York.

Vice President Mike Pence also is traveling in support of the bill and attending regular meetings with Senate Republicans.

Mr. Pence on Tuesday was on the Hill and huddled with Mr. Ryan.

The legislation is at a critical juncture while Mr. Trump is on a 12-day trip to Asia. The committee markup will help determine whether lawmakers can keep up with the aggressive timetable set by the White House and Republican leaders. Mr. Trump wants the bill approved by the House by Thanksgiving and through the Senate and on his desk by Christmas.

At a meeting with House Republicans before he left for Asia last week, Mr. Trump said he wanted to give tax reform as “a big beautiful Christmas present” to American families.

The White House is convinced that this Capitol Hill strategy will avoid the repeated failures of attempts to repeal Obamacare.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last nine or 10 months that we’ve been here. And part of that was learning how to most effectively coordinate with our allies on the Hill,” said the senior White House official. “It is reaping some really great results because we have been — I think — the most coordinated we have been in any effort to this point.”

There is broad agreement between Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers about delivering middle-class tax relief and dramatically lowering business tax rates. But sticking points remain, including concerns that some middle-class taxpayers in high-tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey could pay more because of a proposed elimination of write-offs for state and local income taxes.

Gary Cohn, director of the president’s National Economic Council, is running the team, with Mr. Mnuchin and his top counselor, Justin Muzinich, taking point positions.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and his staff are working with Republican leaders on whip counts and corralling support to get the bill passed.

Mr. Short was at the Capitol on Tuesday meeting with eight Senate Democrats in search of bipartisan buy-in.

On the policy side, Mr. Muzinich and Shahira Knight, special counsel to the president for tax policy, are in the trenches with the House and Senate tax-writing committees.

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