As the Senate prepares to pass its budget outline this week, Republicans are grappling with expectations on the time frame for getting tax reform done, with administration officials acknowledging the exercise could ultimately slip into next year at this point.
Speaking on a Politico podcast, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently offered an “absolute guarantee” that tax reform would get done this year.
But Mr. Mnuchin said earlier this week it will be “extraordinary” if Republicans can follow through on the year-end time frame and that there won’t be an “artificial deadline” for getting it done.
“It took Ronald Reagan over two years on a bipartisan basis to get tax reform done,” Mr. Mnuchin said Tuesday on Fox News. “So if we get tax reform done this year, it will be extraordinary.
“And that’s our objective,” he said. “Our objective is to get it on the president’s by December to get him to sign it this year.”
Senate Republicans hope to pass a budget this week in order to unlock a fast-track tool that would allow the GOP to bypass a potential Democratic filibuster of the tax package.
But White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said this week that tax reform could stretch into next year if the budget process is delayed further.
“If it doesn’t get done this week, there’s still a chance it gets done this year, but more likely it goes over to the beginning of next year,” Mr. Mulvaney told Bloomberg on Tuesday.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady has said he won’t release tax legislation until the 2018 budget process is completed. Whatever the Senate passes must ultimately be reconciled with the budget blueprint the House passed earlier this month.
President Trump seemed to push back on a year-end deadline earlier this week, saying there could be “a long way to go” and likewise pointing out that it took President Reagan years to get tax reform through Congress in the 1980s.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been less bullish on the end-of-year time frame. At one point earlier this year, he said he’d want to get it finished during “this Congress.”
“We’re going to get this job done, and the goal is to get it done by the end of the year,” Mr. McConnell said Monday while standing next to Mr. Trump outside the White House.
House leaders, meanwhile, have been aggressively pushing the end-of-year deadline. Speaker Paul D. Ryan recently said he’d keep members in D.C. during Christmas if that’s what it would take to get the tax overhaul passed.
“By early November, we’ll get it out of the House, we’ll send it to the Senate,” Mr. Ryan said on WTMJ radio this week. “The goal: get law in December so that we wake up with new year’s and a new tax code in 2018.”
Republicans had hoped to be well into the tax debate by now, but they spent the better part of this year trying to repeal Obamacare. The House passed its version in May, but the Senate couldn’t come to an agreement.
The GOP now says it’s vital that lawmakers pass tax reform as quickly as possible, in part so Republicans have something to run on in the midterm elections.
Some conservatives have argued that even if Republicans can get tax reform done early next year, voters won’t really feel the effects when they head to the polls in November 2018, dampening the short-term political benefit.