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Trump To Visit Capitol Hill To Rally Support For House Tax Bill

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After much debate over taxes, the House will vote today on its version of a bill to overhaul the tax code. President Trump is going to be on Capitol Hill this morning to rally support for the legislation. The House plan would lower the cap on mortgage interest deductions and would cut the corporate tax rate. It's expected to pass in the House, but similar legislation in the Senate is still in doubt with at least one Republican senator already publicly coming out against it. Joining us in our studios this morning to talk about today's vote is Congressman Ron Estes. He's a Republican from Kansas. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

RON ESTES: Well, thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: How much work does President Trump have to do today to rally the troops and get the votes you need?

ESTES: Well, I don't know that he has to do a lot of work. I mean, there's been a lot of work leading up to this. The president's really been engaged with both members of the House and members of the Senate to focus on building this framework so that we can actually get taxes reformed.

MARTIN: We should say, though, it hasn't been completely smooth sailing, even in the House. There are Congress members in states like New York, New Jersey, California who have had issues with one part of this bill that would eliminate a particular deduction. You think you're going to be fine even with those defections.

ESTES: Yeah, I think what, you know, you have to compliment Chairman Brady of the Ways and Means that, you know, they presented this framework to us and then talked through with us in the Republican's Conference about here's how it would work. And as part of that dialogue back and forth, they said, OK, here's some things that are tougher to do in individual districts. And so they've actually made some changes over the last few weeks in terms of looking at how to make that more workable and addressing some of those issues and concerns from different members.

One of the things I want to remind everybody is that there is a lot of change in the deductions as we've gone through this reform process. But at the end of the day, we want to look at what your total tax bill will be. And I know I did that for myself personally. I just kind of did the - got the postcard out and actually redid my 2016 taxes. And even though my taxable income was higher based on the changes but because the tax rates were lower, the actual taxes owed were lower, and so everybody needs to look at that total picture.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the math. The bill has been sold as something that would pay for itself, but a whole slew of respected economists, major think tanks, argued that the numbers don't add up when it comes to this. They say the economy would have to grow 6 to 8 percent faster over the next 10 years to create enough revenue to then pay for these tax cuts. The White House - the White House itself says at most the economy is only going to grow between 3 and 5 percent.

ESTES: Yeah, I think what - one of the things about the economic calculations is you almost have to extrapolate and guess what's going to happen in the future over the - over those 10-year periods. So one of the things that we're looking at as part of the reform - not just tax cuts, it's also reform - looking at how do we get some of that economic growth. You know, the last 10 years or so, we've only had 2 to 2.25 percent growth whereas traditionally from - into World War II, we've had between 3 and 4 on an average. And actually, once we get up above 3, you'll see a lot more engagement in the economy and a lot more - a lot more dollars in people's pockets because of payroll.

MARTIN: So you do assume that the economy is going to grow between 6 and 8 percent to pay for this. That would be astronomical.

ESTES: Well, I've not seen those 6 or 8 percent estimates coming from those economists you mentioned. So I'm not sure where that's going to come. You know, that's not - overall, you know, we're expecting more 3 to 4 percent, which is more traditionally what you've seen since World War II.

MARTIN: So where does the money come from then? I mean, when you think about this, as someone who is a fiscal conservative concerned about the deficit presumably, where's the money coming from to pay for the cut?

ESTES: Well, what - I guess - I can't track down the numbers that you mentioned in terms of the economists saying 6 to 8 percent, so I'm not sure where they're coming up with those numbers.

MARTIN: It's the Tax Policy Center, the Tax Foundation, the Committee for a Responsible Fiscal Budget.

ESTES: So I haven't seen those numbers that they've looked at. What we've traditionally seen and going back - you know, just for example, going back to President Reagan's tax cuts in 1986, you know, led to huge economic growth from the late '80s into the '90s. And that's the expectation that we'd have to happen here; same thing with President Kennedy's tax cuts in the early '60s as well.

MARTIN: Let me ask about something else. Your colleagues in the Senate have added a measure to their tax bill that would repeal the individual mandate for health insurance, which is a key part of the Affordable Care Act - requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty. What do you make of that, conflating the tax bill with health care?

ESTES: Yeah. I think one of the issues with the Obamacare is that it's just so complicated with all of these items pulled into it. There are some pieces that are regulation, some pieces that are related to taxes. And, you know, most of us, myself included, ran on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare. If you look back to when Obamacare was passed, basically it broke the insurance system. You know, there were 85 to 90 percent of the people that had insurance that kind of covered what they needed. It was that 10 to 15 percent that didn't. And instead of focusing on them, it focused on insurance for everybody. And so they had to force an individual mandate on people, which is really just a tax on people to buy a product, which is...

MARTIN: So you think this is a good move for the Senate to include this.

ESTES: I think we should not be taxing individuals just to buy a product. Now, I don't know how the exact final product is going to be coming out of the conference committee. The Senate passes that version that includes that and then we'll pass our version from the House and get into a conference committee and work through that.

MARTIN: Last question - the House bill would phase out some individual tax cuts but make corporate tax cuts permanent. What message does that send to the public as your party makes the case that this is about building up the middle class?

ESTES: Well, I think if you look at the tax bill, the overwhelming number of taxes are being changed as being permanent for both individuals and businesses. There are some items for both businesses and individuals that are being phased out, and there are some that don't start in year one. And we want to make sure that we have as many that are permanent as possible.

MARTIN: All right. We have been joined in our studios this morning by Congressman Ron Estes of Kansas. Thank you so much for your time.

ESTES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.