President Trump made headlines late last week with another of his shoot-from-the-hip policy pronouncements, this time that there would be a tax cut before the midterm elections. According to The Washington Post, Trump said the cuts would get done “sometime just prior, I would say, to November.”
I’m going to give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant that only the specifics of his new tax proposal would be announced rather than that the plan would be enacted prior to November. With Congress out of session and the GOP leadership almost certainly against calling its members back to Washington during the final days of the election, it’s hard to imagine that he meant anything but that there would be an announcement.
(I shudder to think about the possibility that Trump either thought this actually could get done legislatively over the next two weeks or that he could ignore the U.S. Constitution and simply impose the changes he wants without congressional action.)
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But even assuming that what Trump meant was just an announcement, it’s hard to see how what he might propose (For the record, I’m not at all convinced he will actually propose anything) can get done in the lame duck. Here’s why.
1. The Trump tax plan can be filibustered in the Senate.
2. Unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is willing to do away with the legislative filibuster, which he so far has been completely unwilling to do, the only way to avoid a filibuster of the Trump tax bill will be to do it as a reconciliation bill.
3. But reconciliation may only be done if both houses of Congress adopt a budget resolution conference report with reconciliation instructions ordering it…and neither the House nor Senate have passed a budget resolution yet this year. The House Budget Committee has approved one but there has been no activity in the Senate.
4. Therefore, before a new Trump tax plan could be considered, a budget resolution with its projected trillion-dollar deficits would have to be adopted. That will be much easier to do after than before the election, but still won’t be a simple vote for some GOP members even if it would make a tax cut easier..
5. And it will take time. Even with a truncated process, adopting a budget resolution is likely to take at least two weeks…and probably closer to three or four.
6. Meanwhile, votes become less reliable the longer a lame duck continues as retiring and defeated representatives and senators become less interested in their current job and more concerned about what’s next. If the past is any guide, some will even stop coming to Washington entirely.
7. This is not to say that enacting another tax bill will be impossible, just that it will be very difficult. The process could be expedited if the House passed the budget resolution already adopted by its budget committee, if the Senate then agreed to what the House passed with an amendment requiring reconciliation, if the House then passed the budget resolution with the Senate amendment, if the House Ways and Means Committee quickly adopted the Trump plan, if the full House quickly passed what the committee approved and if the full Senate bypassed its Finance Committee and adopted the House-passed bill without making any changes.
8. That’s six ifs. Add in the typical no shows during a lame duck and you get a recipe for no action.
That will put the new Trump tax plan on the same legislative trash heap as his wall, his space force, his infrastructure proposal and his military parade.