Ever since Trump made the deal with Democrats on the budget, debt ceiling and hurricane relief, people have wondered whether or not he’ll continue his attempts at bipartisanship and work with the Democrats on tax reform. Apparently he’s going to do that and has signaled his plans by arranging a dinner tonight at the White House.
The invitees however, tell us a lot about the limits of how far he is willing to go at this point. Trump didn’t include Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Instead, he invited Sen. Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Donnelly (D-IN). In addition to the fact that these three are up for re-election in 2018 and come from red states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, they are the only three Senate Democrats who didn’t sign the letter this summer that stipulated the conditions under which the party would be willing to negotiate on tax reform: no tax cuts for the wealthy, no increase in the deficit, and no use of the 50-vote budget reconciliation process.
We’ll have to see whether Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly will be willing to sign on to a Republican version of tax reform. But for right now, this tells us how the Trump administration is planning to move forward on the issue. Most notably, they are not willing to forgo the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes. To do that, the president would have to not only get all Senate Republicans on board, but win over eight Democrats to get to 60 votes. These three won’t cut it. But they could give him the patina of bipartisanship—which a lot of people in the media will love—as well as a a five-vote hedge (52 Republicans plus three Democrats) on getting to 50 + VP Pence for the reconciliation process.
This means that the Trump administration will have to work with Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell to get the job done using the same system that failed so miserably on Obamacare repeal. That is most likely because they don’t want to agree to the other two items the Democrats have demanded: no tax cuts for the wealthy and no increase in the deficit. So they’re sticking to their guns on both the procedure and the policy with the hope that a couple of Democrats will be enough to ensure a different outcome than the one they experienced last time they tried this. We’ll have to see how that works out for them.