With a memorandum signed on Tuesday effectively scuttling a tax reform deal, President Trump took a critical step away from Congressional Republicans and risk his broader legislative agenda.
The president decided to work with the leading Democratic “yes” votes on tax reform, both from the Senate and the House, on ways to help the middle class, but he has chosen to not engage substantively with the rest of his party on the difficult work that lies ahead.
In introducing two Republican leaders to pressure a struggling House group of GOP tax writers into agreeing to a plan and name two co-chairs of the panel, Mr. Trump cast it as a bipartisan effort. The working group consists of eight Republicans, eight Democrats and two independents.
“Even if the president is involved, this could be viewed as bipartisanship,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for a Just Society, a liberal public policy think tank.
Mr. Trump could have taken the opportunity to send a signal that his administration and his party are fully committed to dealing with health care and the threat posed by inflation, and perhaps to announce that he had accepted the invitation to work with Democrats on reforming the nation’s immigration policies. Instead, he stoked the same Republican animus against Democrats that has carried his base to unprecedented levels.
His approach will also feel unwelcome to Congressional leaders, who have worked overtime to woo Mr. Trump and Republicans. It’s hard to see why they would put those efforts at risk in favor of Mr. Trump.
For Democrats, it’s not the substance of the budget deal that’s troublesome, but the intraparty clashes. They will see the agreement as a sign that the president and his party are committed to funneling money into the tax plans in ways that disproportionately benefit the rich and corporations, and are worried about handing a win to Mr. Trump’s party when they could be working together on a much more critical priority: health care.
“I personally think, given how contentious the health care debate was and given the demographics of our country, on health care you really need people to move together,” said Keith Haller, chief of staff to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., one of the co-chairs of the GOP working group. “What we hope to achieve with this group is not to separate out Republican business interests and Republican voters.”
Mr. Trump’s new allies in Congress were inclined to give the president the benefit of the doubt. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed hope that it could give Mr. Trump a win before his allies are forced to make a decision over the next few weeks on whether to spend the rest of the year trying to pass a tax bill or whether to keep pressing for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the House version of Mr. Trump’s health care reform bill.
“I’m hoping this can help get this up and running, and have something that we can do this fall, and this would certainly be an alternative to the BCRA,” Mr. Hatch said.
Congress has until the end of the year to pass a health care bill, giving them time to see how the GOP and Democrats fare this fall. That’s about what Mr. Trump wants as well, according to several White House officials. Aides said that the political calculation was still being made.