(Adds Schweikert comment)
By Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON, March 29 Raw feelings and mistrust
could pose an obstacle to President Donald Trump and hard-line
conservative lawmakers in his Republican Party as they seek to
rebound from defeat on healthcare legislation by launching into
an overhaul of the U.S. tax code.
Trump has accused the Freedom Caucus lawmakers of snatching
a "defeat from the jaws of victory" with their rejection of the
White House-backed healthcare bill to replace President Barack
Obama's 2010 healthcare reform bill.
In interviews with 10 of the roughly three dozen House
Freedom Caucus members, the lawmakers said they were eager to
put aside tensions over the healthcare debacle and seek common
ground on tax reform.
But there is no consensus, even within the conservative
faction, on details of a tax-reform bill, with some members open
to discussing ideas such as the border tax plan supported by
House leaders and others opposed to it.
Representative Warren Davidson, a Freedom Caucus member from
Ohio, said Republicans should leave aside the blame game and
work through their policy differences before launching tax
"Some people are still in that hurt-feelings and
frustration" stage, Davidson said. "I do think it's smart to
take the time to get it right."
Republican Representative David Schweikert of Arizona, a
Freedom Caucus lawmaker who sits on the tax-writing House of
Representative Ways and Means Committee, could emerge as a
bridge between the conservative faction and House leaders. The
panel will work closely with House leadership on the tax bill.
Schweikert said he planned to consult with rank-and-file
members to discuss plans and listen to their priorities.
He said giving companies incentives to invest in plants and
equipment was one of the items on his own wish list.
“My personal fixation is very simple: What maximizes
economic growth?” Schweikert said.
CUTS, CUTS AND MORE CUTS
Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus,
said the group has "no formal position" on the structure of tax
But Meadows listed the top priorities on his own wish list:
"Lower taxes, lower taxes and lower taxes."
A 35-page blueprint developed by House Republican leaders,
known as a "Better Way," will serve as a starting point for the
The plan calls for streamlining the income tax system and
cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent from 35
percent. It would exclude export revenue from taxable income and
impose a 20 percent tax on imports.
The border tax proposal has divided the business community
and is a top flashpoint for lawmakers. Big exporters such as
General Electric Co say the tax would boost manufacturing
and jobs. But retailers like Target Corp have said the
border tax would hike consumer prices and hurt the economy.
Trump, a businessman who had never been in public office
until he took over at the White House on Jan. 20, has at times
praised the border tax idea but at other times has been
Virginia Congressman Dave Brat said he would insist that the
tax bill not add to the deficit, while Meadows said he would not
necessarily insist on that.
Other conservatives said they needed more information about
the tax bill to form an opinion - and some space from the
contentious health care debate.
“We just had a major battle on a Republican welfare plan and
that has consumed to a large degree my time and mental effort,"
said Alabama Representative Mo Brooks.
"When we have a tax reform bill I can evaluate, that's when
I'll start voting on it," Brooks said.
As a sign of tensions that have lingered after the collapse
of the healthcare bill, Freedom Caucus lawmakers faced tough
questioning from their colleagues during a closed-door meeting
of House Republicans on Tuesday, said Representative Randy Weber
But Weber said some of the friction eased by the end of the
meeting, prompting House Speaker Paul Ryan to say that more give
and take might have been useful in the healthcare effort.
"Ryan said: 'This is what we should have been doing,'" Weber
Republican Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, a member of
the Freedom Caucus, said he thinks lawmakers learned lessons
from the healthcare defeat that could apply to tax reform.
"I think people are going to work harder to get to 'yes'
this next piece of legislation," Buck said.
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday showed
Republicans mostly blame Congress, and not Trump or party
leaders, for failing to pass the healthcare overhaul.
(Editing by Caren Bohan and Alistair Bell)