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Lawmakers Respond To Trump's Efforts On Bipartisan Tax Reform

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump hopes that overhauling the U.S. tax code will be a signature legislative accomplishment, and he's willing to cross the aisle to make that happen. The president hosted a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House earlier this week to talk about tax overhaul legislation.

New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer and Indiana Republican Susan Brooks were at the table. I spoke with them earlier this afternoon about their meeting with President Trump. And I began by asking them how they discussed a plan that no one has seen.

SUSAN BROOKS: The ways and means committee has been working on tax reform actually for a couple of Congresses now, so this is not new. So I think what - the purpose of the meeting really was to bring both sides of the aisle together to really stress the importance of reforming our tax code and letting everybody know this is the president's top priority. He did hear from everybody. So I thought it was very productive.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER: And can I add to that 'cause I think when we're able to also at the table roll up our sleeves and figure out how we can find a good middle ground, not insist on a hundred percent - and I think, Susan, you said this in the meeting, which I thought was exactly right. We have to get to 80 percent solutions. And you're never going to get everything you want, but legislation will be durable if it's produced working in a bipartisan way.

SHAPIRO: At the same time, Republican leaders in Congress are hoping to do this through a reconciliation process that would allow them to pass any bill with just Republican votes. This morning President Trump was tweeting about how problematic the filibuster is. Do you think that bipartisanship is actually going to happen on this bill?

BROOKS: Well, hundreds of meetings, dozens and dozens of hearings have taken place about the need for tax reform. And so while a smaller group of, you know, Republican leaders are putting together the plan, when the plan comes out, I anticipate there will probably be some modifications. And we'd like for the Democrats to share with us what those should be. If we can't get bipartisan support, the president said, you know, then we'll have to go forward without the Democrats. But I think everyone agreed that it would be better if it could be a bipartisan bill.

SHAPIRO: This does sound similar to what happened with the health care bill, which was developed in private and then criticized for not having enough time for members of Congress to read and the public to comment on it.

GOTTHEIMER: And I think it would be a huge mistake in the end if we went the path of one-sided partisan extreme legislation similar to how we did health care in the earlier part of this Congress. We think it's very important that we have a seat at the table early on. You can't expect us at the end - especially as a Democrat saying this, you can't expect at the end to hand something over and say, OK, are you in, or you're out? That is not the way I think the most productive governing happens. And it's not a way to bring everyone on board and get the best solutions.

SHAPIRO: I think you both agree that corporate tax rates are too high.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

GOTTHEIMER: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And I think you both agree that the tax code is too complex.

GOTTHEIMER: Yes.

BROOKS: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And it's easy to say that the base tax rate should be lower. But that means getting rid of loopholes and carve-outs that a lot of American businesses and industries have come to rely on. So it's easy to promise to lower the base rate. It's harder to name the groups and industries that will lose their protections.

So I want to ask each of you. Congressman Gottheimer, you represent a district in New Jersey where the pharmaceutical and financial industries are big. Are you willing to tell them that they will lose some of their provisions in the tax code in order to get to that lower base rate?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, it's hard to say what I'm willing to do until I actually see it. You know, I - it depends on how it's structured and what the effective rate would be for everyone involved, both for individuals and for, you know, middle-class families and for businesses of all sizes, right? So you know, you can't prejudge these things. You have to actually wait to see them. But the overall mission has to be growth and job growth and making sure that we have a more affordable tax code and, as you pointed out, a less complicated tax code because while I live...

SHAPIRO: But it's so much easier to talk about the overall mission than it is to say, this industry that funds my campaigns, that employs my constituents is going to lose some of the tax breaks that they've counted on. Congresswoman Brooks, in Indiana, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, steel are all big industries. Are you willing to tell them that they will lose some of their tax breaks?

BROOKS: Well, I'll tell you what the industries are telling me. They are very anxious to move to that territorial tax system rather than keeping trillions of dollars as businesses are, all across this country, parked overseas. And so reducing the corporate tax rate is so critically important. All of our competitors are far lower than we are. But I certainly hope that the companies will invest in American jobs, will invest in their workers, will invest in our workforce, will, you know, increase our workers' paychecks.

These are the types of things that we're looking for. And I do think they're willing to give up some of the loopholes, some of the, you know, credits that they've come to expect. They know that it's going to be a dramatically different tax code going forward in order to accomplish the things we're trying to accomplish.

GOTTHEIMER: That's right. The ultimate goal is to actually keep jobs and growth here and bring jobs back where they've sent - where the tax code has actually encouraged them to move jobs overseas and keep their dollars overseas. So that to me is the ultimate test when we look at this.

SHAPIRO: I'm struck by the fact that you both talk about the need for tax reform, but neither of you has named a specific difficult choice that indicates the two sides can make the sacrifices that they're going to have to make in order to get this done. Congressman Gottheimer?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, of course we're going to have to make difficult choices. But we're not necessarily going to do them on the radio. You know, I think the key is that you have to actually see what's presented. And I think it's irresponsible to start throwing out all the points that are sticking points or opportunities until you dig into it. And I think that's what people expect of us.

To me, you have to look at these things in totality and work together to get there and be willing to not get everything you want but overall get a solution that actually moves the country forward. And that's going to be my overall test for this.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, and Congresswoman Susan Brooks, Republican of Indiana, thank you both for joining us on the program today.

BROOKS: Thank you, Ari.

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