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Rep. Leonard Lance On GOP Tax Bill

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The House and Senate will vote on a tax overhaul bill this week. Republicans have the votes to pass it, but some GOP lawmakers still have reservations. One of them is Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey, who joins us now. Good morning, sir.

LEONARD LANCE: Good morning, Lulu. And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you, as well. You voted no to the tax bill last month. Are you still a no? Doesn't seem like much of a Christmas present for the president. And why?

LANCE: I am still a no. And it relates to the deductibility of state and local taxes, which is a very important matter for quite a few states, including New Jersey, the state I represent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because New Jersey is a high-tax state, and you feel this version will hurt your constituents?

LANCE: I think it will hurt some. There certainly will be many constituents who will have lower taxes, but the deductibility of state and local taxes has been in the tax code since 1913, the advent of the modern tax code. And to me, it's a matter of federalism. And, also, I don't think we should be paying taxes on taxes. And I don't think there should be winner states and loser states. I think all states should win.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This will be a signature achievement for your party to pass this after so many setbacks on health care, for example. So this would seem like good news. Is voting against it risky for you and your standing in the party? Or will it help you with your constituents?

LANCE: My title, obviously, is representative. And I do the best to represent the people of the district I serve. And I believe that my views are the views of the people overwhelmingly in this district. And I will be judged based upon how I vote on an array of issues, including this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What have your constituents been telling you?

LANCE: We have received a good deal of correspondence, and I have been involved in telephone town halls and also live town halls over the course of this year, and my constituents want to preserve the deductibility of state and local taxes. I think that's virtually uniform in the district I serve.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The bill is highly unpopular writ large across the country. Many see it as a tax break for the rich and not necessarily for the middle class, as it was touted. Do you see that being an issue, as well?

LANCE: Many of the benefits are on upper-income taxpayers. There is middle-class relief. But I'm also a deficit hawk. And I would prefer to see that it be revenue neutral. And, of course, a good question is, how would I achieve that? And perhaps the corporate tax rate could have been lowered from 35 percent to 25 percent. It goes down to 21 percent. And I think I have a responsibility to point out where I might have suggested that it be revenue neutral. There are certain provisions in the bill that I favor - continued protection of students, for example. Medical expenses - this was not in the original House bill, but this has been modified in the conference committee.

I'm a member of what's known as the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. And we try to work in a bipartisan way. And one of the other members of that caucus, a Democrat, Josh Gottheimer from New Jersey, he and I, separately and distinctly from the Problem Solvers Caucus - but together we have worked on what we think might be a good policy in this area. Some of those matters were adopted by the conference committee, but not enough regarding the deductibility of state and local taxes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm glad to hear that that conference is still functioning and - which brings me to my next question, immigration. You are one of 34 Republicans who signed a letter recently asking House Speaker Paul Ryan to pass legislation on DACA. The Democrats have pushed for DACA legislation and hope to tie it to the budget vote. What would you like to see, and how much does the timing matter?

LANCE: I think we should do it as quickly as possible. I did sign the letter indicating we hope we could do it by the end of the year. Certainly, we have to do it by the first week in March, which is the six-month deadline. And what I'd like to see is a variant of what's been discussed. Carlos Curbelo of Southern Florida has a bill where I'm a cosponsor. There are other bills. But I think we should resolve this matter as quickly as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One other thing I'd like to ask you about - Congresswoman Jackie Speier said recently that the rumor on Capitol Hill is that President Trump could fire special counsel Robert Mueller before Christmas. Your reaction? We have about 30 seconds.

LANCE: I support the Mueller investigation. I was the first Republican to suggest that Jeff Sessions should recuse himself in matters related to Russia. That meant that the acting attorney general appointed the special counsel. And I hope that that matter proceeds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey's 7th district, thank you very much.

LANCE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.