Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are pushing party leaders to speed up work on major legislative priorities and stay committed to their campaign promises, but one key member says the effort should begin with tax reform and not Obamacare.
As the first 100 days of the Trump administration tick by, conservative lawmakers are urging leaders in the House and Senate to get going on their vows to repeal and replace the Obama health care law and jump start the economy with significant tax reform.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., shot to conservative stardom when he topped then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 congressional primary. A former college economics professor, Brat says getting tax reform done first and done right are at the top of his priority list.
He says news that top Republicans plan to address health care and infrastructure before the tax code is a mistake.
“That is hugely concerning. I taught economics for 20 years. That is piece number one, without which I can’t vote for anything else,” said Brat.
Specifically, Brat wants to see a major reduction in the corporate income tax rate and immediate expensing for business. He says that is the key to getting the economic engine humming. He says experts who helped to craft the 1981 Reagan tax cuts, such as Arthur Laffer, see those provisions as they keys to explosive growth, wage growth and job creation.
“He said that is consistent with eight percent wage growth, four percent GDP growth for the country and eight percent wage growth for a country that has not seen the average guy have their wages increase for 30 years,” said Brat.
He says getting that right will set the stage for everything else.
“If we don’t get that piece, we will not be able to afford any of the rest of it. That has to come first. It’s got to be in writing. It’s got to be in stone or I can’t go along with the rest of it,” said Brat.
As for Obamacare, conservatives have two growing concerns: moving more quickly to advance legislation and pushing hard against some GOP leaders who now seem willing to work within the framework of Obamacare than to repeal it in full.
Brat says part of the current delay on legislation is due to the Senate slow-playing the confirmation of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be the nest Secretary of Health and Human Services. The congressman says President Trump has made it clear that is the key to revving up the reform effort.
“A few weeks ago, he said, ‘Look, once Price is in that slot, then we’re going to move at lightning speed.’ So I think that’s what you can realistically hope for. Once Price [is confirmed], boom, the plan comes out and we run with it. I think it’s going to be surprisingly good,” said Brat.
“I don’t think it will be perfect. I’m not a big fan of tax credits because you can bid those up forever,” said Brat. “But it will not be Obama-lite from what I’m hearing.”
An aggressive approach in the House, however, may run into hesitation from Senate Republicans, who seem more willing to work within the existing framework of Obamacare.
“The Senate has made it clear they’re OK with tweaking Obamacare and repairing the existing broken system. I obviously think that’s the wrong way,” said Brat.
Brat says Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., is coming to rally the GOP members to stand strong on campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“[Walker] says, ‘Once you start reform, you can’t backtrack. Once you take out one leg of the stool, which we already have done – Trump has already done some of the repeal by regulatory fiat. Once we start down that road, we’ve got to conclude it. I think (House Speaker) Paul Ryan is going to to come out and make that clear in the next few days,” said Brat.
Brat says the tinkering approach cannot work. He points out that the typical family on just a bronze plan is saddled with a $12,000 deductible just to get access to the health care system. As a result, he says it’s putting even greater financial pressure on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veteran’s programs, which are now headed towards insolvency faster and faster.
The congressman says the current system bends the cost curve up by 20 percent for Americans. He says the only responsible approach is to bend the cost curve to zero in order to spare those programs and give younger Americans a fighting chance of actually seeing some of those benefits.
“We’re growing (the cost curve) at 20 percent now. Bending the cost curve down doesn’t mean you grow at 10 percent or five percent. It means you shrink the cost of health care to zero. That’s what you’ve got to do just to maintain balance. That doesn’t reduce costs. That just keeps them from growing more in the out years. So we’ve got some heavy lifting to do,” said Brat.