Telling reporters "we have the votes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Friday walks to the chamber after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers to advance the stalled GOP overhaul of the tax code. J. Scott Applewhite AP
Telling reporters "we have the votes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Friday walks to the chamber after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers to advance the stalled GOP overhaul of the tax code. J. Scott Applewhite AP

Politics & Government

Republicans mobilize grassroots, conservative media to woo Republicans on tax bill

By Andrea Drusch

adrusch@mcclatchydc.com

December 01, 2017 03:40 PM

UPDATED December 01, 2017 09:18 PM

WASHINGTON

Republicans need Republicans to get their tax overhaul through Congress, so they’re using GOP-friendly media and grassroots groups to twist lawmakers’ arms.

GOP members of Congress have been skeptical of several parts of the Republican-authored tax bills, suggesting they increase the deficit too much or don’t give enough of a tax break to the middle class or small business.

Those doubts stalled the bill in the Senate Thursday evening, causing visible frustration from a handful of Republican senators and resulting in a heated discussion on the Senate floor.

By Friday, leaders said those concerns were addressed. But in order to pass, the tax measure still has several other legislative hurdles in the coming weeks.

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Faced with precious little time to get a proposal on the president’s desk before the end of the year, Republican leaders are going to the grassroots to apply pressure to their own members.

GOP-aligned interests plan to spend millions of dollars on ads urging constituents to call their members in support of tax reform in Republican-held congressional districts. Party leaders are aggressively promoting their ideas across conservative media.

Appearing on Fox News’ “Your World with Neil Cavuto” Thursday night, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who earlier this year had offered his own tax plan, was drumming up support for a united effort – and disagreeing with colleagues who helped delay action on the bill.

“I’m encouraged by where we are, I think we’re making steady progress… I think we’re approaching consensus,” said Cruz.

GOP leaders say passing tax reform is critical for Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms. After failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, they badly need a major legislative achievement in President Donald Trump’s first year.

The American Action Network, a center-right policy group aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, has spent millions on tax reform ads in both Democratic and Republican-held districts, is focusing its latest $2.5 million TV and digital ad buy on 29 districts held by Republicans. That ad says the House-passed tax plan would save the typical family $1,200, and thanks lawmakers for keeping their campaign promise.

America First Policies, a nonprofit that supports Trump’s agenda, is also running ads on conservative radio networks, aimed at influencing Republicans. Those ads ask listeners to “join the fight to pass President Trump's tax reform package.”

Two other groups aligned with the Koch brothers, Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, have spent millions targeting Republicans with tax reform ads.

Unlike the party’s approach to health care earlier this year, American Action Network leaders say that on tax reform, they’re working closely with White House-aligned groups. Ryan hosted White House officials at the group’s headquarters to strategize at the end of October.

GOP leaders have also made a play for the grassroots on conservative TV, pushing their own members to stay in line.

“If you made a commitment to get this through and you cannot make it happen, I don't see how you go back to the voters,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.”

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Appearing on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” Tuesday, Texas’s senior senator, John Cornyn, R-Texas, vowed a united effort from the Senate’s GOP conference, whose votes he’s responsible for counting.

“The difference between the tax negotiations and the healthcare negotiations is I think everybody in the Republican conference wants to get to yes,” said Cornyn. “I'm very optimistic that working in good faith we all want to get everybody to yes and get this done."

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

Senators debate Tax Bill

Republican and Democratic Senators sparred over the proposed GOP backed tax-reform plan on Nov. 30.

US Senate TV