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House Republicans head to the Reagan Ranch to discuss tax reform, but talk of Trump's woes isn't far behind

Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee came to the Reagan Ranch outside of Santa Barbara on Wednesday to discuss their tax plan. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee came to the Reagan Ranch outside of Santa Barbara on Wednesday to discuss their tax plan. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Hoping up to conjure up the same momentum that led to a 1986 tax overhaul under President Reagan, Republican leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee traveled to the Reagan Ranch on Wednesday to pitch an equally ambitious tax plan.

They were thousands of miles from Washington, but the congressmen couldn't avoid commenting on President Trump's remarks about the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.

They were peppered with questions from reporters about the incident, and asked if they remained confident in the Republican president.

One congressman said Trump's latest controversy was distracting for the Republican agenda, including tax reform. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said he believes the tax overhaul will stay on track, despite the distractions in the White House.

The 1986 legislation was a bipartisan effort hammered out by Reagan and a Senate controlled by Republicans and a House controlled by the Democrats. After Reagan took office in 1981, he won a 25% cut in personal income taxes and big tax breaks for businesses. The cuts were a catalyst for the tax reform package that passed five years later.

The proposals outlined Wednesday, however, are purely a Republican effort, with negotiations between Trump and GOP leaders in the House and Senate. 

Brady promised to invite Democrats to the table, saying they have lots of good ideas and have just as much interest in creating jobs and keeping U.S. companies from moving overseas. But there is little evidence of bipartisan cooperation on the tax plan thus far in Washington.

“Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re serious about delivering to pro-growth tax reform to the American people this year, we’re serious about working with you,” Brady said.

Brady was joined by three other GOP committee members at Reagan’s rustic former home, known as Rancho del Cielo and the Western White House, nestled in the Santa Ynez Mountains just north of Santa Barbara.

Their speeches, delivered not far from the stone front porch the former president built himself, were thin on specifics and thick with praise about Reagan’s years as America’s 40th president.

The staging of the news conference was planned to mimic the scene when Reagan signed legislation enacting the tax cuts in 1981, which he did at a table in front of the ranch home. The congressmen on Wednesday stood behind a replica of the table used by Reagan, complete with a stack of papers resembling a tax bill piled on top. 

“The Reagan reforms were all about the American people, about workers and middle-class families and Main Street businesses. It was focused on fairness. Closing special interest loopholes,” Brady said. “I think President Reagan would be pretty disappointed with the tax code we have today. Fairness has been replaced with favoritism for Washington special interests.”

Brady indicated that the tax overhaul, which has yet to materialize in an actual bill, would “continue to reward homeownership,” a possible indication that some form of the mortgage tax deduction would remain in place.

He also said there is support to reduce taxes even if it means a short-term increase in the national deficit, as long as the cuts stoke the U.S. economy and job creation.

Brady condemned those behind the deadly mayhem in Charlottesville last weekend, but did not address Trump’s comments suggesting an equivalence between those protesting the white supremacists and the white supremacists responsible for the violence.

He said he doubts that this and other controversies surrounding the Trump administration will derail efforts to pass the tax overhaul this year.

But Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) was more pointed in his words about the president. He said that it’s crucial for Trump to lead the effort to overhaul the tax system, and that it and other policy work in Washington is endangered by his actions.

“It’s horrific to put those protesting hate and those promoting hate on the same level,” Curbelo said. “Yes, it’s an unneeded distraction…. I hope he’ll stop. I’m not counting on it.”

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