A Tax Conference Committee Meeting Mostly For Show

Nothing against the members of the House and Senate attending Wednesday’s inaugural meeting of the conference committee finalizing the tax code overhaul, but it’s mostly for show and unlikely to be must-see television.

That’s because, with the arguable exception of the farm bill, open meetings of conference committees are not where the deals get done, despite the talking points from top negotiators.

“Our open meeting will be an opportunity for the conferees to discuss our best, most pro-growth tax reform ideas that will help improve the lives of all Americans,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said last week in a statement announcing the conference would sit down Wednesday at 2 p.m. to consider options for a final unified measure.

Some Republican senators on the conference committee could be seen coming and going from a meeting room in the corner of the Capitol on Tuesday, likely trying to finalize the Senate’s views on as many details as possible before the open meeting.

“We’re trying to get our response to the House and get it back to them so we can close it out,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said Tuesday. “It’s a very sensitive negotiation.”

Some of the details of an emerging proposal began circulating Tuesday afternoon, a full day before the conference committee was set to kick off its formal proceedings in the bowels of the Capitol.

The prospect of Republicans announcing an agreement in principle on the tax bill even before the first formal meeting of conferees underscores some of the absurdity of the formal conference process in the modern Congress.

Much of the work before Republicans push the conference report to the Senate and House floors will be about ensuring technical compliance with the Senate’s procedures.

Cornyn, a conferee, noted that a remaining procedural hiccup is making sure the final bill passes muster with the Senate’s Byrd rule. The rule stipulates no extraneous material can be included in budget reconciliation bills that do not impact government spending or tax revenue, or add to the long-term deficit outside the 10-year budget window, among other restrictions.

“We’ve got work to do here to work with the parliamentarian to do the Byrd bath and make sure we’re in good shape … my hope would be that we’re prepared to go to the floor next week,” he added.



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