Jonathan Swan

Ryan tells colleagues they won't be rushed on health care

AP file photo

The House Republican conference held a conference call Saturday afternoon to discuss what will be a pivotal week, with health care, tax reform, and government funding all colliding. According to three sources on the call the conversation was very high level, and there was no Q&A.

Key takeaways: House Speaker Paul Ryan told his colleagues they'll do health care when health care is ready and the whip team knows it has the votes. He also said the government funding bill is the top priority for the week, to keep the federal agencies from running out of money on April 28.

There's been a lot of talk about a health care vote this coming week, but leadership won't be rushed by some arbitrary timeline — a big lesson Ryan's office took from the failure of the first health care bill.

Other highlights:

  • Ryan said the House Appropriations Committee has been working closely with the White House on the government funding bill, so "wherever we land will be a product the president can and will support."
  • The speaker also reiterated that now is the Republican Party's time and the country expects them to lead. It was a broad statement — emphasizing it was a pivotal time for the party to prove it can govern.
  • Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise both made big-picture remarks. Scalise said that if deals come together on health care and appropriations, they will of course whip those when Congress comes back into town.
  • House Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said he was making good progress on an agreement for the government funding bills, but there was no final agreement yet.
  • Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden reiterated that any health care agreement will have to offer states the flexibility that will allow them to bring down premium costs, and it will have to take care of pre-existing conditions.
  • The leadership team singled out for praise Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows and Tuesday Group co-chair Tom MacArthur and everyone else who's been talking over the break to reach an agreement on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Don't expect too much from Trump's tax "package" next week

Andrew Harnik / AP

President Trump has told the Associated Press he'll release a tax reform package next week that will give a "massive tax cut" to corporations and individuals.

Key details from AP story:

  • "Trump wouldn't provide details of the plan, saying only that the tax cuts will be 'bigger I believe than any tax cut ever.'"
  • "The president says the package will be released on "Wednesday or shortly thereafter" — just before his 100 day mark in office."

Our thought bubble: Don't expect to see anything like a fully fledged tax plan. We bet it'll be a 100,000 foot document, with no real path for how to get there — just targets.


Trumpcare update: House is writing legislative language

Mel Evans / AP

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has written draft legislative language for the latest Trumpcare changes, and the Senate Budget Committee is reviewing them to see if they'd cause any problems with the budget reconciliation rules, according to three sources familiar with the discussions. The goal is to provide more details for the amendment negotiated by Rep. Tom MacArthur, a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows so Republican holdouts can decide whether the changes would earn their votes.

Timing: House Republicans are having a conference call tomorrow and the new health care proposal is sure to come up, but it's not clear that the language will be ready by then, according to one source familiar with the discussions. If the Senate Budget Committee finds that any of the changes would violate budget rules, the House will have to rework them.


GOP tax reform hearing postponed

Susan Walsh / AP

The House Ways and Means Committee planned to kick off its tax reform hearings next week, but staff were told today that a hearing planned for Thursday would be postponed.

The hearing was to be on the border adjustment tax — the centerpiece of the House tax plan, which would raise about $1 trillion over 10 years by hiking taxes on imports (this was all done privately, the hearing schedule was never made public).

Between the lines: Instead of focusing intensely on tax reform, the tax-writing committee will spend more of its time next week discussing healthcare, as President Trump continues to pressure incredulous House leaders to push a bill that doesn't even exist yet. With the focus on Trumpcare 2.0, Ways and Means' Tuesday evening meeting will be used to update members on healthcare first and foremost, followed by appropriations and tax reform.


Trump tax cuts won't be paid for

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Trump Administration has no plans to pay for its proposed tax cuts, according to revealing comments made Thursday by top White House officials Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin at an Institute of International Finance conference. There will be no border adjustment tax — the trillion-dollar hike on imports raised in Paul Ryan's plan — nor any other big new revenue generators.

Both Cohn and Mnuchin said economic growth would be the primary way to pay for corporate and individual tax cuts, while fewer deductions and tax simplification would also play roles. It is not an opinion that is widely shared by on Capitol Hill, including among Republicans.

"These are huge numbers," said Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. "You could have as high as $2 trillion difference in revenues over a 10 year period depending on what you think is going to be the growth function. The plan will pay for itself with growth."

Trump economic advisor Cohn was slightly more cautious, saying that "running a big deficit in the tax code would potentially make it not permanent." But, like Mnuchin, he emphasized the importance of dynamic scoring (i.e., aggressive growth assumptions based on Trump's economic policies).

Not all Republicans are warming to what some describe dismissively as a "magical" supply-sider approach. After Mnuchin's speech, a Republican intimately involved in tax reform emailed Axios: "Believing in $2 trillion in dynamic scoring is the legislative equivalent of believing in the tooth fairy. Aside from blowing a hole through the deficit, it does not provide the certainty that U.S. businesses need to make long-term investment decisions. That is one of the stated goals for tax reform."


House GOP pours cold water over new Trumpcare rumors

Susan Walsh / AP

Senior Republican congressional sources are pouring cold water over anonymous comments by White House officials to WaPo reporter Robert Costa that a new Trumpcare vote could happen as soon as next Wednesday.

That's been made abundantly clear to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and a senior administration source tells me the vote next week is unlikely and he's unclear who told the press it could happen on Wednesday.

One senior House source texted Axios: "You know there will not be a vote next Wednesday, right?"

The reality, according to a well-placed source:

  • The "all hands" call on Saturday has been scheduled for two weeks, and is about discussing the government funding bill in addition to health care.
  • There has been no agreement on revised legislative language, so legislative text won't be available to share either tonight or tomorrow. Only Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows and Tuesday Group co-chair Tom MacArthur have a general agreement.
  • There is no target vote date because there is no legislative text.
And from a senior GOP aide: "The question is whether it can get 216 votes in the House and the answer isn't clear at this time. There is no legislative text and therefore no agreement to do a whip count on."

Trump 101: His on-the-edge management style

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Last week, Donald Trump told the New York Post about advisor Steve Bannon: "I like Steve, but..." Bannon's friends and colleagues scrambled to figure out if the story was as bad as it looked — frantically texting him with questions. They're still trying to get answers, gleaning much of their information via anonymous quotes in the press.

Trump likes it that way, and the episode illuminates Trump's improvisational management style. He's always been more of a creative deal-maker and salesman than a manager. In his business career, he oversaw a very lean executive team, and he preferred to his deals to be mano-a-mano.

He made phone calls from early morning to late into the night. He stayed loose, always open to next idea. The bigger the concept, the more potential for glamor, the better. And he always, always — as Bannon, Reince and the rest now keenly know — kept his associates on edge.

The elements of Trump's management style, from Trump's own words, interviews with former staff, current staff, and three of his biographers:

Throwing people off balance: "He's spent his entire life doing this," says Trump biographer Gwenda Blair. "Super competitive, looking for the opening, the angle, the way to win … always get in ahead, throw everybody off balance, say you won, double down, insist, bully, charge ahead."

His door always open: That cliché was, and remains, true. Inexperienced staff who worked for Trump recall being amazed at the free and easy access they got to the boss. Now he's President, Mar-a-Lago members are amazed to be chatting with the commander-in-chief on everything from Reince Priebus' suitability as chief of staff to that "crazy" guy Kim Jong-Un.

"Creative combat": "His theory," says Blair, "is that it will bring out the best performance from [staff] if they're extremely competitive and afraid they're going to be fired." A good number of White House staff assume they could be fired at a moment's notice, given Trump's history of cycling through campaign managers. Only a tiny fraction of employees — family chief among them — have reasons to feel safe.

Loyalty: Trump prefers to hire intensely loyal staff, and we're seeing that now in the way he's filling his White House (and excluding "Never Trumpers"). In a one paragraph statement for this story, White House aide and former Trump-family employee Hope Hicks used the words "unbelievably successful," "incredibly effective," "great," "leadership," "ingenuity," and "high energy" to describe her boss.

Delegation: "He's more inclined to trust people" than many outsiders assume, says biographer Michael D'Antonio. Trump will "give them a lot of leeway with regard to their portfolio, and if they succeed pile on more duties."

But…selective micromanagement: Trump is a micromanager on matters of style and reputation. And money. At the Trump Organization he personally signed relatively minor checks, and now in the White House he haggles over airplane contracts and plays theatre critic when his spokespeople go on TV.

Ruthless: Trump had two mentors. His dad, Fred, who was ruthless. And his lawyer Roy Cohn, who was even more ruthless.

Why this matters: Trump is the only U.S. president in history to win the office having spent no time in elected office or in the military. The early days of his presidency have been deliberately fast-paced and, in some cases like the botched travel ban rollout, incompetent and needlessly chaotic. For the first time he's running into an entire bureaucracy, large parts of which are completely foreign to him. We're still learning whether he has the capacity to adapt.


Trump to start his crackdown on steel dumping

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Trump plans to issue a memo Thursday calling for the U.S. Commerce Department to investigate whether steel imports hinder national security, as first reported by Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs. (Axios has confirmed Jacobs' reporting.)

Why it matters: By initiating investigations under the umbrella of "national security," Trump is creating a pretext for using extraordinary measures to crack down on steel dumping. This could complicate the U.S.-China relationship at a time when Trump is explicitly linking trade negotiations to China's behavior with North Korea, as China is the top culprit for dumping cheap steel into the American market.

Something else you should know: This memo is much, much, milder than some of the ideas that were initially kicked around inside the West Wing. An early concept pushed by Administration nationalists was to impose immediate supplemental 25% tariffs on a wide range of product categories they believed were being unfairly dumped into the United States such as industrial chemicals, household appliances, paper and tires.


Local, state tax deductions on Gary Cohn's list

Andrew Harnik / AP

Gary Cohn has privately said he's warming to the idea of eliminating the local and state tax deduction to pay for tax cuts and simplify the code, according to sources familiar with the thinking of president's top economic advisor. Cohn's private comments must be considered with a caveat: no final decisions have been made, and the administration's tax reform plans are still a long way from prime time.

What it means: The White House needs a ton of money to pay for corporate, individual and small business tax cuts (not to mention the "Ivanka credit" for childcare.) Getting rid of these state and local deductions is a dream Republicans have long held and would raise an estimated $1 trillion over 10 years.

Who loves the idea: House Republican leadership, which included it in its tax plan; and Grover Norquist, the anti-tax warrior who views the deductions as the federal government subsidizing higher taxes at the state and local level. Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur wrote an excellent piece on the politics behind it.

Who hates the idea: Governors and Democrats, particularly those from high-tax Democratic states like California, New York and New Jersey. Eliminating the deductions also impacts some important states that don't have an income tax but have high state and local taxes as an offset, such as Texas. Those are big chunks of votes, so getting rid of it creates a problem if they are going partisan and need to get all of the Republicans.

White House response:

"We haven't reached the stage of talking about which deductions would stay or go because we are still in listening mode, hearing from key stakeholders before developing a comprehensive plan. To the extent state and local deductions have been discussed, they've been among a laundry list of options that could be explored — no more those than any others."

One last thought: You can't do real tax reform without making somebody mad, and you certainly can't raise $1 trillion without making lots of people mad. Ryan's proposal to raise $1 trillion by hiking taxes on imports — the so-called "border adjustment tax" — is now a carcass collecting flies. So they've got to find some other way to raise the money. This idea is as plausible as anything else we've heard.


Dean Heller's "clarification" on Planned Parenthood

Scott Sonner / AP

What a difference a day can make. We told you Nevada Sen. Dean Heller should expect a fierce blowback from social conservatives after he defended Planned Parenthood in a rowdy town hall meeting Monday afternoon. Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, fired the first public warning shot in our article.

Less than 24 hours later, Heller was singing a different tune.

Here's Heller on Monday afternoon:

  1. "I will protect Planned Parenthood."
  2. "I have no problems with federal funding for Planned Parenthood."

Here's Heller on Tuesday, via his spokeswoman Megan Taylor:

"Senator Heller has worked hard to improve women's access to health care and the quality of care they receive. While he doesn't have a problem with many of the health care services Planned Parenthood offers to women, he is opposed to providing federal funding to any organization that performs abortions and is supported by taxpayers' dollars; he has a long record that reflects his position."