Tax bill infighting shows Johnson’s go-to strategy on tough bills

Speaker Mike Johnson’s trouble with the tax legislation is showcasing his now-favored strategy on tough bills: Bypass intraparty opposition, rely on Democratic help if necessary and force the vote through.

And the vast majority of his conference seems OK with that — at least for now.

Johnson spent days trying to sell the House GOP on the tax bill, taking fire from both centrists and conservatives over various provisions. One coalition threatened to shut down the House floor Tuesday over their concerns, with multiple lawmakers telling reporters that they understood the bill was subject to changes.

Less than 24 hours later, Johnson scheduled a floor vote on the legislation as is, under a process that requires a two-thirds majority and, therefore, widespread Democratic support.

“If this comes to the House floor, it’s gonna pass with over 300 votes,” said Rep. Darin Lahood (R-Ill.). “There’s broad support for it.”

The strategy mirrors the maneuvers Johnson has used to get out of similar squeezes on a recent short-term spending patch and last year’s sweeping defense policy bill, both of which sparked backlash from his right flank. And given divisions within his own conference and his slim two-vote majority, he’ll likely replicate it before the looming back-to-back March government funding deadlines.

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) likened the tax bill to making breakfast — that everyone had wanted a serving of eggs, but that Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) had served them scrambled while others might have wanted an omelet.

“I think everybody generally is like, ‘Hey, this is a good thing.’ But you got to figure how to put it together,” Amodei said, emphasizing the Republican conference needed to remember how to treat legislating as a team sport, rather than looking out solely for their own district’s interests.

Even some conservatives are understanding of the bind Johnson is in, even as they’ve repeatedly criticized him for not prioritizing his right flank’s interests. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the speaker’s willingness to leapfrog his own members to pass major bills is a “concern”— though he noted that he trusts Johnson more than his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.

“I was hoping he would go through Rules. But he doesn’t think he could pass it. He’s scared of a shutdown over this vote,” Norman added, referring to the typical process that requires the Rules Committee approval before measures go to the House floor.

Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.), asked about Johnson’s use of so-called suspension votes, which bypass the Rules Committee, added: “Obviously everybody can see that it’s a trend.”

Good and Norman, as well as other House conservatives, have bristled over the tax bill due to an expansion of the child tax credit. Johnson met with members of the Freedom Caucus on Tuesday but Good said in a brief interview on Wednesday that they hadn’t found a resolution.

But Johnson appears to have assuaged a coalition of New York Republicans who threatened to halt floor action this week. The blue-state gang were pushing leadership for a fix to the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, which particularly afflicts states with high property taxes.

The tax bill will get a vote on Wednesday night without any changes, but leadership agreed to hold a vote on the floor next week to increase the cap on SALT deductions for married couples who file taxes jointly, a person familiar with the deal confirmed.

One Republican familiar with the clash said they think the New Yorkers got “a win” and expect them to support the tax bill on the floor. Hours before the scheduled vote Wednesday night, Johnson endorsed the deal in a statement — after seemingly keeping it at arm’s length when the bipartisan agreement first rolled out.

“The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act is important bipartisan legislation to revive conservative pro-growth tax reform,” Johnson said in a statement. “Crucially, the bill also ends a wasteful COVID-era program, saving taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.”