WASHINGTON – Two of Western New York's House members will head to the White House Tuesday to talk about tax reform with President Trump.
Rep. Brian Higgins and Rep. Tom Reed are among several members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to receive the invitation.
Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said Saturday that he will use the meeting to push for a tax reform plan that removes corporate loopholes, pays for itself and does not favor those making more than $200,000 a year.
Reed, a Republican from Corning, could not be reached for comment on Saturday, but he has long been pushing for a simpler tax code, and – like Higgins – has said he wants to make sure New York taxpayers don't get hurt in the process.
It's not that unusual for Reed, a longtime Ways and Means member and Trump supporter, to take part in high-level talks on tax issues or to meet with the president.
But it's new for Higgins, a strong Trump critic who just won the seniority this year to rejoin Ways and Means. He served on the committee briefly a decade ago but lost his seat when Democrats lost control of the House in 2010. It took this long for Higgins to gain the seniority to rejoin the panel.
Higgins said the fact that Trump invited him is a sign that the president might realize that tax reform won't pass without a bipartisan solution.
With the GOP's latest health care reform effort on the verge of dying in the Senate, "tax reform takes on a paramount importance as a legislative accomplishment," Higgins said
Achieving it won't be easy. Republicans and Democrats have entirely different approaches to the issue, with Republicans willing to slash taxes even at the risk of increasing the federal deficit, and Democrats such as Higgins insisting that tax reform not reduce the amount of money collected by the federal government
There is broad agreement in both parties that the tax code is far too complex and that, 30 years after the last successful such effort, it's time again to simplify the American tax system.
There's also some consensus that business tax breaks should be eliminated to allow for a lower overall business tax rate.
But every special interest that gets a tax break is likely to fight to keep it, as are lawmakers who see certain tax breaks as important to their districts. Higgins, for example, said he would fight to keep the solar tax break that's important to Tesla's sprawling new solar panel plant in Buffalo.
Higgins said that it's important at this point that Trump is reaching out to Democrats – just as he did on a debt ceiling and budget deal the president struck with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Higgins warned that Republicans shouldn't insist on the kind of tax deal they have pushed in the past.
"If the framework is skewed in favor of the wealthy and corporations, it's a nonstarter," he said.
Higgins also said he would fight to protect the mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for state and local taxes, which is especially important to residents of high-tax states such as New York. Local leaders say over 125,000 Erie County households deducted $1.62 billion in already-paid state and federal taxes from their federal tax returns in 2015.
Those deductions and countless others could be eliminated under a tax reform plan that includes a vastly higher standard deduction, which would be aimed at making it easier for people to file their taxes without itemizing.
Reed has also said he wants to make sure that New Yorkers don't suffer through the loss of the state and local taxes deduction. As a compromise, he has floated the idea of turning it into a tax credit.
And while the exact shape of tax reform remains uncertain, one thing is certain, Reed said earlier this summer.
"We care about lowering taxes for families and encouraging small businesses to create jobs and thrive," he said. "The only way that we can ensure this happens is if we develop a fairer and simpler tax code.”