House GOP turns Civil War battlefield bill into last minute tax cut plan

With their time in the majority almost over in the U.S. House, Republicans on Thursday approved a package of GOP tax cuts on a mainly party line vote, using a parliamentary maneuver to stuff a variety of tax provisions – as well as changes to last year’s GOP tax law – into a bill originally designed to expand the boundaries of a Civil War battlefield in Tennessee.

On a vote of 220-183, the House approved a plan to use the ‘Shiloh National Military Park Boundary Adjustment and Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Designation Act,’ as amended by the Senate, transforming that into ‘Retirement, Savings, and Other Tax Relief Act of 2018 and the Taxpayer First Act of 2018.’

“This package will have a meaningful impact for families and businesses across the country,” argued House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who will have to give up that post when the GOP loses power in January.

One of the more controversial provisions is a change to the “Johnson Amendment,” which keeps religious groups from endorsing and contributing to political candidates, a plan GOP lawmakers have long sought to change.

The revised 257 page package of tax changes were unveiled earlier this month by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, after a slightly different tax package floated by Republicans had fallen flat with lawmakers in both parties.

The bill – minus the boundary expansion plans for the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee – includes tax relief for those dealing with hurricane damage in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and North Carolina, wildfires in California; it also delays major tax provisions on the Obama health law, includes IRS reforms, provisions on retirement and family savings, and other technical corrections to the big GOP tax law approved at the end of 2017.

The Republicans plan targets four different taxes from the Obama health law, repealing the tax on indoor tanning services, extending the moratorium on the medical device tax, further delaying the tax on high cost health insurance plans, and continuing the suspension of fees on health insurance providers.

All of that was too much for Democrats to support, as they get ready to take charge in the House of Representatives on January 3, 2019.

“The game is almost over,” declared Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), who will replace Brady as the chief tax writer in the House in January, as he denounced the GOP tax plan as one written behind closed doors at the last minute to benefit Republican interests.

“It’s time to move on,” Neal told the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Even with House approval of this GOP tax bill, the plan has no chance of being approved by the Senate before the end of the 115th Congress, making the exercise into more of a political messaging statement before lawmakers wrap up work for the year.