Roskam defends GOP tax bill—but concedes it's 'not perfect'
By Greg Hinz November 13, 2017 | Crain's Chicago Business
(scroll to the final paragraph for Jennifer's response)
The Illinois congressman at the center of national tax reform debate is wholeheartedly standing by the GOP plan expected to come up for a House vote later this week, saying the country is at "an inflection point" it cannot afford to miss if it is to remain internationally competitive.
But U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, concedes that the plan is imperfect, hinted that the estate tax will survive in some form, and repeatedly ducked questions about whether the proposal he helped develop as chairman of the Tax Policy Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee is as good for taxpayers in his west suburban district as it is for other, more Republican sections of the country.
In a 45-minute meeting with Crain's editorial board, Roskam repeatedly returned to the same theme: The U.S. economy needs help, and the plan congressional Republicans have crafted would, overall, provide just that.
"I'm not saying everything about (the plan) is perfect," Roskam said, referring among other things to the fact that the plan would drive up the U.S. deficit by a projected $1.5 trillion over the next decade before counting any benefits from faster growth. "But it's a good plan. . . .Perfection's not coming."
All Democrats have tried to do is defend elements of the status quo, and the status quo "is a loser," Roskam said. "We cannot stay here," he declared, adding that he's not in "the all or nothing business."
With a smile on his face, Roskam pushed back hard at suggestions that some and perhaps many residents of his district would end up paying more or get a smaller cut than residents of other areas.
For instance, asked about a report by the Tax Policy Center, a generally well-regarded Washington research group, which concluded that 7 percent of taxpayers nationally would pay more in 2018 than they do now—with 25 percent paying more by 2027 than now—Roskam responded, "I don't agree." He then went on to note that the group's initial report was withdrawn after a mathematical error.
Similarly, the congressman rejected the notion that Illinois taxpayers, especially those in the upper middle class, would be hit much harder than those in states like Alabama because they would lose the ability to deduct most of what they pay in state and local taxes, which generally run much higher in Democratic-leaning states such as Illinois than in red states like Alabama.
"Your logic makes no sense to me," said Roskam, who in an op-ed piece for Crain's last week appeared to assert that every single taxpayer would come out ahead. "I'm not seeing my constituents be upset about what's happening in Alabama."
"No one can answer" whether residents of GOP-leaning areas are getting a better deal than in Democratic states, including the 6th District, he added. "If that's the standard, then you can never do tax reform in its totality."
Roskam also underlined that the deduction for property taxes, up to $10,000 a year, would remain under the House, though not the Senate, version of the bill. And the deduction is quite likely to stay when the two chambers pass their versions of the bill and resolve differences in a conference committee, he said. "I think we need to keep that (in)."
Roskam pointed to Aon, which moved its worldwide headquarters to London a few years ago, as a good example of how the relatively high U.S. corporate tax rate is harming the country. He said CEOs of some big companies such as AT&T have promised to create more jobs here if the top corporate rate drops from 35 percent to 20 percent, as the House version of the tax bill would do. "You've got to incentivize investment."
The Wheaton Republican declined to say how he'd like to make the plan more perfect in conference. But he did indicate that the estate tax, which the House would abolish, likely will come back to life, though with exemptions at a higher level than today. He also indicated he's very aware of concerns that a new territorial system for taxing foreign profits by U.S. companies could be abused.
His overall goal: Pass the bill and have it signed into law by President Donald Trump by year-end.
Despite prior hints to the contrary, Roskam said he will not hold an open town hall-style meeting with constituents to discuss his views on taxes, Obamacare and other subjects. "Everyone comes in angry and leaves angrier," Roskam said. "I'm going to continue to represent this district the way I have," even though other area members of Congress routinely hold such sessions.
Roskam refused to discuss the status of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, what should happen to young immigrant adults covered by the DACA program, and other matters, saying, "I'm here to talk about taxes."
Roskam added that "I asked for this meeting to talk about tax policy." In fact, he was kind enough to accept an invitation to meet with the editorial board.
2:20 P.M. UPDATE:
It’s not exactly shocking, but Roskam’s Democratic foes were not impressed by his editorial board comments.
Challenger Kelly Mazewski slammed him for ducking comment on Roy Moore: “It is disgusting that Congressman Roskam refused to denounce Roy Moore, a likely child molester, and focus exclusively on the tax reform bill that gives pay cuts to big corporations and the super wealthy while increasing taxes on Illinois middle-class families,” she said.
Said a second, Becky Anderson Wilkins: "Yes, Roy Moore should quit his race for the U.S. Senate. Somehow, for Peter Roskam, this was a difficult question, one he refused to answer. He said he'd prefer to talk about something else, but my question is — if he won't lead on the easy questions, why should we listen to him when it comes to the tough questions?”
A third, Jennifer Zordani, went after him on tax matters: “Roskam’s tax bill demonstrates that he is not working for his constituents or thinking about their future. He has removed deductions for families that seek to adopt a child, and removed deductions for individuals who have incurred student loan debt and outsized medical expenses. He’s removed the state and local tax deduction, forcing people to pay federal taxes on the money they had to pay to the state. Roskam’s proposed 20 percent corporate tax rate — well below the average rates paid in other industrialized countries—is simply a gift to huge corporations and special interests. . . .Peter Roskam has written off the people of Illinois. It’s time to replace him."