AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Vice President Mike Pence pushed President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul as a “middle class miracle” Wednesday in a speech to the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.
Nearly all of 34 Republican governors, and several Republican gubernatorial candidates and party leaders are attending the two-day conference to discuss policy priorities and the 36 gubernatorial elections set for 2018.
Pence praised Republican governors for their work, particularly commending the “great leadership” of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose approval ratings hover around 15 percent.
Pence also applauded Trump’s “decisive actions” that he says helped the U.S. economy, including approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and withdrawing from the “job-killing” Paris Climate Accord. Trump’s climate policies were roundly denounced and jeered this week at a meeting of 12 major nations in Europe.
But Pence told the governors Wednesday: “It’s remarkable, and some of these businesses here can attest to this, the optimism that’s sweeping across America.”
Most of Pence’s speech focused on tax reform. He encouraged his audience, which included business leaders, to gather their employees in “the cafeteria” for a talk about taxes and the president’s plan, which has yet to be spelled out in detail, but which Pence promised would be passed by the end of the year.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, tax reform is low on the list of public priorities, with only 28 percent saying it should be a “top priority,” although 51 percent of Republicans said that reforming the tax code was at the top of their wish list.
“The truth is, President Trump’s vision of tax cuts will deliver nothing short of a middle-class miracle,” Pence said.
Ideally, most taxpayers should be able to file their federal taxes on a single sheet of paper without professional help, Pence said.
“You know there’s an old saying that the tax code is 10 times the length of the Bible with none of the good news,” he said.
Pence said that cutting the corporate tax rate to 20 percent would make America more competitive in the world marketplace, as would reducing the tax rate on small businesses to 25 percent, and that cutting corporate taxes would encourage companies to bring home “trillions of dollars of profits” they have stashed offshore.
Pence lauded the Senate for a plan, announced Tuesday, to repeal the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, effectively gutting Obamacare, as a part of the tax cut.
The repeal would cost 13 million Americans their health insurance in the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office estimates, though Pence called it a “middle class tax cut” that would bring the middle-class miracle.
Pence acknowledged that Republicans would have to “roll up their sleeves” to get the tax bill passed. The Senate tax plan is already facing opposition from some Republican senators. Republicans can afford two lose only two votes in the Senate.
And on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said he opposed both the House and the Senate’s tax bills, saying they favored large corporations and neglected smaller businesses.
Johnson is the first Republican senator to announce his opposition to the tax bill, but including healthcare repeal may cost his party more votes from senators who opposed the Republicans’ straightforward and unsuccessful attack on the Affordable Care Act this year.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that she wants the tax bill to provide more middle-class tax relief. Collins joined Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona, and Senate Democrats, in rejecting a plan to repeal parts of Obamacare by 51-49 vote in July.
In another change to the Senate’s tax plan Tuesday, Republicans made individual tax cuts for families and small businesses expire at the end of 2025, but kept the corporate tax cut permanent.
Collins said that putting the individual mandate repeal in the Senate tax bill was a mistake.
Neither McCain nor Murkowski have taken a firm public stand on the Senate’s still-evolving, somewhat inchoate tax bill.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday in Austin that Trump and the Republican Party promised in 2016 to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut taxes. “It has to happen,” he said. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you ran on something and you need to do it.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who joined Scott at the press event, said he did not think Trump’s low approval ratings would have much effect on the 36 gubernatorial races next year, and that he was more concerned about turnout.
“If the opposition’s sole focus … the only argument they’ve got is [a candidate] is in the same party as someone, I think that they’re going to have a failing race,” Walker said. “What voters want to hear about is, ‘What are you going to do to make my life better?’”
The governors conference concludes Thursday.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.