WASHINGTON — In his effort to gin up support for a sweeping tax overhaul, President Trump has taken to publicly cajoling, ribbing and even threatening lawmakers, but his oldest daughter took an entirely different approach to get an expanded child tax credit included in the legislation.
With the help of Ivanka Trump’s charm offensive, her priority tax credit has been embraced by both Republicans and some moderate Democrats. While Democrats have railed against the tax bill as a gift to the wealthy, some vulnerable Democrats have signaled an openness to an expansion of the child tax credit, one of the few provisions in the massive legislation that could have bipartisan support.
Ivanka Trump has been meeting with lawmakers in the marble halls of the U.S. Capitol, in the White House complex and over dinner at her posh D.C. home to discuss an expansion of the child tax credit. And lawmakers are tripping over themselves to be associated with her and the popular provision.
Having her backing is “a power-packed punch — triple p. I think she’s smart, she’s passionate about the issue, I think she understands and appreciates the impact that it will have on everyday folks so it’s been a positive reinforcement,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told USA TODAY. Scott hosted Ivanka Trump and a group of House and Senate Republicans at the Capitol in October and is on the Senate Finance Committee, which is charged with drafting the Senate version of the tax bill.
A White House official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations, said Trump's oldest daughter met with two dozen Senate and House members and multiple outside groups on the topic ahead of the release of Thursday's bill. The official said she will continue to travel to sell the tax reform bill as a boost for working families.
Currently, Americans can get a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child depending on how much they make. The House bill would expand the current credit to $1,600. It would also provide parents an additional $300 for each parent and family member over 18, such as college students or grandparents, but that provision expires starting in 2023. And it more than doubles the income limit for eligibility to $230,000. The Senate will release its own tax plan in the next few weeks that could include an even more generous credit package.
“Today in the vast majority of American homes, all parents work, our tax code has to recognize and support this reality and support our dual values of work and of family,” Ivanka Trump said during a press conference last month. She and the Trump administration have been clear that they'd like to see an expansion of the credit, but she has not given specific numbers.
Earlier this month, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both advisers to the president, hosted GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Dean Heller of Nevada and David Perdue of Georgia. They also invited three Democrats, all from states the president won by double digits, who have indicated an openness to learning more about the GOP tax plan — North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short also attended the dinner.
Arabella, the couple’s elementary-age daughter, wrote the place cards. And the bipartisan group discussed tax reform, including the child tax credit, over small cups of carrot, apple butternut squash and tomato soups, beef short rib and devil's food cake.
“I thought it was one of the best dinners that we had been to yet. It was really bipartisan, it was a great venue, and it was truly meaningful,” Manchin told USA TODAY.
Trump won West Virginia by 42 points, and Manchin talks frequently with the president. The West Virginia Democrat said he’ll consider crossing party lines to support tax reform legislation as long as it helps the middle class and not just the top earners.
McCaskill — whose state Trump won by 19 points — said the dinner at the Trump-Kushner home was “terrific.”
McCaskill told reporters the following day she was "very interested" in getting more details about the child tax credit. The dinner was a stark contrast to how Trump has handled McCaskill. During a rally in Missouri, Trump said that if McCaskill didn’t vote for the tax bill, voters needed to kick her out of office.
“The fact that they’re holding these bipartisan gatherings, the fact that they’re having dinner and bringing together in their home, over their dinner table — Republicans and Democrats in the Senate — is brilliant,” Lee told USA TODAY. “Nobody is going to turn them down, because they are delightful, and because they’re key advisers to the president and otherwise close to him."
Lee and Rubio have been trying to get an increased child tax credit passed for years. Rubio even talked about it when he ran for the Republican nomination for president last year. When Trump won, the pair decided it was time to make their pitch to his daughter, who had focused on family-friendly policies during the campaign, Lee told USA TODAY.
Rubio and Ivanka Trump had a pre-existing relationship because their families sat together during 2016 presidential primary debates, according to Rubio. While Trump and Rubio went after each other on the debate stage — later in the campaign, Trump took to calling Rubio “Little Marco,” and Rubio said Trump was a “con man” — things were far more civil with their families. Since then, Rubio and Ivanka Trump have worked together to discuss how to get an expansion into tax reform legislation.
Fiscal conservatives generally are opposed to more spending and an analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation said that the increased tax credit will cost $640 billion over the next 10 years, one of the most expensive provisions of the bill.
But even the most conservative Republicans have pushed to include a child tax credit because it appeals to middle- and lower-income families while much of the rest of the tax plan appeals to the wealthy.
“Being fiscally conservative often means, in my case, I think it means we spend too much money and I’m interested in spending less money. The reform of the tax code is a different exercise,” said Toomey, who is on the Finance Committee and has been involved in discussion with Ivanka Trump. “I think that the child tax credit has to play a role.”
If Ivanka Trump wants a final bill signed by her father to meet the standards of Rubio and Lee, she may not be able to turn off her charm yet. After the House released its plan Thursday, Rubio and Lee said it wasn't enough.
Their bill would change the way the credit phases in so that lower-income families would be eligible to receive the credit. It also would give families the credit bit by bit through payroll taxes rather than all at once at tax time.
“The best way to provide real relief to working families is through a straightforward, significant, and permanent expansion of the child tax credit," Rubio and Lee said in a joint statement. "We wish the House draft had done more on this front — preferably doubling the credit to $2,000 per child and expanding its applicability to payroll taxes."
Melissa Boteach, the vice president of the progressive Center for American Progress' Poverty to Prosperity Program, told USA TODAY that if the child tax credit was tweaked to be available to more working-class families it would be easier to support it in isolation from the rest of the bill, but the House version simply didn't do enough.
“The basics of this tax plan is that it’s a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of working families, and you can’t put a Band-Aid on it with the child tax credit," she said. Boteach also pointed to the five-year expiration date on the credit, which she said was "a ticking time bomb for families.”
While the House tax bill did boost the amount some working families received for having children, other cuts throughout the bill may offset those benefits. For example, current law allows employers to claim credit for offering employee child care, but the House bill would eliminate that credit starting next year.
Contributing: Herb Jackson, Ledyard King and Deirdre Shesgreen
Ivanka Trump through the years