December 12, 2018
Conservatives still have control of the House for another three weeks -- and thanks to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), they're making the most of it! The Texas chair of Ways and Means had already filed a new tax package at the end of last month. But this week, he decided to make a good bill better. And churches everywhere are cheering!
If you want to win over a chamber full of conservatives, tell them you'll repeal the Johnson Amendment! That's what GOP leaders did Monday with their major overhaul of the tax proposal. After the lukewarm response to Brady's first draft, leaders went back to the drawing board and made the bill one of the most conservative measures of the year.
For starters, conservatives decided to tack on the Free Speech Fairness Act, which is the legislation that would finally topple the Johnson Amendment and give churches the right to speak freely on the moral issues of the day -- without fear of IRS backlash. That would be a huge victory for President Trump, whose first promise to evangelicals on the campaign trail was that he would "get rid of the Johnson Amendment."
Then, to sweeten the deal, Brady tried to meet one of pro-lifers' goals: recognizing unborn children in the tax code for the first time in U.S. history. Some of you might remember this debate from last year, when Republicans finally managed to pass the first round of tax cuts. As part of that bill, conservatives tried to change the language on 529 education savings accounts (ESAs) so that parents, grandparents, or other relatives with a baby on the way could start saving for that child's education right away. The language never made it past the Senate, but the House is hopeful that on a bill like this one, it might.
Last -- but certainly not least -- House Republicans are righting a 2017 wrong that could cost churches and nonprofits almost two billion dollars over the next 10 years. As part of last year's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, thousands of nonprofits are being taxed over the benefits they offer their employees -- like free parking or transportation. That's a major sea change in IRS policy, which, throughout history, has never asked religious groups like churches to file taxes. FRC and a coalition of groups has been raising this issue for months with GOP leaders. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, we urged Republicans to fix the problem. This version of Brady's bill would.
"It is important that we have strong Republican support to pass it," the Ways and Means Chairman told reporters. And it's pretty telling that the best way to make the bill more popular is to add socially conservative priorities. "Adding a couple of provisions that are important to the Republican House, I think, is appropriate," he insisted. Let your congressman know that you agree. Contact your House member and ask them to support H.R. 88!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.