WASHINGTON – The U.S. Conference of Mayors wants to testify on its priorities for tax reform at congressional hearings this fall, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Wednesday.

“I’m sure we will. And I hope they’ll invite us. I’d be surprised if they didn’t,’’ Landrieu, who serves as the group's president, told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the U.S. Conference of mayor, talked to reporters on Aug. 2, 2017 outside the U.S. Capitol about the bipartisan delegation of mayors he led in meetings with five U.S. senators.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the U.S. Conference of mayor, talked to reporters on Aug. 2, 2017 outside the U.S. Capitol about the bipartisan delegation of mayors he led in meetings with five U.S. senators. Brian Tumulty, The Bond Buyer

Landrieu led a bipartisan delegation of five other mayors who met in Washington with three Republican and two Democratic senators on tax reform, health care and infrastructure issues.

Republican congressional leaders last week announced the House will hold committee hearings and vote on tax reform in September followed by a similar process in the Senate in October.

But the mayors’ first priority -- to get Congress to take a bipartisan congressional approach to tax reform that doesn’t include budget reconciliation – appears to be unlikely in light of comments made Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Forty five Senate Democrats outlined their principles for tax reform in a letter sent Monday to President Trump, McConnell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

The three priorities outlined by Democrats were avoiding deficit-financed tax cuts, not using reconciliation rules for passage of legislation, and a package that does not reduce taxes for the wealthy or increase taxes on the middle class.

McConnell reacted to the letter Tuesday by telling reporters “most of the principles that would get the country growing again, they are not interested in addressing.’’

“So I don't think this is going to be 1986, when you had a bipartisan effort to scrub the code,’’ he said. “Maybe there will be a few -- there were several Democratic senators that did not sign the letter who may be open to pro-growth tax reform.’’

McConnell reaffirmed his plan to use budget reconciliation as a way to enable the Republican majority in the in the Senate to pass tax reform with 51 votes instead of the 60-vote supermajority needed for most legislation.

No matter how tax reform is handled in Congress, the mayors are emphasizing the importance of the keeping the tax-exemption for municipal bonds and the federal deduction for state and local taxes.

Removing the tax exemption for municipal bonds would undercut the Trump administration’s effort to encourage infrastructure investment, Landrieu said.

“If you take away the tax exempt status of municipal bonds you will cost us 28% more than you used to,’’ he told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol following the meetings.

The mayors don’t know whether congressional Republicans who are formulating tax legislation will eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes.

“I think that we know it’s fair to say that we know that it’s in play,’’ Landrieu said. “Any time there’s a jump ball we want to make sure that we get it. So that’s why we’re here.’’

Part of the problem for the mayors is getting an up to date assessment of the policy choices the Trump administration is making.

“The president’s team can’t keep on the same subject for more than two or three hours and Congress is forced to react,’’ Landrieu said.

But the mayors don’t want to be viewed as the opposition. ‘We will just continue to say we are not part of the resistance,’’ Landrieu said. “We are bipartisan. We are bicoastal.’’

The delegation of mayors included: Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., head of Municipal Bonds for America coalition ; Bryan Barnet of Rochester Hills, Mich.; Greg Fischer of Louisville, Ky.; John Giles of Mesa, Ariz.; and Kim McMillan of Clarksville, Tenn.

They met with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both Republicans from Tennessee, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as well as Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.

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