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Senate absences create uncertainty on timing of tax reform votes

Congressional leaders have been unable to nail down the timing of votes on the Republican tax reform bill because of scheduling conflicts in the Senate.

"I don't know the answer to that question," House Speaker Paul Ryan said at his weekly press conference, after being asked which chamber would vote first. "It's all about timing and managing absences in the Senate. We're basically being flexible for [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell]. I've talked to Mitch a couple of times about this. We're simply being flexible to honor their concerns about managing their schedule and some possible absences."

Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Thad Cochran of Mississippi have both been dealing with health issues. McCain receives treatment for brain cancer, and Cochran has been dealing with "urological issues," according to statements from his office.

While the final conference committee report for the package has not been released, Ryan said the negotiators are beginning to settle on some of the effective dates for various provisions.

"You'll see depreciation schedules go into effect I think September 27, 2017. Why? Because that's when the framework came out and we announced that depreciation, the full expensing schedule," he said. "There are going to be 2017 dates, there'll be 2018 dates, there'll be later dates. That's just how all tax laws work."

Ryan's comments come amid increasingly vocal opposition to the proposal both on Capitol Hill and around the country. Public polling on the publicly available House and Senate tax bills has been largely negative, with two polls from Quinnipiac University and Gallup released earlier this month showing that more than 50% of respondents are against the GOP plan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the GOP is in a "lose-lose situation" since they will alienate donors if they do not pass the tax bill, but "they'll lose in the court of public opinion" if the bill is passed.

Ryan said those numbers come from pundits, "out there confusing the public."

"If you look at the polling that was done in Ronald Reagan's signature 1986 tax reform, something like the month before it passed 18% of the people polled thought they were going to benefit from it. This is the nature of the debate on things this big like tax reform," he said. "You've got pundits and spinsters and all of these spin-meisters out there confusing the public, and that's what I think is happening here with tax reform, like you see with any large piece of legislation."

Following tax reform, Ryan said Republicans will turn toward a variety of different policy goals, from criminal justice to entitlement reform, the latter of which he called "part of our agenda."

"I've long said there are two things you've got to do to get this debt under control: reform the entitlement programs, which are on autopilot, grow the economy," he said. "This is going to be the new economic challenge for America: people … baby boomers are retiring and we have fewer people following them into the workforce. We have something like a 90% increase in the retirement population of America but only a 19% increase in the working population in America."