President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to give themselves some breathing room on their goal of completing a tax overhaul before year’s end in remarks that emphasized the difficulty of passing major legislation.

Both men affirmed their aim of delivering a tax bill by December during an impromptu Rose Garden news conference Monday. But in response to a question, Trump said that the last major tax overhaul was adopted in 1986, midway through President Ronald Reagan’s second term. “I’ve been here a little more than nine months,” he said.

McConnell of Kentucky called completion of a tax bill in 2017 “the goal.” But he pointed out that the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act were signed in the second year of former President Barack Obama’s first term.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., and President Donald Trump
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., and President Donald Trump Bloomberg News

The Senate is expected to vote later this week on a budget resolution—the vehicle needed to unlock the fast-track mechanism that GOP leaders say they want to use to pass a tax bill in the Senate with only 50 votes.

Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has said his panel will release tax legislation after Congress adopts the budget resolution.

Meanwhile, the days that remain on the legislative calendar are dwindling. The House is on recess this week, and when it returns, it will have just 28 days left on its calendar to tackle issues including taxes and funding the government.

‘Minor Adjustments’

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said last week his chamber plans on getting a tax bill to the Senate in November, and he will keep the House in session until Christmas if needed to finish the legislation. Any bills produced by the House and Senate could diverge on some significant issues, such as the elimination of state and local tax deductions.

Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn said earlier Monday that the president has told him a tax revamp must happen in 2017, and Congress will have to stay through any recesses to ensure it’s completed.

“You’re going to start seeing rhetoric out of the president that this must get done this year,” Cohn said at an American Bankers Association conference in Chicago.

Cohn also repeated that the president’s two non-negotiable items in a tax bill are a 20 percent corporate rate—down from the current 35 percent—and tax cuts for the middle class.

Trump said Monday there would be “minor adjustments” to the framework that he and congressional leaders released last month to make sure middle-class taxpayers are the biggest beneficiaries of the legislation. He didn’t specify what those changes would be.

Bloomberg News