Senator John McCain of Arizona is laying down the same marker on tax legislation as he did on health care, demanding regular order and support from both parties—a stance that has proved pivotal in thwarting Senate Republican efforts to undo Obamacare.

“We need to do it in a bipartisan fashion,” McCain said Tuesday of planned tax legislation, arguing that the major congressional reforms that have stood the test of time since the 20th century have included buy-in from both parties. “I am committed, as I’ve said before, to a bipartisan approach, such as we’ve been doing in the Armed Services Committee for the last 53 years,” he told reporters in the Capitol.

McCain cast the decisive vote in July to defeat the GOP’s so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, complaining about the rushed process and lack of bipartisanship. His opposition to the Senate’s latest repeal effort, a bill written by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, led to its demise this week.

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, speaks to members of the media in the basement of the U.S. Capitol.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, speaks to members of the media in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

McCain’s tax demands cut against GOP leaders’ plans to use the same fast-track procedure on taxes as they tried to use on health care. That procedure requires 50 Senate votes and allows for bypassing a potential Democratic filibuster. Because the GOP controls only 52 votes in the Senate, every vote is crucial to their agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he doesn’t expect Democratic support for a tax overhaul, as Democrats disagree with many of the GOP’s proposals to rewrite the tax code.

“Where we go from here is tax reform,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “We plan to move forward on our next priority.”

Third-ranking Republican Senator John Thune told reporters that any tax bill would need at least 50 votes for passage, which he said likely means that McCain “would have to be satisfied with his process concerns.”

“There’s certainly comfort in margins. And we don’t have margins for error,” Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said. “Each individual senator is very empowered.”

‘Head in a Bag’

President Donald Trump hosted Republican and Democratic members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee at the White House Tuesday, a day before the expected rollout of the administration and GOP congressional leaders’ tax framework. Trump expressed optimism about his coming tax push, promising to “cut taxes tremendously for the middle class.”

Before the meeting, Trump said it was “time for both parties to come together” on taxes. But Democrats weren’t impressed, complaining after the meeting that the plan was being written by GOP leaders without their input.

“Trump asked for Democrats to jump on the caboose after the tax train has already left the station,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, the top Democrat on a tax-policy subcommittee. “I saw no Democrat ready to jump on board.”

Some Republicans believe failure on taxes is not an option.

“Senator McCain has his reasons for saying that. He’s entitled to them. All I can tell you is that this economy is not going to get better until we do tax reform,” Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said in an interview.

Asked what would happen if Congress fails on taxes like they did on health care, Kennedy responded: “I may go home and put a bag over my head. And hide my head in a bag.”

Bloomberg News