ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And we begin this hour on the subject of taxes. In a moment, we'll hear from our reporter about the impact of current tax proposals on the federal deficit. But first we turn to a House Republican. Congressman Mark Walker is from North Carolina. He is chairman of the Republican Study Committee. That's a large conservative caucus of Republican Representatives. Congressman Walker, welcome to the program.
MARK WALKER: Thanks. It's a privilege to be with you guys today.
SIEGEL: Yesterday, Senate Republicans unveiled their tax proposal. And it differs in some important respects from the House proposal. For example, it delays tax cuts for business by a year. Now, do differences like that one mean that you'd have some trouble voting for a bill that looked more like the Senate plan than the House plan?
WALKER: Would it cause a little bit of consternation? It would from the people that I'm talking to. Of course, we've got 157 members in our particular caucus. I don't know if that's enough to derail it, but it is going to be something that's a point of conference once the Senate turns it over back to us here in the next week or two.
SIEGEL: Should we assume, though, that since the Republican majority in the Senate is a more fragile one than the majority in the House that you'd better accept terms that Mitch McConnell says he can get 50 senators to support?
WALKER: We are quite aware of the fragility in the U.S. Senate. But we try to do what we believe is best regardless of how many specific votes that we may have from Republicans over there. We do understand that this is about getting it done for the American people. Couple things that has brought some kind of heartburn is the delayed for one year, but also the overall estate tax or the death tax, as they call it, because ours phased it out over six years, but there is no phaseout. There's an exemption up there.
SIEGEL: Yeah, let me ask you about that. The number of Americans who pay what Republicans often call the death tax or the estate tax is very small. And estates that are inherited have to be more than $5 million per person to be taxed. By eliminating that tax, aren't you benefiting a very small number of American well-to-do families?
WALKER: It is a fair point in the sense that there are some. Some of that net worth is in assets such as land. I know we have two or three here in the 6th District of North Carolina. But I think by moving it from 5 and a half million to 11 million, I believe that's probably going to be within the realm of keeping most of these guys on board or at least enough. And in fact, I'm even thinking - I'm looking upwards of maybe to 225 or 230 out of the House once we kind of maybe make a few adjustments here - small, but just a few.
SIEGEL: You say two or three of your constituents in your district. There's one estimate by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that in terms of family farms that are often invoked in this argument...
SIEGEL: ...There are about 50 such estates in the country that would be covered by the estate tax as it currently exists. That's pretty small.
WALKER: It's not astronomical. That's a fair point. And I believe by bumping it up to 11 million, even though from a conservative perspective there's a fundamental aspect of double taxation - is that fiscally or is it even morally right that once a person has paid on these assets over the years, should the government have a right or access to another round of taxation on those same assets? And that's the fundamental question here.
SIEGEL: How high are the stakes with the tax bill? Where does it leave the Republican Party if with majorities in both chambers and a Republican in the White House you can't reach consensus on a tax bill?
WALKER: You know, I think the common vernacular is to say that the majority would be in states. I think it's hard to speculate. But I will tell you if you polled American people, the top five or six things that they're concerned about, I think it would be rare that tax reform is in those top five or six. However, because Republicans have made this a signature key issue, if they can't deliver, the level of incompetency that would come across to me would be potentially very much damning in the general election of 2018.
SIEGEL: But you do concede that the issue of a tax cut or tax reform, as you would say, really doesn't crop up on people's agendas of what their top four or five issues would be.
WALKER: No, it's not. But here's the thing. When you go nearly a generation without making adjustments, you almost kind of grow accustomed to it as the old frog in the frying pan. If you just turn up the heat gradually, they would never jump out. That's kind of where the taxation has been. Part of that is I don't know if people really believe this is actually going to happen. And that's one of the reasons probably why it hasn't polled to the place of (unintelligible).
SIEGEL: Congressman Mark Walker, a Republican of North Carolina, head of the Republican Study Committee, thanks for talking with us today.
WALKER: Robert, always a privilege. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.