WASHINGTON (AP) — It came as news to most congressional Republicans, but turns out President-elect Donald Trump isn't crazy about their tax plan and has a dramatically different goal for health coverage than they do.
On health care, he declared that his approach after repealing the Affordable Care Act is "insurance for everybody," a tricky pledge that Republicans in Congress pointedly avoid. And, a key plank of the House Republican plan on overhauling the tax code is "too complicated," according to Trump, who added: "I don't love it."
The president-elect's assertions came in holiday weekend interviews published in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
The comments went to the heart of the year's top two legislative goals for congressional Republicans, both of which were shaping up as exceedingly heavy lifts even before the GOP businessman weighed in to throw doubt on key aspects of them.
Yet even though Trump has already shown he can force congressional Republicans to shift course with a tweet, his admonitions on taxes and health care seemed to stir only modest concern on Capitol Hill. Republicans appear to be growing accustomed to Trump's unpredictable declarations, even when they directly counter the accepted GOP stance, while the lawmakers who deal with him the most insist that he's more amenable in private than in public to the congressional agenda.
As a result, even while a growing number of House Democrats announce plans to sit out the inauguration in opposition to Trump, Republicans appear to be embracing the reality that they'll have a fickle ally in the White House come Friday, one whom they hope will be generally supportive of their goals, if erratic along the way.
"I think the country is at a place where disruptive synergy is not a bad thing. And I'm not concerned on those occasions where the president-elect appears to be thinking out loud," GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Tuesday. "I think he brings a synergy to this process that no one else running on either side would have done in the same way, and I'm pretty optimistic about what can happen."
On health care, Republicans have already begun the process of repealing President Barack Obama's health care law, still without agreeing on a replacement. The political risks are huge, underscored Tuesday by a report from the Congressional Budget Office confirming that premiums would skyrocket and 18 million people would join the ranks of the uninsured if Republicans repeal Obamacare without a replacement.
Congressional Republicans are aware that it will be virtually impossible to cover as many people as Obamacare does while reducing the overall cost, and instead they've been using the term "universal access" to describe their goal. So Trump's declaration that everyone would have insurance under his own plan, which he claimed was near completion, set a goal that will almost certainly prove unattainable.
Yet asked about Trump's comments, House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed any disagreement between the two of them, returning to the goal of "universal access" without acknowledging that Trump had said something different.
"We're working on it all together, it's not his or ours, it's together we're working on it," Ryan insisted in an interview with Fox 6 News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "Our entire premise has always been we want to give people access to affordable coverage regardless of whether you have a pre-existing condition or not."
On taxes, Trump took aim at "border adjustment," an approach House Republicans want to use to pay for a sweeping planned rewrite of the U.S. tax code aimed at lowering overall rates on corporations from 35 percent to 20 percent.
The idea is to scrap America's worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm's products are consumed, rather than where they are produced. Under the system, if an American company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S. But foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax.
"Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don't love it," Trump told The Wall Street Journal. "Because usually it means we're going to get adjusted into a bad deal."
Trump himself has proposed a steep 35 percent tariff on imports, something Republicans have been cool too, while insisting that their border approach would achieve the same goals.
In response to Trump's comments, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas defended the border adjustment plan without acknowledging Trump's opposition, arguing: "It's time to tax imports and exports equally in America, and end the 'Made in America' export tax."
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Stephen Ohlemacher and Josh Boak contributed.