Vice President Mike Pence pressed the White House's case for a major tax code overhaul by the end of the year during a speech Wednesday to Republican governors in Austin.
"We're going to take a decisive step — before the end of this year ... to cut taxes across the board for working families and businesses," Pence said at the Republican Governors Association's annual meeting. "I know this room knows all about tax cuts because these Republican governors have been busy cutting taxes in recent years and making a real difference in their states."
Republicans in Congress are scrambling for a significant legislative achievement by the end of the year, and tax reform has taken center stage as their best bet. The House is expected to vote on its tax bill Thursday, though the proposal is further back in the process in the Senate — and faces a less certain fate there.
Shortly before Pence took the stage in Austin, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., came out against the Senate GOP tax plan, making him the first Republican senator to oppose it. The GOP has a thin 52-member majority in the Senate and is not counting on votes from the chamber's Democrats to pass the tax plan.
Despite the setback dealt by Johnson, Pence remained upbeat in his speech, proclaiming the "momentum is on our side" in the GOP push to revamp the tax code.
One of the biggest differences between the two chambers' bills is that the Senate version includes a repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or face a fine. President Donald Trump has embraced the idea, and Pence said Wednesday that the president will "fight every day till this bill reaches his desk" to reverse the mandate.
Pence spoke on the first day of the RGA meeting, which runs through Thursday. Republicans currently hold 34 governorships across the country — the most in U.S. history — and that count includes Texas' Greg Abbott, who is running for a second term next year without a serious Democratic opponent as of now.
Republican governors were dealt a pair of blows last week, when they lost races in the New Jersey and Virginia — the first gubernatorial elections of the Trump era.
Earlier Wednesday afternoon in Austin, Pence participated in a briefing with Abbott on the state's response to Hurricane Harvey. They were joined at the Austin office shared by Texas and the Federal Emergency Management Agency by FEMA administrator Brock Long, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Rick Perry, the U.S. energy secretary and former Texas governor.
"We've made progress ... but we understand we've got a long way to go," Pence said, invoking the Houston Astros' victory in the World Series earlier this month. "We know Texas will come all the way back and then some — that World Series victory was evidence of the strength and resilience of Houston."
The briefing came two days after Abbott visited Washington, D.C., to continue to push for Harvey aid. He said he met with Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he expects the OMB to make recommendations for the next round of relief funding later this week.
Second Lady Karen Pence accompanied the vice president to Austin, where she made a trip of her own to Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas to see its art therapy program.