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Conference committee key step
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A month ago today, I reflected on the Senate Republicans’ version of tax reform legislation.
Since then, the House and Senate have both passed the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. So why hasn’t President Trump signed it?

In case you’ve forgotten what your coach probably taught you in that long ago civics class, the legislative process can be a tortuous trail, full of twists and turns along the way. In the current case, the House and Senate passed two different bills on tax reform. Both bills appear to be a huge improvement over the current tax system. They could boost our economy, with more jobs and higher wages for hard-working Americans.

However, for a bill to become a law, both chambers of Congress must pass identical legislation. Since they can’t present two conflicting bills for President Trump to sign, the House and Senate must first reconcile their differences in the two bills.

That’s where the “conference committee” comes into play. As the name suggests, this is a committee appointed by the presiding officers of the House and Senate to adjust differences in their respective bills and ultimately present a single, unified bill to the president.

As of this writing, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made the necessary appointments and arrangements to activate the Conference Committee for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. While both political parties are represented on the committee, the GOP has more members because it is the majority party in both chambers.

Still, there will likely be some hard bargaining among key Democrats and Republicans in conference, especially on Individual Tax Rates, State and Local Tax Deductions, and Corporate Tax Rates.

Once the conference committee concludes its work, the majority of both the House and Senate delegations must sign what’s called a conference report. In essence, this is the final version of the tax reform bill. The completed legislative package then goes directly to the floor of the House and Senate to be voted on and approved or disapproved “as-is.”

The pivotal role of the conference committee in American political history has earned it the nickname of a “third house" of Congress and one of the most significant congressional institutions. As President Ronald Reagan noted, “You know, if an orange and an apple went into conference consultations, it might come out a pear.”

For now, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of fruit the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bears and for whom.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at