WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading conservative Republican, who helped block President Donald Trump's healthcare bill, said on Thursday that Congress should begin rigorous debate on tax reform now if it hopes to pass legislation before an August deadline.
The quest to revamp the tax code moved to the top of Trump's legislative agenda after a Republican push to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law failed in the House of Representatives on March 24 in a humiliating defeat for the president and his party.
To tackle the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code since the Reagan era quickly, House Republicans need to avoid the political fault lines that sank their healthcare bill, partly by having conservatives on board.
House Republicans hope to vote on a tax reform bill before they leave for summer recess at the end of July.
"We can get it done before August as long as we are real serious about having real debate... debate has to be about changing policy," said Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about three-dozen staunchly conservative lawmakers.
"I'm optimistic on tax reform, if we do it differently than we did healthcare," he told a forum hosted by Politico.
Freedom Caucus members complained that House Republican leaders held no healthcare hearings this year before legislation was introduced and kept their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act under wraps until just before it was introduced.
Meadows said the tax reform debate boils down to a decision between a controversial "border adjustment tax" plan backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and deficit-funded reforms. He did not take a position on Thursday but recently said his group could support reforms that are not revenue neutral.
"We need to go ahead and start having those discussions today. Let's look at legislative text," he said.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady plans to hold public hearings on tax reform issues in coming weeks. On Thursday, Brady offered no indication that legislation was imminent but said he understood the need for rank-and-file members to have input.
"We continue to work toward spring action from the Ways and Means Committee and continue to work to get this done in 2017," Brady told reporters.
"One lesson we learned in the healthcare debate is that members of Congress want plenty of time, not just to review the bill but to have input into tax reform."
Reporting by David Morgan; Editing Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler