WASHINGTON, DC – Republican lawmakers' plans to repeal the Johnson Amendment through the tax reform bill is all but dead after the Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that including the repeal in the tax plan violates Senate rules.
Since the tax plan is going through a process called reconciliation, the Senate needs only a simple majority of 51 votes to pass it. However, the Senate's "Byrd Rule" requires that reconciliation bills can only include tax or budgetary matters. In this case, the parliamentarian ruled that repealing the Johnson Amendment is a policy change and not a tax or budgetary matter.
The Johnson Amendment forbids non-profit organizations, including churches and ministries, from supporting or opposing political candidates. If the IRS finds houses of worship in violation of this amendment, they can lose their tax-exempt status.
Senator James Lankford, R-OK, a former pastor and strong advocate of repealing the Johnson Amendment, disagreed with the parliamentarian's ruling.
"I'm disappointed in the decision of the parliamentarian to not allow the revised text of the Johnson Amendment into the tax reform bill," said Lankford in a statement. "The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech; this tax reform bill was an appropriate place to address this historic tax problem."
"Sadly, there was a tremendous amount of misinformation spread about this tax provision. This Johnson Amendment fix would have given citizens that work for a non-profit the same First Amendment rights as any person who works for a for-profit business, or a student or retired individual. This fix would not have changed the law regarding political campaign fundraising or donations, and in fact, the text would have prohibited any campaign financing through 501(c)3 organizations. Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps non-profits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider."
And on the other side of the aisle, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, says he's quite pleased "Democrats successfully prevented the repeal of the Johnson Amendment from being jammed into any final Republican tax deal."
The repeal of the Johnson Amendment now proceeds as a standalone bill that will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.