Trump's Commerce secretary sidesteps border adjustment as president to meet with senators who oppose it

Sec. Ross: We're in early stages of trying to change NAFTA
Sec. Ross: We're in early stages of trying to change NAFTA

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross avoided taking a stance on a key House Republican tax provision Tuesday ahead of President Donald Trump's meeting with two senators who oppose that piece of the tax reform plan.

Asked about border adjustment, which several senators have criticized, Ross did not address specifically where the White House stands.

"The whole tax reform issue is a very, very important one, a very central one to the administration," Ross told CNBC on Tuesday. "And my hope is that they will work collectively toward an agreement that the House Ways and Means, the full House, Senate Finance, and the full Senate and the White House can agree to."

Trump is expected to meet Tuesday with GOP Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, of Arkansas and Georgia, respectively. While the pair will likely discuss their immigration plans with Trump, they could also talk about border adjustment, which both lawmakers have vocally opposed.

The key House GOP reform provision would tax imports, moving the U.S. closer to taxing consumption. Proponents like House Speaker Paul Ryan say it will encourage economic growth and raise $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years, enough to help to chop the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. Trump's tax plan outlined on the campaign trail called for a 15 percent corporate rate.

Many large retailers have argued against border adjustment, saying the tax on lower-cost imported goods may get passed on to consumers. Retail behemoth Wal-Mart is based in Cotton's home state, while Perdue previously served as the CEO of Dollar General.

The White House may help to swing support for the plan. Informal Trump advisor and CNBC senior contributor Larry Kudlow said last week that border adjustment appears to be "winning" inside the White House.

A Bloomberg report last week said top Trump advisor Steve Bannon, among others in the White House, supports border adjustment. Trump has publicly endorsed some form of a border tax, but has not explicitly supported border adjustment as the House drafted it.