Senate votes to begin final debate on tax bill 
© Camille Fine

Senate Republicans have formally started debate on their overhaul of the tax system, paving the way for the bill to head to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE’s desk as early as Wednesday.

Senators voted 51-48 to take up the legislation after it cleared the House earlier in the day, largely on a party-line vote.

No Democratic senator voted to start debate on the bill.

The vote to open debate brings congressional Republicans a step closer to the first major legislative victory of Trump’s tenure, and to the enactment of major policy changes that the party has been seeking for years. 

Senators will now have to work through up to 10 hours of debate before a final vote on the tax plan, though Republicans could yield back some of their debate time.

“I think we need to explain, especially with all of the misinformation out there, what we’re doing, and that’s why it’s important to use some of that time. But I can’t imagine that we’ll need to burn the entire 10 hours,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress braces for high-drama lame duck Trump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape Beto lost but Texas Democrats have a lot to celebrate MORE (R-Texas) told reporters. 

Republicans have a slim 52-seat majority, but are expected to have the votes to pass the tax bill despite the absence of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Overnight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — Medicaid expansion gets extra boost from governors' races | Utah's expansion to begin April 1 | GOP lawmaker blames McCain for Dems winning House Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump's Armistice Day trip marked by controversy | US ends aerial refueling to Saudi coalition in Yemen | Analysts identify undeclared North Korean missile bases MORE (R-Ariz.), who is recovering from the effects of cancer treatment. Several key holdouts came on board this week and Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerJuan Williams: Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP Divided Congress to clash over Space Force, nuclear arsenal Flake not ruling out 2020 run against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.), who voted against the initial Senate bill, is supporting the final compromise agreement.

The House will have to vote on the bill one last time on Wednesday, as a few minor aspects of the bill will be changed in the Senate to comply with budgetary rules. 

One provision that will be removed, according to a House GOP aide, is tied to 529 accounts for homeschooling expenses pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). 

The second concerns an exemption included in the tax bill that would allow universities with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from having to pay the endowment excise tax.

The GOP tax legislation would permanently reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent while temporarily lowering rates for individuals and families. It would also reduce tax breaks important to states and cities with higher taxes by placing a $10,000 cap on the deduction for state and local and taxes.

The bill would also repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate and open up a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Republicans argue the bill will boost an already healthy economy, sparking new investments by U.S. companies and helping to prevent jobs from being moved overseas.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPress: Trumpism takes a thumping The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump says Florida races should be called for GOP | Latest on California wildfires | Congress set for dramatic lame duck Congress braces for high-drama lame duck MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday hailed the legislation as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

“[It will] deliver historic tax relief to American families. It will help put our country on a trajectory towards more innovation and better-paying jobs. It will repeal an unfair tax at the center of ObamaCare and will help America achieve greater energy security,” he said.

McConnell predicted that the Senate’s final vote would take place on Tuesday evening, rather than stretching into early Wednesday morning.

Democrats have lambasted the bill, calling it a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy.

“It is a disgrace that Republicans are rushing to pass a massive tax break for the wealthy while children are about to be thrown off their health insurance,” Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersVoters chose the politics of inclusion Ojeda announces bid to challenge Trump in 2020 Former Army paratrooper and congressional candidate Richard Ojeda files papers to run for president MORE (I-Vt.) said on Tuesday.

Democrats don’t have the ability to block the tax bill on their own. Under reconciliation — the budget rules that Republicans are using to avoid a filibuster — the bill can pass with a simple majority. 

Independent scorekeepers have predicted the tax plan will add about $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, though other estimates have pegged the cost at around $1 trillion when economic growth is taken into account. 

Republicans dispute those estimates, predicting the costs of the bill are overstated. 

Though the corporate tax cuts in the legislation are permanent, most of the bill's changes for individuals expire in 2025. Republicans predict the lower individual rates will ultimately be extended. 

A study by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan deficit hawk group, found that the bill could cost significantly more — between $2 trillion and $2.2 trillion — if the temporary tax cuts are made permanent.

- This story was updated at 6:08 p.m.