Flush with momentum, GOP speeds toward tax votes

The final pieces of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE’s sweeping tax overhaul fell into place on Friday, giving Republicans a surge of momentum just days before they cast historic votes on the $1.5 trillion bill in the House and Senate.

Two high-profile Senate GOP holdouts — Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE of Tennessee and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOn The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week Trump declares national emergency at border Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans MORE of Florida — flipped from "no" to "yes" on the tax bill Friday afternoon, all but guaranteeing that Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (R-Ky.) will have the 51 votes needed to pass the legislation in the upper chamber.  

Heading into the weekend, GOP lawmakers and leadership aides were extremely bullish that the 503-page Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would pass the House on Tuesday, then narrowly clear the Senate either Tuesday evening or Wednesday.

That would hand Trump and congressional Republicans their first major legislative victory since they took over full control of Washington last January. It also would fulfill Trump’s pledge to sign the tax-cuts bill into law by Christmas Day.

“This is happening. Tax reform under Republican control of Washington is happening." Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanUnscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden Coulter defends Paul Ryan: This is 100 percent Trump's fault The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (R-Wis.) said Friday afternoon during a conference call with rank-and-file House Republicans, according to a source on the call. “Most critics out there didn’t think it could happen. ... And now we’re on the doorstep of something truly historic.”

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, said it’s inevitable that GOP lawmakers won’t agree with every part of the tax bill. But by next week, he said, Republicans will come together to deliver a bill to Trump.

“I anticipate a number of members expressing concern over a variety of topics in the coming days, but there is a commitment to finish the work and put it on the president’s desk by Wednesday,” Meadows, who is close to Trump, told The Hill.

“I am extremely optimistic that we can overcome any remaining issues.”

House and Senate negotiators signed off on the final language of the bill Friday afternoon, meaning no more amendments or last-minute changes can be made.

The final text made the child-tax credit refundable up to $1,400, up from $1,100. That tweak was enough to appease Rubio and Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 New act can help us grapple with portion of exploding national debt MORE (R-Utah) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal crime Partnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities MORE (R-S.C.). Earlier, Rubio had threatened to vote against the bill without more generous tax breaks for families with children.

“For far too long, Washington has ignored and left behind the American working class. Increasing the refundability of the Child Tax Credit from 55% to 70% is a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker,” Rubio tweeted Friday.

Corker, the retiring Senate Foreign Relations chairman who’s feuded on and off with Trump, objected to the bill over concerns it adds to the nation’s $20 trillion debt. But shortly after Rubio’s endorsement, Corker said he, too, was reversing course.

The tax bill is “far from perfect,” Corker said in a statement. “But after great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss. ...

“In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the question becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation. I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make.”

With Rubio and Corker now on board, none of the 52 GOP senators are publicly opposed to the tax bill. Because of the narrow margin, it would take opposition from just three GOP senators to kill the tax overhaul.

Sens. Lee, Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (R-Maine) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) have not taken a position on the final bill, but each voted in favor of the tax bill that recently passed the Senate.

The two other wild cards are Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal MORE (R-Ariz.) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (R-Miss.). Both veteran senators back the tax bill but have missed votes all week due to health reasons. Cochran, the Appropriations chairman, is recovering from a procedure to remove a non-melanoma lesion on his nose.

Meanwhile, McCain, the Armed Services chairman who was diagnosed with brain cancer this summer, has been receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center for side effects from his ongoing cancer therapy. A number of GOP lawmakers and aides on Friday expressed concern over McCain’s weakening health and said they were not certain he would be able to attend next week’s vote.

The health conditions of the two senior senators is so serious that GOP leaders tentatively have rearranged the vote schedule for the tax bill, Republican sources told The Hill.

The original plan was for the Senate to vote first. But on Friday, Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyKey author of GOP tax law joins Ernst and Young Lawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game Democrats step up work to get Trump tax returns MORE (R-Texas) announced on the conference call that the House would go first, participants said. By having the House vote first, Senate Republicans could simply hold an up-or-down vote on the House-passed bill, sources said.

But if the Senate went first, Democrats would have the ability to demand a series of procedural votes on “motions to instruct” — a drawn-out process that would be physically taxing on the ailing McCain and Cochran.  

Having the House vote first “speeds up the process over there,” a senior House GOP lawmaker explained.

For insurance, Vice President Pence, who also serves as the president of the Senate, has delayed his trip to the Middle East in the event Republicans need him to cast a tie-breaking vote, as he’s done several times this year.

According to highlights unveiled Friday evening, the final tax bill would lower individual rates and set rates at 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 37 percent. It also repeals ObamaCare’s individual mandate requiring Americans to have health insurance. And it expands the use of 529 accounts, allowing families to save for elementary, secondary and higher education.

“At the end of day, everybody is coming to the table in good faith to get to yes,” said moderate Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Dems hit GOP on pre-existing conditions at panel's first policy hearing A rare display of real political courage MORE (R-N.Y.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.