Flush with momentum, GOP speeds toward tax votes

The final pieces of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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 CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE of Tennessee and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE of Florida — flipped from "no" to "yes" on the tax bill Friday afternoon, all but guaranteeing that Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans 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 RyanSoaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington 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 MeadowsBen Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash 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 LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Utah) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottIt's time to empower military families with education freedom GOP Sen. Tim Scott says if he runs in 2022 it will be his last race When it comes to student debt, it is time to talk solutions 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 CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE (R-Maine) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument 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 McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' 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 BradyRepublicans' rendezvous with reality — their plan is to cut Social Security The Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners House panel releases documents of presidential tax return request before Trump 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. ReedRepublicans' rendezvous with reality — their plan is to cut Social Security The Democratic plan for smaller paychecks House passes bill to update tax code to help same-sex married couples MORE (R-N.Y.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.