Flush with momentum, GOP speeds toward tax votes
The final pieces of President Trump’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 Corker of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida — flipped from “no” to “yes” on the tax bill Friday afternoon, all but guaranteeing that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Ryan (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 Meadows (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 Lee (R-Utah) and Tim Scott (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 Collins (R-Maine) and Jeff Flake (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 McCain (R-Ariz.) and Thad Cochran (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 Brady (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 Reed (R-N.Y.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.