Senate GOP votes to begin debate on tax bill

The Senate voted to begin debate on its tax cut bill Wednesday, edging Republicans closer to their first major legislative victory under President Trump as they seek to finish the chamber’s work on the measure by the end of the week.

Senators voted 52-48 to take up the House-passed legislation, which is being used as a vehicle for the Senate bill.

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No Republicans voted against proceeding to debate, a huge accomplishment for GOP leaders who struggled earlier this year to corral their members around legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare. No Democrats voted for the measure.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe new American center Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesAs many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran Senate set for closing arguments on impeachment Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line MORE (Mont.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (Ariz.) all said they would agree to start debate before it began, despite various worries about the legislation.

In another sign of GOP momentum, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (Alaska) said she would vote for the tax package — and that she would help manage the floor debate given a section of the bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat MORE (R-Ky.) urged senators to vote to start debate, promising they’d have time to amend the bill on the Senate floor.


“I encourage any member who thinks that we need to fix the problems of our outdated tax code to vote to proceed to the legislation,” he said in a floor speech. “I urge them to vote for the motion to proceed and offer their amendments. ... The bottom line is this: we must vote to begin debate.”


Trump, a day after visiting the GOP conference, sold the bill on Wednesday during a stop in Missouri, where Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' Kansas City, Kan., responds to Trump tweet: We root for the Chiefs, too Trump mocked for Super Bowl tweet confusing Missouri for Kansas MORE is up for reelection.


“This week’s vote can be the beginning of the next great chapter for the American worker,” he said, adding that the tax cuts would ensure a “merry Christmas” for the country.

The GOP’s goal is to get a final bill to Trump’s desk by the end of the year, which would give him and his party a significant win at the end of a difficult year.

If the Senate can approve its legislation this week, Congress would have the month of December to work out differences between the Senate and House bills.

The vote starts the clock on 20 hours of additional debate on the tax legislation before a freewheeling “vote-a-rama.”

During that process, any senator can demand a vote on any amendment, with hundreds of potential changes typically being filed. The vote-a-rama is expected to take place on Thursday. Several senators who could make or break the tax plan remain on the fence, despite agreeing to start debate.

It appears these Republicans are likely to vote for the final bill, though thorny talks about how to safeguard GOP economic estimates that the bill will not bust the budget could be a problem.

Deficit hawks — led by Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses GOP confident of win on witnesses MORE (R-Okla.) — want to include a  “trigger” that would increase taxes if the economic growth Republicans are predicting will pay for their tax plan falls short.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the Senate bill would add about $1.4 trillion to the deficit in its first 10 years before taking economic effects into account. Republican leaders say they expect increased economic growth to create additional revenues that would offset some or all of the deficit increases.

Corker before the procedural vote said they have a deal “in principle” but declined to go into details until the agreement was locked down in writing.

Asked if he would support the legislation without the fiscal backstop, he said that the “trigger is very important to me.”



“I think each of us has to understand in a bill like this there are going to be things you like and things you don’t. You’ve got to decide on balance if it’s better for the country,” he said.

The idea of a trigger has sparked a backlash among conservatives and outside groups, who oppose allowing tax hikes to snap into place.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.), who is facing a competitive reelection race next year, expressed concerns that a trigger would undermine tax certainty businesses need to make investments.



“I do not support triggers,” he said at an event hosted by groups — backed by GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch — which oppose the idea. “I think it takes away the kind of certainty that we have put in this bill through the efforts of the Finance Committee over the last three months.”


Leaving a closed-door caucus lunch, members floated a backstop that would enact automatic spending cuts. But Corker said on Wednesday evening that the “trigger” would be limited to automatic tax increases, though the details of the agreement were still being worked out. 

Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (Wis.) and Daines have pushed for more parity between corporations and pass-through businesses.

Pass-throughs are businesses, such as partnerships and sole proprietorships, that have their income taxed through the individual system on their owner’s returns. Many small businesses are pass-throughs.

Just before voting, Daines said that the pass-through deduction would be increased from 17.4 percent to 20 percent, by not allowing big companies to deduct state and local taxes. He said the Senate Finance Committee has worked out a plan for paying for the larger deduction.

Collins said she is a “yes” on starting debate after winning a commitment from McConnell to include funding for ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction payments and reinsurance in a must-pass bill by the end of the year.

“I still would prefer that the individual mandate [repeal] were not in the bill,” she said of the tax bill’s elimination of ObamaCare’s mandate that people buy insurance. “It complicates this whole issue and when you pull one piece of the Affordable Care Act out it has an impact on premiums.”

Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (R-Utah) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.) said they plan to offer an amendment that would further expand the child tax credit and pay for it by bringing the corporate rate in the bill from 20 percent to 22 percent. The White House said it opposes the amendment’s increase in the bill’s corporate rate. The corporate rate is currently 35 percent.

This story was updated at 6:44 p.m.