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 Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare GOP's Collins: Judge's ruling striking down ObamaCare 'will be overturned' MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesGOP lawmakers push Trump to take ‘any appropriate action’ to save Keystone XL Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Overnight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst MORE (Mont.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker dodges on Trump primary question The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force 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 MurkowskiWhen is a deal not a deal? When there’s a wildlife refuge to be exploited House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program Senate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips 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 McConnellMcConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips Dems as shutdown looms | Congress deadlocked | Flynn associates charged will illegal lobbying GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection 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 McCaskillThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington McCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate FEC votes to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for personal cybersecurity 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 CorkerGOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Corker dodges on Trump primary question The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end MORE (R-Tenn.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Officials warn of threat from Chinese spying | China blamed for Marriott hack | Trump open to intervening in Huawei case | FCC mulls ending merger ban on 'Big Four' networks | California floats tax on texts Bipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says 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 Heller How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies One last fight for Sen. Orrin Hatch 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 JohnsonBipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says Overnight Defense: Trump at G-20 | Calls Ukraine 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting | Senate passes resolution condemning Russian actions | Armed Services chairmen warn against defense cuts Senate passes resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine 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 LeeOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war MORE (R-Utah) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump risks clash with Congress over Chinese executive Kevin McLaughlin tapped to serve as NRSC executive director for 2020 Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump 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.