Obstacles emerge as GOP races to tax finish

A revolt from two Republican senators concerned about the child tax credit and the absence of two more Republican senators because of illness has injected fresh uncertainty into the GOP’s tax bill push.

The Senate was expected to vote first on the $1.5 trillion tax package, but that is now in doubt as GOP leaders aren’t absolutely sure they’ll have enough votes early next week to pass it. 

Leaders have little room for error. The Christmas recess is fast approaching, and soon they will see their Senate majority fall by one vote because Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama special election on Tuesday. 

Jones could be sworn into office as soon as Dec. 26, though it’s more likely that he will be seated after New Year’s Day. 

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Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Lawmakers worry as 'deepfakes' spread | New intel strategy sees threats from emerging tech | Google fined M under EU data rules | WhatsApp moves to curb misinformation Tlaib: 'Right wing media is now targeting my little sister' Airbnb is doing the Democrats' dirty work MORE (R-Fla.) lobbed a bomb into the final negotiations Thursday by threatening to vote against the bill unless it makes the child tax credit more generous to people who don’t pay income taxes.

"Right now it's only $1,100. It needs to be higher than that," Rubio told reporters, referring to the amount of the credit that is refundable in the Senate-passed tax bill. The amount was indexed to inflation. 

"I understand that this is a process of give and take, especially when there's only a couple of us fighting for it," he said. "Given all the other changes they've made in the tax code leading into it, I can't in good conscience support it unless we are able to increase the refundable portion of it."

Rubio is working with Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back MORE (R-Utah) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottMellman: Lynching and defective representation If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump McConnell rebukes Steve King over white nationalist comments MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the conference committee working on the final tax bill.

Lee’s office says he’s undecided about how to vote, pending the outcome of the child tax credit debate, while Scott said, “I’m certainly interested in seeing it sweeter.”

Making the child tax credit fully refundable would cost $87 billion over 10 years — a significant amount that won’t be easy to pay for. Negotiators are already straining to cover the costs of other fixes, such as lowering the top individual tax rate to 37 percent and allowing people to deduct up to $10,000 for state and local taxes.

It does not appear, however, that the child tax credit will be indexed to inflation in the bill, which means middle-class families would likely see the benefit shrink in future years.

Republican leaders earlier this week said they planned to pass the revised tax bill through the Senate first and then through the House. 

One reason they cited was that it would give them some breathing room in case the Senate parliamentarian ruled against some of the last-minute changes hammered out by negotiators in recent days. 

But a Senate-first approach was thrown into doubt Thursday because of the debate over the child tax credit and the prolonged absence of two senior lawmakers, Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall 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.).

McCain is at Walter Reed Medical Center receiving treatment for the side effects of cancer therapy, while Cochran is recovering from an operation to remove a lesion from his nose. Both of them missed every Senate vote this week. 

A senior GOP aide said leaders can’t be completely sure that McCain will be back, given the severity of his illness, calling his possible absence next week “a serious problem. 

An aide to Cochran said his boss “is in Washington and expects to vote for the tax plan when it comes to the Senate next week.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAs new Congress begins, federal-state connections are as important as ever Trump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters Thursday that he now doesn’t know which chamber will move first on the tax bill, which means it may take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBudowsky: Pelosi can break shutdown stalemate GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight On The Money: Shutdown Day 32 | Senate to vote on dueling funding measures | GOP looks to change narrative | Dems press Trump on recalled workers | Kudlow predicts economy will 'snap back' after shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) more time than expected to line up the votes.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (Texas) confirmed Thursday evening that the timing of the bill is up in the air.

“That’s in some flux,” he said, but added, “In all likelihood, we’ll be voting on Tuesday.”

Cornyn expressed confidence that negotiators would be able to bring Rubio around to voting yes. 

“We’re still working with him and expect to satisfy his concerns,” he said.

Cornyn also voiced confidence in McCain’s return.

“My expectation is he’ll be here. He’s resting up and so we hope to see him then,” he said. 

Republicans control 52 Senate seats and can afford only two defections, as Democrats are expected to vote in unison against the legislation. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence urges Venezuelans to back opposition leader ahead of anti-government protests Mueller coverage keeps missing its mark, as BuzzFeed debacle shows Obama puts out call for service on MLK Day: ‘Make a positive impact on the world’ MORE would break a 50-50 tie.

Pence announced Thursday that he would delay a trip to Israel and Egypt next week in case his vote is needed.

Leaders lost one Republican, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy The Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel MORE (Tenn.), when they first passed the bill through the Senate earlier this month, and he appears unlikely to back the final legislation.

Corker told reporters “the issues I had before are still there,” though he hasn’t ruled out voting for the bill when it comes back to the floor next week.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World MORE (R-Maine), another key swing vote, hasn’t yet committed to voting for the bill. She has expressed concern over the lowering of the top individual rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.

But Collins has won other major concessions, such as the $10,000 deduction for state and local taxes, as well as a promise from Pence and GOP leaders to pass legislation to subsidize insurance companies and set up high-risk insurance pools for sick people.

The various proposals to raise more revenue to offset the cost of tax relief could prove controversial.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney MORE (R-Utah) told The Washington Post Thursday that one option for saving money is to phase out the individual tax cuts in 2024, a year earlier than the original Senate bill envisioned. Other senators denied that the idea is under consideration, however.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE (R-Wis.) said the final bill will set higher tax rates for cash and assets that companies have stashed oversees — 15 percent for cash and 8 percent of other assets, rates higher than were set in the Senate- and House-passed bills. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (R-S.D.) described some of the pay-fors as “a little bit of spinach” for the business community, such as extending the timeline over which companies may write off certain assets.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTexas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law MORE (R-Texas) said members of the conference committee would be able to sign or not sign the group's report on Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon.

He said the bill be posted online for the public later in the day. 

Peter Sullivan contributed.