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 RubioSenate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins 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 LeeThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Utah) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTrump helps raise million in first six months of 2021 Senate passes bill to award Congressional Gold Medal to first Black NHL player Scott: 'There is hope' for police reform bill 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 McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future 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 RyanWisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns MORE (R-Ky.) more time than expected to line up the votes.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget 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 HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted 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 JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Ron Johnson praises conservative author bashed by Fauci Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans 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 RoundsMike RoundsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate White House cyber chief backs new federal bureau to track threats Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division 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 BradyRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks Top Democrat offers bill to overhaul tax break for business owners 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.