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Johnson says he will not support tax-reform bill

Johnson says he will not support tax-reform bill
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (Wis.) on Wednesday said he would oppose the Senate GOP’s tax package, becoming the first Republican senator to stand against the top legislative priority for his party.

Johnson said he couldn’t back the bill unless it was changed to help “pass-through” businesses that he said take a backseat to corporations in the measure as written.

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“These businesses truly are the engines of innovation and job creation throughout our economy, and they should not be left behind,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate bill provide fair treatment, so I do not support either in their current versions.”

Johnson has long argued that pass-through businesses would be treated less favorably than corporations under the GOP tax bills. Pass-through businesses have their income taxed through the individual income tax rates, rather than paying the corporate rate. 

A GOP tax framework this fall would have included a maximum 25 percent tax on pass-through businesses, but that was not included in the Senate bill.

Despite Johnson’s statement, Republicans generally appeared to have momentum on the tax bill.

The House seems set to approve its tax-reform measure on Thursday, while Senate Republicans were coalescing around their new bill, which now includes the controversial repeal of ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins'Suspicious letter' mailed to Maine home of Susan Collins The Kavanaugh debate was destructive tribalism on steroids: Here’s how we can stop it from happening again Conservative group launches ad campaign thanking Collins after Kavanaugh vote MORE (R-Maine) is the only GOP senator publicly voicing concerns about the individual mandate provision, saying it was a “mistake” to mix the issues of tax reform and health care. 

“This is going to be difficult, and I just don’t know why they had to complicate it by bringing up the [Affordable Care Act],” Collins said.

She didn’t say she would vote against the package, however, and even if she does, Republicans could still clear the package through the Senate if they can keep the number of defections to two and have Vice President Pence to break a tie.

Johnson’s support also does not appear unattainable.

The Wisconsin senator previously announced opposition to the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill earlier this year before voting with his party in a series of votes, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) appeared confident he could be reeled in.

“Good news: Senator Johnson will work with colleagues with a goal of improving the bill to a form he can support,” he said on Twitter, reacting to Johnson’s statement.

Two other Republicans to watch are Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLive coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEx-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Flake on Kavanaugh confirmation: To see GOP 'spiking the ball in the end zone' doesn't seem right MORE (Alaska), who were both no votes in July on ObamaCare repeal.

“I want to see the whole package before I decide,” McCain said repeatedly on Wednesday.

Murkowski said she was busy with legislation to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and has yet to focus on the tax bill.

The Alaskan senator might be less likely to vote against the tax bill given its link to drilling in ANWR, a top priority for Murkowski. The GOP budget asked the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Murkwoski, to find $1 billion in revenue to help pay for tax reform. The Congressional Budget Office says ANWR will bring in $1 billion, so it’s possible it could be added into tax reform to meet the $1 billion mark. 

Democrats ripped Republicans over the decision to inject the mandate issue into the tax fight on day three of the Senate Finance Committee markup of the bill.

“This tax bill is now officially a health-care bill,” said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug On The Money: Jobless rate hits 49-year low | Officials face legal obstacles to pursuing tax charges against Trump | Tax story prompts calls to revise estate rules MORE (Ore.), the panel’s ranking Democrat.

Throughout the markup, Democrats repeatedly cited an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finding that repealing the mandate would increase the number of people without health insurance by 13 million in 2027 and increase average premiums by about 10 percent in most years compared to baseline projections.

Collins told reporters that she presented data to her GOP colleagues on Wednesday that shows that some middle-income individuals and families would see insurance premium spikes from the mandate’s repeal that would be greater than the value of their tax cuts.

It appeared the Collins argument held little sway with her GOP colleagues, however, who are instead suggesting that separate legislation from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: House passes funding bill | Congress gets deal on opioids package | 80K people died in US from flu last winter Wilkie vows no 'inappropriate influence' at VA Dems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers MORE (D-Wash.) meant to stabilize insurance markets could counteract negative effects of repealing the mandate. That bill would provide payments to insurers to help them provide subsidies for people on ObamaCare, but would also give states more freedom to change insurer requirements under the law.

Democrats, however, said they would not support the bill anymore if it is paired with legislation to repeal the mandate.

“Republican[s] cannot expect to pass their own separate ideological health-care provision and then turn around and ask Democrats to vote to pass Alexander-Murray,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFive takeaways from the final Tennessee Senate debate Schumer rips Trump 'Medicare for all' op-ed as 'smears and sabotage' GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech.

Republicans said repealing the individual mandate would provide tax relief to the middle class, pointing to IRS data that shows most people paying the penalty for not buying insurance are low- and middle-income taxpayers.

“This tax is one of the most regressive taxes in the entire Internal Revenue Code,” Hatch said.

In addition to blasting Republicans for repealing the individual mandate, Democrats also attacked the modified bill for sunsetting the tax cuts for individuals after 2025 while making the cut to the corporate tax rate permanent.

“Bottom line, my colleagues on the other side have now shown their hand. The corporate handouts are permanent, the family breaks aren’t. In fact, they don’t even make it a full decade,” Wyden said.

Hatch made the individual tax credits temporary because of the “Byrd rule” that the bill needs to follow in order to pass on the Senate floor with only a simple majority. Under the Byrd rule, the bill can’t increase the deficit outside of the 10-year budget window.

Hatch said that if Democrats don’t like the temporary nature of the individual tax cuts, they could waive the budget rule on the Senate floor and “they likely won’t get much resistance from the Republican side.”

The modified bill also lowers some of the tax brackets and expands an existing child tax credit. The latter change won the support of Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDating app for Trump supporters leaked its users data on launch day: report Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (R-Fla.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah) as Republicans seek a path to 51 votes.