Senate passes tax bill, pushing it closer to Trump's desk

The Senate approved the Republican tax-cut bill in a 51-48 vote on Wednesday morning, inching closer to finishing off the first major legislative victory of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE’s tenure.

The party-line Senate vote came hours after the House on Tuesday approved the sweeping legislation in a 227-203 vote.

The Senate vote was briefly interrupted by protesters, who were removed from the Senate chamber after yelling at senators from the gallery, including chants of "kill the bill, don't kill us" and "you're fired."

One protester specifically called out Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Trump asserts his power over Republicans 'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? MORE (R-Ariz.), urging him to save the Affordable Care Act. 

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Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner Mnuchin The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Association of American Railroads Ian Jefferies says no place for hate, racism or bigotry in rail industry or society; Trump declares victory in response to promising jobs report Trump signs bill giving businesses more time to spend coronavirus loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million MORE was also on the Senate floor during the vote, with several GOP senators going up to talk with him and shake his hand.

But the House will have to vote again on Wednesday to get the bill to the White House because of a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian that two provisions in the House-passed bill didn't comply with budget rules that Republicans are using to prevent Democrats from mounting a filibuster.

The eleventh hour procedural snag amounted to a small win for Democrats on a day when Republicans were winning the war over the tax legislation, which would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday hailed the legislation as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

“[It will] deliver historic tax relief to American families. It will help put our country on a trajectory toward more innovation and better paying jobs. It will repeal an unfair tax at the center of ObamaCare and will help America achieve greater energy security,” he said.

Final passage on Wednesday would amount to an early Christmas present for Trump after an often frustrating year for Republicans on Capitol Hill, who repeatedly fell short in their goal of repealing ObamaCare.

The tax-cut bill, however, does much to assuage the bruised feelings of Republicans. Besides resetting the tax code, the bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and repeal the individual mandate to buy insurance under ObamaCare — a significant achievement for Trump.

The legislation caps off months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and public haggling as Republicans sought to enact major policy changes that the party has been seeking for years.

The bill would temporarily lower rates for individuals and families. It would also reduce tax breaks important to states and cities with higher taxes by placing a $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction.

Most of the bill's changes for individuals expire in 2025, though Republicans have predicted that lawmakers in the future will extend them — a move that would likely spike the cost of the legislation.

The Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official scorekeeper, estimated that the tax plan will add nearly $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. The committee has estimated that previous versions of the bill would cost about $1 trillion when economic growth is taken into account.

Republicans dispute those estimates, predicting the costs of the bill are overstated.

They argue the bill will boost an already healthy economy, leading to new investments by U.S. companies and preventing jobs from being outsourced to other countries.

But Republicans have struggled to beat back perceptions that their proposal primarily benefits corporations and the wealthy. 

A CNN poll released Tuesday found that 55 percent of respondents opposed the GOP tax plan, and two-thirds believe it will benefit the wealthy more than the middle class. A separate Wall Street Journal–NBC News poll found that 41 percent of Americans think the plan is a bad idea, an uptick from 35 percent in October.

McConnell, asked about poor polling, said Republicans were “just beginning to make the argument to the American people.”

“Look at the stock market, look at the optimism. I think the American people are going to be able — are going to begin to feel that the country is moving again after eight years of relative stagnation,” he told reporters.

But Republicans were repeatedly interrupted by protesters throughout Tuesday as they tried to tout the benefits of their legislation.

One woman interrupted House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTwitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-Wis.) as he delivered a congratulatory floor speech in support of the legislation. As Ryan declared, “Today, we are giving the people of this country their money back,” a woman shouted, “You’re lying!”

Democrats have lambasted the bill for weeks, arguing it's tilted toward corporations and the wealthy, rather than the middle class.

"What has been sold as a middle-class miracle will instead deliver a hefty windfall to the wealthy and only [a] paltry temporary leap for some in the middle class. Others will see an increase right from the get go," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary GOP lawmaker calls on Senate to confirm Michael Pack as head of US media agency McConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters MORE (D-N.Y.) said minutes before the Senate started voting on Wednesday morning. 

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCBO releases analysis on extending increased unemployment benefits Overnight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, also hit back at the GOP charge that his caucus didn’t want to participate in the tax bill, saying Democrats “believe the tax code is a rotting mess and has to be fixed.”

“[But this] bill was written in the shadows, written in the dark,” Wyden said.

The items struck from the House-passed bill were described by a spokesperson for the House Ways and Means Committee as “minor provisions."

One is tied to 529 savings accounts for home-schooling expenses pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The Texas senator took a swing at Democrats ahead of the vote to strike his provision, as well as the other pieces that violated the Senate rules. 
 
"What every Democrat is standing up to do right now is saying, 'We're going to discriminate against home-schoolers. We're going to cut you out.' Why? Because the Democratic Party can't stand the audacity of a parent who would take it upon himself or herself to educate their child free of centralized control," Cruz said from the Senate floor. 

The second concerns an exemption included in the tax bill that would allow universities with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students not to pay the endowment excise tax. 

Wyden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs order removing environmental reviews for major projects | New Trump air rule will limit future pollution regulations, critics say | DNC climate group calls for larger federal investment on climate than Biden plan Google: Chinese and Iranian hackers targeting Biden, Trump campaigns MORE (I-Vt.) seized on the ruling immediately, saying Republicans in a "mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors" had run afoul of the chamber's rules.

"Instead of providing tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations, we need to rebuild the disappearing middle class," they said in a joint statement.

Naomi Jagoda contributed