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Senate hits speed bump on $1.4T Republican tax package

If it is approved, it still would have to got to a conference committee to work out differences with the House bill.

Demonstrators protest against the Republican tax overhaul bill

Demonstrators protest against the Republican tax overhaul bill outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — The Senate Republicans’ fast-track process for passing their tax-cut bill hit a speed bump Thursday evening when they were forced to scramble to draft new measures to address the bill’s large projected deficit to satisfy a key member.

The setback occurred after a congressional report said economic growth would cover only a third of the projected $1.4 trillion deficit, and a trigger proposed to cover that extra cost was ruled out by the Senate parliamentarian.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the trigger’s sponsor, joined with Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in threatening to vote with Democrats to send the bill back to the Finance Committee. But after a dramatic hour of discussion on the Senate floor, all three voted with their party against that move.

As Republicans discussed other ways to cover the deficit over the next decade if the economy does not grow fast enough to cover it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) postponed the votes on motions and amendments until Friday morning.

Republican leaders worked to make certain that they have the necessary votes from their caucus to pass the bill.

The growing confidence GOP leaders expressed dimmed somewhat Thursday afternoon, after the Joint Committee on Taxation reported that economic growth would pay for less than a third of the tax cut’s $1.4 trillion deficit — not the full amount as Republicans had promised.

Earlier in the day, McConnell welcomed support for the bill by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the two Republicans who joined Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in sinking the Obamacare repeals earlier this year.

“We’re going down the homestretch headed toward the finish line either late tonight or early tomorrow,” said McConnell at a morning news conference. “We’re on the cusp of a great victory for the country.”

Democrats called the bill a giveaway to the rich, offered to work with Republicans on a bipartisan overhaul, and stressed the deficit created by the tax cuts. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Republicans would later demand cuts in Social Security and Medicare to cover that debt.

“The facts are now in. The Republican plan loses $1 trillion,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Finance Committee Democrat. “It is the total opposite of what was promised.”

Republicans are operating under a budget procedure that allows them to pass the bill with simple majority, and avoid a Democratic filibuster that requires a bipartisan 60 votes to end. But that means they can lose only two of their 52 members, with the vice president breaking the tie.

Throughout the day, the Republican majority beat back a series of motions by Democrats to send the legislation back to the Senate Finance Committee for further review, in a bid to end the Republicans’ fast-track reconciliation process.

Some Republican senators argued that the bill’s reduction of the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, from the current 35 percent, should be raised to 21 percent or 22 percent to allow other deductions that would help more lower- and middle-income families.

Collins told reporters Thursday that her vote would depend on whether the Senate majority supports four proposed amendments, including matching the House tax bill’s measure to allow filers to deduct up to $10,000 of their property taxes.

The Senate bill does not allow any deductions for state and local taxes, a deal breaker for some House Republicans, including both from Long Island.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have an amendment that would make the child tax credit refundable, meaning that people who pay little or no taxes would actually get tax refunds. Collins proposed to make it for children and dependent adults.

If the Republican majority passes the Senate version of the tax bill, that legislation will be sent back to the House.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent out a notice to all House members that he has scheduled a vote for Monday evening to create a conference committee to work out the differences between the Senate bill and the package the House passed on Nov. 16.

McConnell’s office confirmed that they expect to work out remaining issues in that committee.

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