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Senate panel clears way for vote on $1.4T tax overhaul package

Donald Trump speaks to reporters on Nov. 21,

Donald Trump speaks to reporters on Nov. 21, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Tuesday cleared the way for a full Senate vote on the Republican’s sweeping tax overhaul legislation later this week, but GOP leaders said they’re still negotiating details of the bill to win over wavering members of their party.

The Senate Budget Committee approved without debate the $1.4 trillion tax package in a 12-11 party-line vote, a victory made possible when two Republican panel members who had said they might vote no instead joined the majority to send it to the Senate floor.

The Senate could vote on its version of the tax bill to slash corporate and business taxes and lower the rates for individuals as early as Thursday, bringing President Donald Trump closer to achieving his top priority and first major legislative achievement.

“I think it’s going to pass and it’s going to be very popular,” Trump said after visiting Capitol Hill to rally Senate Republicans to support a tax overhaul.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’s still working to ensure he has the votes of at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans, enough to win passage in the face of solid Democratic opposition and with a tie-breaker from Vice President Mike Pence.

“It’s a challenging exercise, think of sitting there with a Rubik’s cube to get to 50,” McConnell told reporters after Trump’s visitl. “We know we will not be going forward until we get 50 people satisfied.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), whose votes helped sink all versions of the failed Obamacare repeal bills earlier this year, said she won support of the Senate Republican leadership to add the House tax bill measure to allow homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes.

Collins also told Politico she has concerns about adding the repeal of the Obamacare insurance mandate to the tax bill. “If it is going to be included, it’s essential that we mitigate the impact on premiums,” Collins said.

“That includes passing the Alexander-Murray bill [which would continue payments to insurers to keep premiums lower] and also a bill that I have with Bill Nelson that would protect people with pre-existing conditions,” she said, referring to the Democratic Florida senator. And she said she seeks to lower premiums through the use of high risk pools.

McConnell and his leadership team appeared to have begun to win over other Republican senators who have withheld support for the tax bill.

Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tenn.), a Budget Committee member and deficit hawk, has objected to the Senate tax bill’s projected $1.4 trillion deficit over 10 years, which White House officials said would be covered by the economic growth brought by slashing taxes.

But Corker said that Republican leaders had reached an agreement with him on a provision to automatically raise tax revenues if economic growth failed to hit certain targets.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) complain the bill treats corporations more generously with a permanent 20 percent tax rate than small businesses using pass-through entities with a 25 percent tax rate that expires.

Johnson, though, voted for the bill in committee, and Daines told Fox News that it is important to pass a bill to get it on the president’s desk.

House Republicans already have passed their version of the tax overhaul. If Senate Republicans approve their tax legislation this week, the House must either vote for the Senate version or work with the Senate to come up with a compromise version both chambers can approve.

Senate Republicans are using a budget procedure so they can pass the tax overhaul with 51 votes instead of 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster. Republicans in both chambers excluded Democrats from the writing of their legislation.

More than a dozen of self-described “moderate Democrats,” meanwhile, held a news conference Tuesday to urge Republicans to defeat the tax legislation so a bipartisan effort could rewrite it to help the middle class. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who led the group, promising such a bill would pass with more than 51 votes. “We can get you to 70.”

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