WASHINGTON — The Senate began debate on Republican legislation to slash corporate taxes and lower small business and individual rates Wednesday evening, with plans for a final vote by the end of this week, a big step toward achieving President Donald Trump’s top priority.
The Senate began debate on the $1.4 trillion tax package after Senate Republican leaders succeeded in rounding up support among all of their wavering members for a 52-48 vote to move the bill ahead. The vote broke along party lines, with all Democrats opposed.
Trump tweeted before the vote: “This week, the Senate can join the House & take a strong stand for the Middle Class families who are the backbone of America. Together, we will give the American people a big, beautiful Christmas present-a massive tax cut that lets Americans keep more of their HARD-EARNED MONEY!”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his leadership team, offering fixes and home-state perks to the tax package, had leaned on about a half of dozen of their members who could have derailed the fast track-track consideration of the bill.
Changes suggested for the bill include triggers to raise taxes if the economy doesn’t grow enough to cover deficits; an increase of the corporate tax rate to 22 percent from the current plan’s 20 percent, to pay for refundable child tax credits or state and local tax deductions; and a lower tax on small business.
The potential Republican holdouts who in the end voted to move ahead with the debate included Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Steve Daines of Montana; Bob Corker of Tennessee; Jeff Flake and John McCain, both of Arizona; and Susan Collins of Maine, who helped block Obamacare repeal efforts earlier this year.
Democrats complained that they would be debating a legislative package filled with unknown new and omitted measures negotiated by McConnell and his team.
“I haven’t actually seen the text of the bill we will actually be debating,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, shortly before the vote. “The bill seems to have changed practically every half-hour.”
After the procedural vote, Wyden’s call for a vote to send the tax legislation to the Senate Finance Committee for three days of deliberations led to a two-hour debate and an expected defeat of the motion by the Republican majority.
If the Senate approves its tax bill on Thursday or Friday, the House either could approve that version or send the Senate bill and its own version, passed earlier this fall, to a conference of members from both chambers to reconcile the differences. That compromise legislation then would be voted on by the House and then the Senate.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned there might be a late Friday vote.
McConnell opened the Senate workday with a simple command to his caucus to vote to begin debate by saying, “It’s time for us to deliver.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Republicans to vote against starting debate on a bill that their leaders are still reworking, and he invited them instead to work on a bipartisan bill that he said could win 60 to 70 votes, rather than a bare simple majority.
“We’re are one day away, unfortunately, from a final vote on the bill to rewrite the entire U.S. tax code, and significant parts of the Republican bill are still up in the air,” Schumer said. “By the time of the vote, no one will have a definitive analysis of how the bill would impact the economy.”
Schumer and Democrats said studies by the Tax Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimate the bill will raise taxes on 60 percent of the middle class and increase the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years, not $1.4 trillion as the Republicans say.
McConnell and Republicans say the deep cuts in corporate tax rates on local and overseas profits, as well as lower rates for small businesses and individuals, will rev up the U.S. economic engine enough to cover the deficit and create bigger paychecks for all.