Senate GOP gets breathing room as tax plan advances

 In Politics

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pictured. | Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders talk with reporters Tuesday. Republicans in the Senate are hoping to pass their tax cut legislation this week. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican senators were scrambling to negotiate changes to the tax legislation ahead of key committee and floor votes later this week.


Senate Republicans got some sorely needed momentum behind their tax overhaul Tuesday as key GOP swing votes inched closer to backing the legislation — after Senate leaders launched a frenzied round of negotiations to convince the holdouts.

The Senate Budget Committee voted to advance the GOP tax reform bill on Tuesday on a party-line vote, with both Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) backing the measure a day after threatening to withhold their support. That critical vote came after President Donald Trump came to Capitol Hill to rally the troops in the tax battle.

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Johnson voted for the tax bill after a back-and-forth with Trump during the lunch, according to multiple sources, over the Wisconsin Republican’s main concern: that the current proposal gives more benefits to corporations than to businesses that pay taxes through the individual system.

At one point, Johnson — who has persistently pressed his case for so-called pass-throughs to other senators — said jokingly that no one grandstands better than him, according to one senator who attended the lunch.

Corker, one of the fiscal hawks concerned about the deficit impact of tax cuts, said he was satisfied with details for a “trigger” to reverse tax cuts if economic growth fell short of projections in years to come. He expects details to be released Thursday.

“I’ve got details but I want to get it all sort of put to bed,” before disclosing them, he told reporters. “It’s an agreement in principle, a very strong agreement, with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, with [the] Finance Committee, and of course the White House has been in the midst of all this too.”

The agreement was primarily brokered between Corker and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, according to one GOP source. The two key lawmakers struck an agreement in September on the overall price tag of $$1.5 trillion for the Senate plan.

Corker has also been working on the trigger idea with Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Corker said he believes there is a viable workaround if a trigger violates budget rules of the Senate that Republicans plan to use to pass their tax bill along party lines.

The Budget Committee vote became even more dramatic after Capitol Police were forced to escort multiple protesters out of the room. Chants of “kill the bill, don’t kill us” repeatedly disrupted the panel’s proceeding.

Despite Tuesday’s developments, Senate Republicans have a way to go before locking down at least 50 votes in favor of the tax bill. The GOP has not formally unveiled changes that would appease the likes of Corker, Flake and Lankford, as well as Johnson.

Several other Republican senators remain wild cards as the chamber races to a vote by the end of the week.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, members of his leadership team, and key Senate Finance Committee Republicans met with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) — who, like Johnson, has concerns about the bill’s treatment of so-called pass-through businesses.

“It’s a challenging exercise,” McConnell said Tuesday. “Think of sitting there with a Rubik’s Cube trying to get to 50.”

Another critical Republican swing vote — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — is seeking several provisions before she is willing to endorse the tax bill, including passage of separate legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets.

The tax bill includes a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate that everyone carry health insurance, and Collins told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Trump committed to backing a stabilization measure from Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as well as a bill from her and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to protect pre-existing conditions and use high-risk pools.

The commitments from the president came in a separate meeting with Collins, Alexander and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Collins said.

“I think they’re eager to help me get to ‘yes,’” she said.

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