Senate Republicans pass GOP tax plan, handing Trump legislative victory
The Senate narrowly passed a massive tax overhaul early Saturday morning, putting Republicans on the cusp of revamping the U.S. tax system for the first time in more than three decades.
The 51 to 49 vote came after Senate Republicans frantically rewrote the multi-trillion dollar legislation behind closed doors to win over several final holdouts, and left congressional Republicans just a few steps away from sending legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed its own plan in November.
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Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican to oppose the measure, in what’s also a big victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who repeatedly fell short in his efforts to push through an Obamacare repeal measure this year.
“I think one reason we were able to get there was because there’s widespread interest,” McConnell said in an interview with POLITICO. “Every single member of our conference wanted to get to yes, and all but one did.”
President Donald Trump praised McConnell and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch in a tweet after the bill passed, adding, “We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America.”
McConnell and GOP leaders were able to score the necessary votes on Friday by acceding to demands by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and others for expanded tax breaks for small businesses, homeowners and others. That gave leadership the breathing room to reject conflicting demands by Corker and others to rein in the cost of the plan.
Democrats harshly condemned the legislation and the way it came together.
“Millions of Americans must be watching in stunned disbelief tonight as the Republican Senate betrays the middle class for the benefit of faceless multinational corporations,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, said on the Senate floor shortly before the bill passed.
Democrats also ridiculed the GOP scramble to get the bill passed and the frequent rounds of horse trading required. Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois posted a picture on Twitter that showed hand-scribbled changes on a page from the initial version of the lengthy Republican amendment to the legislation.
“Trying to review the #GOPTaxScam but they are making hand-written changes to brand new text as we speak – can anyone else read this?” Durbin jabbed.
Debate on the legislation spilled past midnight as the Senate debated numerous amendments, including one from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would extend tax-advantaged “529” college saving accounts to public, private and religious K-12 schools. It was adopted on a 51-50 vote after Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie.
The Senate struck a controversial provision from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have exempted Hillsdale College, a prominent conservative institution led by a Heritage Foundation board member, from a controversial new tax on university endowments. The school also has close ties to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
House and Senate Republicans still have to settle the differences between their tax bills before Trump can sign a final bill, which would give the GOP the legislative achievement they’ve sought throughout their first year of regaining full control in Washington.
The House plans to vote Monday to formally set up a conference committee to hash out a final compromise, though some of the changes that Senate Republicans agreed to Friday also brought the two measures closer together.
“Now it’s time to take the best of both the House and Senate bills, make them even stronger in a conference committee, and finalize one piece of legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of Americans for generations to come,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement after the Senate vote.
However, Senate leaders haven’t publicly committed to a formal conference.
Republicans are using powerful budget procedures to evade a Democratic filibuster of the bill, which allowed McConnell to lose up to two GOP votes and still pass the bill. After struggling all week to corral at least 50 votes for the tax measure, Senate GOP leaders ended up appeasing all but Corker.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) won a string of concessions for her vote, including a provision that would allow taxpayers to continue writing off property taxes, albeit with a $10,000 limit, and an expanded deduction for medical costs.