Legislation

Senate Republicans pass sweeping overhaul of US tax code

Senate Republicans have passed the most sweeping overhaul of the US tax code in three decades, a significant step that moves Donald Trump closer to achieving the first major legislative victory of his presidency.

The Senate passed their tax plan in a 51-49 vote early Saturday morning after a frantic rewrite of the legislation. Senator Bob Corker was the sole Republican to vote against the bill, which would bestow huge benefits on US corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

The House of Representatives passed its own tax reform bill last month and now a final bill will be passed to Trump.

“We think this is a great day for the country,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, at a celebratory press conference after the vote.

The vote marked a significant feat for Republicans, who suffered a series of embarrassing blows earlier this year by failing on multiple occasions to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act amid opposition within their own party. Trump and Republicans in Washington subsequently staked their political fortunes on the hope that tax reform would not suffer the same fate as healthcare.

House speaker Paul Ryan said: “For the first time since 1986, both the House and the Senate have passed a major overhaul of our nation’s tax code. Now we will move quickly to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to President Trump’s desk.”

The rush to pass the bill before the end of the week sparked outcry from Democrats, who said it would be impossible to fully digest the legislation before voting began.

Lawmakers receieved the nearly 500-page bill, some of it handwritten, hours before they voted on the sprawling tax plan that will affect nearly every US business and taxpayer.

“I defy any member of the Senate to stand here, take an oath that they have read this and understand what in the world it means to businesses and families and individuals,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the minority whip from Illinois, holding up page notes scribbled in the margin.

After closing debate, the Senate began the tedious process of a vote-a-rama, in which senators can offer an endless series of amendments. At midnight, vice-president Mike Pence arrived in the chamber to break a tie on an amendment offered by senator Ted Cruz that allows parents to start savings accounts to fund tuition at private and religious K-12 schools known as 529 plans. The provision prevailed.

Earlier on Friday, McConnell emerged, smiling, from a meeting with colleagues, to announce that his party had secured the votes necessary to pass the legislation.

“We have the votes,” McConnell told reporters on his way to the Senate floor. He said a final vote was expected later in the day.

The House of Representatives passed its own tax reform legislation earlier this month. When the Senate passes its version, the two bills will be reconciled, presenting further hurdles in the coming weeks.

Republicans have contended the $1.4tn package of tax cuts enclosed in their plan would in effect pay for itself through growth. That belief, however, was complicated by a series of independent projections that found it would not.

The nonpartisan joint committee on taxation projected that the plan would add $1tn to the federal deficit over the next 10 years – even after factoring in the economic growth the bill is projected to generate. And on Friday, The independent Tax Policy Center released similar findings, predicting that the Senate bill would add $1.2tn to the federal deficit over the next decade after accounting for increased economic growth.

McConnell parried criticism that the bill would not offset the costs, predicting that the plan would produce much larger growth than the analyses have found.

“I’m totally confident this is a revenue-neutral bill,” McConnell told reporters. “I think this will be a revenue producer.”

Senate Republicans are using a vehicle known as “budget reconciliation” to pass the tax plan using a simple-majority vote, leaving them room for only two defections. Faced with competing concerns, leadership spent the night locked in negotiations with members over the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit, healthcare and certain businesses.

On Friday morning, Senate Republicans regained momentum after three key holdouts announced their support for the tax overhaul in exchange for a series of changes to the legislation. Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said she would vote in favor of the legislation, ensuring that Pence would not be needed to break a tie.

Republican senators Corker and Jeff Flake had sought to extract an agreement that would scale back some of the tax cuts in the event the economic growth projections were not met. On Thursday, they unexpectedly held court on the Senate floor, after learning that a mechanism they created to limit the impact on the national debt was not compliant with the Senate’s budget rules. The tense show-down led Republicans scrambling to find a way to offset the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars.

But ultimately, the plans were rejected by Senate leadership, Cruz told reporters, after he and a number of others objected.

“That proposal did not carry the day,” Cruz said. “Those $350bn in tax increases are not in the bill … and larding the bill up with new tax increases would have been going the wrong direction.”

Flake on Friday announced that he would support the bill despite his concerns, saying in a statement that he had secured two priorities: the elimination of an $85bn “expensing budget gimmick” and a “firm commitment” from the leadership and administration that Congress would enact permanent protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Meanwhile, Corker said he would not support the plan.

“This is yet another tough vote,” Corker said in a statement.

“But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations,” he added.

Key to winning over the Republican senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana was an agreement to expand tax cuts for millions of businesses known as “pass-through entities”. The plan will now allow owners of these companies to deduct 23% of their business income, up 17.4%.

Democrats, who were excluded from the process of drafting the tax plan, have remained united in their opposition, attacking the legislation as a giveaway to corporate America and the wealthy.

“In the waning hours, this bill is tilting further towards businesses and away from families,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, in a floor speech on Friday. “Every time the choice is between corporations and families, the Republicans choose corporations.”

Trump has called for a tax bill to reach his desk by the end of the year, vowing to deliver a “big, beautiful Christmas present” to Americans.

“A vote to cut taxes is a vote to put America first again. We want to do that,” Trump said on Wednesday.


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