After winning full House approval of a GOP tax reform measure, Republicans on Thursday night took another step forward in their quest for sweeping changes to the federal tax code, as the Senate Finance Committee approved a slightly different tax reform bill, setting up a debate on the Senate floor following a Thanksgiving break in Congress.
“This is a good bill that delivers on our promise to provide middle class tax relief and grow our economy,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), after his panel finished up an at times chippy four days of work.
The 14-12 vote in Hatch’s Senate Finance Committee came nine hours after the House had voted along party lines to approve a Republican tax reform package, as GOP lawmakers cheered when they reached a majority.
“We voted to cut your taxes, because it’s time that the hardworking people of this country get a break,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Ryan and his top lieutenants were able to keep the tax bill moving by convincing some GOP lawmakers to vote for the bill, even though they had concerns about the details of the measure.
“This is not the bill I would have written,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), “but the cuts in this bill are very broad, and the substantial reduction in the complexity of the tax code will benefit even those who do not see direct cuts to their income taxes.”
In fact, during two days of debate on the House floor, a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – publicly took time to express their hope that a variety of provisions would be changed in the measure.
The biggest flashpoint in the House for Republicans remains the changes that block most state and local tax deductions, which drew sharp opposition from GOP lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and California.
“Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 was progress, but not enough progress,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who voted against the bill.
“This fight is not over,” Zeldin added.
Next stop for tax reform will be the Senate floor, where the magic legislative formula may prove a bit trickier for GOP leaders, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party’s plan “will bring lasting relief to middle-class families, small businesses and American workers.”
“When the Senate returns after Thanksgiving, I will bring this must-pass legislation to the floor for further debate and open consideration,” McConnell added.
But like an earlier debate over health care, McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes, and already there are rumblings from more than that, like from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is demanding changes on how small business and pass through businesses are impacted by tax reform.
“People realize we have a problem here,” Johnson told reporters, saying he’s been getting a lot of people telling him, “stand firm, you are absolutely right” on helping small business.
“Not necessarily what I was expecting,” Johnson admitted with a smile.
Other Republicans on the bubble on tax reform include Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who blocked health care reform earlier this year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted against that health care plan as well. Also, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who publicly rebuked President Trump in recent weeks.
If the GOP tax reform bill is going to be changed at all, it will have to come from within Republican ranks in the Senate, leaving Democrats stewing on the sidelines.
“The public always knows that when the Republicans are in power, the first thing they want to do is give tax cuts to the rich,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who got into a late night spat with the Senate Finance Committee chairman.
“This is such a scam,” said Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO), as Democrats could only express their frustrations, unable to stop the GOP tax effort.
Adding to the aggravation of Democrats is the inclusion of a provision in the Senate bill that would repeal the tax penalty from the individual mandate under the Obama health law.
In a speech on Thursday night to tax group, Vice President Mike Pence made clear the White House wants that provision in a final bill.
“Repealing the individual mandate tax at the heart of Obamacare is a tax cut for millions of hard working Americans,” the Vice President said.