Huge tax bill heads for passage as GOP senators fall in line

WASHINGTON — After weeks of quarrels, qualms and then eleventh-hour horse-trading, Republicans revealed their huge national tax rewrite late Friday — along with announcements of support that all but guarantee approval next week in time to give President Donald Trump the Christmas legislative triumph he’s been aching for.

The legislation would slash tax rates for big business and lower levies on the richest Americans in a massive $1.5 trillion bill that the GOP plans to muscle through Congress before its year-end break. Benefits for most other taxpayers would be smaller.

“This is happening. Tax reform under Republican control of Washington is happening,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told rank-and-file members in a conference call. “Most critics out there didn’t think it could happen. … And now we’re on the doorstep of something truly historic.”

According to the 1,097-page bill released late Friday, today’s 35 percent rate on corporations would fall to 21 percent, the crown jewel of the measure for many Republicans. Trump and GOP leaders had set 20 percent as their goal, but added a point to free money for other tax cuts that won over wavering lawmakers in final talks.

The legislation represents the first major legislative achievement for the GOP after nearly a full year in control of Congress and the White House. It’s the widest-ranging reshaping of the tax code in three decades and is expected to add to the nation’s $20 trillion debt. The debt is expected to soar by at least $1 trillion more than it would without the tax measure, according to projections.

Support is now expected from all Senate Republicans, ensuring narrow approval. Democrats are expected to oppose the legislation unanimously.

“Under this bill, the working class, middle class and upper middle class get skewered while the rich and wealthy corporations make out like bandits,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “It is just the opposite of what America needs, and Republicans will rue the day they pass this.”

The bill would drop today’s 39.6 percent top rate on individuals to 37 percent. The standard deduction — used by around two-thirds of households — would be nearly doubled.

Those who itemize their taxes face mixed results. The $1,000 per child tax deduction would grow to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families who owe little or no taxes.

But the deduction that millions use in connection with state and local income, property and sales taxes would be capped at $10,000. Deductions for medical expenses that lawmakers once considered eliminating would be retained.

Only on Friday did Republicans cement support for the major overhaul, securing endorsements from wavering senators.

Marco Rubio of Florida relented in his high-profile opposition after negotiators expanded the child tax credit, and he said he would vote for the measure next week.

Rubio had been holding out for a bigger child tax credit for low-income families. After he got it, he tweeted that the change was “a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker.”

The tax package would double the basic per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill makes a smaller amount available to families even if they owe no income tax. That amount was increased to $1,400 from the $1,100 level of an earlier version of the bill.

Low-income taxpayers would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it’s called a “refundable” tax credit.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the only Republican to vote against the Senate version earlier this month, made the surprise announcement that he would back the legislation. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has repeatedly warned that the nation’s growing debt is the most serious threat to national security.

Although he deemed the bill far from perfect, he said it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make,” Corker said.

Members of a House-Senate conference committee signed the final version of the legislation Friday, sending it to the two chambers for final passage next week. They have been working to blend the different versions passed by the two houses.

Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, including two ailing senators who have missed votes this past week.

John McCain of Arizona, who is 81, is at a Washington-area military hospital being treated for the side effects of brain cancer treatment, and 80-year-old Thad Cochran of Mississippi had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. GOP leaders are hopeful they will be available next week.

 

 

 

Already, Republicans were expected to repeal the individual mandate — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — to help finance the bill. And, Republicans had agreed to settle on a slightly higher corporate tax rate than their originally desired 20% rate. The Senate bill also sunset the individual tax cuts after just a few years, but lawmakers wouldn’t say if the individual tax breaks could potentially sunset even sooner in the final bill.

The legislation represents the first major legislative achievement for the GOP after nearly a full year in control of Congress and the White House. It’s the widest-ranging reshaping of the tax code in three decades and is expected to add to the nation’s $20 trillion debt. The debt is expected to soar by at least $1 trillion more than it would without the tax measure, according to projections.

Count commuters among the losers in the Republican tax bill.

The final bill agreed to by Republican negotiators and released late Friday eliminates the tax incentive for private employers that subsidize their employees’ transit, parking and bicycle commuting expenses.

Companies currently can provide parking or transit passes worth up to $255 a month to employees as a benefit to help pay for their commuting expenses, then deduct the costs from their corporate taxes.

Businesses would no longer be able write off $20 a month per employee to cover the expense of commuting by bicycle.

 

The tax bill barreling toward a final vote in Congress guts the most unpopular “Obamacare” provision, its requirement that virtually all Americans carry health insurance or face fines.

Politically, the move is a winner for Republicans, who otherwise would have little to show for seven years of rhetoric and repeated legislative efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act.

But if estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are right, it will lead to more uninsured people and higher premiums for those buying individual health insurance policies.

Congress may then find itself considering other ways to nudge people to get health insurance.

Other popular parts of the Affordable Care Act would remain in place, including subsidized premiums, “essential” benefits and protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

 

The tax bill would open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, a longtime Republican priority that most Democrats fiercely oppose.

The 19.6-million-acre refuge in northeastern Alaska is one of the most pristine areas in the United States and is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans say drilling can be done safely with new technology, while ensuring a steady energy supply for West Coast refineries.

Democrats and environmental groups say the GOP plan risks spoiling one of the nation’s most pristine areas and is especially unwise at a time when U.S. oil production is booming, with imports declining and exports reaching record levels.