Republican Senators Pass Tax Bill
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Congressional Republicans are a step closer to passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut. The Senate passed its version overnight with all but one of 52 Republican senators voting yes. Republican leaders now hope to harmonize that Senate bill with the House version then bring it to the president for signature. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.
Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.
SIMON: I have to ask first - this is an almost 500-page bill that wasn't ready until a couple of hours before they voted. Did senators read it?
HORSLEY: (Laughter) I can tell you our Hill colleague Kelsey Snell was making a heroic effort to read it. She's got a great summary at npr.org, which is time-stamped several hours after the vote - 1:49 a.m. I don't know if the lawmakers got through it. We're all going to be digging into the weeds.
SIMON: There were some senators who complained. There were a lot of senators who complained they couldn't - didn't have a chance to read it.
HORSLEY: That's right, although Republican leader Mitch McConnell says you complain about the process when you don't have the votes.
SIMON: And what sort of accommodations did he make to get this bill done?
HORSLEY: There were a number. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin had been concerned that so-called pass-through businesses were not getting enough in the tax cuts, so that was sweetened. Susan Collins of Maine was won over with the addition of a tax deduction for local property taxes. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona set aside his concerns about the trillion dollars in red ink in this bill in exchange for a rather vague assurance that something will be done on DACA - that some kind of relief will be offered for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.
SIMON: And with the exception of the no vote from Senator Corker of Tennessee - we'll note for the umpteenth time is not up for re-election - this was a vote that was strictly along party lines. Why no bipartisan interchange, as there so often is on tax bills?
HORSLEY: Well, the Democrats don't like this for a number of reasons - one, that it balloons the deficit. Even though there were assurances from the GOP that these tax cuts would pay for themselves, the congressional scorekeepers say that's not the case. Many Democrats were warning on the Senate floor that the GOP will use rising deficits as an excuse to call for cuts to popular entitlement programs. The other big complaint from Democrats, though, is that even though it was marketed as a middle-class tax cut, most of the savings actually go to people at the top of the income ladder. That's especially true in the later years because while the individual tax cuts in the bill are temporary, the corporate tax cuts are permanent. And the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates, by 2027, more than 60 percent of the savings go to the upper 1 percent - that is people making more than $900,000.
SIMON: And what are the differences between the House and Senate versions that would have to be worked out if a tax bill actually goes to the president's desk for signature?
HORSLEY: Well, that is going to be a project in the coming days. Most of the last-minute jockeying on the Senate side moved the Senate bill closer to the House version. For example, Republicans did not include the kind of automatic deficit trigger that Senator Corker was pushing for that might have been a deal-breaker in the House. The Senate bill takes a whack at Obamacare. It does away with the penalty for people who don't buy health insurance. That probably won't be a hard sell in the House. Assuming that provision survives, by the way, congressional forecasters say it would boost Obamacare premiums by about 10 percent and leave 13 million more Americans without health insurance.
Another thing that people might want to pay attention to in the coming days as this harmonization process takes place - if you live in a pricey housing market, the House bill cuts the deduction for mortgage interest - caps it at half a million dollars. The Senate bill leaves that untouched. So that is a possible difference that people might want to pay attention to.
SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much for being with us and covering this story at all hours. We're grateful.
HORSLEY: (Laughter) Good to be with you.
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