- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday that he will vote against the Republicans’ tax cut bill as it stands, threatening to undercut Republicans and deal a major blow to President Trump, his opponent in the presidential primary race last year.

Mr. Rubio, who represents Florida, said he can’t support the bill without a bigger tax break for poor families with children. Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, also indicated through a spokesman that he may withhold his vote without a bigger child tax credit.

“No” votes from the two lawmakers and from Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who already voted against the Senate-passed plan, would be enough to doom the bill.

A day earlier, Mr. Trump and other party leaders expressed confidence that Republicans would win their top legislative priority with a vote by Christmas.

Mr. Rubio said fellow Republicans have found ways to take care of other priorities and it’s now his turn to make demands.

“Tax negotiators didn’t have much trouble finding a way to lower the top tax bracket and to start the corporate tax cut a year early,” he said on Twitter. “Adding at least a few hundred $’s in refundable cuts for working families who seem to always be forgotten isn’t hard to do either.”

Republican leaders thought they had reached a final agreement Wednesday, though they have yet to release the full plan to the public.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and Congress’ chief tax-writer, praised Mr. Rubio for his passion but said it’s a bit late to be pushing for major changes.

“We’re at 11:59 on the clock, and really the pens ought to be down,” Mr. Brady told CNN. “I don’t know exactly where the Senate’s working on that, but … we’re at the clock.”

Mr. Trump, hungry for a major legislative win, said Thursday that he thinks Mr. Rubio will ultimately come around.

“I think he’ll get there. He’s really been a great guy, very supportive,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I think that Sen. Rubio will be there very shortly.”

Republican leaders had hoped to vote on the $1.4 trillion tax-cut package early next week but must juggle health concerns of some senators and now the objections of Mr. Rubio and Mr. Lee.

Mr. Rubio wants more of the child tax credit to be made refundable against payroll taxes, which would mean a bigger cash transfer back to the working poor who make too little to pay income taxes but who owe Social Security and Medicare taxes.

The Senate bill Mr. Rubio voted for last month allowed $1,100 per child to be refundable.

“I can’t in good conscience support it unless we are able to increase the refundable portion of it, and there’s ways to do it, and we’ll be very reasonable,” he told reporters.

A spokesman for Mr. Lee, who has partnered with Mr. Rubio on the effort, said Thursday that the senator from Utah also wants to see the highest possible child tax credit.

With Mr. Corker at best on the fence and Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine undecided, Republicans have no wiggle room.

Republican leaders already have resorted to a number of gimmicks to get this far in the process, including making the individual tax rate cuts temporary in order to stay within budget rules.

This week, negotiators agreed to a corporate tax rate of 21 percent, down from 35 percent but higher than the 20 percent that the House and Senate approved earlier. The change allowed negotiators to cut the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Leaders said that could compensate upper-income taxpayers who were losing other breaks such as the state and local tax deduction.

To try to accommodate Mr. Rubio and Mr. Lee now would require more trade-offs.

“I would say that we’ve made significant progress. It is not over,” said Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican and one of the Senate conferees negotiating the final package. “There is no done deal yet from my perspective, but we are making significant progress.”

Democrats and some critics, though, say Republicans are jettisoning their stated goals of broadening the tax base and simplifying the code for the sake of expediency and out of desperation to get major legislation approved.

“It does preserve so many breaks and expenditures,” said Ryan Alexander, president of the advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “It’s not simplifying it. It’s lowering the rate and kind of adding some different kinds of complexity.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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