- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2017

Republican leaders won over one balky senator by boosting his favorite tax break and swung another from “no” to “yes” after a phone call with President Trump, leaving Republicans in strong shape to pass their $1.4 trillion tax cut bill this week.

Congressional Republicans now are set to make good on their once-unthinkable time frame of delivering historic tax reform to Mr. Trump by year’s end — and even manage to take a major swipe at Obamacare in the process by repealing its individual mandate requiring Americans to hold health insurance.

The House has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, and Senate Republicans said they have corralled the votes and will shoot for the same day.

“I’m confident we’ll pass this bill, probably on Tuesday,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate Republicans’ vote-counting whip, said Sunday on ABC.

The breakthroughs came late last week when Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said he was satisfied after negotiators made a last-minute change to the child tax credit so that more of the poor, who don’t pay any income taxes, can still get money back.

“The increased Child Tax Credit, along with the strong pro-growth, pro-American jobs provisions already contained in the legislation, makes me an enthusiastic YES vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Mr. Rubio said on Twitter.

Hours later, Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, announced his support for bill. He was the lone Republican senator to vote against the version that passed the Senate last month, citing concerns about its effect on federal deficits and the debt.

“After great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss,” Mr. Corker said.

A few other Republican senators, such as Susan M. Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, have not announced publicly how they will vote. But even with a narrow 52-48 majority, Mr. Cornyn said recently, he would bet Republicans won’t even need Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote to pass the package.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi have been dealing with health issues and missed a number of votes last week in the Senate.

Mr. McCain is heading back to Arizona to continue recovering from the side effects of chemotherapy for a brain tumor and, according to a statement from his office Sunday evening, “will undergo physical therapy and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic.”

“He looks forward to returning to Washington in January,” the statement read, likely meaning he will not be able to vote on the tax bill this week.

But the swing from Mr. Corker and the support from Mr. Rubio have been enough to give congressional and White House leaders confidence in swift final passage.

The White House said Mr. Corker, a frequent critic of the president and who is not seeking re-election, spoke by phone with Mr. Trump as he weighed his decision.

Mr. Corker denied changing his vote because of a last-minute provision that reportedly would boost certain businesses and his own bottom line.

Mr. Cornyn said the item was part of normal legislative bill-writing.

“It was a very intense process,” Mr. Cornyn said. “What we’ve tried to do is cobble together the votes we needed to get this bill passed, at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the largest tax cuts we’re going to be seeing since 1986.”

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Sunday he has “no doubt” the plan will pass this week.

“[There is] a terrific bill that’s going to get to the president to sign,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The plan would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent effective Jan. 1 — a change Republicans are billing as the biggest corporate tax rate reduction in U.S. history.

It would preserve the existing number of individual tax rates at seven, not counting the zero rate, but they kick in at higher thresholds.

For example, the top rate of 39.6 percent currently applies to individuals making more than $418,400 and couples making more than $470,700. Under the proposal in Congress, the top rate would be 37 percent and would kick in for individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making more than $600,000.

The bill also roughly would double the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for families, which would increase the number of “zero filers” who face no federal income tax liability.

The new individual rates would be effective for 2018 but are set to expire after 2025 — a gimmick Republicans used to keep the plan’s overall price tag within the $1.5 trillion limit set by fast-track budget rules.

Republican leaders have said they anticipate an extension of the cuts down the road.

The plan also would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate starting in 2019. That was added during negotiations in the Senate as a way to free up money that lawmakers could use to pay for other rate cuts — but it also ends up making a major dent in Obamacare after Republicans repeatedly failed to enact a full repeal earlier this year.

The bill would preserve the mortgage interest deduction for existing mortgages but would impose a $750,000 cap for future mortgages. It also would preserve existing deductions for charitable contributions.

For small businesses, there is a 20 percent deduction that applies to the first $315,000 of joint income for “pass-through” companies that file their taxes as individuals.

The state and local tax deduction, which had been on the chopping block at the start of the process, also was preserved in part — a change that was sought by Ms. Collins, along with other House Republicans from high-tax blue states.

People now can take a deduction of up to a total of $10,000 for sales, income and property taxes paid.

The plan also doubles the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and makes $1,400 of it refundable against payroll taxes, which is the change sought by Mr. Rubio and others.

Democrats have cast the plan as a giveaway to the wealthy and a slapdash attempt by Republicans to show voters next year that they haven’t totally squandered their full control of Washington.

“Why weren’t the tax breaks for the middle class made permanent?” Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Because it has to do with the priorities of the folks who wrote that legislation. And their job is to represent multinational corporations and not working families. That’s where we are today.”

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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