- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Republicans barreled toward a massive victory Tuesday with the House and Senate voting to approve a $1.5 trillion tax cut, notching the first major legislative win of the Trump presidency.

In one bill, Republicans said they were checking off three major parts of their agenda: The massive tax overhaul is coupled with a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate and authority to drill for oil in a remote Alaska refuge.

Democrats blasted Republicans, saying the legislation skewed toward the wealthy and vowing to make Republicans pay a price at the polls next year. But Republican leaders were more enthused than they have been in months, insisting that voters will reward them once higher paychecks show up next year.

“Today we are giving the people of this country their money back. This is their money, after all,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

The celebrations were marred by a procedural hiccup after the Senate parliamentarian decided the bill contained several minor violations of budget rules. Senate Democrats lodged objections, meaning the House will have to hold a revote Wednesday morning — though the outcome is likely to be the same, with the bill reaching Mr. Trump’s desk this week.

The Senate passed the slightly modified plan on a 51-48 vote after the House passed its bill earlier in the day on a 227-203 vote. The procedural hiccup is not expected to significantly delay the proceedings, as the House is expected to take up the Senate-passed version Wednesday.


SEE ALSO: Trump cheers Senate tax-cut vote, announces White House press conference


The president last week said that if he can sign the bill by Christmas, the IRS will spring into action with lower tax rates showing up as higher paychecks by February.

Passage will complete a once-unthinkable timetable for Republicans, who released their first version of the bill less than two months ago.

Democrats said the quick passage was an affront to the legislative process and that the country will soon learn that the bill isn’t what Republican leaders say.

“Republicans will rue the day they passed this bill, and the American people will never let them forget it,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

No Democrats supported the bill in the House, and none is expected to vote for it in the Senate. Indeed, the defections came from the Republican side, where a dozen joined Democrats in the House to vote no.

The final package cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, delivering on a promise Mr. Trump made to bring the business rate below the global average. The bill raises the thresholds when the various tax brackets kick in and lowers the top rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.

The corporate tax cuts are permanent, but the individual rate reductions expire after 2025.

Despite frequent talk of tax base broadening and getting more people to pay at least some tax, the plan generally maintains the code’s progressivity, with the top 20 percent of taxpayers paying 65 percent of the taxes next year and the top 5 percent accounting for 50 percent of the taxes.

With passage behind them, Republicans will turn to defending the 694-page bill.

Polling shows the bill is not particularly popular with voters, though it’s perhaps not as bad as some Republicans have feared.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey released Tuesday found 44 percent of Americans back the bill and 35 percent oppose it. But opponents were more intense in their beliefs than supporters were.

Most worrisome for Republicans, though, is voters’ expectations. A third of voters said they expect their taxes to rise under the bill, while just 20 percent said they will get a tax cut.

Analysts at the Tax Policy Center say the numbers aren’t that grim. The vast majority of taxpayers will get tax cuts next year, while just 5 percent will get an increase.

Things deteriorate over the long run, however, with the individual tax cuts slated to expire after 2025, which would mean a tax hike for 53 percent of taxpayers by 2027, the Tax Policy Center said.

Republicans said they had to make the tax cuts expire to comply with budget rules but would come back to pass an extension of the tax cuts for the foreseeable future.

“We have every intent of making those permanent,” Mr. Ryan said.

They also brushed aside the troubled polling, saying once paychecks fatten up next year, voters will come around.

“We’re just beginning to make the argument to the American people, and they’re going to see … in fact they do get more, on average,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “The argument is still out there to be won.”

The bill winds down various loopholes and exemptions while expanding others, including the child tax credit, which was a change demanded by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah.

The package repeals the requirement under Obamacare that most individuals purchase health insurance — partially making good on Republicans’ repeated pledges to repeal the law. It also opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, which is a long-sought goal of lawmakers from Alaska and many other Republicans.

The bill also makes good on some long-standing tax tweaks such as limiting credits claimed by illegal immigrants. Under the legislation, taxpayers will have to show that their children have valid Social Security numbers in order to claim the additional child tax credit.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tax cut bill caps a historic year in which Mr. Trump’s policies helped create nearly 1.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent and fueled a record rise in the stock market.

Republicans acknowledged that they were in desperate need of a legislative win, having seen their Obamacare repeal plans falter and watching as Democrats gained governorships, state legislative seats and even a U.S. Senate seat in elections over the last two months.

After recriminations and House-Senate bickering, Republicans said they were eager to go out and sell the tax cuts.

Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he polled his southeastern Missouri district last week and found that 67 percent supported the Trump tax bill.

“We’ve had tax roundtables throughout our congressional district, meeting with constituents, hearing their concerns for the last three years,” he said. “I feel like my folks understand the bill — they support it by 67 percent.”

But Democrats said voters won’t be impressed.

“This isn’t tax reform. This isn’t help for the middle class. It’s a scam. It’s fraud. And it will have dangerous, long-lasting consequences for the American people,” said Rep. John A. Yarmuth of Kentucky, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

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