- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2017

House Republicans on Monday voted to go to a conference committee with the Senate to reconcile the two chambers’ $1.4 trillion tax-cut plans, overcoming some drama on the floor to press forward on their quest to get a package to President Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

The House voted 222-192 to formally enter into the conference committee with the Senate, which passed its tax package early Saturday after the House passed its own, similar version last month. Seven Republicans voted against the motion to go to conference, and no Democrats supported it.

“Today, we are moving to the crucial final stage in delivering once-in-a-generation tax reform to the American people,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican.

But House conservatives — upset by leaders’ planned time frame on a short-term spending bill to keep the government open past the end of the week — nearly derailed Monday’s proceedings before enough of them ultimately relented.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was seen talking on the floor with Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the archconservative House Freedom Caucus, for some time before the final vote.

Mr. Meadows said afterward that leaders agreed to discuss pushing a pre-Christmas expiration date on the funding package to Dec. 30. Lawmakers would then have a bit more time to negotiate a longer-term bill.

SEE ALSO: Devin Nunes, Diane Black on conference committee for tax bill

“I’m not saying there’s any commitment to do anything — I’m just saying there’s a commitment to talk further,” said Mr. Meadows, who also spoke with the president. “I felt very good about the dialogue I had with the speaker.”

Conservatives have lamented the stopgap spending bills passed by Congress in recent years to keep the government open. They say it can be harder to pass good spending policies with the threat of a government shutdown looming, or when lawmakers are eager to get out of town for holiday breaks.

Though enough Republicans ultimately relented on what was expected to be a relatively simple procedural vote, the scene demonstrated the balancing act GOP leaders face in the coming days and weeks to satisfy various factions in both the House and the Senate on the tax-cut plan, all the while dealing with other must-pass legislation on Capitol Hill.

One chamber could simply pass the other’s tax bill and send it to Mr. Trump, but leaders are insisting on a conference committee to work out the discrepancies. Among the most notable differences, the Senate plan includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate while the House plan does not.

Both the House and Senate tax overhaul plans cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, while trimming rates for individuals and eliminating certain exemptions and deductions.

Lawmakers said some of the last-minute changes to the Senate bill brought it closer to where the House was, which could make some of the coming negotiations run more smoothly.

“I think we moved the Senate bill to look a little bit more like the House bill so we could iron out differences, I think, in [an] easy fashion,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, said Monday on Fox News. “Some of the major differences are pretty much gone.”

At the behest of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Senate Republicans restored a property tax deduction of up to $10,000 in the recently-passed plan, bringing it in line with where the House is.

Senate Republicans also increased the tax on foreign earnings parked overseas close to where those taxes are in the House version.

But in order to pay for some additional priorities, Senate Republicans also backed off plans to completely repeal the alternative minimum tax, or AMT, for corporations and individuals.

The AMT is a parallel tax system created in 1969 to try to make sure a subset of very wealthy Americans weren’t dodging taxes. Republicans had billed its repeal as a prime example of how their plan is intended in part to simplify the sprawling U.S. tax code.

Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have raised concerns in recent days that preserving the corporate AMT as written in the Senate bill could have unintended consequences for companies that take advantage of other breaks in the code.

Mr. McCarthy said Monday that the AMT should get axed in part because of its secondary effects on research and development in the U.S.

“That should be eliminated for sure,” the California Republican said on CNBC.

The White House has long said the 20 percent corporate rate was a “red line” for President Trump, but Mr. Trump also said recently that figure could rise during the coming negotiations.

Democrats, meanwhile, have cast the Republican legislation as a giveaway to the rich and said they’re rushing to get it done before the public can dissect what’s in it.

“Republicans say the facts be damned as they rush this legislation out of desperation — not deliberation,” said Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat.

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

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