- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Senate Republicans on Wednesday voted to enter into a conference committee with the House to iron out differences between the two chambers’ $1.4 trillion tax-cut packages, taking the next step in the GOP’s push to get a bill to President Trump’s desk by year’s end.

The Senate voted 51-47 to go to conference, after the House voted to do so earlier in the week.

“The American people deserve taxes that are lower, simpler and fairer. By voting to go to conference, we will be one step closer to getting it done,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Senate passed its tax package early Saturday, and the House did so last month.

Mr. McConnell announced Wednesday evening the eight Republican senators who will start negotiations with the House through a bicameral conference committee.

The conferees include: Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The other five conferees are all members of the tax-writing Finance Committee: Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, John Thune of South Dakota, Rob Portman of Ohio, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Both the House and Senate plans slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, trim rates for individuals, and ax various exemptions and deductions while expanding others.

But there are still significant differences that need to be ironed out.

“There are things that I like better in the Senate bill; there are things that I like better in the House bill,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday. “I think when they come out, we’ll have some new additions and we’ll have the best of each.”

Among other things, the Senate’s bill includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, while the House’s does not.

Lawmakers are also working through how much of the state and local tax deduction to restore, after putting the entire break on the chopping block earlier in the process.

Both the House and Senate plans preserve a local property tax deduction with a $10,000 cap, but lawmakers are talking about a change that would allow taxpayers to choose between applying the deduction to property taxes or income taxes.

“That sounds like a kind of reasonable idea,” Mr. McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday.

But that could also boost the price tag of the overall package as well. In addition to a $1.5 trillion cost limit, the final product can’t increase federal deficits in the long run if Republicans leverage fast-track rules that allow them to bypass a filibuster and pass a bill with a simple majority.

“It’ll have to be revenue neutral in the end,” Mr. McConnell said. “And every time you make an adjustment in one area, you have to adjust some other area.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have cast the plans as a giveaway to the rich and say Republicans are rushing to finish before people can figure out what’s in the legislation.

“There is no telling what swamp creatures have crawled up to Capitol Hill to get their fingers on this bill at the 11th hour,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate plan also calls for the new individual tax rates to expire after 2025, in part to comply with the fast-track budget rules that limit the cost of the package to no more than $1.5 trillion.

Republicans have said they fully expect lawmakers to extend those breaks in the future, while Democrats say it’s an example of how the GOP plans prioritize corporations over the middle class, since the lower 20 percent corporate rate is permanent.

The Senate’s relatively drama-free vote on Wednesday was in contrast to the proceedings on the House floor during the lower chamber’s vote to go to conference Monday.

A number of House conservatives initially withheld their support amid a dispute over government funding legislation, before enough relented in the end to deliver GOP leaders the votes they needed to move the process forward.

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