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Tension High at Senate Finance Committee Tax Markup

Timing, lack of notice are big sticking points

With the Senate Finance Committee markup of tax legislation proceeding under something less than regular order, tensions are high between Republicans and Democrats. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
With the Senate Finance Committee markup of tax legislation proceeding under something less than regular order, tensions are high between Republicans and Democrats. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Day Three of the Senate Finance Committee tax markup began under a cloud of partisan discord after top Republicans dropped a new version of their tax plan late Tuesday night, making broad changes that Democrats were not consulted on in advance.

The tax writing panel on Wednesday was debating the revised GOP tax plan that would now roll back a central part of the 2010 health care law and make the most significant individual tax benefits in the plan expire after eight years.

Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah pointed out that repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate penalty would save $318 billion over 10 years and fund additional tax cuts. But ranking member Ron Wyden insisted that the “11th hour” decision by Republicans to insert the repeal was being done without proper debate or Congressional Budget Office experts on hand to answer questions.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, complained that “health care is going to be cut more than $300 billion . . . and we ought to have the Congressional Budget Office here to tell us what harm this will do.”

Watch: Hatch Asks Finance Committee to ‘Talk Like Gentlemen’ During Tuesday’s Tax Markup 

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Thomas Barthold, chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation, said his office would work to provide an updated analysis including the penalty repeal on the proposal’s impact on different income groups.

“This is not just another garden variety attack on the Affordable Care Act,” Wyden said. “This is repeal of that law.”

Wyden also complained that the new chairman’s mark made corporate tax cuts permanent, but did not do the same for individual tax cuts. “What a double standard that is,” he said.

Hatch foreshadowed difficulties during the day’s deliberations in his opening comments.

“I will make sure that members are recognized so we all get a chance to speak and ask questions, but I won’t abide the disorder and hostility we witnessed yesterday, yesterday afternoon,” he warned.

Substantial revisions

Hatch’s updated proposal would lower certain individual tax rates and raise the proposed child tax credit to $2,000, among other changes released after 10 p.m. Tuesday night.

Three of the seven proposed individual tax rates — 22.5 percent, 25 percent and 32.5 percent — would drop to 22 percent, 24 percent and 32 percent respectively, benefiting individuals earning between $38,700 and $200,000, with those thresholds doubled for joint filers. The other individual tax rates — 10 percent, 12 percent, 35 percent and 38.5 percent — are unchanged from Hatch’s original proposal.

The expanded child tax credit would now apply only to households with up to $500,000 in annual income, down from $1 million for married couples filing jointly in the original version.

Those provisions, along with the expanded standard deduction and virtually every other tax break on the individual side, would expire at the end of 2025. So, too, would many of the offsets that Republicans included in the bill, like scrapping personal exemptions and deductions for state and local taxes.

The proposed lower corporate tax rate of 20 percent would be permanent beginning in 2019.

Setting the provisions for individual taxpayers to expire in 2025 would keep Republicans from running afoul of complex Senate rules they are relying on to pass their tax code overhaul. The so-called Byrd rule limits legislation that would raise annual deficits after 10 years.

The new proposal would allow the full 17.4 percent deduction on “pass-through” income up to $500,000 for joint filers, up from the original mark’s limit of $150,000. The benefit is extended to service firms, such as accountants, lawyers and engineers.

Those changes, too, would expire at the end of 2025.

Craft brewers, Broadway shows

Hatch’s new plan also includes several proposals backed by other senators. It would provide a tax credit for businesses that offer paid medical and family leave, expiring after 2019, based on a bill from Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska. A proposal from Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, that would incentivize investments in low-income communities by changing the way those capital gains are taxed was also included.

A craft beer excise tax measure was also included, based on a bill Wyden introduced earlier this year. The revised plan also includes full expensing for film, television and live theater production costs for five years.

Overall, the proposal would raise annual deficits by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, according to the JCT score.

Democrats charged that Republicans were expanding the scope of the markup by including the individual mandate provisions and and requested time to prepare new amendments related to health care. Hatch said they could modify only amendments that had already been filed.

Democrats were also not happy about receiving the update from Hatch so late on Tuesday night with little time to analyze it ahead of the meeting Wednesday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri tweeted on Wednesday morning, “We got this at 10:18 pm last night. Expected to work on it at 10:00 am today. This is nuts. What’s the damn rush? Why can’t we have a reasonable time to read and study?”

Senate Republicans are aiming to pass their tax plan the week after Thanksgiving. The House, meanwhile, is set to take a vote on its own tax plan on Thursday.

President Donald Trump has said he wants to sign a final tax bill before Christmas.

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