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GOP Still Seeking Tax Overhaul Magic Numbers

Final bill may feature more ‘stimulus’ in the early years

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker appears to be among the keys to a tax overhaul deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker appears to be among the keys to a tax overhaul deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After sending senators home earlier than expected Thursday, Republican negotiators were going to work through the night trying to thread the needle to get 50 or more votes for their tax code rewrite.

Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden was giving a lengthy speech criticizing the Republican tax plan after Thurday night’s final Senate vote, but the Oregon Democrat was really serving as the soundtrack over an animated gathering of Republican senators and senior aides.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bob Corker of Tennessee were the most visible during the discussion. The normally talkative Corker demurred as he left the floor, suggesting it would be best for him not to talk to reporters as negotiations continued.

Corker has been among the most concerned about the potential deficit impact of the tax overhaul, concerns that only seemed to get more significant after a dynamic analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation showed a roughly $1 trillion deficit effect.

But improving the score through revenue-raisers in the package’s later years is causing consternation for more conservative members, according to one Republican senator present on the floor during the exchange between Cruz and Corker.

“We’ve got more work to do,” Cruz said leaving the Capitol after what appeared to be an intense discussion with his Tennessee colleague. 

Cruz told reporters he was “absolutely” opposed to adding tax increases in the later years of the overhaul.

But Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican closely aligned with President Donald Trump, described the emerging plan as a shorter-term stimulus paired with longer-term changes.

“You have an increased incentive the first six years,” he said. “I’ll call it a stimulus package, and then a reduced stimulus package.”

Perdue said the approach could be pursued because the parliamentarian said a trigger mechanism based on economic growth factors might be impossible under budget reconciliation, which Republicans are using to consider the package to avoid normal procedural rules.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he would prefer not to have any further tax increases kick in down the road, but he acknowledged the reality of the vote-counting.

“That would be my preference,” the Texas Republican said. “But what I want most is 50 votes.”

Cornyn said work was continuing to win over Corker, with heavy involvement from Pennsylvania Republican Patrick J. Toomey, a fiscally conservative Finance member who used to run the Club for Growth.

“Sen. Toomey is going back to try to work things out with Sen. Corker, and I hope they can,” Cornyn said.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake has expressed similar concerns to Corker.

Sen. Thom Tillis said the hole that needed to be plugged was between $370 billion and $400 billion in the later years of the measure’s time frame.

“My opinion would be if we hold firm on a lot of the core business tax provisions, what we’re going to see is growth that lets you better fund later stage … tax relief for individuals and working families,” the North Carolina Republican said. 

One potential swing vote who was enthusiastic about Thursday’s developments was Sen. Susan Collins.

The Maine Republican has been pushing an amendment that would match the House language to provide for a deduction for property taxes, capped at $10,000.

“It’s going very well. I think there’s a good chance it will be accepted and incorporated into the manager’s amendment,” Collins said. “I’ve been really pleased with the reaction.” The issue, however, would be finding the money to pay for allowing such a deduction. 

The manager’s amendment had yet to surface late Thursday, and senators did not need to return to the Capitol until late Friday morning for additional floor votes. The much-anticipated vote-a-rama could take place later Friday if Republicans feel they have the votes for approval.

Jason Dick contributed to this report.

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