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GOP Tax Package Enters Final Stretch With Senate Passage

After days of debate, the chamber passed the bill in the wee hours Saturday

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor on Friday after saying that Republicans have enough votes to pass the tax reform bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor on Friday after saying that Republicans have enough votes to pass the tax reform bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate early Saturday voted 51-49 to pass the GOP tax code overhaul, setting up the last stage of the tax debate: high-stakes talks between House and Senate Republicans to write a compromise measure they can place on President Donald Trump’s desk.

After more than 24 hours of deal-making and arm-twisting by Senate GOP leaders, a number of major policy changes were made to the tax bill in the form of a broad manager’s amendment from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adopted by unanimous consent before the legislation was passed.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the Senate for the vote. 

McConnell hailed passage of the bill as an important milestone in the GOP’s long quest to get more money into the pockets of taxpayers and boost the economy. More important, he said the legislation as amended will help ease conference negotiations with the House. 

“We’ve moved our initial thinking on this in the direction of the House bill, for example the property tax deduction, in order to get the bills closer together than they were,” McConnell said in an interview Friday night with CQ. 

The bill as amended would cost $1.45 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit impact is likely somewhat smaller after taking economic growth impacts into account — a Joint Committee on Taxation “dynamic” analysis of the pre-managers’ amendment version found the cost had shrunk from about $1.41 trillion to $1 trillion over a decade.

All 46 Democrats, two independent senators and one Republican  — Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — voted against the legislation.

While Republicans hailed the action as another step toward passing the first major tax code rewrite since 1986, Democrats slammed the tax bill as a deficit-busting giveaway to corporations and wealthy Americans.

“How high the stench is rising in this chamber as we debate the bill tonight,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “I don’t know if it’s possible for a Senate majority to depart further from responsible legislating than the process we witnessed with this tax bill.”

Watch: Schumer Says GOP ‘Abandoning’ Its Principles With Tax Bill

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Corker held out as the only GOP senator to vote “no,” deterred by the projected trillion-dollar spike in annual deficits over the next decade if the sweeping tax cuts for individuals and corporations are enacted.

“I wanted to get to yes. But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe … could deepen the debt burden on future generations,” Corker, who is retiring after this Congress, said in a statement Friday.

Republicans have rejected the JCT analysis and promised much more robust economic growth. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, had said the JCT dynamic score was “clearly wrong.”

Senate passage of the sweeping tax plan puts congressional Republicans and the White House a step closer to their first major legislative accomplishment this year.

It’s also one step farther than they got when they tried to revamp the health care system earlier this year. Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to repeal the 2010 health care law fell one vote short in September, and many GOP lawmakers have said taxes are now the make-or-break issue that will determine their fate in the 2018 midterm elections.

Broad differences between the House and Senate plans will still need to be resolved, though the final changes made Friday brought the Senate version closer in line with the House-passed bill. 

Before passing the bill early Saturday, senators spent most of the day in a holding pattern as Republican leaders put finishing touches on the legislation. Floor debate was mostly sleepy — including extended periods without any member speaking — until the 479-page manager’s amendment was unveiled around 9:30 p.m. Friday night. 

The House is set to take a vote Monday on going to conference with the Senate to work out a final tax plan.

Trump has said he wants to sign the overhaul into law before Christmas.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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