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GOP Tax Bill Signed, Nearly Sealed and Delivered

Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, left, and House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, conduct the Senate-House Conference Committee meeting on the GOP tax bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, left, and House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, conduct the Senate-House Conference Committee meeting on the GOP tax bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republican tax writers signed off Friday on a compromise plan to overhaul the tax code, bringing House and Senate negotiations to a close and setting up final votes on the legislation early next week.

The tax conference agreement was set to be released Friday at 5:30 p.m. Some key details are already known, like a proposed corporate tax rate of 21 percent; a top individual rate of 37 percent; and a 20 percent deduction for “pass-through” business income.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the proposed tax changes for individuals will expire after 2025, as in the Senate-passed version.

Changes were also included in the final plan aimed at appeasing two Republican holdouts, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, who were seeking broader refundability for the child tax credit. The bill would allow up to $1,400 of the tax credit to be refundable, according to Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., one of the House conferees. That’s up from $1,100 in the Senate and House bills, which Rubio and Lee said was too low.

On Friday afternoon, Rubio signaled he would support the final Republican tax bill. “Increasing the refundability of the Child Tax Credit from 55 % percent to 70 % is a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker,” Rubio wrote on Twitter, adding that significant “progress” had been made on the issue.

“There are changes in this bill that conform to some of the things he’s asked for,” said Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., referring to Rubio. “There’s a problem with every single senator until the last vote is cast.”

Enzi said the process of briefing rank-and-file Republicans on the details of the tax plan had already begun, and would continue through the weekend. The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the tax bill on Tuesday, followed by the House potentially on Tuesday as well, though it was not yet determined which chamber would go first. If the House passes the revised bill first, it would eliminate the ability of Senate Democrats to drag out debate with dilatory motions to refer the conference report back to committee.

“I’m confident the votes will be there,” said Portman, another tax writer on the conference committee.

Portman said it’s his understanding that a pair of GOP senators dealing with health problems — Thad Cochran of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona — will both be back to vote on the tax bill next week. McCain and Cochran missed Senate votes this week for medical reasons.

Every vote will be crucial for Republican leaders, given their narrow 52-seat majority.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., voted against the Senate bill earlier this month because of its deficit impact and there was speculation he was could oppose the final version as well. But he laid those concerns to rest on Friday afternoon, saying he would vote for the final bill after all. 

“This bill is far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit and far less would have been done on the individual side with items that do not generate economic growth,” Corker said in a release, adding, “But after great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.”

Republicans did not need Corker, but they made sure Vice President Mike Pence was available to break a tie, just in case.

Pence announced Thursday he will delay a trip to the Middle East next week in order to preside over the Senate for the tax vote next week, signaling that top Republicans were preparing for a close vote.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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