Mon | Dec 18, 2017

House Republicans await audience with Trump on tax overhaul

Published:Friday | November 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
US President Donald Trump

Republicans are muscling their massive tax bill through the House, with President Donald Trump urging them on to a critically needed legislative victory and GOP House leaders exuding confidence they have the votes.

But the tax overhaul hit a roadblock Wednesday as Sen Ron Johnson of Wisconsin became the first Republican senator to say he opposes his party's politically must-do tax legislation. That signalled potential problems for GOP leaders.

Passage of a similar package seemed assured on Thursday in the House, where a handful of dissidents conceded they expected to be steamrolled by a GOP frantic to claim its first major legislative victory of the year.

"Big vote tomorrow in the House. Tax cuts are getting close!" Trump enthused in a tweet Wednesday night. "Why are Democrats fighting massive tax cuts for the middle class and business (jobs)? The reason: Obstruction and Delay!"

Anxious to make mark before holidays

Trump planned to visit House GOP lawmakers on Thursday at the Capitol in what seemed likely to be a pep rally, not a rescue mission. Eager to act before opposition groups could sow doubts among the rank and file, Republican leaders were anxious to hand Trump the first crowning achievement of his presidency by Christmas.

The two chambers' plans would slash the 35 per cent corporate tax rate to 20 per cent, trim personal income tax rates and diminish some deductions and credits - while adding nearly $1.5 trillion to the coming decade's federal deficits. Republicans promised tax breaks for millions of families and companies that would have more money to produce more jobs.

"It represents a bold path forward that will allow us as a nation to break out of the slow-growth status quo once and for all," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, as his chamber debated the bill Wednesday.

Democrats charged the measures would bestow the bulk of their benefits on higher earners and corporations. In the Senate Finance Committee, they focused their attacks on two provisions designed by Republicans to increase revenue.

One would repeal President Barack Obama's health law requirement that people buy coverage or pay a fine, a move the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027. The other would end the personal income tax cuts in 2026 while keeping the corporate reductions permanent.

"We should be working together to find ways to cut taxes for hard-working middle-class families, not taking health care away from millions of people just to give huge tax cuts to the largest corporations," said Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The Republican-led finance panel was on track to approve its proposal by week's end. It shut down Democrats' initial efforts to modify the bill, voting along party lines against amendments aimed at protecting health-care coverage for veterans or people with disabilities, mental illness or opioid addition if the insurance mandate is ended.

But with GOP leaders hoping for full Senate passage early next month, concerns harboured by Johnson and perhaps others would have to be addressed.

Republicans controlling the Senate 52-48 can approve the legislation with just 50 votes, plus tie-breaking support from Vice-President Mike Pence. With solid Democratic opposition likely, they can lose just two GOP votes.

Besides Johnson, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Johnson complained the bills were more generous to publicly traded corporations than to so-called pass-through entities. Those are millions of partnerships and specially organised corporations whose owners pay levies using individual, not corporate, tax rates. While details of the House and Senate bills differ, many pass-through owners would owe more than 20 per cent in taxes for much of their income.

- AP