Senate tax drama enters complicated
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[November 30, 2017]
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican drive
to push sweeping tax legislation through the U.S. Senate was hurtling on
Thursday toward a dramatic conclusion, as Republican leaders pursued
behind-the-scenes deals intended to secure enough votes for passage.
After an official 20 hours of debate, the Republican-controlled Senate
was expected to begin a potentially chaotic "vote-a-rama" on amendments
from Republicans and Democrats before moving to a final vote late on
Thursday or early on Friday.
U.S. financial markets have rallied on optimism that the measure could
pass, a sentiment shared by outside conservative groups that hope to see
the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code since 1986, when
Republican Ronald Reagan was president.
"It's the most unified effort I've seen on any issue in many years,"
said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a group
aligned with billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
A Republican push to overturn Obamacare ended in an humiliating failure
in the Senate earlier this year, and President Donald Trump and his
Republican allies have since been under mounting pressure to enact a
package of tax cuts for businesses and individuals before January,
giving them their first major legislative victory.
Republicans acknowledge that failure to pass a tax bill could jeopardize
their control of the Senate and House of Representatives in next year's
Democrats say the Republican tax plan is a giveaway to corporations and
the wealthy at the expense of working Americans.
The House approved its own tax bill on Nov. 16. If passed this week, the
Senate legislation would need to be reconciled with the House version
before a final bill could be sent to Trump.
As an initial action on Thursday, Senate Republicans were expected to
take a procedural vote that would formally replace the House bill with
their own legislation.
While campaign donors are strongly behind the push for tax cuts, the
American public is sharply divided.
Among Americans aware of the Republican tax plan, 49 percent
said they were opposed, up from 41 percent in October, according
to a Nov. 23-27 Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday. The
latest online poll of 1,257 adults found 29 percent supporting
the plan and 22 percent saying they "don't know."
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A woman wearing a red white and blue hat listens as U.S. President
Donald Trump speaks about tax reform legislation during a visit to
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
KEEPING THEM GUESSING
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell did not appear to have
enough votes to pass the legislation as the day began, with several
Republican lawmakers keeping their colleagues guessing about where
they would come down in the end.
Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate,
giving them enough votes to approve the bill if they can hold
together. Without Democratic support, they can afford to
lose support from no more than two of their own members. Vice
President Mike Pence would be able to break a 50-50 tie.
The Senate voted along party lines to begin the debate on Wednesday
and later turned away a Democratic attempt to return the legislation
to the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee for reconsideration.
But some Republicans have withheld their support for final passage
as they press Republican leaders for changes that would prevent tax
cuts from expanding the federal deficit, allow Americans a federal
deduction for up to $10,000 in property taxes and give bigger tax
breaks to so-called pass-through enterprises, including small
The Senate bill would cut the U.S. corporate tax rate to 20 percent
from 35 percent after a one-year delay and reduce the tax burden on
small businesses and individuals, while adding $1.4 trillion to a
federal debt load that already surpasses $20 trillion.
Some Republicans want to lower the corporate tax rate to only 22
percent and forgo income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Democrats and independents have sought to persuade nonpartisan
Senate officials to disqualify parts of the bill, including one to
allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as
impermissible under Senate rules, an aide said.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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