GOP Confident the ‘Bama Win by Dems Won’t Derail Tax Cuts
With reports of a House-Senate deal, historic legislation appears on track to reach President Trump's desk by Christmas
Emboldened Democrats sought Wednesday to slow down a rapidly emerging consensus among Republicans for approving tax cuts within days, urging GOP leaders to wait for Alabama’s new Democratic senator.
Doug Jones stunned Republicans with a victory Tuesday in the special election to finish the Senate term of Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become attorney general in the Trump administration. Jones is the first elected Democratic senator from Alabama since 1992.
“The people of Alabama have spoken,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted. “Republicans and the administration must drop their partisan attempts to rush a corporate handout through Congress until Senator-Elect Jones is sworn in. #GOPTaxScam.”
But Republicans were not falling for the bait. Senators and representatives working to iron out differences in their versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reached a tentative agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters before the Alabama polls closed Tuesday that the outcome was irrelevant to the tax debate — because outgoing Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who lost the nomination in October, will be casting the vote.
“Sen. Strange is going to be here through the end of this session,” McConnell said.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told reporters on a conference call earlier this week that Congress should have a sense of urgency — but not necessarily because of the Alabama election.
“The election in Alabama has no impact one way or the other except that everything including the sun coming up in the morning is a reason to get this bill passed quickly,” he said. “Whoever wins won’t be seated until long after this measure’s been signed by the president.”
Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore has refused to concede defeat in the Alabama race. The campaign hopes that when provisional and military ballots are counted, it will narrow the deficit with Jones to less than half a percent, which would trigger an automatic recount. If it does not, the Moore campaign could pay for a recount.
Even without a recount, though, it will take some time before Jones takes the oath of office. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill laid out the process for reporters during a late-night news conference Tuesday.
By Friday, Alabama counties will report the number of write-in votes. County canvassing boards next week will count provisional and overseas ballots. On December 22, the county canvassing boards will certify the results.
Merrill said final certification of the election will take place between December 26 and January 3. If there is a recount, it will add another 72 hours, he said.
That process will make Jones a nonfactor in the tax debate as long as Republicans stay on track to fulfill their goal of sending the bill to President Donald Trump by Christmas.
Congress could vote on the final bill by Monday and Tuesday. But if there is an unforeseen wrinkle that pushes voting to after Christmas, the chances increase that Jones could become the 50th “no” vote.
“I think we are very, very close,” the president said at the White House on Wednesday.
Congress could vote on the final bill by Monday and Tuesday. But if there is an unforeseen wrinkle that pushes voting to post-Christmas, the chances increase that Jones could become the 50th “no” vote. That would allow Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie but leave no room for error.
But tax-cut advocates said they are confident.
“I don’t anticipate there will be a wrinkle,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a nonprofit group based in Washington. “Nothing I’ve heard on the Senate side, which is what I’m most worried about, indicates that there is.”
The House-Senate conference committee agreement would reduce the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, The New York Times reported, instead of the 20 percent level that both the House and Senate set in their original bills. Conservatives outside Congress had urged the GOP to hold the line at 20 percent.
The final bill also would let people deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes, split between property and income or sales taxes, according to The Times.
In addition, the publication reported, the top individual tax rate would drop from the current 39.6 percent to 37 percent. But that top rate would kick in at lower incomes than the $1 million mark in both the House and Senate versions.
Pye said FreedomWorks will not take a hard stance on the bill until it reviews the actual text. But he said he is confident congressional leaders will pass it by Christmas.
“You have all week next week to address any potential concerns,” he said. “I think we’re in a good place on this.”