Republicans passed their tax reform overhaul through the House Thursday, a major victory for House Speaker Paul Ryan that puts the party one step closer to its first major legislative win since President Donald Trump took office.
While the bill still needs to pass through the Senate, Thursday’s vote is a major relief for Republicans, following their failure to pass an Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year. House Republicans cheered and applauded in the House chamber as the bill cleared the 219 votes needed to pass Thursday afternoon. The bill ultimately passed 227-205, with just 13 Republicans opposed.
The tax bill represents a major priority for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has spent his entire career on Capitol Hill advocating for sweeping changes to the US tax system, and it would fulfill a significant campaign promise for Trump as well.
Ryan cast the vote as an opportunity to notch a major victory for Republicans Thursday afternoon and a chance for members to restore their faith in their own ability to craft and pass major legislation. “This is something that's going to refresh our confidence in ourselves — and our confidence in each other. Enough settling. Enough giving in. Let's start to reclaim our future right here in this moment, in this chamber, in this moment, let's pass this bill,” Ryan said on the House floor before the vote.
Trump took the unusual step of going to Capitol Hill Thursday morning, just hours before the vote, to help sell the legislation to members directly. House Republicans walked excitedly into the meeting with the president and walked out just as upbeat, saying Trump's focus was largely a positive message on the tax bill.
“He did express a good deal of confidence that the Senate would actually get something passed and we can go to conference with them, so he was upbeat in that regard, but he didn’t get into any specifics at all,” Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole told reporters.
House Majority Whip Steve Scales praised Trump's efforts after the vote, describing the president as “laser focused” on economy and taxes. “President Trump was incredibly helpful every step of the way,” he said.
Ryan had long promised his chamber would pass tax reform before Thanksgiving and has spent months working on a deal that could pass the House. “This is his bill,” Texas Rep. Pete Sessions told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s touted these activities and ideas for a long time, and they worked them in.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who helped to kill an early version of the House's Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year, praised Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady for their work on tax reform Thursday. "Everybody gets an A for the 227 votes today," he said.
The House’s bill would cut taxes overall by about $1.5 trillion dollars over the next decade and reduce the number of tax brackets for individuals from seven to four. It would also significantly reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.
Most Americans will see a tax cut under the bill, while the wealthiest Americans will get the largest cuts, according to an analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a tax research organization. However, “at least 7 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes under the proposal in 2018 and at least 24 percent of taxpayers would pay more in 2027,” according to the TPC.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would raise the deficit by about $1.4 billion over the next 10 years.
California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was one of the 13 Republicans to vote against the tax bill Thursday, arguing, as several other California members did, that it would actually result in a net tax increase for many of his constituents. “The fact is that is increasing the tax that someone pays. If in the end we were going to benefit them with one hand and take away with the other, I found out the takeaways were worse than the other hand,” he said.
Rohrabacher said Trump’s work to sell the bill did not sway his decision. “What swayed me a lot more were phone calls from very conservative and responsible people who said ... they calculated a $5,000-$10,000 tax increase on people who are basically median-level,” he said.
Rep. Walter Jones, a fiscal hawk, said he had very different reasons for voting against the bill on Thursday, arguing that it wasn't conservative enough. “If this had been a Democratic bill, we wouldn’t even be voting on it,” Jones said. “That’s how hypocritical this place becomes quite frankly.”
House leadership approached this week confidently, sure they would be able to pass the legislation in their chamber. The atmosphere was unlike the tense lead-up to the vote on the Obamacare repeal bill, which just barely passed the House after significant drama — and at one point forced Ryan to take the drastic measure of pulling the bill from the floor just before a planned vote. Ultimately, the repeal plan died in the Senate.
As with health care, Republicans were not able to rely on picking up any Democratic votes; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer accurately predicted to reporters on Wednesday there they would not “lose” any of their members on the tax bill.
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Thursday he wished Republicans had undertaken a tax overhaul before trying to do health care. “I think it’s an easier lift,” Brat said.
Now all eyes are on the Senate, which plans to vote on their own tax overhaul after Thanksgiving. The Senate’s bill, unlike the House’s, also includes a major change to the health care system; it would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate to buy insurance.
But like the Obamacare repeal efforts earlier this year, the legislation’s future seems uncertain in the Senate, where Republicans can only lose two votes. Some members have already said they’re uncertain if they can support the Senate’s legislation, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who also opposed the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bills. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson declared this week he would vote no on the legislation as it’s currently written.
Should the Senate pass its own tax bill, they will have to go to conference with the House to work out their differences. Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello cast Thursday's vote as a first step in that process. "Listen, voters don't want to hear this but this is also about moving tax reform forward because there's going to be another bill that we're going to look at that is going to have some differences from this bill," he said.
North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson argued that working with the Senate — if they can get to that point — would "probably make the bill better."
"We obviously know we’ve got the president’s support and ... he’s going to sign whatever legislation we get to him," Hudson said.
Paul McLeod contributed to this report.