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Despite Hand-Wringing, Senate Republicans Push Tax Bill Forward

Two Senate Republicans who had said they had issues with parts of the plan voted Tuesday to advance it.

Posted on November 28, 2017, at 5:11 p.m. ET

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Two Republicans who had publicly criticized different parts of Senate Republicans' tax plan voted to move the bill forward Tuesday in a crucial committee vote, while another potential holdout provisionally extracted concessions during a meeting with President Trump.

The tax bill survived a party-line 12–11 vote in the Senate Budget Committee, with Republicans Sens. Bob Corker and Ron Johnson voting "yes" despite there being no changes to the bill to address their respective concerns: for Corker, that the bill might expand the deficit too much, and for Johnson, that the tax rate cut for people who pay taxes on their corporate profits on their personal taxes is not big enough.

Trump came to the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to try and rally Senate Republicans behind the tax plan in a meeting he later described as "phenomenal." Trump and Johnson talked about corporate taxes "in depth" during the meeting, Sen. John Kennedy said.

"They went back and forth in a debatelike fashion, it was respectful," Sen. James Risch said after the meeting. "Both conceded that each side had points, but no one jumped up with a white flag."

"They got pretty deep in the weeds," Risch added. "Both of them were well schooled on all the issues surrounding it."

The Senate bill allows the "pass-through" businesses Johnson is concerned with to deduct 17.4% of their taxable income. Several business groups criticized the Senate bill for not bringing pass-through taxes down far enough. The bill passed by the House lowered the top rate to 25% from a top rate of 39.6%.

Neither Trump nor anyone else issued any ultimatums about the upcoming full Senate vote, which could come as soon as this week. "Ron is sincere, his convictions are heartfelt, he has an open mind, open ears, he and the president had a very fruitful discussion," Kennedy said.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has so far not said how she will vote on the tax bill and was one of the pivotal votes against Senate Republicans' health care plan this summer, may have managed to secure an actual policy concession from the president.

Sen. Lindsey Graham — who separately met with Trump, Collins, and Sen. Lamar Alexander — said that Trump made a commitment to Collins that if the individual mandate to buy health insurance were repealed in the tax bill, he would continue to make payments to health insurers to mitigate losses they have when they enroll low-income people into Obamacare's individual plans.

Alexander said that the health care legislation would likely pass as part of a spending bill in December. Alexander said the president "believes we need a two year interim, bipartisan agreement to lower premiums while we support the long-term future of the Affordable Care Act."

Trump also said he would support allowing taxpayers to deduct the first $10,000 of their property taxes against their federal income taxes. The Senate bill currently eliminates all state and local tax deductions, while the House bill allows $10,000 of property tax deductions, Graham said.

Sen. Bob Corker has expressed reservations about the effect the tax bill would have on the deficit and proposed that the bill include a "trigger" to automatically raise revenue if the bill doesn't generate enought economic growth to combat the loss in revenue from lower rates.

He said that details of the trigger would be available on Thursday. Corker said he had reached an "agreement" with Majority Leader Sen. McConnell and the Senate Finance Committee before voting to pass the current tax bill through the Budget Committee.

Sen. Kennedy, however, told reporters that he would not vote for a trigger, "if I do that, consider me drunk."

While speaking with reporters, Graham was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. He eventually asked police to remove one woman who was persistently questioning him.

"Everything these people are telling you is wrong," Graham said of the protesters. "If this bill works the way I think, all these loud people will have proven to be loud and I will proven to be right."

Kennedy was generally optimistic about the bill's chances.

"At this point on health care, people were walking about and talking about each other mamas and getting mad," he said. "It wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t productive, it was like a bunch of kids in the back of the minivan."

The discussion among Republican senators on taxes, however, has been different. "This time, it was very constructive."

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