US Senate formally launches debate on tax overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves after a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, November 29, 2017 in Washington, DC, as hours of debate on tax reform began

US Senate Republicans advanced their controversial tax overhaul legislation Wednesday, as President Donald Trump headed to America’s heartland to sell the plan that he wants signed into law by year’s end.

The vote to formally launch Senate debate on the tax plan was along strict party lines, 52 to 48, and formally kicked off 20 hours of what is likely to be fiery debate in the chamber.

With Trump still lacking a major legislative accomplishment after 10 months in office, Republican leaders are hustling to pass the tax reform after they and Trump failed in their high-stakes bid to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s “Obamacare” health care reforms.

Democrats have sought to portray the tax measure as a giveaway to American corporations and the nation’s wealthy.

Trump and fellow Republicans argue that the bill — the most significant US tax reform in three decades — will boost economic growth, in turn increasing tax revenue. But the administration has struggled to convince Americans that the tax cut will help middle-class families.

A final vote on the plan is expected Thursday night, or possibly Friday, depending on the number of amendments proposed to the legislation.

Trump took his pro-growth message to the public, telling a crowd in Missouri that the tax cuts would serve as “rocket fuel” for the economy.

A successful Senate vote this week “will bring us one giant step closer to delivering an incredible victory for the American people: massive tax cuts and reform,” Trump said.

– Tough negotiation –

The House of Representatives passed its version of tax reform earlier this month. Should the Senate follow suit, the two chambers will have to iron out their differences and craft a single bill, in what is expected to be a tough negotiation.

While all 52 Senate Republicans voted to advance the bill, a number of them have expressed reservations.

Fiscal hawks like Senators Bob Corker and James Lankford are concerned the $1.5 trillion legislation could raise the national debt.

In a bid to soothe such concerns, leadership is considering adding a “trigger” into the bill that would automatically raise taxes to bring in more revenue if deficits loomed.

Senators Ron Johnson and Steve Daines want bigger tax cuts for small businesses, while Susan Collins is concerned the legislation, which removes the Obamacare requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a fine, might raise health care costs for poorer Americans.

Then there is Senator John McCain. The political veteran and Trump critic has been a wildcard this year, and was one of three Republicans who sank the president’s Obamacare repeal effort in September.

Having so far failed to pass healthcare, immigration or infrastructure reforms, Trump faces a party revolt if he cannot make tax cuts law.

The bill provides for a dramatic reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 20 percent. It is also supposed to lower tax rates for all income brackets, and simplify the overly-complicated code.

The Joint Committee on Taxation has forecast that the reform would add about $1.4 trillion to the national debt by 2028.

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