Senate Passes GOP Tax Plan After Procedural Stumble

House must vote again on Wednesday

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the Senate early Wednesday as it passed a final version of the GOP tax plan along party lines. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)


The Senate early Wednesday passed a final version of the GOP tax plan, leaving Republicans and President Donald Trump within striking distance of the most sweeping overhaul of the tax code in decades and their top policy goal for the year.

The chamber voted 51-48 along party lines to adopt the conference report on the landmark legislation  at close to 1 a.m. With Vice President Mike Pence presiding, GOP senators capped off a celebratory day for the party as the tax bill headed towards the finish line.

Republicans’ only stumble Tuesday was a minor procedural hurdle that delayed the final festivities for one more day. Senate Democrats successful stripped several provisions in the tax plan that violated the so-called Byrd rule of budget reconciliation.

Based on guidance from the Senate parliamentarian, they challenged three parts of the tax plan: provisions related to an excise tax on endowments of the smallest private universities, 529 savings accounts for home-schooling expenses, and even the bill’s shorthand title.

In something of a symbolic gesture, Democrats moved to strike the GOP’s nickname for the legislation — the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” — which is spelled out in the very first provision of the bill. Republicans don’t need to include the title as a separate provision to be able to use the moniker to describe the legislation, however.

The Byrd rule problem was not fatal to the bill — it simply stripped out those provisions en route to final passage and ensured that the House would need to revote on the tax bill Wednesday to send it to Trump’s desk. Democrats said the procedural hiccup highlighted the sloppy and rushed process Republicans used to write and pass the tax bill in just a few months.

The “Byrdable” provisions fell on a point of order, after a GOP motion to waive the rules was not adopted, 51-48. The threshold for waiving the point of order is 60 votes.

Round Two in the House

The House earlier Tuesday voted 227-203 to adopt the conference report.

After the House’s do-over vote on Wednesday morning, the measure would then head to Trump’s desk for his signature before Christmas, likely meeting his self-imposed holiday deadline with days to spare. The House Rules Committee is expected to meet around 8 a.m. Wednesday to set up the tax bill for floor action later in the day.

A dozen House Republicans, mostly from high-tax states like New York and New Jersey, joined with every Democrat in opposing the final tax bill.

The tax bill would drop the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent to 21 percent, while reducing income tax rates for most individuals and providing new breaks for “pass-through” businesses whose owners pay taxes on their individual returns. It would expand some central tax benefits, like the standard deduction and the child tax credit, while eliminating a swath of targeted tax perks for certain constituencies.

The measure, estimated to cost $1.46 trillion over 10 years, also would make significant and complex changes in international taxation that have received less attention from lawmakers during the monthslong tax debate.

Political opportunities?

Republicans and Democrats are each betting that their party will reap the political benefits of the tax changes next year. Ahead of the vote, they painted vastly different pictures of how the legislation would alter the country’s finances for years to come.

GOP lawmakers made bold promises of bigger paychecks and booming economic growth. “Every American who is paying taxes today is going to pay less taxes starting Jan. 1, 2018. That’s a good deal,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas.

They pointed out the historic nature of the vote, given that the last major tax code overhaul was in the 1980s.

The measure also would open up a protected parcel of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, after being off limits to drilling for decades. And it would undermine one of the central pillars of the 2010 health care law  by repealing the tax penalty on Americans who do not purchase health insurance. 

During the debate, Democrats continued to deride the measure as a “tax scam” that would overwhelmingly benefit corporations and wealthy taxpayers, including the president, while adding more than a trillion dollars to annual deficits over the next decade.

“This is a Christmas gift for the Trump family,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. “This is not a fair distribution of funds.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it “the worst bill that’s ever come to the floor of the House.”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report

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