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A Look At What's Happening With The Senate Republicans' Tax Bill


Senate Republicans had been moving along quickly to advance their tax bill today, but it appears they have hit a problem. The Senate will not vote on any changes to the bill tonight. They will come back late Friday morning. This comes after complications came up this evening over plans to ensure the bill does not blow up the deficit in the future. With us to talk about this is NPR's Scott Detrow on Capitol Hill. Hey.


MCEVERS: So it seemed like every day this week, Republicans were getting more and more confident that this bill would actually pass the Senate. What's happened?

DETROW: Yeah. So Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a couple other Republicans have said they're really worried about these tax cuts increasing the federal debt. So in order to win their vote, leaders have been working on language that would automatically increase taxes again if economic growth did not match expectations and the deficit was widening. Everyone was referring to this as the trigger.

But as lawmakers were taking a procedural vote tonight, they learned that under Senate rules, that trigger would not be possible. So that led to this extended moment where Corker and Flake were huddled with Republican leaders on the floor. They withheld their vote on the measure that was up then.

The vote ended up lasting more than an hour before they were satisfied and voted. So now leaders have to make major changes to the bill to win support from these deficit hawks. And if they're raising taxes or trimming proposed tax cuts, that may shift how other Republicans view this.

MCEVERS: But up until that moment, I mean this bill was looking like it was going to pass, right?

DETROW: Yeah. So that's why this was so surprising. More and more Republican holdouts were coming onboard. The biggest name was John McCain of Arizona saying he would vote yes. So Corker and the other lawmakers with deficit concerns seemed like they would have been satisfied with this trigger, too.

But you know, few things are more complicated for Congress to do than a federal tax rewrite, which is maybe why it only happens every 30 years or so. And Republicans are trying to push this through on a really tight schedule. That trigger language, even if it had been in line with Senate rules, would have only been introduced just a few hours before the final vote. And now that won't work, so they're scrambling for a plan B.

MCEVERS: Do Democrats have any role in this?

DETROW: At the moment no because if all Republicans end up supporting this, Democrats don't have the votes to block it. So they've been trying various procedural votes to send this back to committee. But they keep losing those on party line votes. The most they can do is raise concerns about the bill on the Senate floor. Here's what New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker said about it.


CORY BOOKER: At a time that American families are feeling the burn and the challenge of high taxes, low income, high costs, we could be targeting middle-class Americans. We could be targeting low-income earners.

DETROW: And that's been the Democratic argument all along - that this tax bill prioritizes the wealthy and corporations and leaves lower- and middle-class taxpayers behind.

MCEVERS: And we should just remind people that the House passed its version of the tax bill before Thanksgiving. If the Senate does pass its version - it sounds like it's a little bit more of an if right now - what would come after that?

DETROW: Well, we'd do this all over again. There are a lot of differences that would need to be worked out, so this would go to what's called a conference committee. The House has already scheduled a vote for Monday evening to begin that process. If the committee reaches agreement, both chambers would vote on it again.

MCEVERS: NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow from Capitol Hill, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.