U.S. President Donald Trump plans to meet Tuesday with Senate Republicans in a crucial week for his presidency and his tax plan that could decide whether he ends his first year with a major legislative achievement.
Last-minute threats to the tax cuts that Trump has promised since early in his long-shot presidential campaign are looming among Senate Republicans. Concerns center on the taxation of partnerships, limited liabilities and other companies; on the overall cost of the tax bill itself; and on a familiar GOP stumbling block — the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah said Monday. “This is going to be a tough, tough time.”
Senate Republican leaders aren’t counting on any Democrats for a floor vote that could come Thursday or Friday — but that means they can afford to lose only two members of their own party. Here are the eight GOP senators most likely to decide the tax bill’s fate.
Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and James Lankford
Corker, the retiring Tennessee Republican has staked a hard line against letting tax legislation add to federal deficits — saying that a single penny of new deficits would lose his vote. It turns out the Senate bill would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years — at least before accounting for any economic growth — according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Sunday.
The bill’s supporters say it’ll boost economic growth enough to cover that shortfall, but Corker says he’s not satisfied. He wants a backstop mechanism — essentially a tax-increase trigger that would raise revenue in case the promised growth doesn’t result. Arizona’s Flake and Oklahoma’s Lankford also support that kind of trigger.
“Every economist is guessing,” Lankford said on Monday. “We should build in the ‘what if’ — what if this doesn’t work?’ If the revenue is not coming in, should the rates change?”
Corker is a member of the Senate Budget Committee, which meets Tuesday afternoon to decide whether to send the tax bill to the Senate floor. Republicans have a one-vote margin on the panel and cannot afford any defections. Corker said Monday he may vote no if tax writers — who he said would be working overnight on a provision — can’t provide enough deficit safeguards.
“We’re working very closely with the administration and also some members of the Finance Committee to design a trigger or backstop that in the event the revenues are not there, there’s a way to recoup them,” he said.
Some senators want nothing to do with a trigger. “I think the problem with triggers is they create uncertainty about what the tax rate is” since it’s subject to change, said Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, during a Bloomberg Television interview. Resulting hesitancy among investors could make the predictions of too little growth “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.
Corker disagrees. “There are ways of doing this that you don’t damage the aspects that are very pro-growth,” he said.
Flake and Corker have two things in common beyond deficit concerns: Both are retiring after 2018, and both have sparred extensively with Trump. So it’s unlikely that any presidential salesmanship would sway either one.
“He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is ‘toast,”’ Trump said on Twitter this month about Flake, whom he called “Jeff Flake(y).”
Ron Johnson and Steve Daines
Johnson became the first Republican senator to come out against the bill, and his vote remains up in the air. His concern? The legislation gives an advantage to large corporations at the expense of “pass-through” businesses, like the plastics company he used to run before his election to the Senate in 2010.
The Wisconsin senator is also a member of the Budget Committee, and he too wants his concern addressed by the time it meets. “I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen in committee, and we’re working diligently to fix the problem,” he told reporters Monday. “If we develop a fix prior to committee, I’ll probably support it but if we don’t, I’ll vote against it.”
The Senate bill cuts the corporate rate to 20 percent, while creating a special deduction for business income from pass-through entities that would leave many owners paying an effective top rate of more than 30 percent. Johnson wants to give those owners a larger deduction, and he said many have called to encourage him to stand firm.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. (Photo: Moran)