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Tax Reform Agreement ‘Very Close’

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House and Senate GOP leaders reconciling the two chambers’ tax overhaul bills reached an agreement in principle Wednesday morning, according to published reports, with a 21% corporate tax rate and 37% top individual tax rate.  

But lawmakers failed to officially confirm to reporters such an agreement as they entered a 2 p.m. House and Senate conference committee meeting to reconcile the bills on Wednesday.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate conference committee, told reporters before entering the meeting that “I’m the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and I haven’t even been informed of the changes that have been made here in the last 12 hours. From news reports, not one of these changes go to benefit the middle class.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told reporters “it feels very close” as he entered the conference meeting on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he wanted to see a score of the tax plan before the vote, which is set for next week.

Each conferee was given three minutes for opening statements as the conference committee meeting commenced.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., requested that the vote be delayed until the newly elected Democratic senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, is sworn in. “That option is not available,” Brady countered.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., stated in his opening remarks that “this meeting is a farce. Published reports say the final legislation has already been completed.”

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., added that “headlines” read an agreement has been reached, “and we’re having a conference committee on two bills that passed? This is indeed a mockery.”

Former tax attorney Andrew Friedman told ThinkAdvisor on Wednesday that with the “agreement in principle” Wednesday morning, the tax cut package is “a done deal. It’s been a done deal since the House first released a detailed plan a few weeks ago.”

The Republicans, Friedman said, “needed to make this [tax cut plan] happen, and they did.”

Wyden said in his opening remarks that “what’s happening today is a sham.” 

The Wednesday meeting, Friedman said, “is largely ceremonial. They will have worked out the details beforehand.”

Published reports say the deal includes the following:

  • lowering the top individual tax rate to 37% from its current 39.6%
  • setting the corporate tax rate at 21%, slightly higher than the 20% favored by President Donald Trump.
  • capping mortgage interest deduction at $750,000
  • setting the deduction for pass-through entities at 20%, somewhat lower than the 23% included in the Senate bill.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have been railing against the Treasury Department’s one-page analysis of the GOP tax plan that was released on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Treasury used “fake math” in crafting the analysis, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., requested more information from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about what she said were “dubious claims” in the report.

Schumer said the Treasury analysis proves that the White House and Republicans “are grasping at straws to prove the unprovable and garner votes for a bill that nearly every single independent analysis has concluded will blow up the deficit and generate almost no additional economic activity to make up for it.”  

The Republican tax bill “will be a boon to the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations all while increasing taxes for millions of middle-class families and leaving 13 million Americans without health care,” Schumer added.

Warren told Mnuchin in a Tuesday letter that the one-page analysis fell far short of the “robust” Treasury analysis that he had promised showing that the Republican tax bill would pay for itself.

The analysis, she said, provided “no meaningful economic analysis of the tax bill and admitted that the bill would not, in fact, pay for itself.” 

The analysis “latched onto the Trump administration’s earlier unsubstantiated assertion that its policies would increase annual GDP growth from 2.2% to 2.9%, and asserted, without providing any underlying economic analysis, that ‘Treasury expects approximately half of this 0.7% increase in growth to come from changes to corporate taxation,’” Warren wrote.


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