The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump to meet with Senate Republicans ahead of crucial tax votes

President Trump will hold a critical meeting Tuesday on tax reform. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

President Trump will meet with Senate Republicans on Tuesday ahead of crucial votes in the GOP effort to pass a massive tax cut package, as conservatives move even closer to notching a major legislative victory.

The meeting will come during a weekly lunch Republicans hold as they go over their agenda. There are 52 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate, and the GOP needs a simple majority of votes to pass their version of the tax cut bill as soon as Thursday or Friday.

There are a number of Senate Republicans who have not expressed their support for the bill, and several of them have chilly relationships with Trump. But Trump remains popular with the GOP base, and his support is seen as crucial in helping get the tax bill pushed into law.

The Senate tax bill would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent beginning in 2019. It would also lower the tax rates individuals and families pay until 2025. It would also, as currently designed, repeal the “individual mandate” provision of the Affordable Care Act. This is the requirement that Americans have health insurance or face a financial penalty.

The House of Representatives has already passed their version of a tax-cut package, and the House and Senate must pass identical versions of the bill before it can be signed into law. If the Senate passes their version of the tax cut bill this coming week, the House can either attempt to pass an identical version or go into a “conference” process where they work together to try to reconcile differences.

The bills have some similarities. Both offer steep and permanent tax cuts for corporations, and the tax cut package would add between roughly $1.4 trillion and $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years, according to numerous estimates.

But there are major differences between the House and the Senate bill. For example, the House bill does not call for changes to the Affordable Care Act, and it also allows Americans to deduct up to $10,000 in local property taxes from their federal taxable income.

But before the House and Senate can formally negotiate through their differences, Senate Republicans must find a way to pass their bill.

A majority of Senate Republicans are expected to back the measure, but at least six have stopped short of saying they will vote for the tax cut package. None of these lawmakers is seen as being intractable, but Republicans can lose only two votes or the bill will falter.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted against a GOP effort to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act several months ago and has said she is still reviewing the tax plan, but she announced this past week that she was in favor of repealing the individual mandate, which some saw as a sign she was preparing to declare her support for the new GOP plan. She is being watched very closely because Trump’s personal attacks at Murkowski after her opposition to the health-care vote several months ago did not intimidate her and only seemed to steel her resolve.

GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski announces support for repealing individual mandate, a potential boost to tax overhaul

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has also expressed concerns about the GOP tax cut plan in part because of the changes to the Affordable Care Act, but she has not said she would oppose it. She had a tax-focused event this month in Maine with Ivanka Trump, but that was before Senate Republican leaders decided to include the health-care language in the pending bill.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) vowed to oppose an earlier version of the Senate GOP tax bill because he felt there weren’t enough benefits for certain types of corporations, but he has recently signaled that there might be changes to the bill that would win him over.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have raised concerns of their own with the bill, particularly over how it would add to the government’s debt. But they have said they are still studying the legislation. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also opposed the earlier effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has also not said how he plans to vote.

Trump has personally attacked most of these members. In a July Twitter post, after Murkowski’s opposition to the GOP health-care effort, Trump wrote that she “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”

The president has called Flake “Flake(y)” and predicted he would vote against the tax bill. He has called Corker “Liddle Bob Corker,” during a spat when Corker alleged the White House was run like an adult day-care center.

Flake, on Wednesday, said his support or opposition to the tax bill would have nothing to do with the president.

“It’s not the president’s bill,” Flake told Fox News Radio. “How I vote on it won’t have anything to do with where the president stands one way or the other.”

The Senate GOP tax bill could face a crucial procedural vote as soon as Tuesday, when the Senate Budget Committee could vote on a measure that effectively sends the tax cut bill to the Senate floor. Both Corker and Johnson are on that committee, and if they oppose the legislation at that stage it could effectively stall the entire process. If they approve the bill at that stage, it would send the bill to the floor, where lawmakers would be able to add amendments.