Party leaders are searching for votes
Republican senators returned on Monday from the Thanksgiving recess, and one big question loomed as they continued to talk taxes.
Will party leaders be able to come up with 50 votes?
Senate Republicans will attempt once again to approve major legislation using procedures that would allow for passage without any Democratic votes. Their leadership could never reach that 50-vote threshold as they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, and they can afford to lose no more than two of their members’ votes, assuming Democrats are unified in opposition and Vice President Mike Pence provides the tiebreaking vote.
By Monday night, it was clear that party leaders still had work to do. At least a half-dozen Republican senators have expressed concerns about the tax overhaul.
Mr. Trump is headed to Capitol Hill midday to drum up support for the bill. But early on Tuesday morning, the president was focused on his frustration with the National Football League and players’ civil rights protests.
“At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up,” he wrote. “The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!”
A committee vote could provide some drama
The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. for what is supposed to be a procedural step.
The panel is to approve the Senate’s tax rewrite, which will actually consist of two pieces of legislation melded together: the tax overhaul and a separate measure that would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
But the vote could hold some suspense. Republicans have only a one-seat majority on the panel, so they cannot afford to lose any of their members. But two Republicans who have expressed concerns about the tax rewrite, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, happen to sit on the Budget Committee.
On Monday, both Mr. Corker and Mr. Johnson said they could oppose the bill in the Budget Committee if their concerns were not addressed.
The Senate Finance Committee, which passed the tax overhaul two weeks ago, also provided some fireworks when its chairman, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, got into a shouting match with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat. When the Budget Committee meets, Democrats will have another chance to criticize the bill as a gift to businesses and the wealthy.
What Corker is looking for
Mr. Corker, an outspoken deficit hawk, is worried that the tax overhaul will end up adding to the federal debt if the economic growth projections floated by the administration don’t materialize and the government has to borrow additional money to pay for the tax cuts. To safeguard against that, he wants some kind of mechanism to be added to the legislation that would kick in if projected economic growth from the tax rewrite does not end up materializing.
Those projections “are all sort of made up, if you will,” Mr. Corker said on Fox News on Tuesday.
Mr. Corker, who is not seeking re-election next year, said the issue needed to be resolved before the vote in the Budget Committee this afternoon.
“What I don’t want to do is lose my integrity and actually help hurt our nation and our children when we have $20 trillion in debt,” Mr. Corker said. “I don’t want to on the way out the door support something that I know is going to damage our nation.”
It could be a long week
If the Budget Committee approves the bill, it will be up to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to decide when to move toward a full Senate vote.
First, the Senate would hold a vote to begin debating the tax overhaul. This is a procedural step, and the vote could take place around midweek.
Under the special budget rules that Republicans are using to shield their bill from a Democratic filibuster, debate on the measure is limited to 20 hours. After that, senators will endure an exhausting ritual known as a vote-a-rama — essentially, a marathon of votes on amendments.
It remains to be seen how the bill could be amended while the full Senate considers it, and whether Republicans with concerns about the tax rewrite will be won over by changes that are made.
Eventually — perhaps late this week — the full Senate would vote on whether to approve the tax overhaul.
If the Senate succeeds, there’s more to do
The House approved its own tax rewrite, which differs in big ways from the Senate plan, on Nov. 16. If the Senate approves its own version, the two chambers will have to iron out the differences between the two plans.
But it is possible that changes could be made to the Senate bill this week with an eye toward winning over House Republicans. House members could then be asked to give their approval to the Senate plan so that the process could be sped up.