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GOP faces scramble to pass tax package

Profile image for Jeff Stein, Mike Debonis and Patrick Reis
Jeff Stein, Mike Debonis and Patrick Reis, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Republicans return to Congress Monday facing a packed agenda with little time to enact it, as party leaders aim to quickly pass their massive tax plan and then cut a budget deal with Democrats before the end of Friday to avert a government shutdown.

Republicans' tight timing on taxes is self-imposed. GOP lawmakers have for months been racing to beat President Donald Trump's demand that they send him tax legislation before Christmas -- a timeline that gained new urgency when Alabama Democrat Doug Jones won the Senate seat currently occupied by Republican Sen. Luther Strange.

GOP leaders aim to hold tax votes early in the week before moving to the budget bill. They need Democrats' help to pass the budget measure through the Senate, and thus far they've made little progress bringing them aboard amid disagreements over spending levels, protection from deportation for certain undocumented immigrants and a federal health insurance program for low-income children.

The outcome of the tax votes, however, appears certain after Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Fla., and Bob Corker, Tenn., on Friday pledged their support. The duo gave the GOP the Senate votes to pass the bill, even as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, returned to Arizona on Sunday and is not expected to vote on the final bill.

The measure's passage would mark the first major legislative accomplishment for Trump and party leaders in a year of stumbles, the products of months of negotiations and a string of late adjustments aimed at winning over the party's final few holdouts.

Republicans fanned out across national news shows Sunday as part of a continued efforts to sell the public on the bill, promising benefits to the middle class both from tax cuts and ensuing economic growth.

"We think as a result of lowering business taxes, wages will go up. So, this is a huge opportunity for creating jobs, for creating tax cuts for working families," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.

Congress' nonpartisan tax analysts, joining several other nonpartisan assessments, concluded that the bulk of the bill's benefits would go to the wealthy and corporations. Those analyses have also projected that the cuts will produce far less economic growth than Trump and administration officials are promising.

The plan, first unveiled in final form Friday afternoon, would make the biggest changes to the tax code in three decades, most significantly dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The bill also would cut taxes for nearly all individuals, giving the biggest trims to the wealthy but in most cases providing some relief for the middle class.

Polls suggest the public is skeptical of major gains for the middle class. A recent CBS poll found that 76 percent of Americans believe the bill's biggest benefits would go to the largest corporations.

"What we are seeing here is a real massive attack on the middle class," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.

Republicans plan to hold tax votes in the House and Senate early in the week, but the bigger drama may come later, when leaders from both parties weigh a spending deal to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding runs out at the end of Friday.

While the tax debate has consumed Congress, there has been scant progress toward a spending deal.

House Republican leaders filed a spending bill last week that would temporarily extend funding for most government agencies at current levels until Jan. 19, while providing longer-term military funding at higher levels -- $650 billion through Sept. 30. But it is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats can block it because of the chamber's 60-vote filibuster threshold.

FEATURED PHOTO: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, seen here on Nov. 27, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday as part of a continued efforts to sell the public on the tax bill. (Andrew Harrier/AP)