GOP lawmakers at long last realized their goal of a comprehensive tax overhaul on Wednesday, as the House signed off on a last-minute procedural vote that will send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk.
With their desired tax legislation behind them, the Republican majority is now expected to turn its attention to spending and entitlement reform – provided they can more immediately prevent the government from shutting down on Friday.
“The Tax Cuts are so large and so meaningful,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “This is truly a case where the results will speak for themselves, starting very soon.”
The tax overhaul – which will sharply lower corporate rates, retool individual income brackets and scrap several existing credits and deductions – weathered months of tinkering and rebranding on Capitol Hill as Republicans attempted to keep everyone happy within their ranks to avoid recreating their health care debacle from earlier in the year.
The plan also survived a Tuesday parliamentary hurdle that forced the Wednesday re-vote after the House initially passed the plan by a vote of 227-203. Certain aspects of the plan were found to be in violation of the Byrd Rule, which limits what can pass through a special process called reconciliation that allows for certain budget bills to be passed with a simple majority vote. The bill officially cleared the lower chamber on Wednesday by a final vote of 224-201.
And, perhaps most significantly, the bill overcame a serious public opinion problem. Polling efforts have consistently shown that the bill – which will add nearly $1.5 trillion to America’s debt burden over the next 10 years – is unpopular. A considerable share of the country believes wealthy Americans and businesses are getting more breaks than the average middle class family and analysts have repeatedly expressed doubts about Republican lawmakers’ claims that the bill will pay for itself.
But GOP leadership has consistently claimed that independent scoring bodies, polling agencies and policy experts have mischaracterized their legislation.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know [why the bill is so unpopular],” Gary Cohn, who heads Trump’s National Economic Council, said at an event Wednesday hosted by Axios, suggesting the GOP had “clearly not communicated” the plan’s potential benefits effectively.
Wednesday’s final vote comes only hours after GOP senators wrapped up their middle-of-the-night deliberations by also passing the bill. The Senate advanced the bill by a vote of 51-48, which came in around 1 a.m. ET.
Republicans have been criticized for the speed with which they pushed their bill through Congress. Indeed, part of the reason the House needed to re-vote was that, per congressional rules, the official name of the bill couldn’t be “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
That deliberations periodically carried well into the night – and that GOP leadership overlooked a rule dictating what the legislation could actually be called – has been repeatedly highlighted as evidence that speed was a greater priority than bipartisanship or attention to detail.
“In one month, we have taken the entire revenue system of the country, without one public hearing, without any witness testimony, without the solicitation of one expert – we, meaning the Republican majority – they’ve decided to go forward with this reckless plan,” Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said on the House floor on Tuesday.
Trump is expected to hold a news conference at the White House later in the day, where he and GOP leadership are likely to celebrate their first significant legislative success of the year.
But they won’t have long to celebrate. Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to come up with some sort of long-term government spending plan – and Democrats don’t look particularly eager to jump in and help after getting stonewalled throughout the tax overhaul process.
Assuming they’re able to skate past a looming government shutdown, Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and several senior Republicans have indicated that one of their first legislative priorities in 2018 will be government spending reform, which would likely include a restructuring of Social Security and Medicare.
“We’ve got to control our spending. That – we have more work to do. We clearly have to go after spending control,” Ryan said Wednesday morning during an interview with NBC News.
The GOP will only have a one-seat majority in the Senate once Democrat Doug Jones, who won Alabama’s special election last week and will replace Republican Sen. Luther Strange, comes to town, which could make a spending overhaul more complicated.
But significantly overhauling the tax code for the first time in three decades was also considered to be a steep ask at the beginning of the year, and Republican lawmakers on Wednesday will, for the first time during Trump’s tenure, be able to celebrate a major win.