Senate Republicans succeeded early Saturday in passing a sweeping, $1.4 trillion tax cut bill, after days of negotiating and a scramble at the end to lure in a handful of GOP holdouts with several last-minute changes to the legislation.
Vice President Mike Pence presided over the final vote near 2 a.m. after Republicans secured the 50 votes needed for passage, and then passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 51-49. Bob Corker of Tennessee provided the lone GOP "no" vote, saying the bill added too much to the debt.
"This is a great day for the country," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the vote.
The bill now heads to a likely conference with the House, which has scheduled to vote at 6:30 p.m. Monday to appoint conferees.
"Now we will move quickly to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to President Trump’s desk," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.
No Democrats voted for the legislation, which they said would balloon the deficit and provide only scraps to low- and middle-income earners while providing big tax cuts for the rich and multinational corporations.
Democrats also complained that the bill was only fully released briefly before the vote because Republican leaders were making last-minute changes to the legislation behind closed doors. Democrats continually objected to the floor debate continuing on Friday until the full bill was made public.
“We are just going to keep objecting because the American people have a right to know that tax policy is being made in the dark,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee.
When the Senate finally geared up to vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate had hit a "new low" with the tax bill, and made a motion for the Senate to adjourn. But Republicans defeated that motion, just as they defeated several other motions to send the bill back to the Senate Finance Committee during the week.
"Historians will mark today as one of the darkest black-letter days in the long history of this Senate," Schumer said just before that vote.
"You complain about process when you're losing, and that’s what you heard on the floor tonight," McConnell responded after the vote.
Aside from procedure, Democrats also complained about the elimination of popular tax deductions, especially the one for state and local income taxes which disproportionately benefits high-tax blue states.
But their complaints didn't much matter, as the bill was able to pass with only support from Republicans under the reconciliation procedure that allowed a simple majority vote. As a result, the GOP spent time reshaping the bill to ensure at least 50 Republicans were on board.
During voting late Friday and early Saturday, Republicans adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would expand 529 College Savings Plans to be usable for K-12 education expenses, including private schools and homeschooled students. Centrist Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska split with the party on the measure, requiring the vice president to enter the chamber to cast the deciding vote in favor.
Democrats also gained a minor win with an amendment authored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that stripped out a provision that would have exempted colleges that don't take federal funds from the endowment tax included in the bill. Democrats charged that the exemption would have benefited Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan. Republicans Collins, Murkowski, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and John Kennedy of Louisiana voted with Democrats.
But most changes were agreed before votes on amendments.
Sens. Ron Johnson and Steve Daines, of Wisconsin and Montana, respectively, said their vote hinged on winning more tax savings for small businesses that file under the individual tax code. They secured a deal to lower tax rates on pass-through businesses from 32 percent to 29 percent, which would be paid for by raising the tax on corporations' unrepatriated foreign profits held as cash from 10 percent to 14.5 percent.
Collins also secured a House-passed provision that would provide for a property tax deduction of up to $10,000, a lowering of the threshold for deducting medical expenses from 10 percent of income to 7.5 of income, and allowance for church, charity, and public employees to add catch-up contributions to their retirement accounts.
“As revised, this bill will provide much-needed tax relief and simplification for lower- and middle-income families, while spurring the creation of good jobs and greater economic growth,” Collins said.
The tax bill effectively repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate by ending the fine charged to those who do not purchase health insurance plans.
To appease Collins and other lawmakers who feared the premium increase that could come from repealing the mandate, Senate Republican leaders agreed to take up additional legislation to shore up Obamacare subsidies, which are intended to lower premiums.
In order to cover the cost of the property tax deduction, Senate Republicans added back in the unpopular Alternative Minimum Tax and said it would be modified to exclude more people.
After passage of the bill stalled Thursday over concerns by some Republicans that it would increase the deficit, the Senate GOP by Friday had decided to dismiss a report by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, or JCT, that found the tax cuts would increase the deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade.
Democrats said the report proved their claim that the tax cuts would not be paid for with economic growth as promised by Republicans.
But Republicans asserted as a group that the JCT analysis was flawed, even though it generally matched up with independent outside analyses. "I'm totally confident this is a deficit-neutral bill," McConnell said. "It's going to be a revenue producer."
After an intra-party debate Thursday night, the GOP dismissed a demand by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to include some kind of future tax to offset a potential deficit increase.
“I always wanted to be able to have a safety net,” Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., who initially sided with Corker, said. “If you’re going to walk across a high wire you may be skilled and you may be able to do it, but it sure is nice to have a net under you. We’re going to walk without the net at this point.”