Congress

Five lawmakers to watch as Senate begins tax bill debate

From left, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, make statements to reporters as work gets underway on the Senate's version of the GOP tax reform bill.
From left, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, make statements to reporters as work gets underway on the Senate's version of the GOP tax reform bill. AP

The corporate tax breaks President Donald Trump touted would be delayed a year. State and local tax deductions would end completely.

The Senate Finance Committee will begin considering Monday a plan that would accomplish these goals, proposals that differ markedly from those the House Ways and Means Committee endorsed Thursday.

The full House plans to vote on its blueprint in the next few days. Senate leaders would like to have their bill ready for a floor vote before Thanksgiving, an ambitious deadline they seem increasingly unlikely to meet.

The ultimate aim is for the two versions to be reconciled by a special House-Senate committee next month so Trump can sign a single compromise bill into law by Christmas.

First, though, the Senate Finance Committee will have its say, and it has some ideas very different from those in the House bill.

Here are committee members in both parties likely to shape its legislation:

▪  Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is perhaps best known for being the Senate GOP’s “voice of conscience” on race relations, poverty and expanding access to education. On tax policy, he’s sharing his own experiences to promote the importance of rewriting the code to benefit working families.

“Tax reform is about families like the one I grew up in: Single-parent households working paycheck to paycheck, year in and year out, praying and hoping for something good to happen,” Scott recently said on the Senate floor.

The chamber’s only black Republican is also playing a critical role in the broader debate. Senate Republican leaders named Scott one of their chief messengers for selling their tax proposal to fellow members and the public.

They also made him the point person for spinning the GOP position on portions of the tax code dealing with personal and family income tax deductions. A few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky asked Scott to facilitate a Capitol Hill event with Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, to discuss expanding the child tax credit.

▪  Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has been occupied lately as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is overseeing a major investigation into whether Russians interfered in the 2016 election and colluded with the Trump campaign.

But he remains an influential voice in writing the tax bill. Burr is a proponent of expanding the child care tax credit. In July he introduced legislation that would index that credit for inflation and make it refundable. His plan would increase the amount of pre-tax dollars that can be put in dependent care flexible spending accounts.

“Parents need safe, affordable child care,” Burr said when the bill was introduced in July.

In the Senate’s tax bill, the child care tax credit increases from $1,000 to $1,650. The House bill caps the credit at $1,600. House Republicans first sought to eliminate an existing policy allowing parents to put $5,000 of pre-tax dollars into savings accounts to pay for child care expenses, but retained it after some backlash. The Senate also preserves this provision.

▪  Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has said she wants to work with Republicans on tax overhaul legislation. As one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats seeking reelection in 2018, she’d like to show voters she’s a team player and consensus-builder.

McCaskill has some leverage. She’s a Democrat whom the Trump administration has specifically singled out as a possible swing vote on taxes. She has dined with two of Trump’s closest advisers, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, and was seated beside Trump at a recent meeting with fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee at the White House.

She made it clear last week, though, that she would not be bought by Republicans who want her vote on the tax bill, or swayed by Democratic leaders who would likely prefer her to oppose it.

“I'm looking at this as an individual senator. Will it actually, permanently provide tax relief to the middle class, or is this a total sop to wealthy people? And that's all I'm looking at,” she said.

▪  Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has a long history of mastering tax and spending details — and pushing for lower tax rates. In 2010, he was a member of the blue-ribbon commission that recommended a plan to lower income and corporate tax rates while cutting spending.

But Crapo wants a tax package that doesn’t just cut taxes, but overhauls the tax code. The Senate bill lowers personal income tax rates but keeps seven brackets, while the House plan includes only four.

“While lowering rates is important, it must not be the sole focus for Congress in its tax reform deliberations, and must not be the sole measure taxpayers use for evaluating what tax reform means for them,” Crapo has said.

▪  Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., often touts the benefits of working with Republicans. Earlier this year, he was confident that Democrats and Republicans could find common ground on taxes.

He laid the groundwork in March when he introduced a tax bill with moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that would have prevented small businesses from paying a higher tax rate than corporations.

Since then, however, Nelson’s attitude has changed considerably. He’s expected to start the Monday deliberations pessimistic about the chances of working with Republicans.

"They're cutting out the members of the Finance Committee who happen to be Democrats," Nelson said of his GOP colleagues. "They're accelerating … no hearings, nothing. This is not the way to make complicated tax law.”

Brian Murphy, Lindsay Wise and Alex Daugherty of the Washington bureau, and Bryan Lowry of the Kansas City Star, contributed to this report.

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @emma_dumain

  Comments