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Donald Trump presses Congress on tax cuts, scepticism persists

President Donald Trump was headed to the US Capitol Thursday to rally skeptical lawmakers behind his effort to overhaul America's tax code.

Published: 16th November 2017 10:33 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2017 10:33 PM   |  A+A-

US President Donald Trump (File | AP)

By AFP

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump was headed to the US Capitol Thursday to rally skeptical lawmakers behind his effort to overhaul America's tax code, as he seeks to lock down a first major legislative win by year's end.

The House of Representatives votes on its version of tax reform later in the day, and the Republicans who control Congress are confident that the bill, which aims to reduce taxes for corporations and American workers, has enough support to pass.

"The day has finally come," House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Twitter. "Let's get it done."

The bill is expected to pass despite concerns by some Republicans in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey that their constituents could end up paying more to Uncle Sam.

It is a dicier proposition in the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-seat majority, 52-48, over Democrats.

Ron Johnson on Wednesday became the first Senate Republican to publicly oppose the measure, warning that it hands major tax breaks to corporations while smaller, "pass-through" businesses in which owners are taxed individually are treated differently.

"If they can pass it without me, let them," Johnson told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the plan unfairly benefits corporations more than other types of businesses. 

"I'm not going to vote for this tax package."

With lawmakers expected to vote along party lines, Republicans can afford only two defectors. If three vote no, the bill fails.

Trump lashed out at Democrats, saying on Twitter that the opposition party was "fighting massive tax cuts for the middle class and business" for one reason: "Obstruction and Delay!"

Adding a new twist to the ambitious legislation, Senate Republicans have bowed to Trump pressure and included a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in their tax overhaul.

Republicans are keen to take yet another stab at crippling the 2010 health care law, something they have failed to achieve despite multiple attempts this year.

By sliding the repeal of the rule that requires individuals to have health insurance or pay a fine into a successful tax bill, Republicans could claim a major double victory.

Repealing the mandate would save some $338 billion, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected, money that could help pay for the cuts. 

But CBO also projected the repeal would raise health insurance costs by 10 percent, and lead to 13 million fewer people with coverage over the next decade.

 

- 'If we fail...' -

 

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said such a cost increase could "more than wipe out" the tax cuts seen by middle-class families. 

"If they do this, every problem in health care will be on their backs," he said of Republicans.

All eyes are a handful of Senate Republicans who could make or break the legislation.

They include John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who together sank Trump's Obamacare repeal effort this summer, and Bob Corker, who has said he will oppose the measure if it raises the deficit.

Senator Lindsey Graham sounded a dire political warning.

"Whatever is wrong with this bill, we've got to make it better," he told Fox News. "If we fail, we are dead.... That's the end of the Republican majority."

Time is not on Trump's side. Congress is off next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and when they return there will be little room for delay.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to hold a vote right after Thanksgiving.

Then come the negotiations to synchronize the House and Senate versions, and the fusion could be tricky.

While the House version permanently cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, effective in 2018, the Senate's would delay that cut by a year.

The House version also maintains the nation's top tax bracket for the wealthiest individuals at 39.6 percent, while the Senate lowers the top tier to 38.5 percent.



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