The Republicans have pushed a nearly $1.5 trillion (£1.11 trillion) tax bill through the Senate after burst of eleventh-hour horse trading, as a party starved all year for a major legislative triumph took a giant step toward giving President Donald Trump one of his top priorities by Christmas.
“Big bills are rarely popular. You remember how unpopular ‘Obamacare’ was when it passed?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview, shrugging off polls showing scant public enthusiasm for the measure. He said the legislation would prove to be “just what the country needs to get growing again”.
Senate approval came on a 51-49 roll call with Senator Bob Corker the only politician to cross party lines. The measure focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, gives more modest breaks to others and offers the boldest rewrite of the nation’s tax system since 1986.
Republicans touted the package as one that would benefit people of all incomes and ignite the economy. Even an official projection of a one trillion dollar, 10-year flood of deeper budget deficits could not dissuade Republican senators from rallying behind the bill.
“Obviously I’m kind of a dinosaur on the fiscal issues,” said Mr Corker, who battled to keep the bill from worsening the government’s accumulated 20 trillion dollar (£14.85 trillion) in IOUs.
The Republican-led House approved a similar bill last month in what has been a stunningly swift trip through Congress for complex legislation that impacts the breadth of American society. The two chambers will now try crafting a final compromise.
After spending the year’s first nine months futilely trying to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, Republican leaders were determined to move the measure rapidly before opposition Democrats and lobbying groups could blow it up. The party views passage as crucial to retaining its House and Senate majorities in next year’s elections.
Democrats derided the bill as a Republican gift to its wealthy and business backers at the expense of lower-earning people. They contrasted the bill’s permanent reduction in corporate income tax rates from 35% to 20% to smaller individual tax breaks that would end in 2026.
Congress’ non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the bill’s reductions for many families would be modest and said by 2027, families earning under $75,000 (£55,000) would on average face higher, not lower, taxes.
The bill is “removed from the reality of what the American people need,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He criticised Republicans for releasing a revised, 479-page bill that no one can absorb shortly before the final vote, saying, “The Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery.”
“You really don’t read this kind of legislation,” Senator Ron Johnson told home-state reporters, asked why the Senate was approving a bill some senators had not read. He said politicians needed to study it and get feedback from affected groups.
Democrats took to the Senate floor and social media to mock one page that included changes scrawled in barely legible handwriting. Later, they won enough Republican support to kill a provision by Senator Pat Toomey that would have bestowed a tax break on conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.