NEWS
12/15/2017 05:46 EST | Updated 12/15/2017 14:41 EST

GOP leaders finalize tax bill amid uncertainty in Senate

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans were set to unveil their sweeping tax package Friday amid uncertainty about whether they have the votes to pass it in the Senate and deliver to President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was a potential holdout. He wrote on Twitter Friday morning that he was still dissatisfied with the size of a tax credit that low-income families can claim for their children.

"The #workingclass is always forgotten in D.C. We need to add more #taxcuts for #workingclass parents especially those earning 20k- 50K," Rubio wrote.

At the White House, Trump said he was confident that Congress would pass the legislation as early as next week. The package would give generous tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans — Trump among them — and more modest tax cuts to low- and middle-income families.

"We're putting in a tremendous child tax credit and it is increasing on a daily basis," Trump said. "I think that we are going to be in a position to pass something as early as next week which will be monumental."

Members of a House-Senate conference committee were signing the final version of the legislation Friday. They have been working to blend different versions of the tax package passed by the House and Senate.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a member of the committee, said he believed Rubio's concerns had been met, but Rubio's office could not confirm it.

Rubio's potential defection pushes the Republicans' razor-thin majority in the Senate closer to the edge.

Senate Republicans could still pass the package without Rubio's vote, but they would be cutting it extremely close. An original version was approved 51-49 — with Rubio's support.

The Senate turmoil erupted after a key faction of House Republicans came out in favour of the bill, boosting its chances. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus predicted the vast majority of their members would support the package.

The up-and-down turns came after House and Senate Republican leaders forged an agreement in principle on the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's tax laws in more than 30 years. Republican leaders predicted swift passage next week, sending the bill to Trump for his signature.

At the White House, Trump said Thursday he was confident that Rubio will get onboard.

"He's really been a great guy and very supportive. I think that Sen. Rubio will be there," said Trump, who belittled Rubio during the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, calling him "little Marco."

The tax package would double the per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill makes a portion of the credit — $1,100 — available to families even if they owe no income tax. They would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it's called a "refundable" tax credit. Rubio wants to increase this amount but wouldn't say by how much.

"Given all the other changes they made in the tax code leading into it, I can't in good conscience support it unless we are able to increase the refundable portion of it. And there's ways to do it, and we'll be very reasonable about it," Rubio said.

During debate on the Senate version of the bill, Rubio proposed a change that would have made the entire $2,000 credit available to families, even if they owe no income tax, but it was soundly defeated. To pay for the expanded credit, he proposed to slightly scale back a steep cut in the corporate income tax rate.

A few days after the earlier Senate vote, Rubio tweeted a link to a news story that said GOP leaders were indeed considering scaling back the corporate tax cut — but not to pay for an expanded child tax credit.

"They freaked out when I proposed small reduction in Corporate tax cut to pay for cut for working families. Now this?" Rubio tweeted.

The final package slashes the corporate rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent. The initial Senate and House bills had set it at 20 per cent.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Senate negotiators got the best deal they could on the overall child tax credit. House GOP negotiators were proposing a $1,600 tax credit.

"We won everything in the child tax credit," Portman said. When asked if it could be changed further to appease Rubio, Portman said: "We've already won. I mean, we should celebrate our victory."

Rubio's opposition comes at a bad time for Senate Republicans, with two of them missing votes this week because of illness.

John McCain of Arizona, who is 81, is at a Washington-area military hospital being treated for the side effects of brain cancer treatment, and 80-year-old Thad Cochran of Mississippi had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. GOP leaders are hopeful they will be available next week.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stephenatap