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House Republicans Clear Key First Step to Send Tax Bill to Trump


U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he and Vice President Mike Pence depart the U.S. Capitol after a meeting to discuss tax legislation with House Republicans, Nov. 16, 2017.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed significant changes to the nation's tax code for the first time in three decades and by a comfortable vote margin Thursday, giving President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans a much-needed win after a year of legislative setbacks.

"If we get Tax Cuts and Reform, we'll really see some great results!," the president tweeted early Friday, after noting the "Great numbers on Stocks and the Economy."


Later, Trump tweeted, "If Democrats were not such obstructionists and understood the power of lower taxes, we would be able to get many of their ideas into Bill!" but he did not list the Democratic ideas to which he was referring.


"This is nothing short of extraordinary," House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the vote, noting that getting the needed number of 218 House members to agree on anything was an achievement.

Ryan's long-held goal of reforming the nation's tax code appeared in jeopardy earlier this year after Republicans tried and failed to deliver on another long-term campaign promise: repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Last-minute encouragement

Republican leadership appeared visibly relaxed on the House floor as the vote totals moved toward passage and earlier in the day after Trump gave a last-minute speech of encouragement at the party's weekly conference meeting.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., points to boxes of petitions supporting the Republican tax reform bill that is set for a vote later this week as he arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2017.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., points to boxes of petitions supporting the Republican tax reform bill that is set for a vote later this week as he arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2017.

"Every step of the way, President Trump was directly engaged, kept talking about how he wanted to push those tax cuts further and further down to the middle class, to make sure that this was fair for everybody," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said Thursday of Trump's efforts.

The president did not address anticipated issues with passing the legislation in the U.S. Senate, telling House Republicans it was time to put American businesses on a competitive playing field.

"The president is on the verge of getting a major win today and, more importantly, being able to sign the first tax overhaul since 1986, so it's a critical moment for us — he made it pretty clear," Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, said of Trump's trip to Capitol Hill.

Many Republicans leaving the meeting described the House vote as the first step that would allow Trump to make the case for tax reform to the nation.

"We want him to sell it to America, he's great at selling," Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters before the meeting. "The basic case is good — it's pro-growth, pro-business."

Senate passage

Despite optimism among House Republicans, the bill now faces a much tougher path to passage in the Senate.

Late Thursday, a Senate tax-writing panel approved its own overhaul bill that will be sent to the full Senate after next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.

The Senate bill faces strong opposition from Democrats, who call the bill a tax break for the wealthy. Several Republican senators have also expressed reluctance to support the bill, throwing its approval into question. Republican control the Senate by a slim 52-48 margin.

Members of both parties have also expressed concerns about making significant changes to the nation's complicated tax code within an accelerated timeline intended to get the bill over to the White House by year's end.

"We [didn't] even know what the Senate version [was] until last Thursday. It is not a real good process, it's not leaving this bill open enough to scrutiny to really understand what's happening," Ron Johnson, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, told CNBC on Wednesday. "In the current form, I wouldn't vote for it. We can do better than this."

In the 227-205 House vote, 13 Republican members voted against the legislation, citing concerns about the financial impact on their constituents.

FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 26, 2017.
FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 26, 2017.

"House Republicans will have to decide whether they will chain themselves to this poisonous middle-class hike that is dead on arrival in the Senate," House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday morning.

'Life or death struggle'

Pelosi said Senate Republicans' attempts to add a repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate to the Senate version turned Democrats' fight to defeat the tax bill into "a life or death struggle."

Her Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, predicted the vote Thursday would have longer-term consequences for Republicans facing mid-term elections next year.

FILE - Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York speaks about the Republican tax reform plan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 9, 2017.
FILE - Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York speaks about the Republican tax reform plan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 9, 2017.

"I'm not so sure any family in America feels that it's right to subsidize tax cuts for folks like President Trump and his family. And their voices will be heard. During the debate on this bill and afterward, this bill will be a huge burden for Republicans to carry on their backs over the next year. Make no mistake about it," Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

But unlike the passage of the health care bill earlier this year, when Republicans passed legislation only to watch the attempt fail to pass much tighter margins in the Senate, the tone remained hopeful.

"I am looking at the combination of the House and the Senate bill and I think between the two of them, we'll have exactly what we need," Rep. Tom McArthur, a Republican from New Jersey, told VOA. "If we can blend the best parts of both bills, then we've got a real winning end."

VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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