Republicans are just a few steps away from the tax bill becoming law

Nov 30, 2017, 06:46 PM

Republicans are in a mad dash to get tax reform passed in the Senate this week and on President Donald Trump’s desk by Christmas.

Senate Republicans unanimously voted to begin debate on their tax plan Wednesday evening, triggering what will be a whirlwind two days of floor debates and proposed amendments before the bill is given a full vote. The proposal radically cuts corporate taxes, offers temporary tax cuts for individuals, and repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, which is estimated to leave 13 million fewer insured by 2027. The House has already passed its own — very different — plan.

In the past, Trump has said he would sign “maybe the biggest tax cut we've ever had,” and promised he would help the middle class, make the United States more competitive internationally, bring almost unprecedented economic growth in the years to come, and eliminate the federal debt in eight years while he’s at it.

But that’s not at all what this bill does. Instead, it’s just become a race to figure out what can get 51 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House to pass. Even as senators voted to proceed to debate, many key elements of the tax plan were still up in the air, as Republican senators tried to hash out last-minute deals. The tax plan is well on its way, but there are a lot of procedural steps ahead, and the whole deal could fall apart at any juncture.

“When you have a very slim majority, three of four senators ... control the destiny of tax reform, and [that’s] just unacceptable for the American people,” Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who sits on the tax-focused House Ways and Means and Budget committees, said.

It looks like there is determination among Republican ranks to get this done. Here’s what they need to do to.

For the tax bill, the magic number in the Senate is 51. As in their strategy with Obamacare repeal, congressional Republicans are planning to pass their tax plan through a congressional loophole called budget reconciliation, which allows Congress to pass bills with a simple majority (51 votes) and bypass the threat of a Democratic filibuster. At the very least, GOP leadership needs 50 of the 52 Republican senators and Vice President Mike Pence to sign on to whatever tax bill they put on the Senate floor.

There are several procedural steps to get there.

1) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a motion to start debate on the House’s tax bill Wednesday evening. The motion to proceed passed with unanimous Republican support at 52-48, with all Democrats voting against. While this is usually a good indicator of how the final vote will go, as we saw with the health care debate, a senator could always vote to keep process moving and vote against the final bill, especially with so many details of the final tax bill up in the air.

2) Now that the motion to proceed has passed, it will trigger 20 hours of debate, divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats. It’s rumored that Republicans will try to begin debate Wednesday, to set themselves up for a vote by Thursday or Friday.

3) At the end of debate there is a “vote-a-rama,” when senators can offer unlimited amendments to the bill.

All of this is on the House’s tax bill until McConnell introduces an amendment to substitute the House bill with the Senate’s version. None of the amendments offered before McConnell’s substitute will impact the Senate tax proposal.

4) At the end of the vote-a-rama,” the Senate will vote on the final amended tax bill. It needs 51 votes to pass.

There’s some complicating politics at play throughout this process. To win votes, Senate leadership has given members assurances of what will be in the bill. So far those amendments have only been discussed conceptually. If they don’t make it into the final product, the bill could lose crucial votes.

The House and Senate have to pass the same bill for it to become law.

Despite months of negotiations between top House and Senate members and members of Trump’s administration — a working g...