The Senate narrowly passed a sweeping tax bill early Saturday, moving closer to the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in years.
A vote on the bill had previously been delayed due to concerns about its deficit effects, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating it would add more than $1 trillion to the deficit. On Saturday, senators voted 51-49 to pass the bill just hours after receiving a final version of it, with some complaining that they had received copies with handwritten changes that were difficult to read.
A number of you joined Hari Sreenivasan’s conversation with NewsHour Political Director Lisa Desjardins on Facebook Live on Saturday to ask what provisions had made it into the final bill and how you would be affected. Read a condensed version of your questions and her answers, and watch the full interview, below.
Is there any discussion at all about the effects on elderly with high medical costs?
There is a major discussion about that, and that’s what Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was advocating for when she wanted to change the medical expense deduction. Under current law, you can get a tax deduction if your medical expenses are more than 10 percent of your income. You can deduct everything above that 10 percent. Sen. Collins got a temporary change so that it goes down to 7.5 percent, meaning you can deduct more, and also more people will qualify for that medical expense deduction.
However, that change is only for two years, so it won’t last very long, but it will help people with those expenses for a little while if it ends up in the final bill. It’s in the Senate bill, but it’s not in the House bill.
Can you explain the amendment that passed regarding public schools and deductions for private school tuition?
This really changes how the government looks at K-12 education. Until now, the government’s sole role has been with public education. Now, this is a government incentive, in a way, for families to not choose public school, but instead to save up if they want for private high school or to keep their kids at home. It would probably be up to the Department of Education to decide what qualifies for this homeschooling 529 deduction.
This would be a big change, philosophically, for the country and certainly represents where Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is, but Democrats have major problems with it.
The Senate passed a sweeping, nearly $1.5 trillion tax package early this morning. Have questions about the bill? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll ask PBS NewsHour political director Lisa Desjardins.
Posted by PBS NewsHour on Saturday, December 2, 2017
What about the deficit? Non-partisan estimates show $1 trillion being added in the next 10 years.
Right, it’s between $1-$2 trillion. It depends on how you want to count the effect — if you count, for example, the interest on the debt or not. But it’s a lot of money. This is a very significant departure for Republicans. It’s a choice about their priorities, which have been at loggerheads before, about whether they want to cut taxes or cut the deficit. They’re clearly choosing — and not by a little bit, by a lot — they are choosing to tax cuts. And it’s fascinating that they are choosing that now, because obviously we’re at a time when the economy, relatively, is doing well. In general, we are growing and we have a deficit that is on track, without this tax law, to be $30 trillion within 10 years.
This bill would add another $1-2 trillion in debt that would bring us very close to sort of the red line for economists, which is 100 percent of GDP, essentially saying in about 10 years, our debt would be equal to everything that is earned, done and owned in this country in a year. That’s a dangerous level.
Republicans argue that they think their tax cuts will create so much growth that it will make up for all of that money that’s being spent, but there is not a single economic analysis from within the government, and I haven’t seen any from outside of the government, that say specifically, this will pay for itself. All the other estimates say this is going to be a least a trillion dollars of red ink.
What happens to the Affordable Care Act?
It depends on what happens in the final version. The Senate version added a repeal of the individual mandate. That remains in the Senate bill, and I have a sense that it probably will be in the final bill. There are some House members who have a problem with that, so they have to be careful with it on the House side. By adding that provision, they also get a lot more money that Republicans want to use for more tax cuts, over $300 billion in fact.
It may seem counter-intuitive — why does government gain by repealing the individual mandate if it’s a penalty? They gain because the Congressional Budget Office thinks fewer people will be signing up for Medicaid and other government services. Fewer people will be getting subsidies. CBO also concluded that some 13 million fewer Americans would have health insurance if the individual mandate is repealed. Some of those are by choice — some who don’t want to have health insurance, say they can’t afford it and have that right. But also, some of those would be people who don’t sign up for Medicaid and could get it basically for free.
I heard they put Arctic drilling into this bill.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been an issue for decades. I think one of the number one reasons this provision was added is Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She’s been a key swing vote this entire year. She’s someone who has wanted to allow this drilling. It takes an act of Congress to do it, and the only way to pass it without Democratic votes was through this idea of budget reconciliation, where they only needed 51 votes. They get one shot a year at that and they’re using it for tax reform, so Lisa Murkowski, to pass the idea of drilling in ANWR, needed it in this bill. It also worked out for Republican leaders because it sweetened the pot for her, it made her a more likely yes to this bill. There are also reasons you could also say, philosophically, you could say, Republicans want to do it, that drilling should be allowed here, and this is their only chance to get it through Congress.
These answers were edited for clarity.