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Senate Republicans make 11th-hour changes in push to pass tax cut bill

Winning over holdouts like Sen. Jeff Flake, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Republicans had the votes to pass their tax bill, which could affect the U.S. for at least a decade. But as the clock ticked down, the final bill hadn't appeared, and Democrats railed against the idea of passing something without the final language in hand. Lisa Desjardins talks to Judy Woodruff.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there was another big story today, and that is, Republican holdouts lined up to support a sweeping tax overhaul in the U.S. Senate.

    Lisa Desjardins is at the Capitol.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the Senate, last-minute shifts and changes on a bill that could affect the nation for at least a decade.

    Deficit hawk Jeff Flake became a day-of yes.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    Didn't get everything we wanted.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That despite almost no change in the bill's bottom line. Why is he a yes?

    In a statement, Flake said he got a deal on two other things he wanted, one, to extend an expensing deduction for businesses, and, two, to get a seat in negotiations over the fate of dreamers, those illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    Unless we can get started on immigration reform, and that starts with DACA, and that's the easy — should be the easy part. And so I have been talking about that to the vice president quite a bit, and others, and I got a good commitment to work on DACA quickly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But the White House point person on working with Congress, Marc Short, told NewsHour that while Flake will be part of the DACA conversation, he didn't get any other guarantees.

    For Republicans, it was an easy deal to get a breakthrough yes vote. And, by noon, Senate leader Mitch McConnell told reporters they absolutely had the votes to pass their bill.

    But as the clock ticked on voting day, the final bill itself was slow to appear. Democrats like Chuck Schumer railed against the idea of a final vote coming within hours without final language yet in hand.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Why on earth wouldn't you want to spend more than a few hours looking at a bill of this magnitude? What might have been snuck in? What might have been changed by mistake, innocent mistake? There are so many reasons to not rush this bill through.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To Democrats' outrage, from Republicans came a steady confidence that a once-in-a-generation tax bill was on track to become law.

    This morning was dramatic. Now it is a waiting game, with staffers literally sitting in chairs waiting for this bill to be posted. We haven't seen the language yet, Judy, and so we also don't know what time a vote could happen, nor do we know how much time we will have or lawmakers will have to read this bill before they could vote — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, as you're suggesting, a lot of changes being made very fast.

    What do we know about the major changes that have happened?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    These were some key changes that were made to bring on some of these big votes today. At the top of that list, Republicans in the Senate restored the Alternative Minimum Tax into their bill. They had repealed it. That's the tax for the wealthy. It's now back into the bill.

    But it would tax fewer of the wealthy. It would have a higher threshold in this version. We don't know how high. They're still working that out. That's another change they would have. They would actually raise the deduction for pass-throughs. That's essentially a bigger tax break for these small businesses, often owner-operated business.

    Think of an accountant, for example, though it also includes Donald Trump. Bigger tax deduction for them. Third, Judy, they'd allow a $10,000 property tax deduction, and that's a big one. That's the state and local tax deduction that Susan Collins of Maine wanted, and she got it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you have been talking about this the last few days. The other big piece of this, of course, is the deficit, what this bill would do to the deficit.

    We know Senator Bob Corker's one Republican holdout because of it. What are other Republicans saying?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Tonight, Judy, Bob Corker is the only Republican no vote. He's announced a no vote on this bill, and it is because of the deficit. Everyone else has said they will get on board.

    Just to review where we are with the nation's debt and deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, on the current path, the nation will have a debt of about $30 trillion in 10 years. That is a massive amount and that is some 91 percent of our gross domestic product.

    Now, if this tax bill were passed, if either the House or Senate tax bill were passed, Judy, that would add approximately $1 trillion or $2 trillion more to the debt. That's according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

    Now Republicans say that they don't think that number is accurate. They think all these tax cuts will actually decrease the deficit.

    And it looks like tonight, Judy, that, of all those Republicans, one Republican seems to be believing the analysts. All 51 others are believing their sense that the tax cuts will help the economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that one, of course, as we mentioned, being Senator Corker from Tennessee.

    Now, Lisa, even — once this is out of the Senate, it still has to be — has to go to conference committee, they have to work out an agreement with the House. What does that look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    To be honest, Judy, there are some big differences in these bills as they stand right now, the AMT being back in the bill, as I mentioned just now, the difference on the small business taxes, that they have to work out. So the House will not automatically pass the Senate bill, as sometimes it does.

    However, Judy, I think the pressure on these Republicans to pass a tax bill is so overwhelming, that I think once this gets through the Senate, it's almost a sure thing that some kind of tax bill will make it through Congress, and perhaps very quickly, maybe in the next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're right, a lot of pressure on them, they're feeling, to get this done before the end of the month.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My pleasure.

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