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Senate tax bill suffers blow as measure picks up support

Senate Republicans are running back to the drawing board on their tax overhaul after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a deficit trigger wouldn’t pass muster. That followed a day of meaty, substantive debate on the matter, during which Republicans seemed to fuse together over a bill that would affect every American taxpayer. Lisa Desjardins talks to Judy Woodruff about the latest updates.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our two main stories tonight come from Congress, one on sexual misconduct, the other on taxes.

    We start with the Senate debating into the night on the Republican tax bill, as the measure picks up some important support.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the sharply political Senate, today, a meaty, substantive debate.

  • Sen. John Thune:

    So, the argument again that this is somehow simply a tax cut for the rich just doesn't pass the smell test. It doesn't comport with reality. Clearly, the numbers tell a very different story.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As Republicans seemed to fuse together over a bill that would affect every American taxpayer, they say, cutting most business and individual taxes. But Democrats argue it's a philosophical shift toward the wealthy.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown:

    If my friends here want to give a tax cut to the middle class, why don't we give a tax cut to the middle class? We do this bill, if we pass this bill, big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in this country, we drive a hole in the budget deficit, we come back and make the middle class and working families pay to fill that hole.

    That's irresponsible. That's morally reprehensible, Mr. Speaker.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Within minutes, Texas' John Cornyn, the chamber's number two Republican, responded that Democrats have no equivalent plan.

  • Sen. John Cornyn:

    They must like the fact that wages in America are stagnant. They must like the fact that working American families have not seen a pay increase because of those stagnant wages. We can't do better when you have got your head in the sand and the only thing you wanna do is to blow up our efforts to try to improve the quality of life, the standard of living, the take-home pay, and to reawaken the slumbering giant, which is the American economy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Fellow Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania made his party's central argument, that cutting corporate and individual taxes will grow jobs.

  • Sen. Pat Toomey:

    So that our workers can compete and win against companies from anywhere in the world, so that we will have more jobs, that's what's in this bill. And that's why this is a great deal for the people that I represent.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To that, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey was happy to respond.

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    Now, some of my colleagues are going to argue that this bill, giving a trillion dollars to corporations, will somehow result in a trickling down of things like raises for workers, and somehow creating new jobs. But, to me, this is a fantasy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There was another important divide- the process. Democrats like Leader Chuck Schumer stressed there were no hearings on this bill, and a relatively fast debate.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    The Republican tax bill has made a mockery, a mockery of the legislative process. Republican leaders disappeared behind closed doors, negotiated a framework for a tax bill without a shred of Democratic input. Significant changes will likely be made by the majority leader today.

    We will get huge changes in a bill today and try to vote on it tonight. And this is tax, one of the most complicated issues before us.

  • Sen. Susan Collins:

    I want to express my thanks to the majority leader, my colleagues and the administration for working with me.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All this as key votes, like Republican Susan Collins of Maine, seemed to warm to the bill. She indicated that talks she's had about her concerns make her hopeful.

    But the critical news today may have come with this statement from Arizona's John McCain, saying he is now for the bill, though he still thinks it's far from perfect. He said it is generally positive. And he is on board.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The prospects of passing a tax bill gave another big boost to Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 331 points, more than 1 percent, to close above 24,000 for the first time. The Nasdaq rose 49 points, and the S&P 500 added 21.

    As the Senate talked taxes today, many in the U.S. House of Representatives focused on the fate of its longest serving member. Multiple women have now accused 88-year-old Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers of sexual misconduct, and, last night, he was hospitalized in Detroit for a stress-related condition.

    In Washington today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who had initially called Conyers an icon, said it's time for him to go.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing and very credible. It's very sad.

    The brave women who came forward are owed justice. I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family, and wish them well. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Conyers' attorney flatly rejected the call to resign. He told reporters that Leader Pelosi — quote — "sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave."

    For more on both of these day's big stories on Capitol Hill, let's turn again to our Lisa Desjardins.

    Lisa, I'm going to ask you about Congressman Conyers, but let's start with taxes.

    Things seem to be moving fairly smoothly toward a vote, but just within the last few minutes, you are telling me that the Senate parliamentarian has come up with a ruling that has caused them to run back to the drawing board.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. This is indeed breaking news.

    I ran from across the Capitol to get there. That's right, a very dramatic scene in the Senate, Judy, in the last hour, as key senators gathered around the central part of the Senate chamber, and the parliamentarian, we are told, told them that this idea of a deficit trigger cannot pass muster with the rules that are required, what is called the Byrd rule, to pass something under budget reconciliation, which is how they're going to do this.

    Now, that is a big blow to this bill because, two reasons, one, there are a lot of deficit hawks who said they needed some kind of guarantee that this bill won't raise the deficit, people like Senator Bob Corker, in order to get their vote.

    I talked to Bob Corker after this news that the trigger can't pass muster, and he said the plan is now, instead of having a trigger that would change the tax equation if the deficits were — went up, now the bill instead will automatically change the tax structure.

    Judy, what that means essentially is Republicans are now working on restructuring the Senate bill, so that the tax cuts don't go as deep.

    That could be controversial, and it's not clear how many votes that could cost. But they're really retooling now. And the idea of a vote tonight, which is what Republicans hoped for, seems like a very, very long shot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one important part of this bill, Lisa, has to do with Obamacare. We know that's been a priority to Republicans to try to do away with it. Tell us where that stands right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    And this is important, because we have seen protests here on Capitol Hill all day long. And, in fact, I have been with senators like Senator Flake when their constituents have come up to them and said, don't vote for this bill.

    And the biggest reason we hear why is health care concerns. Let's talk about two big health care components in this bill. One is that it repeals the individual mandate, and a reminder that the Congressional Budget Office found that that would mean more than 10 million Americans fewer would have health insurance than do now.

    Some of those would be by choice, but some of those would be people who didn't sign up for Medicaid because they weren't paying attention. Another other component of this bill is that it would raise the deficit so much that it would cause automatic spending cuts to programs including Medicare.

    A $25 billion cut is estimated for just next year alone. Now, Republicans say they would vote to reverse that cut, but some folks are nervous because obviously that hasn't happened yet, and of course there is a medical deduction that would be taken away in this bill.

    Many factors. And, Judy, to add to all that, I neglected to say earlier, on this question of deficits, we got big news today from the Joint Committee on Taxation. They added in something Republicans wanted to see, dynamic scoring, the effect on the economy of these tax cuts.

    And they still found that the Senate bill would add a trillion dollars to the deficit. That's not what Republicans wanted to see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, one other, finally, quick question on Congressman Conyers.

    We reported earlier his support among his own party members, Democrats, eroded dramatically today. What are you hearing about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Universally from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, they say that it is time for Conyers to resign, with one exception. That, of course, is Mr. Conyers himself.

    Talking to some Democrats who know him, who have worked with him, they say they believe that that he is waiting to do it on his own timeline, that he is a stubborn man, or a man who is deep in his beliefs. He says he's innocent, and they think that he's not going to want to resign, certainly when leaders call for it.

    A lot of drama today, Judy, here in the Capitol. I can't stress enough we see big personalities at work, and them still not able to solve all the problems here yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the debate goes into the night. Our Lisa Desjardins running from one end of the Capitol to the other to cover it all.

    Thank you, Lisa.

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