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Sweeping GOP bill set to revamp U.S. tax code, slash corporate rate

For Republican lawmakers, it's a day to celebrate. Cheers went up as the GOP tax overhaul received House passage, signalling the end of a legislative sprint to get the bill wrapped up by Christmas. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what ended up in the bill, a minor snag in the Senate, plus the prospects for passing a federal funding bill and avoiding a government shutdown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans are reveling tonight in the prospect of passing a sweeping revision of the tax laws.

    The U.S. House of Representatives approved it today 227 to 203, and the Senate moved to follow suit. But a last-minute procedural glitch meant that the House will have to vote one final time tomorrow.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Cheers as the GOP tax overhaul received House passage, largely along party lines. It signaled the end of Republicans' sprint to get the bill to the president by Christmas.

  • Protestors:

    Kill the bill!

  • Man:

    The chair has detected a disturbance.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Minutes before the vote, protesters in the House gallery interrupted the debate several times, with some chanting, "Kill the bill."

    But, for Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan, who has long focused on tax policy, it was a day to celebrate.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan:

    This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that Congress has passed in decades to help the American worker, to help grow the American economy. This is profound change and this is change that is going to put our country on the right path. For all those millions of men and women in America who are living paycheck to paycheck, who are struggling to get ahead, help is on the way.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's the first time the U.S. tax code has been substantially revamped in three decades. The bill slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Individual tax cuts would be more modest, and expire in 2026.

    But the measure doubles the standard deduction for most households to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. State and local tax deductions remain, but they have been limited to $10,000. Republicans insist the tax bill will pay for itself.

    Democrats and a number of independent analysts have said it won't generate nearly enough growth to do that. But Congress' own score keeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates it will actually add nearly $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade.

    The tax deal also scraps a key part of President Obama's health care law, the mandate that all Americans have health insurance or face a penalty.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was surrounded at a news conference today by health care consumers who she says will be harmed by what she called one of the most scandalous acts of plutocracy in our history.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    This is the worst bill to ever come to the floor of the House, with stiff competition for what some of the things they have tried to do, the worst bill in history, because of the number of people it affects, the amount of money it sucks up to the higher income, and the impact on our future deficits.

    It's an all-out looting of America, the wholesale robbery of the middle class.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Next, the bill went to the Senate, where the new tax policy led to more political charges.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    Every single Democrat apparently in the House and also in the Senate has doubled down on the status quo. So I guess that tells you that they think we're doing just fine and there's no way to we can do better.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    This tax bill will be an anchor around the ankles of every Republican. If they haven't learned it yet, they're going to learn it next November. Republicans will rue the day they passed this bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump is eager to sign the bill into law.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    This is a tax plan that we hope benefits all Americans primarily, and priority number one is middle-class Americans. That has been this administration's focus.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans next will turn their attention to a spending bill to try to avoid a government shutdown Friday at midnight.

    And this bill once signed into law, as we expect, Judy, would take effect January 1. Most provisions would go into effect immediately.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So just within days.

    And, Lisa, as we reported earlier, now there has been a procedural snag?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    So, the plan was, the hope was that the Senate could pass this bill tonight, send it to the president. That's not going to happen because of Senate rules. There are some elements of the bill, including one by Senator Ted Cruz involving a potential new tax savings plan for homeschoolers, that the Senate parliamentarian says do not meet those rules.

    So the Senate will take out that homeschooling provision and others, send the bill back to the House. The House then, we expect, a final vote there tomorrow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So this is a massive piece of legislation, Lisa, but it comes in a week when there is a whole lot else going on, a number of other deadlines members of Congress face. Can you walk us through that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    It's so easy to miss the other important things just around the corner, meaning tomorrow. Let's talk about this week's deadline, December 22, two major deadlines for Congress, first to fund most of government. Funding runs out at midnight Friday.

    Also, flood insurance program runs out of its funding on Friday. Then, just around the corner, December 31, other major programs, the Children's Health Insurance Program, its funding expires. FISA, intelligence gathering allowing CIA to gather intelligence on domestic suspects, it's a controversial program, that would expire.

    And so would the Veterans Choice Act, including some nursing home benefits. All of that, Congress needs to deal with before it leaves town. And then, finally, there are some other big priorities that are just hanging out there that they would like to take care of.

    One is to reverse Medicare cuts that would be put in place because of this tax bill by automatic spending rules, and then another to fund insurance subsidies. That's that Alexander-Murray health care bill that they think would help stabilize markets.

    And one last one, Judy, pass disaster funding. The House is proposing $80 billion to go to help hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a lot of money, and they might just throw that into a spending bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, well, let's go back. It's all important, but let's go back to the first thing you mentioned, funding the government.

    If they don't get that worked out, the government shuts down. Tell us where all that is.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    The government spending bill itself wouldn't be that difficult, I think, if it weren't for all these other issues surrounding it. The issue is that everyone knows the government spending bill is a must-pass vehicle. There are not a lot of those things hanging out in the air.

    So anything else people want to pass up here, they want to attach to it. They want to get on that last train out of town. And to do that, Judy, also, Republicans need Democratic votes. They need 60 votes for a spending bill in the Senate. So they have to come up with something that can in some way be bipartisan.

    Right now, we run out of funding Friday night at midnight. We expect the House to pass its version of the spending bill which would contain spending for defense for one year. Democrats will not support that because they think — they want to also get funding for other programs for a year. So the Democrats in the Senate will not accept that House bill. It's going to be a ping-pong battle then between the two chambers.

    The House passes one, the Senate will send back a different version, the House may then send a different version. And woven through all of this, Judy, are all these issues we have talked about. For example, do those insurance subsidies make it into this bill?

    Susan Collins of Maine was promised that, but it may not pass in the House. And other issues, DACA, those dreamers, Democrats want those dreamers to be protected somehow before the end of this year. That might not happen. If it doesn't, will Democrats withhold their votes for a spending bill?

    I think the issue here, there are so many issues at this time. Judy, there is talk, though, of trying to punt all these issues for the short-term maybe until mid-January again, very murky, very much in flux, a lot to watch right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, bottom line is likely or possibly putting this off until January and then having to pick it up all over again?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I wouldn't bet money on anything right now, because it's so unclear, but I think that's right. There's not a lot of appetite for a government shutdown two days before Christmas, but who knows.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins figuring it all out for us at the Capitol, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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