US Senate Republicans early yesterday narrowly passed landmark tax reform, a critical step toward delivering a monumental legislative victory for US President Donald Trump in his first year in office.
After a marathon session that stretched overnight, the chamber voted 51 to 49 in favor of the nation’s largest tax overhaul in 31 years, overcoming stubborn internal Republican resistance and dismissing US Democrats angry over last-minute revisions to the bill.
The Senate version and the one passed recently by the US House of Representatives must now be reconciled into a single bill, and approved again by both chambers, before Trump can sign it into law.
Both versions dramatically lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and include more modest tax cuts aimed at individuals across all income levels.
The Senate vote amounted to a reversal of fortune for Trump and Republican leaders, whose bill just 24 hours earlier was on the brink of collapse when a handful of Republican deficit hawks balked at the controversial plan’s US$1.5 trillion price tag for 10 years.
After extensive negotiations, the bill was salvaged. Tax writers tweaked the 479-page measure deep into the night, leaving Democrats furious over the last-minute, handwritten changes to the legislation.
Democrats fumed that they received the text — peppered with extensive handwritten modifications that earned scorn from opposition lawmakers — only a few hours before the vote.
“We understand they have the votes to pass their bill despite a process — and a product — that no one can be proud of and everyone should be ashamed of,” Democratic US Senator Chuck Schumer told colleagues.
Haste and the darkness of night were Trump’s allies in the process, he added.
As the final vote was tallied, grinning Republicans congratulated one another with handshakes, backslaps and hugs.
A trio of Democrats, including Senator Ron Wyden, a ferocious opponent of the bill, stood motionless in the back of the chamber.
Mindful of the historic nature of the vote, US Vice President Mike Pence presided over the chamber during final passage.
A nonpartisan congressional tax scorekeeper had projected the tax overhaul would add US$1 trillion to the deficit, even after accounting for expected economic growth from the plan.
The analysis complicated Trump’s argument that the tax cuts would pay for themselves through additional economic growth.
The Senate and the House must negotiate a compromise bill, and contentious votes are likely in the weeks ahead.
“Now, we will move quickly to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to President Trump’s desk,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.
Democrats have argued that the plan is too expensive and would accommodate only the rich, and that it could ultimately impact cherished US entitlement programs such as Medicare.
“The federal treasury is being looted tonight,” Senator Bernie Sanders roared in the chamber.
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