Thu, Nov 30, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Prospects brighter for US tax overhaul

SHUTDOWN?Republicans need the Democrats’ support to pass a bill by Friday next week to keep US federal agencies open while they seek a longer-term budget deal

AP, WASHINGTON

Prospects are suddenly looking brighter for a US Republican-led tax overhaul, but the chances of avoiding a government shutdown? Not so much.

US Republican senators on Tuesday held together and shoved their signature tax overhaul a crucial step ahead as wavering members showed a growing openness. However, its fate remained uncertain and a planned White House summit aimed at averting a government shutdown was derailed when US President Donald Trump savaged top Democrats, saying on Twitter: “I don’t see a deal!”

“It’s time to stop tweeting and start leading,” US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after he and House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuffed the budget meeting with Trump and top Republicans.

Trump lunched with Republican senators at the Capitol, calling it a “love fest,” as he had at his previous closed-doors visit. However, the day underscored the party’s year-long problem of unifying behind key legislation — even a bill slashing corporate taxes and cutting personal taxes that is a paramount party goal.

Tuesday’s developments also showed the leverage Democrats have as Congress faces a deadline a week from tomorrow for passing legislation to keep federal agencies open while leaders seek a longer-term budget deal. Republicans lack the votes to pass the short-term legislation without the Democrats.

In a party-line 12-11 vote, the US Senate Committee on the Budget managed to advance the tax measure to the full Senate as a pair of wavering Republicans — Ron Johnson and Bob Corker — fell into line, at least for the moment.

In more good news for the Republicans, moderate US Senator Susan Collins of Maine said it was a “fair assumption” that she was likelier to support the bill after saying Trump agreed to make property taxes up to US$10,000 deductible instead of eliminating that break entirely.

However, the fate of the legislation remained uncertain as it headed toward debate by the full Senate, which Republicans control by a slender 52-48. The Republicans can afford just two defectors, and a half dozen or more in the party have been uncommitted. They include some wanting bigger tax breaks for many businesses, but others cringing over the US$1.4 trillion or more that the measure is projected to add to budget deficits over the next decade.

“It’s a challenging exercise,” US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

He compared it to “sitting there with a Rubik’s Cube and trying to get to 50” votes, a tie that US Vice President Mike Pence would break.

Corker, who has all but broken with Trump over the president’s behavior in office, is among a handful of Republicans uneasy over the mountains of red ink the tax measure is expected to produce.

He said he was encouraged by discussions with the White House and party leaders to include a mechanism — details still unknown — to automatically trigger tax increases if specified, annual economic growth targets are not met.

“I think we’re getting to a very good place on the deficit issue,” Corker said.

McConnell and US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan met with Trump at the White House, despite the top Democrats’ no-shows. Trump highlighted their absence by appearing before reporters flanked by two empty chairs bearing Schumer’s and Pelosi’s names.

Trump said Democrats would be to blame for any shutdown, despite Republicans’ domination of government.

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