WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans pushed their tax plan past another key hurdle Wednesday, a show of momentum for President Donald Trump’s top priority even as frantic negotiations with Republican holdouts made final passage uncertain.
The 52-48 vote, with all Democrats opposed, marked an important milestone as Republicans in Congress scrambled to deliver a significant accomplishment by the end of Trump’s first year in office.
It was the first time the plan has been considered by the full Senate. A final vote is likely by the end of the week.
Still the $1.5 trillion package remains in flux. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is working behind the scenes to prevent defections from his 52-seat Republican majority. He can afford to lose only two votes, assuming Vice President Mike Pence breaks a tie.
But at least eight Republican senators have voiced concerns. And even though they voted Wednesday in favor of opening debate on the bill, they could yet vote against the final package.
Some Republicans, led by Sen. Bob Corker want assurances the tax cuts won’t add to the deficit. Others, are pushing for increased benefits to so-called pass-through entities, including small businesses, law firms, real estate partnerships and other wealthy professionals.
Significant revisions to the legislation still may be made ahead of the final vote, and negotiations could continue later this month in a conference committee as the House and Senate reconcile their different bills.
Some lawmakers are mulling whether to scale back the proposed corporate tax cut. Under the current plan, the rate would drop substantially, from 35 percent to 20 percent, though some senators support increasing that to 22 percent.
The White House swiftly opposed that option, and Trump reiterated his promise for a 20 percent corporate rate that has been the centerpiece of the Republican plan.
“That’s good for everybody in the room, whether you have a company, or whether you want a job, because we’re going to bring back jobs,” he said, standing before a pair of Christmas trees at a rally in St. Charles, Mo. “With Trump as your president, we are going to be celebrating Merry Christmas again and it’s going to be done with a big beautiful tax cut.”
One key change sought by Corker and other senators — inserting a trigger mechanism to roll back the tax breaks if economic growth doesn’t cover costs as promised — was met with strong opposition from big business and conservatives, including a group backed by the influential Koch brothers that has been running digital ads and robo-calls targeting wavering senators on tax cuts.
Instead, GOP senators began floating an alternative trigger mechanism that would impose automatic spending cuts to prevent deficits. But that idea also saw some resistance.
Studies show that while most Americans, on average, would see tax cuts, some taxpayers — especially those lower- and middle-income filers — would see tax hikes, especially once the reduced rates expire. The package will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, and some senators complain there has not been enough analysis to see if economic growth will cover those costs as Republicans argue.