WASHINGTON — Republican senators defended the late-night, early-morning debate and vote on their tax bill after criticism from Democrats that the bill’s final version incorporated multibillion-dollar changes made with little discussion.
"There’s no hide-the-ball here," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. "This is an open process."
Just before 2 a.m. Saturday, the Senate voted 51-49 to approve a revised bill that would cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent in 2019, and would provide temporary tax cuts for individuals that would expire in 2026. House and Senate lawmakers will now have to reconcile differences in their bills before the legislation can go to President Donald Trump for his signature.
That process will begin today. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures that the bill could be on Trump’s desk "within 10 days."
The Senate bill reflected several changes, inserted only a few hours before the final vote, that were designed to shore up Republican senators’ support — including a handwritten provision that Democratic senators have derided as illegible.
"This was Swamp 101, the process on Friday night where the bill was being hand-drafted, lots of provisions were being added for special interests," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said on CNN’s State of the Union, a reference to Trump’s criticisms of lobbyists’ influence over Washington policymaking. Trump has pledged to supporters to "drain the swamp."
A spokeswoman for McConnell said Sunday that the handwritten provision, which appears on page 257 of the bill and involves the rules for changing a business’ tax designation, was written by a Senate staffer, not by lobbyists.
"A Senate Republican staffer made the change — period," said spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier. She noted that Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who had criticized the provision Friday night, also offered handwritten changes in 2010 to the Dodd-Frank legislation that strengthened banking regulation.
Other Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have said the tax bill was rushed. They noted that the last time Congress rewrote the U.S. tax code, in 1986, hearings on the legislation lasted for months. Legislative language for the current bill was released on the evening of Nov. 20 and the full Senate vote was taken a little over 11 days later.
McConnell said it’s not unusual to make last-minute changes to major legislation by hand. On Saturday morning, shortly after the bill was passed, he dismissed complaints about the process.
"You complain about process when you’re losing," he said.
The changes, including provisions to preserve a limited property tax deduction for individuals and to expand a tax break for owners of partnerships, limited liability companies and other pass-through businesses, would add more than $30 billion to the bill’s 10-year cost, according to an analysis released by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Last week, the committee determined that an earlier version of the bill would increase federal deficits by roughly $1 trillion over 10 years, even after accounting for any economic growth that the tax cuts may produce. The legislation’s Republican backers have repeatedly said it would produce sufficient growth to make up for the cuts.
"I’m confident this is not only revenue-neutral to the government, but actually it’s very likely to be a revenue producer," McConnell said on ABC.