Warner Calls Senate Tax Vote ‘Swamp 101,’ GOP Cites Transparency

  • McConnell says it’s not unusual to include handwritten changes
  • Last-minute revisions seen adding $30 billion to bill’s cost

GOP Tax Bill Passes the Senate

Republican senators defended the late-night, early-morning debate and vote that produced their sweeping revisions to the U.S. tax code, 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 during an appearance 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, 479-page 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 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 Monday. One lawmaker, Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, 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.

Hand-Drafted Provisions

“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,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” His comment was a reference to Trump’s criticisms of lobbyists’ influence over Washington policy making. Trump has pledged to supporters to “drain the swamp.”

A spokeswoman for McConnell said Sunday that the hand-written provision, which appears on page 257 of the bill and involves the rules for changing a business’s 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 Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who had criticized the provision Friday night, also offered handwritten changes in 2010 to the Dodd-Frank legislation that overhauled banking regulation.

Other Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have said the bill -- which would have profound effects on the U.S. economy -- was rushed. They noted that the previous 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 held a little over 11 days later.

Additional Costs

But 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, will add more than $30 billion to the bill’s 10-year cost, according to an analysis released by Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

2:56 a.m. Tweet

It’s unclear when lawmakers got access to that analysis, which is dated Friday. The JCT, Congress’ official scorekeeper for the effects of tax legislation, posted a Twitter message about its latest analysis at 2:56 a.m. Saturday -- more than an hour after the Senate vote.

Last week, the JCT 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 will 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.

Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, echoed that message during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

‘Inconsistent With Reality’

JCT has “been consistently underestimating” the growth the bill would produce, Scott said. Specifically, the scorekeeper isn’t accounting for how well U.S. corporations will do in global competition with a lower tax rate, he said. Other, independent analyses have reached similar conclusions to the JCT finding, although they differ on the size of the deficit that would result after considering “macroeconomic” effects.

“They’re saying we’re going to slow the economy by cutting taxes -- that’s just inconsistent with reality,” Scott said.

As for the Senate’s process, Scott said lawmakers have been studying various changes to the tax code for some time. “We’ve had three years of meetings” and committee hearings to hash out various aspects of the bill, he said.

Asked specifically if he’d read the bill before voting, Scott said: “I’m not going to say I read every single letter or every single page.” But he said he was familiar with each addition that was made individually. He described them as “last-minute changes that had been envisioned for weeks.”

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Sahil Kapur

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