Due to rules mixup, US House must re-vote on tax Bill

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US Vice-President Mike Pence (centre) walks to the House chamber before the vote. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - The US House of Representatives must vote again on Wednesday (Dec 20) on a tax plan it just passed because minor elements of the Bill failed to comply with Senate rules, Republican leadership said.

After the House on Tuesday approved the nation's most sweeping tax code overhaul in three decades, it was headed to the Senate for a Tuesday night vote.

But Senate Democrats will demand that three provisions in the Bill, including one allowing the use of savings accounts for home-schooling expenses, be stripped out because they violate the so-called Byrd Rule on forbidding extraneous elements from being included in certain budget Bills.

"In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, our Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate," senators Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden said in a joint statement.

Because legislation must be identically worded when it passes both chambers of Congress if it is to become law, the House will need to consider it again after the Senate votes.

The vote is expected early on Wednesday before the Bill can advance to President Donald Trump's desk, according to the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The rules hiccup would delay by a day the most significant legislative victory of Trump's first year in office.

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The House initially passed the Bill by a vote of 227-203, overcoming united opposition from Democrats and 12 Republicans who voted against it. Passage is all but certain in the Republican-controlled Senate, as well.

The plan includes steep tax cuts for corporations and wealthy taxpayers, as well as temporary tax cuts for some individuals and families. It repeals a section of the Obamacare health system and allows oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, just two of many narrow changes added to the Bill to secure sufficient to win its passage.

Middle-income households would see an average tax cut of US$900 (S$1,200) next year, while the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans would see an average cut of US$51,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Centre, a think-tank in Washington.

Republicans insist the package will boost the economy and job growth. They also see the measure as key to retaining their majorities in the House and Senate in elections next November.

"Today, we give the people of this country their money back. This is their money, after all," House Speaker Paul Ryan said shortly before the vote.

Ryan was interrupted twice by protesters. "You're lying!" one woman shouted.

Democrats say the Bill will widen the income gap between rich and poor Americans, while adding US$1.5 trillion over the next 10 years to the mounting US$20 trillion US national debt.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Bill a "Frankenstein monster" riddled with carve-outs and loopholes that falls far short of the Republican promise of simplifying the tax code.

"This monster will come back to haunt them," she said on the House floor.

Some 52 per cent of adults oppose the tax plan, while 27 per cent support it, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

The end-of-year sprint represents a remarkable recovery of Republican fortunes since the middle of this year, when the party's drive to dismantle former Democratic President Barack Obama's Obamacare health-care law crumbled in the Senate and prospects for a tax overhaul seemed doomed by party infighting.

Republicans control the 100-seat Senate by only a 52-48 margin and can afford to lose support from no more than two party lawmakers. Republican Senator Jeff Flake was still undecided on Tuesday. Senator John McCain, who has brain cancer, was spending time with family in Arizona.

Vice-President Mike Pence took the precaution of rescheduling a trip to Egypt and Israel for January so he would be on hand this week in case his tie-breaking voting power is needed to ensure Senate passage of the Bill.

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