US Senate passes landmark tax reform

WASHINGTON • US Senate Republicans narrowly passed landmark tax reform early yesterday, a critical step towards delivering a monumental legislative victory for President Donald Trump in his first year in office.

After a marathon session that stretched overnight, the chamber voted 51 to 49 in favour of the nation's largest tax overhaul in 31 years, overcoming stubborn internal Republican resistance and dismissing Democrats angry over last-minute revisions to the Bill.

The Senate version and the one passed recently by the House of Representatives must now be reconciled into a single Bill, and approved again by both chambers, before it can be signed into law.

Both versions dramatically lower the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 20 per cent, and include more modest tax cuts aimed at individuals across all income levels.

The Senate vote amounts to a reversal of fortunes for Mr Trump and Republican leaders, whose Bill just 24 hours earlier was on the brink of collapse when a handful of Republican deficit hawks baulked at the controversial plan's US$1.5 trillion (S$2 trillion) price tag for 10 years.

Eager to claim victory on what may be one of the best days of his presidency so far, Mr Trump tweeted: "We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America."

He added: "Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas!"

After extensive negotiations, the Bill was salvaged. Tax writers tweaked the 479-page measure deep into the night, leaving Democrats furious over the last-minute, handwritten changes to the legislation.

Mr Trump, desperate for a congressional win, has been more active in the legislation's navigation through Congress than he was with the Obamacare repeal Bill that failed earlier this year.

Democrats fumed that they received the text - peppered with extensive handwritten modifications that earned scorn from opposition lawmakers - only a few hours before the vote.

"We understand they have the votes to pass their Bill despite a process - and a product - that no one can be proud of and everyone should be ashamed of," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer told colleagues.

As the final vote was tallied, grinning Republicans congratulated one another with handshakes, backslaps and hugs. A trio of Democrats including Senator Ron Wyden, a ferocious opponent of the Bill, stood motionless in the back of the chamber.

Several Republicans who had voiced concerns about the Bill were ultimately lured by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's agreement to make changes. Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, a pair of Trump critics, worried about the impact of the tax cuts on the country's massive deficit.

A non-partisan congressional tax scorekeeper had projected the tax overhaul would add US$1 trillion to the deficit, even after accounting for expected economic growth from the plan.

The Senate and the House must now negotiate a compromise Bill, and contentious votes are likely in the weeks ahead.

Democrats argue that the plan is too expensive and will accommodate only the rich, and that it could ultimately impact cherished US entitlement programmes such as Medicare.

"The federal treasury is being looted tonight!" leftist Senator Bernie Sanders exclaimed in the chamber.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'US Senate passes landmark tax reform'. Print Edition | Subscribe