When 51 Senate Republicans approved their regressive tax plan at 1:36 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning, it felt like the end of a difficult fight. But that’s not quite right.
One of two things will now happen. Either the Republican-led House will simply take up the Senate bill, as is, in the hopes of sending it on to the White House for Donald Trump’s signature, or there will be a conference committee in which House and Senate negotiators work on reconciling the bill’s differences and crafting one final version.
Though there’s been some scuttlebutt about the former – I wouldn’t rule out the possibility just yet – it’s more likely House and Senate negotiations will get underway fairly soon. GOP leaders appeared optimistic over the weekend that the process will be fairly easy, but at least in theory, this is going to require some effort.
Because while both plans are built around a massive, permanent corporate tax break, Vox noted the other day that there are still “some big differences.”
The House bill makes its changes to the individual tax code permanent; the Senate bill would allow many major provisions to expire after 2025 in order to comply with Senate rules that limit how much a bill that can’t be filibustered can increase the federal deficit.
The House and Senate have also structured their tax cuts for “pass-through” businesses, like LLCs or partnerships, completely differently. The pass-through issue almost derailed the Senate tax bill, so it will be an area to watch closely as the chambers work out a new bill.
That’s really just the start. The Senate bill scraps the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, while the House version wasn’t nearly as ambitious in its anti-health care goals. The Senate plan doesn’t entirely repeal the estate tax, while the House bill does. The House plan shrinks the number of income-tax brackets to four, while the Senate maintains the seven brackets that already exist.
My point is not to suggest that the conference committee will fail. In fact, in recent memory, conference committees nearly always work out an agreement, and there’s no reason to believe this will be any different.
We are, after all, talking about conservative Republicans from one chamber negotiating with conservative Republicans from the other chamber about tax breaks. This shouldn’t be too heavy a lift.
But if nothing else, this opens the door for opponents of the GOP plan to apply a new round of pressure. If the conference committee, assuming there is one, works out a House-Senate compromise proposal, that bill would go back to both chambers for one final up-or-down vote. That bill couldn’t be filibustered, but it also couldn’t be amended in any way.
The House passed its plan last month with 227 votes. Are there 10 members among them who may be swayed by a public backlash before a vote on the conference committee package? The Senate passed its plan with 51 votes. Are there two Republican senators who may think twice when confronted with one last chance to defeat this woefully unpopular proposal?
It’s difficult to say with confidence, and therein lies the point: the fight isn’t completely over just yet. Watch this space.