The Slatest

Daily Tax Chat 3: Senate Votes to Begin Debate as Republicans Fall in Line

Sen. Ron Johnson talks to reporters before voting to advance a tax reform bill on Nov. 29.

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The Senate is expected to vote on the Republican tax reform bill later this week. Until they do, Slate political writer Jim Newell and economics writer Jordan Weissmann will assess the bill’s chances of passage in daily Slack chats. This is the third of those chats. Read Tuesday’s chat here.

Jordan Weissmann: So, I feel like today was dark. Really dark

Jim Newell: Why? We’re all going to be rich soon (under certain conditions)! The Senate just voted to begin debate on the bill in a strict party-line vote, 52-48. Even Ron Johnson, who was a likely “no” in the hallway, transformed into a glorious “yes” when he reached the floor.

Weissmann: He spread his wings like a brand new, beautiful, tax cutting butterfly.

But anyway, the trigger.


Weissmann: Before, it was deeply stupid. Now, it’s deeply terrifying. Instead of automatically hiking taxes, they’re talking about cutting spending. This is turning into a nightmare contraption designed to implement the old Ryan budgets.

Newell: For now, it’s just another option they’re floating. But that they’re floating it is… remarkable, both in the madness of it and that it took them this long. If this massive tax cut to corporations doesn’t produce growth–i.e., if it’s just a straight cash transfer to corporations–then those costs are recouped by cuts. That’s diabolical. It would be madness if they pursued it.

Weissmann: Yep. But, like, would it?

One way to think of this is that Republicans are just high on their own supply at this point. They really think cutting corporate rates are gonna bring on the boom times and we’ll all be partying on yachts or whatever. The other is that, they don’t really care. They’d be happy slashing the safety net and transferring resources to investors and business owners.

Newell: I think it would, um, draw more controversy and public attention to the bill. And it could cost them Susan Collins, maybe Murkowski (although she was sounding super happy about the bill tonight), I don’t know who else. But yeah, maybe their id will prevail.

The trigger seems to only be moderately understandable is if corporate tax cuts disappear if they don’t produce the promised growth. But of course they can’t do that. So then they start searching around for other options… gotta be domestic discretionary spending!

But, again, I caution that this is still just an option at this point. Because we haven’t seen anything. Even though the bill is under debate.

Weissmann: It’s troo. Are we going to know what’s in this legislation more than, like, 10 minutes before they vote on it?

Newell: That’s cynical. Maybe 20, 25 minutes.

In other news, the pass-through bros have achieved their landmark achievement of getting their deduction increased from 17.4% to 20%. I just saw Daines, who said it will cost 53-55 billion and will be offset by “turning some dials.” I don’t know if this is enough for Johnson.

Weissmann: Ugh. Definitely just published a piece w/ 17.4 percent. But whatevs. The passthrough bros sound like the world’s worst wrestling team.

Newell: Well, I don’t know if it’s on paper yet.

Weissmann: Or maybe a gastroenterology practice. Probably the latter.

Anyway, I’m edging into despair here. What about this Rubio-Lee thing?

Newell: You mean the amendment that is Actually Good?

Weissmann: Yeah. They want to make the Child Tax Credit refundable against payroll taxes, which would make it much more valuable for lower-income parents. And fund it by making the corporate rate 22%.

My impulse was that Dems should definitely fucking vote for it, because at this point they’re just trying to salvage something good from a rapidly deteriorating situation. But…maybe Chuck S. thinks otherwise?

Newell: It’s an issue for both parties. For the GOP, they might eventually be willing to up the corporate rate a couple of points, but do they really want to do it on this? What Real American Jobs do poor parents produce? And for Dems, as you said, do they want to improve this bill or keep it as awful as possible in their (sagging) effort to kill it? I don’t know how this will go down.

Weissmann: I mean, I can see something cynical going on in some Dems’ heads, where they think that if this bill benefits too many people, it’ll actually make Republicans popular, and make it harder to take back the House in 2018.

But, like, FFS, when you have a shot to do some good in the world, do it.

Newell: “FFS, when you have a shot to do some good in the world, do it.” –Jordan Weissmann, Slate, 2017.

Maybe they can give Rubio and Lee their amendment… and then nuke it in the trigger!

Weissmann: That seems plausible. Anyway, I’ve been talking to tax wonks all day, and I can confirm nobody really understands this bill fully.

Newell: Refundable tax credits for the poor would be high on the chopping block for Republican triggers, I’d guess.

Weissmann: Oh, absolutely.

But anyway, even without all the last minute adjustments, Republicans are pushing a bill that is almost certainly going to give us decades of unintended consequences because almost nobody but the lobbyists have been able to read and digest the thing.

OTOH, I guess we might get a little time to assess whatever comes out of conference? Or, is that going to be a 24 hours notice thing?

Newell: A 10 minutes notice on Christmas Eve thing, I suspect.