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Marco Rubio Learns How to Negotiate

Hmm... what if I used my leverage?
Hmm… what if I used my leverage?
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio informed Senate leaders on Thursday that he won’t vote for his party’s $1.5 trillion tax plan unless they carve out a larger child tax credit, the Washington Post reports. And Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who has partnered with Rubio to push for the expanded credit, remains undecided.

In other words, Rubio and Lee are doing what they should have done when the Senate bill was being drafted two weeks ago.

Unlike Sens. Susan Collins and Ron Johnson, who withheld their votes until they got certain changes in the base bill, Rubio and Lee put their CTC proposal—which would allow more lower- and middle-income working parents to take advantage of it—up for an amendment vote on the floor. It failed, 29 to 71. Expanding refundable tax credits for the working poor is not in most Republican senators’ interest, and Democrats didn’t find it politically appetizing to improve the distribution tables of a tax bill they intend to campaign against. Rubio and Lee voted for the final legislation anyway.

The original version of the Rubio-Lee amendment would have offset the cost of this expanded credit by slightly weakening the bill’s corporate tax cut: lowering the rate from 35 percent to 22 percent, instead of President Trump’s preferred rate of 20 percent. The less generous version of the amendment that came up for a vote settled on a rate of 20.94 percent. That .94 percent change, supply-siders argued, was the difference between unfettered free-market growth and a flatlining socialist hellscape.

What ticked Rubio off, then, was when he heard that conference committee negotiators would set the corporate rate at 21 percent—to cover the cost of a cut to the top marginal income tax rate.

The gall of such a move is now prompting Rubio to negotiate like he means it. Some kind of accommodation seems likely to emerge from conference negotiations in the coming days.

Is there any chance that Senate conferees ignore his demand? Sure—if leaders find an alternative way to woo Lee, leaving Rubio in the lonely “no” column with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker. Republicans could still pass the bill with 50 votes, though I doubt leaders would want to pursue this path since there are other lingering uncertainties. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, for instance, could flip to “no,” and two senators—Arizona Sen. John McCain and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran—were too ill to cast any Senate votes this week.

And yet there remains cartoonishly plutocratic resistance to making these modest tweaks for Rubio and Lee. The sudden reduction in the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent this week laid bare, if it wasn’t clear already, who is driving the process as conferees apply the finishing touches to this beast. And it’s not low-income, working parents.

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