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Nearing passage, US tax overhaul hits last-minute snag

Update: December, 20/2017 - 11:30

WASHINGTON The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives approved President Donald Trump’s all-important tax code revamp on Tuesday, but a late and embarrassing rules snag will force the chamber to vote on the package once more.

Hours after scoring perhaps their biggest legislative triumph since Trump’s inauguration, congressional leaders were caught red-faced when a parliamentarian determined that three minor provisions in the tax overhaul violate Senate rules on budget-related bills.

The Senate, which like the House is controlled by Republicans, was still expected to vote on and pass the bill later Tuesday, but will now do so with the offending provisions stripped out.

And Trump, who has pushed hard to get the most sweeping tax cuts in a generation across the finish line, will be forced to delay celebrations until Wednesday morning, when the House is now slated to vote again on the updated bill.

Senate and House versions of legislation must be identical if a bill is to become law.

House Republicans received zero Democratic support earlier Tuesday as they passed the contentious US$1.5 trillion package of tax cuts for businesses and individuals that critics say will particularly benefit the wealthy.

Twelve House Republicans joined all Democrats in opposition, as Speaker Paul Ryan emphatically declared the bill passed by 227 votes to 203, drawing loud cheers and applause from Republicans in the chamber.

“Today we are giving the people of this country their money back,” Ryan told his colleagues.

Trump, who has billed the tax package as a “Christmas gift” for the country, tweeted his congratulations to Ryan and all other “great House Republicans who voted in favour of cutting your taxes!”

The procedural snafu only became apparent afterward.

‘Mad dash’

Senate Democrats said they demanded 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 Senate’s so-called Byrd Rule on forbidding extraneous elements from being included in certain budget bills.

Democrats seized on the hiccup as proof that Republicans were rushing to jam the tax cuts through Congress without allowing lawmakers, the public and financial experts to do a deeper dive on the impacts of the bill.

“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 statement.

Republican leaders unveiled their final version of the bill only late last week, and Trump has demanded it be on his desk by Christmas.

Should the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act make it into law it would be the Republicans’ first major legislative victory in the 11 months since Trump’s inauguration.

The Republican plan is projected to add nearly $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the coming decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But that figure drops to about $1 trillion when economic growth is accounted for.

Ryan stated that a median-income family of four earning $73,000 annually would save $2,059 in taxes next year.

‘Moral obscenity’

The Democratic opposition has denounced the measure as mostly benefiting companies and the wealthiest Americans -- including Trump himself -- and warns it risks blowing a hole in the national debt, which has surged past $20 trillion.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders asserted that the new bill “could cost the president a lot of money,” but she conceded that “on the business side he could benefit.”

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and can afford only two defectors.

With Senator John McCain, who has brain cancer, announcing he will not return to Washington until January, that number shrinks to just one, although no Republicans are publicly opposed to the measure.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is president of the Senate, would cast the deciding vote if needed.

While Republicans failed earlier this year to repeal and replace Obamacare, the tax plan takes a key step in that regard, by scrapping the individual mandate that requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.

Under the legislation, the federal corporate tax rate would fall from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, and the maximum individual income tax rate, for the nation’s wealthiest, would drop from 39.6 per cent to 37 per cent.

The bill also doubles the standard deduction for families, and doubles the child tax credit.

But it also provides clear advantages for the wealthy, including a doubling of the amount of money that can be exempted from inheritance tax.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi called the bill a “moral obscenity,” and “brazen theft from the American middle class.” AFP

 

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