For the first time this year — and just when the year was about to run out — Senate Republicans managed to agree on a major bill. In an early morning vote, the upper chamber passed the tax reform bill on a party-line 51-48 vote. The bill now returns to the House for a second vote, thanks to a procedural blunder:
The Senate early Wednesday passed a final version of the GOP tax plan, leaving Republicans and President Donald Trump within striking distance of the most sweeping overhaul of the tax code in decades and their top policy goal for the year.
The chamber voted 51-48 along party lines to adopt the conference report on the landmark legislation at close to 1 a.m. With Vice President Mike Pence presiding, GOP senators capped off a celebratory day for the party as the tax bill headed towards the finish line.
Pence, who postponed a foreign trip to preside over the vote just in case, wound up playing only a ceremonial role. He had to demand protestors be removed several times during the vote, as people in the gallery shouted, “Kill the bill, don’t kill us!” As these irony-impaired protestors were led out of the chamber — notably not being killed as part of the process — Pence finally had the moment for which he and Donald Trump had waited all year:
Only one point marred this victory, which was that it wasn’t quite a win — at least, not yet. Thanks to a lack of preparation and the haste in which the conference committee put together the final version of the bill, three provisions did not qualify under Senate rules for reconciliation. A motion to waive the rule requiring 60 votes predictably failed on the same 51-48 tally, so the three provisions were struck from the bill.
That means that Paul Ryan has to get the band back together this morning, as the House has to approve the new version of the bill:
Based on guidance from the Senate parliamentarian, they challenged three parts of the tax plan: provisions related to an excise tax on endowments of the smallest private universities, 529 savings accounts for home-schooling expenses, and even the bill’s shorthand title.
In something of a symbolic gesture, Democrats moved to strike the GOP’s nickname for the legislation — the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” — which is spelled out in the very first provision of the bill. Republicans don’t need to include the title as a separate provision to be able to use the moniker to describe the legislation, however.
This means that it’s not too late for Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of mediocrity, as has happened so often this year. However, give credit where it’s due; those defeats have not been snatched from the jaws of anything by the House. Ryan has a larger margin of error with his 46-vote majority, plus no worries about reconciliation and its arcane requirements for bypassing the filibuster. The bill coasted to a 227-203 win yesterday, and today’s vote isn’t likely to vary much, as the bill’s changes are minor.
In fact, the big question facing the few defectors yesterday is whether they’ll pay for it tomorrow, Roll Call suggests:
In total, five Republicans from New York, two from California, four from New Jersey and one from North Carolina bucked their party to vote against the bill. Many were concerned about curtailing the state and local tax deduction, which they said could lead to an unfair tax burden for their constituents. North Carolina’s Walter B. Jones was concerned about the deficit.
It may be too early to tell whether these Republicans could face a backlash from their own party, and whether any pushback could have an impact in particularly tight races. …
“I think the people that are going against one of the main legislative goals are really going against what the party needs and shouldn’t be rewarded for that,” said Dan Eberhart, CEO of Canary LLC and a GOP donor.
Eberhart suggested some House Republicans, particularly those in leadership positions, could hold back sending money to those Republicans who voted against the bill.
But so far, there are no indications of retaliatory efforts underway.
They might worry if they really went off the reservation, but is that what happened? The fact that most of them are already “endangered” might point to a more subtle strategy from Ryan. Having locked down more than enough votes to pass the bill, Ryan might well have allowed these no votes in order to give these members some political cover in 2018. It’s called “managing the vote,” which is hardly an unknown practice on Capitol Hill. Considering the bleak outlook for House Republicans in blue states next year, it would be surprising if Ryan hadn’t used his advantage to protect these incumbents. Yes, it gives Democrats a talking point for the media, but they have plenty of those already. Better to allow a few colleagues a fighting chance to protect themselves next year rather than insisting on meaningless votes for a bill that was in no risk of failing. At least, not in the House.