WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Corker raised fresh questions about the GOP tax bill, throwing Tuesday's voting in doubt after critics said he and other lawmakers - and President Donald Trump - would personally benefit from a provision giving breaks for real estate holdings.
The Tennessee Republican had endorsed the bill last week in a crucial turnaround that provided momentum as GOP leaders try to ensure passage with their slim 52-48 majority. Their numbers narrowed as Sen. John McCain returned home to Arizona over the weekend as he battles brain cancer.
But after weekend reports that wealthy real estate developers like Corker would benefit from tax treatment in the final bill, the senator faced intense backlash and accusations, which he denied, that he traded his vote.
Corker - who gave his support without having read the entire bill - said he was unaware of the provision. It had been part of the House GOP bill, he said, and was included in the final version merged with the Senate.
"Beginning on page 25, line 3, there is a policy related to pass-through businesses and what is known as the alternative limitation on the deduction amount," Corker wrote Sunday in a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chairman of the Finance Committee.
"Because this issue has raised concerns, I would ask that that you provide an explanation of the evolution of this provision and how it made it into the final conference report. I think that because of many sensitivities, clarity on this issue is very important and hope that you will respond in an expeditious manner."
Hatch responded in a letter Monday that he was "disgusted" with reports that "distorted" the bill-writing process, denying the provision was jammed into the final bill at the last minute.
"It takes a great deal of imagination – and likely no small amount of partisanship – to argue that a provision that has been public for over a month, debated on the floor of the House of Representatives, included in a House-passed bill, and identified by (the Joint Committee on Taxation) as an issue requiring a compromise between conferees is somehow a covert and last-minute addition to the conference report," Hatch wrote.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Friday that he believes the recently passed GOP tax bill did too much to help the bottom line of America’s largest corporations.
“I thought we probably went too far on [helping] corporations,” the Florida Republican told the Fort Myers-based News-Press.
“By and large, you’re going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price,” Rubio continued. “Some of them will be forced, because they’re sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders. That isn’t going to create dramatic economic growth.”
The bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last week slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. It also includes a number of provisions that benefit the country’s wealthiest residents rather than the middle-class Americans the GOP has insisted will benefit from the plan, including a cut to the top income tax rate and for pass-through businesses.
The bill will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
Rubio told the News-Press he was unconcerned about polls showing that most Americans disapprove of the legislation, saying the media has unfairly influenced peoples’ opinions and that ultimate perception of the bill will be based on “what their paycheck is telling them.”
WASHINGTON ― The White House and congressional Republicans have sought to portray their tax plan as primarily a middle class tax cut. But lately, some of them have been admitting that big money political donors and wealthy CEOs, two groups that overlap heavily, are the ones who care about it the most.
“The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan,” Gary Cohn, the leading White House economic adviser and former chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday.
Cohn’s statement is no doubt true ― it just isn’t exactly the message Republicans want to send as they argue that their bill isn’t just a sop for the rich and powerful. But over the past few weeks, several Republicans have indicated that the tax bill would boost the wealth of the already rich and ensure that their political donations keep flowing to help the GOP hold power in 2018.
“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), himself a millionaire, said on Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that a failure to pass tax reform would fracture the Republican Party and lead to more far-right wing primary challengers. “The financial contributions will stop,” he added.
It isn’t often that politicians admit that their failure to pass legislation will impact their ability to collect money for their campaigns. They usually try to avoid an appearance that campaign contributions are linked to specific legislation.
Lawmakers aren’t the only ones talking about the connection between legislation and campaign money. Conservative donors and those running the political groups that help elect Republicans have issued similar dire warnings.
“(Donors) would be mortified if we didn’t live up to what we’ve committed to on tax reform,” Steven Law, the head of Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told the New York Post.
Those big donors are already trying to push the tax cut legislation across the finish line by spending tens of millions of dollars on political advertising. Nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors, like 45Committee, American Action Network, America First, Americans for Prosperity, and Freedom Partners, plan to spend at least $43 million on a campaign to pressure specific members of Congress to pass the bill, according to the The Wall Street Journal.
45Committee was founded by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino oligarch, and Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of the Chicago Cubs who recently shuttered multiple news organizations he ran after the workers voted to unionize.
Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch run Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, which are funded by a network of multi-millionaires and billionaires from across the country. American Action Network’s board of directors includes lobbyists and strategic advisers to lobbying firms hired to influence the tax legislation.
Academic studies have shown that the wealthy have both an inordinate amount of influence over policy while holding dramatically different policy priorities than the rest of the population. Cohn and Republican lawmakers’ remarks make that clear ― and happen to play directly into congressional Democrats’ line of attack against the tax cut bill.
“Their pay masters, if you will ― the hard, hard right ... the Koch brothers ― all they want to do is cut taxes,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost on Tuesday. “They don’t care about the deficit, they don’t care about the country, they don’t care about the middle class ― they just want their taxes reduced. And they run the Republican Party.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the same argument in an op-ed for The Washington Post: “The Republican leadership has outsourced its economic agenda to a handful of billionaires and corporate donors.”
“Representative Chris Collins confessed that donors are telling him to cut their taxes ‘or don’t ever call again,’” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted. “That’s why this bill raises taxes on middle-class families.”
Republicans’ series of telling gaffes confirming Democratic Party critiques of their agenda wouldn’t be complete without one from President Donald Trump.
In a phone call urging Democrats to support the bill, the president ― a billionaire and former political donor himself ― reportedly told them, “My accountant called me and said, ‘You’re going to get killed in this bill’” if it doesn’t include an estate tax cut.
The head of a conservative Republican faction in the U.S. Congress, who voted this month for a huge expansion of the national debt to pay for tax cuts, called himself a "fiscal conservative" on Sunday and urged budget restraint in 2018.
In keeping with a sharp pivot under way among Republicans, U.S. Representative Mark Meadows, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," drew a hard line on federal spending, which lawmakers are bracing to do battle over in January.
When they return from the holidays on Wednesday, lawmakers will begin trying to pass a federal budget in a fight likely to be linked to other issues, such as immigration policy, even as the November congressional election campaigns approach in which Republicans will seek to keep control of Congress.
President Donald Trump and his Republicans want a big budget increase in military spending, while Democrats also want proportional increases for non-defense "discretionary" spending on programs that support education, scientific research, infrastructure, public health and environmental protection.
"The (Trump) administration has already been willing to say: 'We're going to increase non-defense discretionary spending ... by about 7 percent,'" Meadows, chairman of the small but influential House Freedom Caucus, said on the program.
"Now, Democrats are saying that's not enough, we need to give the government a pay raise of 10 to 11 percent. For a fiscal conservative, I don't see where the rationale is. ... Eventually you run out of other people's money," he said.
Meadows was among Republicans who voted in late December for their party's debt-financed tax overhaul, which is expected to balloon the federal budget deficit and add about $1.5 trillion over 10 years to the $20 trillion national debt.
"It's interesting to hear Mark talk about fiscal responsibility," Democratic U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley said on CBS.
Crowley said the Republican tax bill would require the United States to borrow $1.5 trillion, to be paid off by future generations, to finance tax cuts for corporations and the rich.
"This is one of the least ... fiscally responsible bills we've ever seen passed in the history of the House of Representatives. I think we're going to be paying for this for many, many years to come," Crowley said.
Republicans insist the tax package, the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in more than 30 years, will boost the economy and job growth.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also supported the tax bill, recently went further than Meadows, making clear in a radio interview that welfare or "entitlement reform," as the party often calls it, would be a top Republican priority in 2018.
In Republican parlance, "entitlement" programs mean food stamps, housing assistance, Medicare and Medicaid health insurance for the elderly, poor and disabled, as well as other programs created by Washington to assist the needy.
Democrats seized on Ryan's early December remarks, saying they showed Republicans would try to pay for their tax overhaul by seeking spending cuts for social programs.
He's playing his base for the coming elections.