Trump's wooing works: Republican tax plan clears major hurdle

President promised reluctant Republicans deeper tax cuts and bigger spending cuts — and now he's close to a big win

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 28, 2017 9:05PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Donald Trump hasn’t lost his grip on Republicans.

After a lunchtime visit and pep talk by the president on Tuesday, reluctant Republicans rallied to provide Trump with enough votes to move along his radical tax plan. Several key Republicans who had either expressed deep reservations or outright disapproval of the deficit-busting bill walked out of their meeting with Trump with altered views.

“I believe that a lot of my concerns, it appears, are going to be addressed and that I’m going to be getting the opportunity to offer amendments on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whose constituents disapprove of the tax plan by 53 percent to 22 percent, according to a recent poll, in an interview with the New York Times.

Collins had previously criticized Trump’s plan to use the tax cuts to gut the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Although Maine recently passed a statewide expansion of Medicaid by a wide voter margin, on Tuesday she appeared satisfied with Trump’s promise to stabilize markets after the initial spike in prices that repealing the individual mandate is likely to cause.

Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had both been holding out for more concessions from the White House, voted for the tax bill in a party-line vote on the Senate Finance Committee. Perhaps the holiday season has left the divided party feeling more familial, or the prospect of failing to pass one major piece of legislation despite complete control of government seems has scared enough Republicans into backing the bill, at least for now.

“My primary issue is pass-throughs,” Johnson -- who just last week said he couldn’t support the plan -- told the Times after Trump’s visit. “The good news is everybody agrees it’s a problem, it has to be fixed. I just keep getting assurances it’s going to be fixed, I just want to see how.” The former businessman, along with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., have complained that the wealthiest small business owners will pay a higher tax rate than the wealthiest corporations under the GOP plan. Under the Senate plan, pass-through businesses get a roughly 20 percent reduction, while corporations get a 42 percent reduction.

Corker, who has already announced plans to retire from the Senate, had remained a stringent deficit hawk up until Trump’s visit on Tuesday. After that, however, the Tennessee senator said that he and Trump had “come to a pretty acceptable place, from my standpoint.”

In essence, Johnson, Daines and Corker -- the major obstacles facing the White House’s last hope for legislative success in Trump’s first year -- had only opposed the bill because it didn't reduce taxes enough and the cuts to pay for them aren’t drastic enough. What Trump told them to win them over remains to be seen. But as I noted earlier on Tuesday, he seems prepared to sacrifice his own base in exchange for a year-end win.

Republicans’ slim majority in the Senate means they can afford to lose no more than two votes from their caucus and Tuesday’s committee vote sets up the bill up for a full Senate vote by the end of this week. To sell the politically toxic bill (the second-most unpopular in 30 years), Trump has taken to promising so-called welfare reform, which his White House has already signaled will mean targeting entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

None of the Republican senators who have expressed varying degrees of concern with the GOP tax plan have mentioned thus far that the bill constitutes a major redistribution of wealth from the American middle class to the already wealthy.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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