Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says Congress will pass a massive tax-cut bill before Christmas — and before Alabama’s new Democratic senator-elect takes office — as negotiators from the Senate and House edge closer to a compromise.
“We’ll get it done,” Hatch, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, told President Donald Trump in a White House meeting Wednesday.
The conference committee negotiating a final bill out of the House and Senate versions reached a key deal Wednesday to lower the top corporate tax rate to 21 percent starting next year and also lower the top tax rate for families and individuals to 37 percent from 39.6 percent.
Hatch — who along with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is among the 29 committee members hammering out the details — noted Wednesday that the group hasn’t settled all the differences but that Congress intends to move “quickly but methodically.”
“We are very close to giving working, middle-class families additional help in the form of larger paychecks, an expanded child tax credit, and a simplified system where more than nine in 10 taxpayers will be able to entirely avoid the complex and time-consuming process of itemizing their deductions,” Hatch said at the first meeting of the committee.
“And we are very close to achieving the bipartisan goal of reducing our corporate tax rate and fixing our international tax system so that we can grow our economy, keep our businesses competitive in the global marketplace, and keep investment, economic activity, and jobs from moving offshore.”
Trump, who had previously said he wanted a corporate tax rate of 20 percent, said he was fine with the 1 percent bump since it lowers the maximum rate from the current 35 percent.
“We’re very, very close to a historic legislative victory, the likes of which rarely has this country seen,” Trump said during a sit-down with House and Senate Republicans working on the legislation.
Trump also praised Hatch, who sat to his left, as “incredible.”
Bishop, who was also at the White House meeting, defended part of the bill that would open up a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The Utah Republican said only 2,000 acres in the 19 million-acre refuge would be affected and Alaskans support the move.
“They realize, as we all do, that this area [oil exploration] … will provide well-paying jobs for the middle-class families as well as producing a source of energy for the rest of us,” Bishop said.
The move to open the refuge for drilling, tucked into the tax-reform bill, has faced widespread criticism from environmentalists who call it a “poison pill.”
“The majority of Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic refuge, and the numbers don’t add up,” said Lydia Weiss, government relations director for lands for The Wilderness Society. “This provision has no place in the budget, and drilling would not offset proposed tax cuts for the rich.”
Senate Democrats called on the Republican majority to hold off on a vote on tax reform until Alabama’s Doug Jones, who won a special election Tuesday, could be sworn in. With Jones’ election, Republicans would hold a slim majority of 51 seats.
Republicans rebuffed the idea and Trump said the vote should still happen next week.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, called the tax bill negotiations a “sham” and blasted the rapid plan to pass the bill before its impact can be studied.
“The American people are witnessing a master class in how one political party, relying on secrecy, distortion and brute force, can muscle an unpopular, deficit-exploding corporate giveaway to passage,” Wyden said. “This is the ultimate betrayal of the middle class. It does not give middle-class Americans the tax cuts they deserve now, and it takes away Medicare and Social Security later.”