Utah’s Sen. Hatch helps usher in ‘a doggone good bill’ to rewrite the tax code

Republicans hail a major achievement; Democrats pan the bill, saying it is weighted toward wealthy people.<br>

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Orrin Hatch was instrumental in the tax overhaul that is poised to become law.

Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch on Tuesday was on the cusp of a long-awaited and long-promised legislative victory as Congress moved forward the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades. Republicans heralded the accomplishment as a win for the nation even as Democrats warned it would eventually hurt lower- and middle-class Americans and cost 13 million people their health insurance.

The Senate and House approved legislation Tuesday that would bring the GOP and President Donald Trump their first major piece of legislation this year.

While the Senate vote is final, the House is slated on Wednesday to take another vote — one largely expected to pass — to fix technical provisions that didn’t fit Senate rules.

“The legislation before us is as important and far-reaching as anything I’ve been privileged to work on,” Hatch, R-Utah, declared on the Senate floor Tuesday. “It’s beyond gratifying to see the Senate reach this point, and I look forward to finally seeing real tax reform legislation signed into law.”

Hatch, who as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee oversaw the tax legislation and has been praised by Trump for that work, said the current tax code is “dying and rotting” and hurting job creation, wage growth and investments. He urged Democrats — who were largely shut out of the bill’s drafting — to come aboard.

“They know it’s right. Deep down they know it’s right,” Hatch said. “It may not be everything they would like themselves. It’s not everything I would like myself. But it’s a doggone good bill and something that could really help this country pull out of the mess that it’s in.”

No Democrat supported the measure.

Hatch’s remarks on the floor were interrupted by a protester in the gallery who was urging the Senate to “save our health care.”

“Don’t kill us,” the man yelled. “We need our health care.”

Hatch responded as the man was removed from the gallery, “He has an interesting way of trying to get his point of view across. It shouldn’t be done here, in this august body.”

Trump is expected to sign the bill this week once passage is finalized.

The bill passed largely on party lines in the House and strictly with Republican support in the Senate; 12 Republicans, from New York, New Jersey and California, voted against the bill because their constituents might see larger tax hikes with a limit on deducting state and local taxes on their federal returns.

Utah’s four House members and two senators — all Republicans — voted for the legislation.

Rep. John Curtis, Utah’s newest House member, said the vote delivers on the promise to cut taxes and simplify the complicated tax system.

“The more people learn about this bill, the more they like it,” Curtis said in a statement. “This legislation helps Utah families keep more of their hard-earned money by doubling the standard deduction, by increasing the child tax credit to $2,000, and by maintaining the mortgage interest tax deduction to encourage and make home ownership more achievable. By cutting corporate tax rates, this bill will boost economic growth and American prosperity.”

Curtis’ office said he will back the bill again Wednesday.

The legislation, the largest rewrite of the tax code since 1986, would set up seven tax brackets that lower individual rates for all income levels and bring down the top corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. While the corporate tax cut is permanent, the individual and family rates would expire within 10 years.

The bill also jettisons the requirement under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to buy health insurance or face a fine, a move that is expected to mean 13 million Americans with insurance.

Democrats called the bill a “tax scam.”

“Given the bill’s substance, it’s no surprise they’re in such a rush. Eleventh-hour backroom deals have managed to only make their bad bill even worse,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “They don’t want to discuss it, they don’t want to have sunlight shed on it, they don’t want anyone to know what’s in it because it is so, so bad and the public knows it.”

He added that the bill “provides crumbs and tax hikes for middle-class families in this country and a Christmas gift to major corporations and billionaire investors.” The senator from New York vowed to make it a campaign issue in the 2018 midterm elections.

“Republicans will rue the day they passed this bill, and the American people will never let them forget it,” Schumer said.

Hatch has long defended the bill as much-needed reform that will help all Americans, including by paving the way for corporations to keep investing in jobs. And he’s blasted critics who charge otherwise.

During a tense Finance Committee hearing in November, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the bill was a farce.

“With all due respect, I get sick and tired of the rich getting richer,” Brown said, prompting an animated and angry Hatch to respond.

“I come from the poor people, and I have been here working my whole stinkin’ career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody that says I’m doing it for the rich,” Hatch said. “Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.”

“This bullcrap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while,” Hatch added.

The Utah Republican also pushed back against criticism that language was slipped into the tax bill at the last minute to win over the vote of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., by boosting that senator’s bottom line.

“Some have asserted that a new provision was crafted for real estate developers and was ‘air-dropped’ into the conference agreement,” Hatch wrote in an open letter to Corker. “Second, reports have implied that you had some role in advocating for or negotiating the inclusion of this provision. Both assertions are categorically false.”

The provision, which allows real estate owners to take new tax breaks for noncorporate businesses, would also benefit Hatch’s family. His wife, Elaine, owns a stake in a limited liability corporation with land in Smithfield that is worth up to $500,000 and generated between $5,000 and $15,000 in income last year, according to a Senate personal finance disclosure.

Overall, Utah’s Republicans cheered the fact they were close to passing “historic” legislation.

“The unified tax plan addresses three of my priorities: More jobs, fairer taxes and bigger paychecks,” said Rep. Mia Love. “We did this while keeping important deductions for state and local income taxes and property taxes, expanding the child tax credit, and maintaining home mortgage and student loan interest deductions. This bill will also grow both the Utah and U.S. economy to make our businesses more competitive.”

Rep. Chris Stewart said the new tax code would be “simple, fair and focused on helping the American people by creating more jobs and bigger paychecks.”

“It will change lives, energize our country and get our economy thriving again,” he said.

Rep. Rob Bishop called it a win for American households.

“Passage of this bill will mean great savings for America’s middle-class families. The expansion of the child tax credit is in line with Utah values and American ideals,” he said. “Additionally, this bill will encourage wage growth and job creation in the Beehive State, and the tax system in America is now on its way to becoming more fair and simple.”

The child tax credit was expanded to $2,000 after negotiations by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, and up to $1,400 of it refundable even for families who don’t make enough to owe taxes.