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Senate Debates GOP Tax Bill: What To Watch For

Senate Republicans have begun debate on their bill to overhaul the nation's tax code. Many GOP members sound hopeful about passing their tax bill, possibly in a matter of hours. But they aren't there yet. To pass, 50 of the 52 GOP senators need to support the legislation. As the bill is debated on the Senate floor Thursday, several amendments are expected to try and get their support.

Here's what to watch for:

ANWR Drilling

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, says she plans to support the tax legislation. One of the elements that is bringing her on board is a provision to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. It's been a goal of Alaska Republicans for a long time, and is estimated to bring in over $1 billion in revenue to help pay for a small fraction of the tax cuts being proposed.

The Senate parliamentarian also has to weigh in on whether this provision can fit with the tax package.


Deficit hawks like Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are worried about the fact that the tax bill would add to the deficit — possibly beyond the $1.4 trillion price tag the Congressional Budget Office has put on the bill. GOP leaders say economic growth spurred by the tax bill would offset its costs, so there isa compromise in the works to include a provision to raise taxes or cut spending if the promised growth isn't achieved. But it's being questioned because that would mean imposing a tax increase at a time when the economy would not be doing particularly well.

Another Run At Obamacare

The Senate bill would cancel out the penalty imposed by the Affordable Care Act on individuals who do not have health insurance. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is seeking further legislation be taken up to shore up insurance markets in exchange for this measure, which would give Republicans a small victory in their failed struggle to repeal large parts of the law.

Keeping Score

Republican leaders want to speed the tax bill to passage by taking advantage of a quirk in Senate Budget rules that allow some tax and spending measures to pass with just 51 votes (including a tie-breaker from Vice President Pence, if needed) rather than the 60 votes needed for most other legislation.

That means Republicans can pass the bill on their own. But it also means they have to stick to strict rules that say the legislation can't increase the deficit by more than $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. They also have to make sure the tax cuts don't add to the deficit at all after that.

The Congressional Budget Office has produced scores estimating that the tax bill in its original form would add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years. It has also said the provision to cancel out the Affordable Care Act's mandate for individuals to have health insurance would reduce deficits by $318 billion, as millions fewer people are enrolled in Medicaid and the individual market, where the federal government offers subsidies for lower-income consumers.

But under Senate rules, an official score of the bill in its current form is needed in order to vote.

Child Tax Credit

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, want to make it easier for low and middle-income families to get a refund under the child tax credit. The pair introduced an amendment that would make the whole credit refundable—that means working parents who don't owe taxes at the end of the year could get a refund of up to $2,000 for every child in their family.

Rubio and Lee want to pay for that change by increasing the proposed corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 22 percent. That idea has met with some resistance among Republicans who want to keep the corporate rate as low as possible.

NPR Congressional Reporter Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Arnie Seipel is the Deputy Washington Editor for NPR. He oversees daily news coverage of politics and the inner workings of the federal government. Prior to this role, he edited politics coverage for seven years, leading NPR's reporting on the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. In between campaigns, Seipel edited coverage of Congress and the White House, and he coordinated coverage of major events including State of the Union addresses, Supreme Court confirmations and congressional hearings.