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What The Republican Tax Bill Could Mean For Lower And Middle Income Families


As the Senate moves toward a final vote on the tax bill likely tomorrow, one fight over how to help the middle class is centered on tax credits for families with children. NPR's Kelsey Snell reports.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Currently, working families can claim a $1,000 credit for each of their children. Republicans say their plan would significantly increase that child tax credit to make it available to more middle-class families.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because the single most important investment our nation can make is in our children. Do we agree? You agree?


TRUMP: You better agree.

SNELL: That was President Trump pitching the tax plan yesterday in Missouri. The current bill would increase the credit to $2,000 per child. But even some Republicans like Florida Senator Marco Rubio say that doesn't do much to help low and middle-income families. The Senate tax overhaul doesn't increase the refundable part of the tax credit. That's the part taxpayers might get in a check from the IRS. Instead, it allows families to reduce the amount of income they have to pay taxes on. That means it mostly helps people making more money who owe more in taxes.


MARCO RUBIO: I just don't know how we can pass tax reform that isn't pro-worker.

SNELL: Rubio and Utah Senator Mike Lee have an amendment to make it so working families who don't make enough to pay federal income taxes could still get a check back from the IRS. But experts say there are more ways to help families through the tax code, particularly by expanding an existing credit to help them pay for child care. Mark Shriver is president of Save the Children Action Network.

MARK SHRIVER: The cost of child care is so exorbitant. In 33 states the cost of child care is higher than in-state college tuition, which is an amazing statistic.

SNELL: Shriver says the Rubio and Lee amendment is a good start, but helping families pay for child care goes even further to keep people working and adding to the economy. That's why Maine Republican Susan Collins introduced her own amendment. It would make the child care credit refundable.


SUSAN COLLINS: Child care is so expensive that it is often a barrier to work for low-income families. And this would remove that barrier to work.

SNELL: Republican leaders agree that they want to help working families, but they haven't specifically supported either amendment. That's because both the child care credit and the child tax credit are expensive. One proposal from Rubio and Lee is to pay for their idea by scaling back the proposed cut in the corporate tax rate. That's a tough sell for some Republicans who are unwilling to budge on the corporate rate. Normally Democrats would probably help pass those two amendments, but Democrats oppose the GOP tax bill, which they say is loaded with other measures that would hurt middle-class families.

MICHAEL BENNET: It does nowhere near enough to make up for the awful effects of this bill on the very same families that they're trying to help.

SNELL: That's Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet. He's the co-sponsor of a different amendment to expand tax credits for families. Bennet says adding either one to the Republican tax bill isn't enough. Advocates like Shriver worry that if these amendments fail now they won't soon see another opportunity to get these tax benefits passed.

SHRIVER: We'll have ongoing discussions, but I don't think - you lose the moment. You know, and timing in politics is a lot of politics.

SNELL: Given that the Senate is racing towards a final vote as early as tomorrow, the moment for advocates could be quickly slipping away. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol.


Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.