Top Republican claims enough votes for Senate OK of tax bill

With reporters looking for updates, Senator Susan Collins and other lawmakers rush to the chamber to vote on amendments as the Republican leadership works to craft their sweeping tax bill (AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — A Senate Republican leader claimed enough votes Friday to push the party’s $1.4 trillion tax bill through the chamber, apparently overcoming eleventh-hour hitches that had raised questions about whether the GOP’s push for its highest legislative priority might falter.

“We’re confident in the 50 and we’d like to build on that,” Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas told reporters, emerging from a meeting of top Republicans.

With the party controlling the Senate 52-48 and Democrats uniformly opposed, Republicans need 50 votes to win approval for the bill. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie.

Momentum for the measure was boosted earlier Friday when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., declared he would vote for it. In an interview with Wisconsin radio station WISN, Johnson said leaders had agreed to make tax breaks more generous for millions of businesses, which he’s been demanding for weeks.

“I sought assurance and I was given assurance that I will be at the table” when Senate-House bargainers write a compromise version of the bill, Johnson said of talks he had with GOP leaders Thursday night.

Hoping to achieve GOP unanimity, Cornyn said leaders were still working on a pair of holdouts: Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Arizona’s Jeff Flake.

Senate passage would push Congress a step closer to the first rewrite of the nation’s tax code in three decades and a major legislative accomplishment for President Donald Trump.

The bill seemed to be sailing toward passage Thursday, until a report was released by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimating the package would produce budget deficits totaling $1 trillion over the coming decade.

Trump administration officials and leading congressional Republicans have said the measure’s tax cuts would spark enough economic growth to pay for the lowered levies. The projection left the votes of several GOP lawmakers in doubt, including Corker of Tennessee and Arizona’s Flake.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, proposed an amendment to let homeowners deduct up to $10,000 in local property taxes on their federal returns. It’s similar to a provision in the House-passed bill. Without the deduction, Collins said, it would be “very problematic for me” to vote for the bill.