Congressional Republicans head to the finish line on tax reform after ramming a historic package of tax cuts through the Senate with one vote to spare.
The House is scheduled to vote Monday evening to go to conference with the Senate to finalize a tax bill that can be put on the president's desk by Christmas.
“Now it’s time to take the best of both the House and Senate bills, make them even stronger in a conference committee, and finalize one piece of legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of Americans for generations to come,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Given the razor-thin margin in the Senate, the final product may look similar to the version that the Senate passed 51-49 early Saturday.
There are significant differences between that bill and the version that the House approved in November, especially on the treatment of partnerships and other pass-through businesses.
But senators say some significant changes that were made to the Senate bill ahead of the early Saturday vote were crafted with the House in mind. One of the reasons that the bill didn’t include a trigger to increase taxes if deficit targets aren’t met is that House Republicans wouldn’t support such a provision, senators said.
Senators did, however, add a tax break of up to $10,000 for property taxes, a provision that was already in the House bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell headed home to Kentucky after the vote and predicted that a final bill would be on President Trump’s desk before Christmas.
He also brushed off estimates that the tax cuts would increase the deficit by as much as $1 trillion even with the economic growth that would result from the reductions in tax rates.
“Look, a year or two from now, you guys can make an assessment which one of us was right,” he told reporters in Louisville. “The proof will be in whether or not the economy picks up and things get better.”
Trump took to Twitter to praise the Senate for passing the bill, which included several last-minute changes needed to win over holdout senators, including an increased deduction for farms and other small businesses organized as pass-throughs.
“Biggest Tax Bill and Tax Cuts in history just passed in the Senate,” the president tweeted. “Now these great Republicans will be going for final passage. Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!”
The final changes to the Senate bill also included preserving the deduction for property taxes, up to $10,000, a benefit that is also included in the House bill. That measure helped win the vote of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., won an increase in a new pass-through business deduction from 17.4 percent to 23 percent.
Farmer cooperatives plan to lobby House and Senate negotiators to preserve some of the money they would lose from the repeal of the Section 199 deduction for domestic production activities. Co-ops retain about 5 percent of the $2 billion in deductions annually. Most of the deduction is forwarded to members and that would be replaced by the new 23-percent pass-through deduction.
A provision in the Senate bill would apparently save only a small portion of the co-ops’ benefit. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the provision would cost the government just $100 million over 10 years, or about $10 million a year.
Even as Republicans seek to wrap up a tax bill this month, they also need to strike a deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.
The continuing resolution that is currently funding the government is set to expire on Friday, but House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., introduced a new stop-gap bill this weekend to fund the government through Dec. 22.
“Continuing funding for federal operations is critical to our nation’s stability, our economy, and for the well-being of the American people,” said Frelinghuysen. “It is a necessary step to ensure the programs and services that all Americans rely on are maintained and available to all.”
Lawmakers haven’t yet agreed on even the spending limits for defense and non-defense spending for the rest of fiscal 2018, and Democrats have been insisting that any budget agreement include provisions to provide legal status to illegal immigrants who registered under President Obama’s DACA program.
A budget deal also has major implications for the farm bill. A provision in the Senate’s Agriculture appropriations bill would provide new assistance for cotton and dairy programs that wouldn’t require the spending offsets that the Senate and House Agriculture committees would face.
The House Agriculture Committee is expected to begin writing a new farm bill early next year.
Also this week, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has secured a meeting Thursday with President Trump and several Cabinet members to discuss the administration's biofuel policy. While trying to secure the meeting, Cruz has been blocking the nomination of Bill Northey to be USDA's undersecretary for farm programs. The senator's staff has not said whether or when he will allow the nomination to move forward.
The meeting is expected to include Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
Also Thursday, Pruitt will testify on Capitol Hill for the first time since his confirmation hearing when he appears before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Dec. 4
Seed industry annual meeting, CSS 2017 & Seed Expo, through Thursday, Chicago.
Association of American Pesticide Control Officials' State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group meeting, through Tuesday, EPA-Potomac Yards.
Tuesday, Dec. 5
10 a.m. - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the opioid crisis, 124 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the nominations of Timothy Petty to be an assistant interior secretary for water and science and Linda Capuano to be administrator of the Energy Information Administration, 366 Dirksen.
2 p.m. - House Rules Committee meeting to consider continuing resolution to extend government funding to Dec. 22, 313 Capitol.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on various energy bills, 366 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Dec. 6
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of R.D. James to be assistant secretary of the Army for public works, 406 Dirksen.
12:30 a.m. - American Enterprise Institute forum, “Agriculture and the environment in 2018: Conservation programs, the Waters of the United States, and the Renewable Fuel Standard,” 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
6:30 p.m. - Resources for the Future and the National Museum of Natural History forum, “The Future of Agriculture: Rebounding Nature,” National Museum of Natural History.
Thursday, Dec. 7
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, 2123 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee oversight hearing on the Interior Department, 1324 Longworth.
Friday, Dec. 8
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