GOP finalizes tax package

Republicans finalized their sweeping tax package Friday, expanding the child tax credit to placate a reluctant GOP senator as they pushed to muscle the bill through Congress next week and give President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory.

GOP lawmakers have been working to win the support of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential holdout, and they say they don't see an obstacle for passage.

"I'm confident we'll have the votes," said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the Republican negotiators on the bill.

Portman cast the bill as providing "the kind of middle-class tax relief that's desperately needed right now. People are looking at flat wages and higher expenses, and this will help."

Rubio wrote on Twitter earlier Friday that he was dissatisfied with the size of a tax credit that low-income families can claim for their children.

"The #workingclass is always forgotten in D.C. We need to add more #taxcuts for #workingclass parents especially those earning 20k- 50K," Rubio wrote.

Members of a House-Senate conference committee signed the final version of the legislation Friday, sending it to the House and Senate for final passage. They have been working to blend different versions passed by the House and Senate.

Two Republican members of the committee, Reps. Devin Nunes of California and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, said they believed Rubio's concerns had been met, but Rubio's office said he was still reviewing the bill.

The tax package would double the basic per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill makes a smaller amount available to families even if they owe no income tax. Noem said Friday the amount has been increased from $1,100 to $1,400.

Rubio has said he wanted the $1,100 figure increased, but he hasn't said by how much.

Low-income taxpayers would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it's called a "refundable" tax credit.

Rubio's potential defection had pushed the Republicans' razor-thin majority in the Senate closer to the edge.

Senate Republicans could still pass the package without Rubio's vote, but they would be cutting it extremely close. An original version was approved 51-49 — with Rubio's support.

The Senate turmoil erupted after a key faction of House Republicans came out in favour of the bill, boosting its chances. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus predicted the vast majority of their members would support the package.

House and Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday forged an agreement in principle on the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's tax laws in more than 30 years. The package would give generous tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans — Trump among them — and more modest tax cuts to low- and middle-income families.

"I'm confident that at the end of the day, the Senate will approve this conference committee report because no one should be defending the status quo in this horrible tax code Americans have had to live with for too long," said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, a top House negotiator.

The tax legislation would cut the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 per cent to 37 per cent.

The package would nearly double the standard deduction, to $24,000 for married couples. But it would scale back the deduction for state and local taxes, allowing families to deduct only up to a total of $10,000 in property and income taxes. The deduction is especially important to residents of high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California.

The final package slashes the corporate rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, a big win for corporate America.

Business owners who report business income on their personal tax returns would be able to deduct 20 per cent of that income.

The agreement also calls for repealing the mandate under the "Obamacare" health law that requires most Americans to get health insurance, a step toward the ultimate GOP goal of unraveling the law.

The business tax cuts would be permanent, but reductions for individuals would expire in 2026 — saving money to comply with Senate budget rules. In all, the bill would cut taxes by about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, adding billions to the nation's mounting debt.

Rubio's opposition had come at a bad time for Senate Republicans, with two of them missing votes this week because of illness.

John McCain of Arizona, who is 81, is at a Washington-area military hospital being treated for the side effects of brain cancer treatment, and 80-year-old Thad Cochran of Mississippi had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. GOP leaders are hopeful they will be available next week.

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