The Senate proposal to overhaul the American tax system seeks to help many of the groups that felt left behind by the House tax plan that was released last week.
While both proposals double the standard deduction, lower tax rates across the board, cut corporate tax rate to 20%, and eliminate some other deductions, the Senate version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act proposes slashing the tax rate for top earners even further to 38.5%, delaying the corporate tax cut for a year, and completely eliminating the state and local tax deduction. In its release, the Senate Finance Committee says the plan would give a family of four earning about $73,000 a $1,500 tax break.
“We have been laser focused, Mr. President, on reducing taxes for the middle class and that is exactly what this will do,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said on the Senate floor Thursday.
It didn’t take long for winners and losers to emerge in the wake of the release of the House tax plan. The cut and repeal of popular deductions for mortgages, state and local taxes, and changes to so called pass-through business tax rates were met with concern from interest groups. Colleges and pro-life groups balked at the end of the deduction for student loan interest and a tax credit aimed at promoting adoption.
And in many areas where the House plan eliminated deductions, the Senate plan keeps them. The mortgage interest deduction under the Senate plan would stay for new homes costing up to $1 million after realtors groups blasted the House’s $500,000 cap. The medical expense deduction, claimed by approximately 8.8 million mostly middle-income people, over half of whom are over 50, would also stay.
The proposal also keeps deductions for charitable contributions and enhanced standard deductions for the blind and the elderly. Like the House plan, it nearly doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals, up from $6,350 now, $24,000 for couples and $18,000 for single parents. Retirement savings plans like 401(k) and IRAs are also secure under the Senate plan.
“Nine out of 10 people are going to take the standard deduction, but for those that don’t these other deductions are important,” Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, told reporters on Thursday.
While the plan is still being pitched as a boon for the middle class, the changes to the top tax rate, which falls from 39.6%, and the estate tax would primarily benefit the highest-earners. The Senate plan does not outright eliminate the tax on inheritance, though. Instead, their plan would double the exemption rate, which was $5.49 million for individuals in 2017 — meaning inheritance of 11 million would not be taxed.
Pro-life groups will likely cheer a set of proposals being pitched as beneficial for families: the Senate bill maintains a tax credit for adoptive parents and allows parents to set aside money for their unborn children in tax-advantaged savings accounts. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters on Thursday he was happy to see the adoption tax credit restored in the Senate proposal. “That was something that the House draft had taken out,” he said. “I think that was a mistake. I’m glad to see the adoption tax credit being restored.”
Businesses would benefit from the cuts to the corporate tax rate, though the implementation would be delayed until 2019 under the plan. The Trump administration may balk at that proposal, given the President’s insistence that that change come immediately. Tax credits for low-income housing would be preserved under this plan, which could mean good news for the affordable housing market. The Senate bill also treats so-called pass-through businesses differently than the House plan does, but details were scant in the initial release. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bill would include a new deduction for pass-through businesses that would lower the top tax rate for such entities, but keep it above the 25% rate proposed by the House.
The Senate bill does not include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which some Senators suggested they’d like to see happen under the plan. As Cruz said: “This is a step in the right direction, but the conversation and the negotiation will continue until we reach a consensus.”
The plan that is being released by the Senate on Thursday is known as a Chairman’s mark — a representative overview of the proposal, but not the bill’s text — so that the debate over the proposal can be conducted in plain English, Roll Call explains. The committee will offer amendments to the plan during markup, which is expected to start next week. The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman offered an amendment to their plan and some of the changes align with the Senate’s proposal. That bill passed out of the committee on Thursday.
Both the House and the Senate are under pressure to deliver on their proposals. That likely only increased in the wake of Tuesday’s elections, which many viewed as a repudiation of President Donald Trump and his policies. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee said in a statement that while both sides of the aisle think the tax code needs reforming, Republicans would be remiss to not include Democrats in the process. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned the GOP from the floor on Thursday: “this bill could be your political doom.”
But, after failing to act on health care, Republicans in Congress need a win. Overhauling the tax code gives them that opportunity.
There is plenty of room for changes under the plan — many are likely to come if the House and Senate have to go to conference and hash out a compromise plan both sides can agree on, so long as it does not increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona released a statement Thursday afternoon expressing concern about the impact the plan could have on the “already staggering national debt.”
“We must achieve real tax reform crafted in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues during a full and robust debate on the Senate floor to deliver on that goal.”
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