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Republicans Appear To Have All The Votes To Pass Tax Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If nothing else goes wrong for them, Republicans will pass a final tax bill this week. The House votes today, and Congressman Kevin Brady is in.

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KEVIN BRADY: We'll have an opportunity, the first time in three decades, to fundamentally reshape America's tax code.

INSKEEP: The Senate votes sometime after the House. Some skeptical Republicans there, including Susan Collins of Maine, are also voting yes.

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SUSAN COLLINS: While it is by no means perfect, on balance this reform bill will provide much needed tax relief.

INSKEEP: Now, just to review, this bill has already passed the House and Senate, but the version now up for a vote is a little different. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been tracking the differences. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how has this bill changed?

LIASSON: Well, since the beginning, this bill has gone - undergone a lot of changes, but almost every tweak has tilted it a little more towards the wealthy - less reform, more cuts - so less restructuring of the tax codes but more tax cuts. And the tax cuts are for everyone, but the middle-class ones are smaller, relatively and absolutely, and they expire unlike the corporate cuts.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute here because I just want to play a little bit of tape. This is Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives. He was on the program a couple weeks ago, and he stated the goal for us in the interview this way.

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PAUL RYAN: We wanted a middle-class tax cut. We wanted to have a system that's more fair, much simpler.

INSKEEP: Middle-class tax cut, simpler tax code. Are you saying this bill doesn't really deliver that?

LIASSON: Well, there are middle-class tax cuts in the bill. They expire, and the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that despite those claims, 65 percent of the savings go to the top 20 percent. And in 2027, when the tax cuts for individuals expire, the bottom 60 percent are going to pay more in taxes and the top 20 percent actually get 107 percent of the savings because of that. But...

INSKEEP: This was a crazy number when it was discussed on social media yesterday. How can 107 percent of the savings go to the wealthiest? But it's because at the end of this period, the people toward the bottom would actually pay more.

LIASSON: That's right. This is a supply-side trickle-down bill, and it's going to test the theory that if you give tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals, they will trickle down and help the economy and create jobs and help everyone. Most economists say this bill will have a very negligible effect on growth, and it explodes the deficit at a time when the deficit is already dangerously large. But it's a big win for Republicans. This is the first major piece of legislation that the president is going to sign.

INSKEEP: We should mention that the Tax Policy Center, which you cited, it is linked with the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, kind of center-left organizations, but has considered itself quite nonpartisan. Now, let's talk about the politics of what you've just described. On the upside I guess for Republicans, they're going to pass a major bill. On the downside, it's - well, it's not so popular.

LIASSON: That's right. Right now, it's very unpopular. Republicans are hoping that when people actually see they're getting a tax cut, they're going to like the bill more. The problem is that some people in high-tax states, mostly blue states but still a lot of people who live in Republican districts in those states, are not going to get a tax cut. And they might be even angrier. Democrats feel very confident that they can drive home the message that their Republicans are just doing favors for the wealthy.

But there are a lot of things in here that Republicans need, not just one big victory. They're telling their donors that they can govern. They're not just a majority party. They're a governing party. And this bill also gets rid of a key part of Obamacare - the individual mandate. And that's a huge win for Republicans who've been stymied every time they've tried to undermine or undo Obamacare.

INSKEEP: A big part of Obamacare going away if this passes. Mara, is there really time this week to pass the final version of this tax bill and avoid a government shutdown, which also has to happen?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. The government funding bill runs out at the end of this week, and Republicans are talking about passing another short-term funding bill that would kick the can down the road into sometime in January. The question is, what else is going to be added to this short-term funding bill? You know, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, promised Susan Collins that she could have some Obamacare fixes attached to it. So he's going to try to do that.

Then there's the question of what happens to the DREAMers. The Democrats have been wanting to put some deportation relief for those young people onto this government funding bill. That seems unlikely at this point. But all of these things - there's a lot of moving parts. But one thing is sure - members really do want to leave for Christmas, and they don't want to shut the government down right before they leave.

INSKEEP: Mara, always a pleasure talking with you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.