Republicans confident Trump tax plan will pass US Senate

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Washington (AFP)

Donald Trump's tax reform plan has overcome pockets of resistance within Republican ranks, US senators said Friday, setting up a vote that could provide the president with his first major legislative victory.

"We have the votes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters as he entered the chamber.

If accurate, the vote count marks a critical shift from late Thursday, when the sweeping tax code overhaul's momentum dramatically stalled after a handful of deficit hawks balked at the controversial plan's $1.5 trillion price tag.

But Senate Republicans stressed that after marathon overnight negotiations the bill looked like it was on track for passage later Friday.

"We're seeing consensus as the conference comes together," Senator Ted Cruz said.

"There's still work to be done, but we are very close and I now believe it is likely that we will pass this bill later today."

Trump, who has been more active in the legislation's navigation through Congress than he was with the Obamacare repeal bill that failed earlier this year, weighed in to encourage his party.

Republicans "are working hard to pass the biggest Tax Cuts in the history of our Country," Trump tweeted. "The Bill is getting better and better."

It was not immediately clear exactly what improvements were made, but Cruz said that efforts to include tax hikes in the measure failed.

Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who have been critical of Trump in recent months, were skeptical about the cost of the tax cuts, and had wanted a so-called "trigger" that would automatically raise taxes if revenues fall short of projections.

But late Thursday, the Senate parliamentarian ruled against Corker's plan, saying such a mechanism did not comply with Senate budget rules.

With some conservatives bridling at their party's trampling of anti-deficit budget orthodoxy, 11th-hour negotiations proceeded over how to offset the cost of dramatic tax cuts for corporations and more modest cuts for individuals.

The problem was compounded earlier Thursday when a nonpartisan congressional tax scorekeeper projected that the tax overhaul would add a whopping $1 trillion to the deficit, even after accounting for expected economic growth from the plan.

The analysis complicated Trump's argument, shared by many Republicans, that the tax cuts would pay for themselves through additional economic growth.

Senators said that the reforms would lower the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, and Cruz said there would be no stair-step increase in the measure.

Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate majority. Three defectors would kill the bill.

Flake eventually said Friday he would support the tax bill. Corker, mobbed by reporters as he entered the chamber, would not say whether he was on board.

- 'Ticking time bomb' -

If the legislation passes the Senate, it still must be reconciled with the recently passed House version. The plans differ on some points.

Democrats, united in opposition, are arguing that the plan is too expensive and will accommodate only the rich.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called the plan a "ticking time bomb of middle class tax hikes."

The final bill had yet to be released early Friday, but Republicans were so eager to rush the bill through that they might vote on it just hours after the final version is introduced.

"Notching a political win ... isn't a good enough reason to throw common sense and responsibility out the window," Schumer said.

But it appeared that little was now standing in the way of the legislation passing the Senate, as White House legislative affairs advisor Marc Short shuttled between lawmakers' offices seeking to lock down votes.

"We look forward to getting it done today," Short said.