Congress passes tax reform, Trump hosts White House celebration for passage

Published 4:23 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For the first time in three decades, members of Congress passed a sweeping tax reform package on Wednesday.

Members of the House of Representatives passed the bill which came out of the joint conference committee on Tuesday and sent the legislation over to the Senate for a vote. During debate on the Senate floor, three provisions were struck from the bill after Senate parliamentarians said those provisions did not meet the legal test for items passed in reconciliation.

In the early morning hours on Wednesday, the Senate passed the joint legislation with those changes. The measure passed by a vote of 51-48, which fell straight down party lines.

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In order for a bill to become law, both chambers of Congress must pass identical bills. Because of the changes made in the Senate, the bill had to be sent back to the House of Representatives for a final vote before being forwarded on to President Donald Trump for his signature.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., spoke with the Elizabethton Star on Wednesday morning shortly before he headed to the House of Representatives for their vote on the changes.

During Tuesday’s vote, the measure passed the House with 227 members voting in favor of the tax reform.

“I’m sure we’ll get the exact same vote today,” Roe said.

Among the items removed from the package by the Senate were provisions regarding 529 savings accounts for homeschoolers and an endowment exemption for colleges where less 500 students pay tuition.

During debate on both the House and Senate versions on the bills before they were sent to the conference committee, many were concerned that changes to the tax code would eliminate the ability to deduct medical expenses, deducting student loan interest, and teachers counting a deduction for money they spend out of pocket for classroom supplies. Roe said all of those items remain deductions under the tax reform legislation.

While the tax reform proposal has been criticized heavily by Democrats and political analysts, Roe maintains that the changes will benefit Tennesseans and allow them to keep more of their money while also promoting economic growth through changes to the corporate and business tax structure.

Roe said he recently participated in two telephone town hall meetings with residents of the Volunteer State and polls of voters participating in those calls show the majority of residents support the package. Only 18 percent of those polled opposed the tax reform legislation, Roe said. In the poll, around 50 percent said they favored the legislation while around 30 percent said they were still undecided.

“I think you will see that number go up as people learn more about it,” Roe said.

Many reports on the proposed changes have not painted an accurate picture of the tax reform package, according to Roe.

The last time the country’s tax code received a major overhaul was in the 1980s under then-President Ronald Reagan — the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 followed by the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

“I have a vivid memory of the Reagan tax cuts in the ’80s,” Roe said on Wednesday. “I saw how they helped, and I think this will do the same thing.”

The legislation will double the standard deduction used by those who do not itemize their tax returns. The reform package also increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families that owe little or no taxes.

Roe said the plan would also have a significant impact on families at the lowest income level. Those families had been at a 10% tax level and under the new code will have a “zero dollar” tax bill, Roe said.

The legislation also repeals a major, and often debated, portion of the Affordable Care Act — the requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or face paying a tax penalty.

After speaking with the Elizabethton Star, Roe joined his colleagues in the House to debate and vote on the changes to the tax reform legislation.

Ultimately, the House passed the updated package on a vote of 224-201, with no Democrats voting in favor of the measure and 12 Republicans crossing party lines to vote against the legislation.

Trump hosted a special ceremony at the White House on Wednesday afternoon to mark the completion of the GOP’s tax reform efforts, which was one of his major campaign promises and a top agenda item for his presidency.

“We haven’t been here a year yet, and we passed the largest tax cut in American history,” Trump said during the ceremony. “We essentially repealed Obamacare, because we removed the individual mandate.”