WASHINGTON — Hours before a key committee vote Tuesday, Senate GOP leaders were still trying to persuade reluctant senators to support a sweeping tax package that would stand as the biggest legislative accomplishment of President Donald Trump's first year in office.
Trump was headed to the Capitol ahead of the vote to make a personal pitch at a Senate Republican luncheon.
The Senate Budget Committee was scheduled to vote on the package Tuesday afternoon, though two Republican senators said they might oppose it.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says the package doesn't cut taxes enough for business owners who report business profits on their individual tax returns. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he is concerned that the package will add to the federal government's $20 trillion debt.
If Corker and Johnson side with the committee's Democrats, it will be a major embarrassment for GOP leaders but it wouldn't necessarily kill the bill. The committee could still send the tax bill to the Senate floor, but it would go with an unfavorable recommendation.
More importantly, it would force Senate Republican leaders to change the bill to pick up more support. Republicans hold a razor-thin 52-48 majority in the Senate, so they can afford to lose only two votes, and at least four other senators have raised concerns.
Tuesday morning, Senate GOP leaders held an event with small business representatives who, one by one, professed support for the tax package.
"It will be a great Christmas gift for this country and for our nation's small businesses," said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.
After the event, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he was optimistic about Tuesday's vote in the Budget Committee. GOP leaders hope to pass the bill out of the Senate this week. If they succeed, the bill would have to be reconciled with the tax package passed by the House before Thanksgiving.
Senate Republicans indicated they still had a way to go to secure the votes.
"We're making progress, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. But we're not there yet," Cornyn said late Monday.
The overall tax package blends a sharp reduction in top corporate and business tax rates with more modest relief for individuals.
To mollify the deficit hawks, Senate GOP leaders are considering a "trigger" that would automatically increase taxes if the legislation fails to generate as much revenue as they expect.
A new estimate by congressional analysts says the Senate tax bill would add $1.4 trillion to the budget deficit over the next decade. But GOP leaders dispute the projection, saying tax cuts will spur economic growth, reducing the hit on the deficit.22 comments on this story
Many economists disagree with such optimistic projections. The trigger would be a way for senators to test their economic assumptions, with real consequences if they are wrong.
"Do we have realistic numbers and is there a backstop in the process just in case we don't?" asked Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
"We should build in the 'What if?' What if this doesn't work?" Lankford said. "What changes might be needed in the tax code in the days ahead, to be able to adjust in what scenario?"
Corker said the Trump administration and the Senate leaders are open to some kind of a trigger to increase revenues if the tax plan falls short.