After House vote on taxes, spotlight shifts to undecided senators

WASHINGTON — The fast-moving Republican effort to overhaul the tax code now rests in the hands of a small number of fence-sitting senators with disparate concerns, like how small businesses are taxed and whether health insurance costs will spike after the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to have coverage or pay a penalty.

Lawmakers face a challenge in navigating those competing priorities without rankling other members or running afoul of budget rules. For instance, dropping the repeal of the individual mandate from the bill would mollify the concerns of some but could alienate others who wish to see it included, while also upending the delicate fiscal math behind the Republican plan.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump fired off a Twitter broadside against one of those undecided senators, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is not seeking re-election next year. The president referred to him as “Sen. Jeff Flake(y),” declared him “unelectable” and offered a prediction: “He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is ‘toast.'”

Flake, an unapologetic Trump critic, seemed unmoved by the declaration. “What the president says or does or feels has nothing whatsoever to do with how I will vote on that tax bill,” Flake said during a radio interview Monday.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, wants the full Senate to consider the tax bill next week. Because Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority, party leaders can afford only two defections, assuming Democrats are unified against the bill and Vice President Mike Pence provides the tiebreaking vote. The math would grow even tighter if Democrats gain a seat in the special election for Senate in Alabama next month.

The concerns expressed by Republican senators are hardly monolithic, and McConnell will have to walk a delicate line to resolve the issues without setting off additional objections from other lawmakers.

The deficit issue is a crucial one, given several senators have already expressed concerns about piling up more debt as a result of the tax overhaul. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has said he will not vote for a tax plan that he determines will add to the deficit.

Editor’s Note: The bill the House passed included a measure that would raise taxes for grad students by 300–400% by adding qualified tuition reductions to their taxable income.