Senate Republicans made significant progress Tuesday toward passing a major tax code overhaul, as key lawmakers signaled that they were prepared to back the $1.4 trillion tax plan.
The progress followed a visit from President Trump to a weekly GOP Senate luncheon where he discussed potential changes to the tax bill and pressed Republicans to pass it without delay. Following the meeting, two holdouts — Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine — said they were increasingly likely to support the tax plan, provided leaders follow through on Trump's promised changes.
"I'm an undecided," Collins told reporters after the meeting with Trump. "But I am encouraged by the meetings I've had today and the receptivity to the changes that I've proposed be in the bill."
The tax bill cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the Senate Budget Committee voted 12-11 to approve the legislation. The vote was along party lines, but Corker and Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who has been opposed to the bill, voted to allow it to proceed.
It is now up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to come up with a way to persuade at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans to vote for the tax bill on the floor. That has meant juggling demands from Corker, Collins and a small number of other skeptics who have listed clear demands that must be met to win their votes.
Corker, an avowed deficit hawk, wants to include a plan to raise taxes in the event that the legislation fails to create sufficient economic growth. Collins wants expanded tax breaks for families and a promise that the Senate will vote on proposals that could blunt the impact of a provision to repeal the individual mandate requirement in the Affordable Care Act as part of the tax bill.
Others, like Johnson and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., want bigger tax breaks for small businesses that file their taxes on the individual side of the tax code.
Writing a tax bill that does all of that, McConnell said, is like trying to solve a puzzle.
"Think of sitting there with a Rubik's Cube trying to get to 50," McConnell told reporters following the lunch meeting with Trump. "We do have a few members who have concerns, and we're trying to address them."
McConnell and his deputies have spent the past several days in a series of continuous meetings looking for ways to tweak the legislation, according to senators and aides.
Among the changes under consideration is Corker's proposal for a future tax increase if the legislation fails to expand the economy.
So far, Corker has been unwilling to specify how those increases would be implemented or which taxpayers would see a tax hike under the plan. But he told reporters he is pleased that GOP leaders appeared to agree with his plan.
"I think we've got a commitment that gets us to a pretty good place," Corker said. "We've got an outline of an agreement at every level that matters in the Senate."
Collins said she was similarly pleased with a plan to allow votes on a pair of health care proposals that are unrelated to the tax bill. Collins has said that she worries the plan to repeal the individual mandate as part of the tax bill would drive up health insurance premiums — a problem that could be mitigated by passing two separate bills to strengthen the insurance marketplace, including the restoration of subsidies to insurers aimed at helping lower-income consumers afford coverage.
Trump told Senate Republicans that he supports those bills, and Collins said she believes they will get a vote soon after a tax bill passes. Collins said she still has reservations about other elements of the bill, like preserving some deductions for taxes paid to state and local governments, but she would not rule out voting for the bill.
"It certainly helps," Collins said. "I feel like I'm on track to solving that problem."
Leaders have not yet announced a solution to the small-business tax rate issue raised by Johnson and Daines. Johnson has said he would oppose the tax bill, but he was among the 12 budget committee Republicans who voted to approve it.