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Senate Republicans call House tax proposal a good start

Senate Republicans were largely buoyed Thursday by the release of a House Republican tax bill, a key step toward passing tax reform, one of their top legislative goals.

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Ted Barrett (CNN)
(CNN) — Senate Republicans were largely buoyed Thursday by the release of a House Republican tax bill, a key step toward passing tax reform, one of their top legislative goals.

They argued that tax reform would create jobs and jump-start the economy, even as they privately hope it will energize their party's midterm election chances, which faced a setback when their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed.

While a couple of GOP senators raised questions about aspects of the House bill, most said they were pleased with the key elements and wanted to study the details before weighing in.

"I don't think there a lot of surprises, but I don't really want to comment until I get a full grasp of what's been laid out," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of the few Republicans vocally skeptical of Congress's ability to pass tax reform without adding to the deficit.

He said he hoped the tax reform would be permanent, something the House was not able to do with all its proposed changes, in part, to meet the Senate's strict rules related to deficit reduction if Senate Republicans want to pass a tax bill on a party-line vote. The GOP bill had to not cost more than $1.5 trillion in order to be acceptable under budget rules, and some of the tax changes many members pushed for would have put the cost over that threshold.

"One of the attributes that we hoped would be there was permanence," Corker said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, tweeted that he was disappointed by the size of the expansion of the child tax credit, from $1,000 to $1,600. He wanted it raised to $2,000.

But he said he wasn't overly concerned about it because he sees the House proposal as just a place to start.

"I'm not generally overall going to freak out the way everyone else is. It's a starting point," Rubio said. "Where we start and where we end are not going to be the same place."

After the effort to roll back Obamacare fell apart, with the House and Senate GOP pursuing different strategies on that issue and ended up with no bill approved, House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an interview with CNN, insisted that tax reform would be different.

"What we wanted to do is make sure that we remove any kind of big disagreement and got on the same page, and that's what this reflects," the Wisconsin Republican told CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip and a member of the tax-writing finance committee, praised the work of the House but the Senate would not be "bound" by it when senators begin work of their version.

"I think what the House did is instructive but we're not bound by what the House did. But there's been a lot of discussion so there is going to be, I would say, a fair amount of commonality," he said. "But not completely."

Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he couldn't "wait to get it, look it over, and see if we can take it or amend it and make it better." He said he personally believes that the House limits on mortgage interest deductions to the first $500,000 in value should be in the bill. That proposal could be controversial in parts of the country with high real estate values.

Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, where real estate prices are lower than many other states, agreed.

"What we're trying to do is encourage home ownership. But $500,000? Most places you can buy a nice home. If you're going to lower rates, you're going to have to take away other things that have put in the tax code. I think we're on the right path. I can live with it," he said.

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who is facing a tough reelection next year, said he needed more time to study the House bill before saying what he thought.

"It's on my desk and I'm going through it as we speak," he told a reporter. "I'll get back to you later."

Most Democratic senators blasted the House bill, arguing it would raise taxes on the middle class and give big breaks to the wealthy.

"This bill is about giving enough crumbs to the middle class to distract from the multi-trillion dollar giveaways to corporations that ship jobs overseas and the mega-wealthy," said. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a member of the finance committee.

"Republicans are repeating the same mistakes they made with health care. It's the same old playbook: jam through a bill, cobbled together in a back room, that sticks it to hard-working Americans," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. "Republicans are desperately seeking a 'win' in Congress, but this one would only come at great cost to the American people."

One Democrat that President Donald Trump and other Republicans have tried to convince to vote for the bill sounded skeptical.

"I'm not ruling out support it," West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said before being able to read details of the bill. But later he put out a statement that was highly critical of it.

"The tax reform proposal unveiled today does not pass this test and does not reflect the goals President Trump and I have discussed over the last several months," he said, before adding the he would continue to work to improve the bill.

Senate GOP leaders have said they want to pass a bill before Thanksgiving and then use December to merge their bill with a House-passed version before sending it to Trump for his signature.

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