Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday became the latest holdout on the Republican tax plan, depriving leaders of crucial backing as they struggle to build support for the bill before next week’s expected vote.
The Florida Republican, who warned leaders he would vote no unless changes were made to the current version, is pushing for greater refundability of an enhanced child tax credit that he and others, including Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, fought to provide for low-income and working-class Americans.
By publicly opposing the legislation, he joins those who are capitalizing on the Senate’s delicate math to extract last-minute concessions.
GOP leaders can afford to lose only two Republican senators from their slim 52-48 majority and still pass the bill next week, with Vice President Mike Pence having postponed his Middle East trip so he can be on hand to break a tie, if needed
Already, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who opposed an earlier version of the bill, remains undecided. The Senate calculus is further jeopardized by the potential absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who missed votes this week as he battles brain cancer, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who was recuperating from outpatient treatment for a non-melanoma lesion but was expected to return next week.
Many others, including Rubio’s partner on the child tax credit proposal, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), remain undecided.
Some dismissed Rubio’s insistence on revisions as an empty gambit from a senator who, while known for pushing his top issues, is hardly seen as a renegade willing to buck party leadership by withholding his vote.
President Trump appeared to take that view, predicting Rubio would come around to support the legislation.
“I think he’ll get there,” Trump said during an event at the White House. “He’s really been a great guy, very supportive…. I think that Sen. Rubio will be there.”
Trump should know. As rivals on the presidential campaign trail, he and Rubio sparred in starkly personal ways — at one point over a measure of their manhood. But Rubio ultimately endorsed Trump when the businessman became the nominee.
Also confident of winning over Rubio were Republican leaders, who said they expected changes to be made to bring the senator around.
“We wouldn’t be having the vote if we didn’t have the votes,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip.
But Rubio may not be so quick to budge, modeling lessons learned from colleagues, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who withheld support on an earlier proposal until they won concessions.
“Sen. Rubio has consistently communicated to the Senate tax negotiators that his vote on final passage would depend on whether the refundability of the child tax credit was increased in a meaningful way,” his spokeswoman said Wednesday.
What Rubio is fighting for — raising the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and making it partly refundable for moderate-income earners — could help Republicans as they battle criticism that their tax plan is too heavily focused on corporations and wealthy Americans.
Under the revised bill, the steep corporate tax cut, from 35% to 21%, will start in 2018, a year earlier than the Senate had initially planned, and the top individual bracket will be lowered to 37% from a 39.6% rate.
Rubio, a father of four, has spoken in personal terms about the expense of raising children, and proposed the tax credit as part of his platform for president.
“Tax negotiators didn’t have much trouble finding a way to lower the top tax bracket and to start the corporate tax cut a year early,” Rubio snapped Thursday on Twitter.
“Adding at least a few hundred $’s in refundable cuts for working families who seem to always be forgotten isn’t hard to do either.”
During the Senate vote on the measure last week, Rubio tried unsuccessfully to slightly raise the proposed corporate rate — then at 20% — by about 1 percentage point, using that money to pay for the enhanced child credit. The idea was voted down.
With Lee, Rubio had already succeeded in doubling the child tax credit, to $2,000 per dependent. But he argues it needs to be refundable against payroll taxes for lower-income earners, otherwise it will mostly benefit wealthier households who itemize deductions.
“I have been asked by some people: Why isn’t that enough?” Rubio argued on the Senate floor this month. “The answer is that the people we most want to help are not going to be able to fully use it.”
But at this late stage of negotiations, changes are proving difficult, especially because Republicans are working under an agreement not to add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the decade.
The cost to make the child tax credit fully refundable would be about $87 billion over the decade, and would need to be offset with revenue elsewhere to stay within the deficit limit.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said negotiations were winding down.
“We’re just about ready to finish this off,” he said on CNN.
And House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday pushed back against polling that shows the GOP bill is unpopular with voters, saying Americans will probably grow to favor it once they start to see the results, which Republicans say will be in paychecks early next year.
“This is the nature of the debate on things this big, like tax reform,” Ryan said.“You’ve got pundits and spinsters and all of this spinmeisters out there, you know, confusing the public.”
He added, “What comforts me greatly is the fact that the results are going to produce fantastic results that will improve the lives of hardworking taxpayers in this country.”