This week could decide whether Republicans salvage one of President Donald Trump’s major agenda items during his first year in office or head into a midterm election year with no landmark legislative accomplishments to tout.
In coming days, Senate Republicans hope to pass a bill overhauling America’s tax code, but it is not clear they have the votes from their caucus to do so, given unified Democratic opposition.
As a candidate, Trump pledged to repeal Obamacare, build a wall spanning the U.S. border with Mexico, and cut the taxes Americans pay to the federal government. Today, Obamacare remains the law of the land and not even the White House is predicting when border wall construction might begin in earnest. So what about taxes?
As for tax reform, earlier this month the House of Representatives passed the first major tax bill in more than a decade.
“We need to restore growth, we need to restore opportunity,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, marking the occasion. “We need to restore this beautiful thing we affectionately call “The American Idea’”.
Republicans propose cutting taxes across the board on wages for several years, while permanently slashing corporate taxes and adding $1.5 trillion to America’s national debt over a decade.
Democrats take issue with this plan.
“Republicans have brought forth a bill that is pillaging the middle class to pad the pockets of the wealthiest and hand tax breaks to corporations shipping jobs out of America and drastically increasing the national debt,” said House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Now, all eyes are on the Senate, where Republicans want to merge tax cuts with repealing an Obamacare requirement that forces Americans to purchase health care insurance or pay a penalty.
"They are just headed for failure ... They are cutting taxes on the wealthy and taking health care away from millions,” said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Even if Senate Republicans pass their tax plan, it would have to be reconciled with the House version and go back for votes in both chambers, a tall order with just weeks to go before Congress leaves Washington for the Christmas holiday recess.
“Well, I do believe in prayer, number one, and I hope that we get it done by Christmas,” said Republican Senator Tim Scott on the prospects of passing the legislation.
President Trump, too, continues to sound an optimistic note.
“We are going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas, hopefully that will be a great big beautiful Christmas present,” he said.
Trump is expected to make a trip to the Capitol for the second time in as many weeks Tuesday to personally push his tax plan at a Senate Republican policy luncheon.
Republicans have a two-seat Senate majority, giving them a thin margin on legislation that fails to attract Democratic support.