While a number of states have used revenue thresholds to trigger tax cuts in the future, Greenberg told me he was not aware of triggers being used to reverse tax cuts that were already in place. Nor is it clear, he said, that Lankford’s idea would comply with the Senate’s strict rules requiring that the tax legislation deal only with spending and revenue in order to pass with a simple majority instead of a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
In addition to Moran and Lankford, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee have repeatedly warned party leaders that they won’t vote for a plan they believe adds too much to the debt. And Senators John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine have not committed to the tax bill after opposing the GOP in its earlier attempts to unravel Obamacare.
Complicating the Republican challenge even further are the objections from Johnson and Daines, who want changes that could push the bill in the opposite direction from where Moran and Lankford want to see it go. Johnson and Daines want to expand exemptions for so-called “pass-through” businesses—companies whose owners file taxes as individuals. But deep cuts for those companies were in large part what blew a hole in Kansas’s deficit, since they prompted many more owners to structure their taxes to take advantage of the provision.
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are betting that the holdouts will come around—that the GOP’s urgent, even desperate, need for a legislative win will override concerns about particular provisions in the bill. That belief is undermined by polls showing the Republican tax proposals remain unpopular, and by an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office validating Democratic criticisms that the tax cuts flow disproportionately to the wealthy rather than lower- and middle-income earners.
Still, the GOP leaders’ bet might yet prove correct. The party’s internal critics do not seem as hardened as were Republican opponents during the health-care fight, and each of them has signaled a desire to ultimately vote in favor of the tax bill. The proposal won an important endorsement Monday from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the conservative who has frustrated Trump and GOP leaders with his votes against the Obamacare and budget bills.
Johnson, Daines, and Corker all said they were in talks throughout the weekend with the White House and Senate leaders, and Trump met with a group of GOP senators for lunch on Monday to discuss changes. “The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support,” the president tweeted. “With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings and the pass through provision becomes simpler and really works well!”
The question is how quickly Republicans can find the final pieces to their tax puzzle. Trump wants to sign a bill by Christmas, both to notch his first big policy achievement by the end of the year and to avoid the complication of losing a Republican seat in the Senate in January if Democrat Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in Alabama next month. The House and Senate likely will still need to vote again on a final version. But to meet that deadline, the upper chamber first needs to pass its plan this week, and for the moment, Republicans look like they’re still a few votes short.