Trump’s first big triumph: Congress gives nod to tax overhaul

22 Dec 2017


President Donald Trump ended a chaotic first year by achieving his most convincing legislative triumph on Wednesday, making good on his promise to deliver what he called a ''big, beautiful'' tax cut before Christmas and finally demonstrating the political power of unified Republican control in Washington.

Trump has hailed the sweeping tax reforms after they were given final approval by Congress, despite fierce criticism by Democrats. "We are making America great again," a jubilant Trump said.

He is expected to sign his first major legislative achievement - the biggest rewrite of the US tax code in a generation - in the coming days.

The bill slashes taxes for corporations and the wealthy, while offering mixed, temporary relief to working people.

Democrats have labelled the Republican tax bill "government for sale", with prominent Senator Elizabeth Warren describing it as a "heist".

Hosting Republican leaders at the White House, President Trump said, "This will indeed be a very big day when people look back at our country."

He thanked congressional leaders for pushing through what he called "the largest tax cut in the history of our country".

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan praised Trump's "exquisite presidential leadership" for the success of the bill.

Earlier, in a statement, Trump said, "I promised the American people a big, beautiful tax cut for Christmas. With final passage of this legislation, that is exactly what they are getting."

The $1.5-trillion tax overhaul will have broad and far-reaching implications for individual and corporate finances, and will cement the president's political ownership of an already growing economy that he inherited from his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

House lawmakers gave final approval to the tax bill on Wednesday, voting 224 to 201 to drop the corporate rate to 21 per cent from 35 per cent, and to deliver tax breaks to other businesses. As Republicans seek to bolster American competitiveness and spur economic growth, the bill also includes tax cuts for individuals that are set to expire after 2025 to make the bill comply with budget rules.

The president's turbulent first year in office has been dogged by investigations, staff turmoil and legislative missteps. But with passage of the tax overhaul, Trump will enter his second year in office with a roster of Republican achievements that he and his party will try to sell to voters in the 2018 mid-term elections: lower taxes, more conservative judges, fewer regulations and more restrictive borders.

''This is a big week,'' said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a longtime Trump supporter. ''A wide range of people are starting to say, 'I like him, the tweets may irritate me, but something's happened.' Clearly this was the pièce de résistance - this bill at this moment just before Christmas.''

It is not clear whether Trump is going to sign the bill before the end of the year. Republicans need to work with Democrats to avert automatic spending cuts that could be set off as a result of the tax bill adding to the deficit. The government needs support from Democrats to avoid these spending cuts, and if they wait until next year, it will buy them extra time to reach such a deal, according to The New York Times. Republicans in Congress were struggling to reach an agreement that would keep the government funded into January and avoid a shutdown.

The bill mandates substantial increases in the deficit, to the tune of $100 billion a year over the next decade, Bloomberg points out.

A Bloomberg correspondent, while praising the tax simplification, bemoans ''the wild fiscal irresponsibility (and) the folly of giving special tax breaks to closel- held corporations'', and questions ''loading all the costs of this bill on a small group of people that the Trump administration doesn't like''.

The bill also opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

The bill, which is likely to be a major issue during next year's mid-term congressional elections, does not seem to have popular approval either. Fifty-two per cent of adults said they opposed the tax plan, while only 27 per cent supported it, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll.

According to the BBC, non-partisan analysts say the greatest beneficiaries of the package will be the super-wealthy, multinational corporations and the commercial property industry.

In the immediate future, the plan will see the vast majority of taxpayers having lower tax bills, but those cuts expire in 2025. By 2027, the Tax Policy Center estimates the overall change would be negligible. And 53 per cent of taxpayers would face higher bills, many of them in the lower income brackets.

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump presided over a grand celebration on the South Portico, flanked by Republican lawmakers and members of his cabinet in a show of unity. A Marine Band played Christmas carols while the president and his party soaked up a moment long in coming.

''This will indeed be a very big day, when people look back at our country. It's a whole different attitude, a whole different way,'' Trump said, congratulating the lawmakers behind him. ''They have been working on this for years, years and years. And I just want to turn around and I want to thank them all. They are very, very special people.''

The lawmakers - many of whom face re-election next year - eagerly returned the favour as the president brought several of them to the lectern, where they offered a common refrain: paeans to Trump, his legislative victory and his presidency.

But though Trump listed a series of accomplishments during his first year in office, he confronts a challenge in the new year of persuading more Americans to get behind him.

His approval rating in polls of the American public is at historic lows, with a majority of people holding negative views of his presidency. Next year, he will face a Senate majority that will have shrunk to just one vote, making it even harder to win approval for the rest of the Republican agenda.

The tax victory was a rare moment of legislative success for a president who has struggled to govern in a city that he derided as ''a swamp''. He has repeatedly used Twitter, his favorite means of communication, to demean and belittle members of both parties, undermining Republican leaders and generating intense opposition from Democrats.

Polls suggest that most Americans view the tax overhaul with suspicion. In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, a majority of people said they saw the plan negatively, with only about 16 per cent saying they believe it will lower their taxes. Democrats predicted Wednesday that the political benefits for Trump would evaporate quickly.

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