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Republican Tax Bill Would Provide Big Cuts, But Target Popular Breaks


Today, Republicans in Congress released their long-awaited bill to overhaul the U.S. tax code. It would provide big cuts in the tax rates for most individuals and businesses. It would also roll back or eliminate some popular tax breaks. President Trump celebrated the rollout with House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a middle-income tax reduction. And it's a very big one. It will be the biggest tax reduction in the history of our country.

SHAPIRO: NPR's new congressional reporter, Kelsey Snell, joins us now in the studio. Hi, and welcome.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with a quick fact check. President Trump says the biggest tax cut in the history of our country. Is that accurate?

SNELL: Well, it would be the biggest tax cut since President Ronald Reagan was in office, not in history.

SHAPIRO: When you look at what's in this proposal, what would it mean for a typical individual?

SNELL: Republicans say the goal of this plan is to deliver a tax cut for middle-income families. Big part of the way they get there is by doubling the standard deduction that most people take when they pay taxes. So that means immediately individuals would be able to write off $12,000 and couples would be able to write off $24,000. They also kind of intend to make this really attractive to families with children. Big part of that is increasing the amount of money that you get to write off per child from $1,000 to $1,600. And there will be a big benefit for parents. For five years, families will be able to write off $300 per parent.

SHAPIRO: And for businesses?

SNELL: For businesses we're looking at a big corporate rate cut. It's the thing that Republicans have been promising for a long time will drive growth. So the top rate that companies pay now is 35 percent. Republicans want to cut it down to 20. They also want to cut rates for small businesses.

SHAPIRO: OK, so a lot of cuts for individuals and for businesses. At the same time, a lot of very popular tax breaks would be eliminated under this plan. And in the past, that is what has often killed tax overhaul proposals. What do you expect to be controversial on this bill?

SNELL: Yeah, already we're seeing that plans to cap the mortgage interest deduction have been really controversial among Republicans. They're worried that the plan, which would make it so that you could only deduct mortgages up to $500,000, would mean that families, middle-class families in cities and suburbs and high-cost areas, wouldn't be able to take advantage of something that's really popular, something that was created with the expressed intent of making it easier for people to buy homes. Groups out there like homebuilders and realtors say that they worry that it will make it harder for homeownership to be part of the middle-class dream.

SHAPIRO: Many Republicans had not actually seen the bill until today. What kind of reaction are you hearing from them?

SNELL: We heard a pretty mixed kind of reaction. A lot of people on the service are saying, this is great, we're really excited to finally be looking at a tax bill. There are some, though, who worry that their constituents are the ones who would pay more because of the mortgage interest deduction or because they would lose other breaks that they like now.

SHAPIRO: This bill came out of the House. There's another bill that is going to come out of the Senate. And there's a very ambitious timeline for this to become law. What's the road ahead?

SNELL: So first up, the House is going to start the committee process on Monday. That could take several days. It could take a week. And then they hope to get this passed out of the House before Thanksgiving. At least that is the goal that President Trump has laid out. Next up, the Senate kind of needs to move forward. They haven't committed to any specific timeline, and they haven't written a bill yet. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell generally agrees that this should be done this year.

SHAPIRO: Republicans talk a lot about cutting taxes. They also talk a lot about the deficit. Would this bill pay for itself?

SNELL: While it is expected to create a deficit of $1.5 trillion, that is the amount of money that they can lose and still fit within these complicated Senate rules that make it so that the tax bill could be approved with just Republican votes, with just 51 votes. But that is probably not enough for some deficit hawks. We're already hearing people complain that the bill is too expensive and it might be full of gimmicks that would make it cost billions more over time.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's congressional reporter, Kelsey Snell. Thanks a lot.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.