Nation & World

Congress looks to clear budget deal that includes permanent sales tax deductions for Washingtonians

Speaker Paul Ryan talks during a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Speaker Paul Ryan talks during a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C. The Associated Press

Congress on Friday is poised to clear the year-end tax and spending deal as lawmakers seek to wrap up the remaining congressional business with members itching to head home for the holidays.

Despite some grumbling in both parties over the contents of the deal — a $1.1 trillion spending bill and a $622 billion package of tax cuts — it is expected to be approved by both chambers. But the House vote on the appropriations package, which will occur Friday morning (Dec. 18), could be close.

On Thursday the House passed the tax portion of the agreement on a 318-to-109 vote.

The tax portion, called “The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act,” includes a provision that makes permanent Washingtonians’ ability to deduct state sales tax, according to a statement from Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

“I am proud to say this bill includes several provisions I have championed on behalf of America’s teachers, workers and small businesses,” Reichert said after the bill passed.

If the spending bill passes the House, it will be rolled into one package with the tax measure that the Senate is expected to clear for the president’s signature later in the day.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., on Thursday expressed confidence that the deal will make it into law.

“I feel pretty good about where we are,” he said at a news conference. “Like I say, you always find out when the vote comes.”

House Republicans provided most of the needed votes, 241, to pass the tax package, which House Democratic leaders oppose because they say it is too expensive and does not do enough for low-income workers. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, opposed the tax agreement but said she will vote for the spending bill.

“I know it sounds good, but it’s a Trojan Horse and we should not be fooled,” she said of the tax bill on the House floor. But despite Pelosi’s harsh criticism, 77 of her House Democratic colleagues still chose to vote for the bill.

House Democratic votes will be needed to pass the spending bill Friday because of Republican discontent with the size of the package and the lack of policy provisions on issues like immigration and abortion that conservatives pushed to include in the deal.

But Pelosi said she does not know whether there will be enough Democratic support for the spending measure and that she has counseled members to study the legislation before deciding.

“It’s up to them to get the votes; they’re the majority,” she said of Republicans at a news conference.

Pelosi added that many of her members are concerned that the bill would roll back the ban on oil exports.

Although Pelosi does not support that policy, she argued that Democratic leaders were able to secure in the deal policies they support by not seeking to block the inclusion of the export-ban language.

“I feel that what we did in the bill more than 10 times offsets the damage that exporting crude oil does,” she said.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, a member of the whip team and the Appropriations Committee, said he’s confident that more Republicans than expected will vote for the bill.

“The whip team is working very hard,” he said. “Plus we think it’s important for Ryan to have a substantial Republican vote behind him. That just puts him in a strong position going forward. He’s going to be our chief negotiator; we’re going to have other deals.”

The overall tax and spending agreement has broader bipartisan support in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nevada, called the agreement a good compromise that includes provisions that benefit both parties.

On Thursday, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said in an interview on Fox News that senators should try to slow consideration of the bill to force leaders to renegotiate over whether language should be included to crack down on the ability of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to come into the United States.

“We can most certainly slow this process down and force them to go back and make changes to it,” he said.

Soon after, however, Senate leaders locked in an agreement to vote on the year-end package Friday if it passes the House.