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Trump, Senate Republicans prepare for showdown over tax cuts

WASHINGTON, Nov 27 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump was to meet with Senate Republican tax-writers on Monday at the White House to scope out an end-game strategy for sweeping tax legislation, ahead of a crucial vote on the Senate floor that could come as early as Thursday.

But even before his face-to-face with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and four others from the panel, Trump took to Twitter to advocate for last-minute changes to the Republican bill as a way to improve benefits for businesses and middle-class Americans.

"The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support. 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 president tweeted.

Despite Trump's seeming optimism, however, Republicans were unlikely to have an easy time navigating tax legislation through the Senate, where several lawmakers have concerns about its effects on the federal deficit, healthcare and small businesses.

Trump's Monday get-together with Senate Republicans kicks off an intense period in Congress, as Republican lawmakers try to agree on tax cuts for businesses and individuals so that Trump can sign legislation into law before January.

The Senate bill would slash the U.S. corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent after a one-year delay, give small business owners a 17.4 percent tax deduction, lower rates for individuals, including top earners, and repeal the Obamacare individual mandate.

But critics note it would also add nearly $1.5 trillion to a federal debt burden that already surpasses $20 trillion, raise taxes on some families and potentially make health insurance unaffordable for people with medical conditions.

After the Republican-led House of Representatives approved its own tax bill on Nov. 16, the debate has shifted to the 100-seat Senate, which was a graveyard earlier this year for Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare, the former president's signature health insurance law. Without support from Democrats, which is unlikely, Republicans can lose support from no more than two lawmakers from their 52-48 majority.

Republicans did not appear on Monday to have enough votes to pass the legislation, with about a half-dozen Republicans viewed as potential 'no' votes.

But in a positive sign for Trump's agenda, one of those potential 'no' votes - Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky - announced that he would support the legislation. Another, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has also signaled support.

White House legislative director Marc Short said Republicans were considering making "minor changes" to the Republican bill to help ensure adequate support.

"We're working to satisfy all the members of the Senate so we can get the most 'yes' votes as possible, but we feel very good about where we are," Short told Fox News.

"We've had conversations with pretty much each and every one of them throughout the Thanksgiving holidays. They have some policy concerns but they are all looking to try to get to yes."

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Dan Grebler)