Senate Republicans passed a dramatic overhaul of the American tax system early Wednesday morning, putting the plan another House vote away from President Donald Trump's desk after Senate rules forced them to make last-minute changes.
The chamber approved the proposal by a 51-48 party line vote, with every GOP senator voting for it except for the absent Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. After approving a nearly identical bill earlier Tuesday, the House wants to pass the legislation that cleared the Senate on Wednesday morning.
The plan, expected to get signed into law by Trump this week, would significantly remake the U.S. tax code. The bill would slash tax rates for businesses while temporarily trimming the tax burden on most, but not all, individuals.
Trump cheered the bill's passage in a tweet early Wednesday, saying a news conference will take place in the afternoon if the House approves the plan.
The GOP contends that the more than $1.4 trillion in tax cuts contained in the bill will spark business investment, hiring and wage growth. Democrats call the Republican proposal a giveaway to corporations at the expense of the middle class, expressing concerns about the $1 trillion or more it is projected to add to federal budget deficits over a decade.
The Senate GOP kept all of its members in line to approve the legislation after navigating party fractures and a member's absence in recent weeks. Republican leaders had to make policy changes or promises during the tax debate to appease at least five GOP senators who ended up supporting the bill.
Republicans, facing a tight margin for error with only 52 seats in the Senate, could afford to lose only one vote on the plan this week as McCain fights brain cancer in his home state of Arizona.
Tensions rose during the final vote, with protesters in the chamber's gallery chanting, "Kill the bill, don't kill us!" Multiple times during the vote, the presiding Vice President Mike Pence brought down his gavel and called for order over the sounds of protesters.
Shortly before the vote, some GOP senators spoke in the chamber while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made his closing remarks criticizing the bill as a giveaway to businesses and the wealthy. Schumer then snapped: "This is serious stuff. We believe you're messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes."
Republicans are scrambling to accomplish their key legislative goal by the end of the year and notch an achievement to promote ahead of next year's midterm elections. Democrats have seized on dismal public opinion polling on the plan and the fact that most individual tax cuts would expire under it while a corporate tax decrease would be permanent.
Speaking after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called passing the bill an "important accomplishment" that taxpayers will "value and appreciate."
"If we can't sell this to the American people we ought to go into another line of work," the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
He contended that focusing on the expiration of cuts "missed the point," adding that Democrats winning congressional majorities next year "would turn this into a very short tax bill."