Top Republicans on a key Senate panel have reached a tentative agreement on a tax plan that would add about $1.5 trillion to the government's $20 trillion debt over 10 years, according to congressional officials.
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Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the chamber's dwindling band of deficit hawks, said on Tuesday that Republicans have "potentially gotten to a very good place" on agreeing to how much the upcoming tax measure might cost, once the Senate's tax writers have blended together rate cuts, additional revenue raised through curbing tax breaks, and the beneficial effects of what he called "pro-growth tax reform."
Corker didn't offer a number, but officials familiar with the Senate Budget panel's internal discussions said the tax measure would amount to $1.5 trillion.
Corker said he's willing to be flexible with revenue estimates and said, "I'm all for pro-growth tax reform but over a decade it needs to pay for itself per valid models."
The divide between the Senate GOP's deficit hawk and "supply side" wings has to be overcome before action on this fall's tax measure can commence in earnest.
The work of the budget panel is critical since Republicans need to agree on a Capitol Hill budget plan in order to pass a follow-up tax bill that's a top priority of President Donald Trump and a centerpiece of the party's fall agenda without fear of a filibuster by Democrats. But both House and Senate Republicans are divided and the budget debate is months behind schedule.
Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., one of the budget panel's more ardent advocates of tax cuts, said a 10-year, $1.5 trillion tax cut "ought to be a minimum."
Many Republicans in Washington promise that cutting corporate and individual rates and ridding the code of inefficient tax breaks, deductions, and preferences will boost the economy and cause a burst of new revenue.
Congress' impartial scorekeepers have accepted the premise of such "dynamic scoring," but past studies by the Joint Tax Committee and Congressional Budget Office have been more pessimistic about how much economic growth and tax revenues would follow tax cuts. Corker said he wouldn't feel bound by conservative estimates from Capitol Hill scorekeepers, raising the possibility of using analysis from outside economists.
The development also means, under the tricky Senate rules governing fast-track debate on the budget and taxes, some of the provisions in the upcoming tax measure would have to be temporary.
Corker on Monday opposed an overwhelmingly popular defense measure that would smash the budget, saying "the inability to get our fiscal house in order is the greatest threat to our country."
"There's a spectrum of opinion inside our conference," Johnson told reporters who encountered him on a Senate sidewalk Tuesday morning. "We should be doing everything to grow our economy and part of that is as aggressive pro-growth tax reform as we can get."
"By the time it's all said and done, and we end up with a tax bill ... for me it's important that we have no deficit. I'm a hawk on that number," Corker said.