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Sen. Richard Blumenthal On GOP Tax Bill

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Republicans almost have a legislative victory in their hands.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Their tax overhaul bill passed the House yesterday afternoon, and the Senate passed its version late last night. Due to some Senate rules, though, the House needs to go back and make some small tweaks so that the bill meets Senate standards and vote a second time later today.

GREENE: Looks like that will be just a formality, though. House Speaker Paul Ryan is already calling this tax bill a victory, not for his party, but for the country. He said this will simplify the tax code and bring economic growth.

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PAUL RYAN: The American people place their trust in us to do this work for them. And today, we're making good on that promise.

GREENE: Now, we should say not a single Democrat in either chamber voted for this. And we have Democrat Richard Blumenthal on the line with us. He's a U.S. senator from Connecticut. Senator, good morning.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Good morning to you. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. So there's been a whole lot of political back and forth over this obviously. But can we just make sure - I mean, everyone agrees that most Americans are going to see some sort of tax cut in the immediate future. Is that fair to say?

BLUMENTHAL: Some middle-class and working families may actually see a tax increase because they live in states where local and state taxes are no longer deductible. Or they may be hit with other higher costs. And whatever the crumbs or very minor tax cuts for some of those middle-class families - they are only temporary. And so the wealthiest 1 percent in the country will receive 83 percent of the tax cuts overall.

GREENE: OK. So you're saying that it's favoring the wealthy. But just so we're clear, I mean, there's - the Tax Policy Center is saying that the average household in the country will get a cut of about $1,600 in 2018. You can call that crumbs. Other people might say that's much more than crumbs. But that's - most Americans will see something.

BLUMENTHAL: They'll see something, but it's only temporary. And they will lose in other ways. For example, they will pay more to repair their cars because our roads will continue to decline. Eight-hundred dollars, for example, in Connecticut - the bill gives breaks to millionaires purchasing their third home - maybe their mansion - but not to families who buy their first home. It hits college education. It raises expenses in other ways that may not be immediately visible.

GREENE: You say that these will be temporary. Speaker Ryan reiterated yesterday that he hopes that these tax cuts, you know, for many Americans will be extended beyond the point where they're set to expire. Why don't you buy that argument from the Republicans?

BLUMENTHAL: They are temporary because they end before the 10-year period, whereas the tax cuts for corporations are permanent. Other tax breaks for the wealthiest go beyond the temporary period for middle-class tax cuts. But there are other kinds of moral and financial consequences here. This measure raises the national debt in a way that betrays our American values. It saddles and burdens our next generation and generations to come with $1.5 trillion in debt at a minimum, probably much more.

GREENE: All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal who, among all Democrats who voted on this bill, voted against it. He's a U.S. senator from the state of Connecticut. Thanks for your time, Senator. We always appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Great to be with you. Thanks so much.

GREENE: I want to bring in NPR's Scott Horsley who's been covering this tax debate for a moment. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: You've been listening there. I just wonder - I mean, even if Democrats have broadly an argument that they feel comfortable with - that this benefits largely the wealthy, that it will increase the deficit over time - in the near term, if most Americans feel something, do Democrats have a campaign issue that will help them in 2018?

HORSLEY: Well, that's the big question. You know, you say if most Americans feel they're getting this tax cut. Remember, the trillion-dollar stimulus, as Republicans branded it, passed in the early years of the Obama administration - gave most Americans a tax cut. And polls showed that the vast majority never felt like they were getting the tax cut. That measure, like this one, was passed along a party line vote. So I think the argument you hear Senator Blumenthal making right there is a dress rehearsal for what we're going to be hearing leading up to 2018.

GREENE: So, really, it's going to be a matter of if families get something like $1,600, do they feel that that's helping them and give credit to Republicans? Or do they buy the argument from Democrats that they're getting, quote, "crumbs," as the senator said.

HORSLEY: Exactly. And if you stretch that out in, you know, bi-weekly paychecks, it may not be terribly noticeable to a lot of people.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Horsley covers the White House and has been covering this whole tax debate in Washington. Scott, thanks. We appreciate it.

HORSLEY: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.