ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Republican effort to pass an overhaul of the nation's tax code with big tax cuts for corporations appears to be well on its way to passing as soon as next week. House and Senate Republicans say they have a deal on a final bill. They've passed separate measures in recent weeks that they've been working on to merge into a single package.
NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is following all of this at the Capitol, and she joins us. And Kelsey, Republicans say they have a deal. What can you tell us about it?
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, there's a lot we don't know for sure yet because there isn't a final bill. This came together quickly and behind closed doors. But I've spoken with several Republican aides on the Hill who confirmed some details. Republicans plan to double the standard deduction taken by most people, which is what we knew already, but the breaks would be more generous than they were in the House bill. First, they plan to cut the top rate that is paid by the wealthiest people from 39.6 percent down to 37 percent.
They would also allow about $10,000 of deductions for state and local taxes. So that's definitely bigger than what the House was going to allow. And grad students will be happy to know that they no longer plan to tax the free tuition that some people get. It won't be taxed as income. I'm also hearing that they plan to allow people to write off interest on mortgages up to $750,000 dollars.
SIEGEL: What about corporations? Will they still come out ahead in this legislation?
SNELL: Yeah, the biggest change is that they're abandoning plans for a 20 percent top rate. It was a major White House demand. But President Trump told reporters today that he was fine with plans to set a new top rate at 21 percent. Here's what he said.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's at 35 right now. So if it got down to 21, I would certainly be - I would be thrilled.
SIEGEL: Well, it sounds like the White House is on board with that plan. Does it have enough votes to pass?
SNELL: Well, we are hearing from the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, that he thinks, yes, it will pass. And he expects that to happen early next week. I'm hearing from some people that the Senate could start even on Monday. The whole thing could be done by midweek if the House is able to move quickly and pass it. After that, we will still have to wait to see a final bill and to make sure that the final bill fits with Senate rules. And all of that could take a couple of days. And Democrats are calling on Republicans to slow down and just wait until Alabama's new senator can be seated in January.
SIEGEL: That's because the new senator, Doug Jones, who won last night in Alabama is a Democrat. How much of a hurry does that put Republicans in to get this done?
SNELL: Republicans have no intention of waiting. Once Doug Jones is seated, Republicans will have an incredibly narrow majority of one vote. And they already have a slim majority in the Senate. And that could be a big issue for votes next week already, particularly because we've just learned that Arizona Senator John McCain has been hospitalized at Walter Reed. He missed some votes earlier this week, and it's unclear when he'll return. That's a big blow for Republicans in terms of keeping their votes together. And it was also - you know, what happened last night was a big upset for Republicans. And they're already using the Alabama election to point out ways Republican policies could be alienating even more of their normal voter base. Here's Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: Last night showed that suburbs that are traditionally Republican are voting Democratic. And they do a tax bill that hurts the suburbs probably worse than any other place.
SNELL: Now, Republicans say most people will get a tax cut under their bill, but they're not eager to test out the politics of getting it passed with a narrow majority. So they are going to try to rush forward. They're hoping that Senator McCain will be available. It's important to know that even if he's not there, they can still afford to lose one vote.
SIEGEL: NPR's Kelsey Snell on Capitol Hill, thank you.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.