The big short: Why the Senate doesn’t have the votes it needs to pass GOP tax plan

The upper chamber can only afford to lose two votes, yet has at least seven maybes.

Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., center, confers with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., right, as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, reads nearby during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on North Korea on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., center, confers with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., right, as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, reads nearby during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on North Korea on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

As the Senate prepares to vote on their version of the tax bill as early as this week, all eyes are on six senators.

Three senators — Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Bob Corker (R-TN), and John McCain (R-AZ) — are virtually immune from outside pressure as they are unlikely to face voters again. Flake and Corker are retiring and McCain is 80, just won reelection, and is battling a serious illness. All three have expressed serious concerns about how much the tax proposal will increase the federal deficit.

Meanwhile, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have all outwardly expressed hesitancy over voting for the Senate tax bill, citing other policy concerns. Daines and Johnson don’t think the legislation does enough for “pass-through business,” small businesses that also include larger corporations like hedge funds and law firms. Collins, who was a key vote in stopping multiple GOP attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, has stated the Senate’s decision to include a repeal of the individual mandate to help pay for a massive corporate tax cut is the reason why she is hesitant to vote for the bill as written.

The Senate Finance Committee is considering some last minute alterations to the legislation in an effort to get some support, this includes an expansion of the pass-through deduction to win over Johnson and Daines and a change allowing taxpayers to deduct $10,000 in local property taxes from their taxable income, a provision included in the House bill but not yet in the Senate, to get Collins’ vote.

These minor alterations, however, won’t lower the deficit, and that will be a tougher nut to crack. Corker and Flake have cited a the deficit, which is expected to increase by $1.5 trillion if the proposal were to become law, as a major concern. This may understate the true deficit impact. The individual tax cuts will expire in 2025 while the corporate tax cut is permanent. Temporary individual tax cuts would help pay for the long-term costs of the bill, and Republicans argue there is no way a future Congress would allow the tax cuts to completely expire. If that’s true, the real impact on the deficit would be substantially higher.

Then there are the claims that the tax proposal would raise wages across-the-board and boost the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated Monday that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would hurt more low-income Americans than previously reported, while the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation’s dynamic scoring found the legislation wouldn’t yield sustainable 3 percent economic growth like the White House previously promised.

The bill’s inability to deliver results on economic growth could cause Republicans to lose another vote in the Senate.

Republicans can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate or the tax proposal will go down. Right now there are at least seven Republican senators with serious concerns about the bill.

New polling has found the bill is incredibly unpopular in Corker’s home state of Tennessee (30 percent approve), McCain’s home state of Arizona (26 percent approve) and Collins’ home state of Maine (22 percent approve).

This puts Senate passage of the bill later this week in jeopardy.