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Week In Congress: Tax Bill And Sexual Misconduct Allegations


House Republicans passed a $1.4 trillion tax bill yesterday by a comfortable margin. If also passed by the Senate, this would be the most sweeping tax overhaul since Ronald Reagan was president.


But the Senate passage isn't happening without a fight. The Senate Finance Committee erupted late last night when the chairman, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown argued about whether this bill helps the rich at the expense of the middle class.


ORRIN HATCH: I really resent anybody saying that I'm just doing this for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.

SHERROD BROWN: Mr. Chairman, the public believes this.

HATCH: Now wait a minute. It's just I'm not through.

GREENE: Now, it may well be that tensions on Capitol Hill are heightened this week by sexual harassment allegations hitting both parties.

MARTIN: Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore is accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls as young as 14. And Minnesota Democrat Senator Al Franken is now facing allegations that he kissed and groped a woman during a USO tour in 2006 before he was a senator.

GREENE: And here to make sense of a very complicated week in Congress, as we're hearing, is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis in our studio. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with the tax bill. The House passes its version. The Senate Finance Committee approves its version. So what now?

DAVIS: Hopefully, first, we all get to have a happy Thanksgiving.

GREENE: (Laughter) And don't have to work.

DAVIS: And Congress will return after Thanksgiving. And that first week back, the Senate is going to put the bill on the floor. And this is seen as a very pivotal moment for this bill because, if you recall, in all of those failed health care fights, the moment the bill always failed was because the Senate couldn't get a bill through.

GREENE: They got close.

DAVIS: Exactly. So if a tax bill can get through the Senate, that is seen as a best sign that they will be able to get a final bill done and get a bill to the president by the end of the year.

GREENE: OK. So we have these different versions. Both bills from the House and the Senate, they slash the corporate tax rate. They both reduce tax rates for individuals. But there are differences. I mean, there are differences that the Republicans have to work through.

DAVIS: Three big changes to keep in mind. One, the Senate bill effectively repeals the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act. So we're also going to have a little bit of a health care fight in this tax bill. The House bill does not.

The House bill also takes those individual tax cuts that's supposed to help these middle-class families and makes them permanent. The Senate bill lets them expire at the end of 2025. We're going to have a fight over that.

The Senate bill is also a little less generous to the wealthy. They do things like - they have a less ambitious estate tax repeal. So the very rich will still have to pay taxes on their inheritances. So there's still a lot of differences to work out.

GREENE: And a timetable that President Trump has set that's very ambitious, it sounds like, to put pressure on the party. Let me shift gears. I don't want to try and interpret why there was so much anger in that committee hearing that we heard. But one thing we can say is that it has been a very difficult time in Congress to have these allegations against Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama - sexual misconduct allegations. Nine women have now come forward. And now you have Democratic Senator Al Franken. How are the parties responding to all this?

DAVIS: Republicans would like Roy Moore to get out of this race. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan have called for him to step aside. He has shown no indication he's going to do that. And as we sit here today, he will be the Republican candidate in that December 12 election. Making this seat could be competitive, and the Democrat could win it, attorney Doug Jones.

GREENE: A competitive seat that's not competitive for Republicans. Usually, they don't have to worry about it.

DAVIS: Exactly, in the Deep South, a competitive race now. And on the Democratic side, after these allegations came out, Senator Franken put out a statement. He issued an apology. He did say he recalled some of the aspects of the account differently. But he said he called for an ethics investigation into himself and said he would cooperate with that investigation.

GREENE: What does that mean?

DAVIS: It means - you know, the Senate Ethics Committee can look into a potential wrongdoing and they can offer recommendations for punishment. It's an equally divided panel between Republicans and Democrats. So you can't make any judgments on your sitting senators without bipartisan agreement.

GREENE: Interesting to follow President Trump's reaction to these situations. The president weighed in on Twitter about Senator Franken saying that photo with his accuser spoke - speaks a thousand words. But he hasn't had much to say about Republican Roy Moore.

DAVIS: He hasn't. He hasn't tweeted anything about Roy Moore. And this is to the great disappointment of a lot of Republicans who were hoping the president would add his voice to asking him to step aside. He's chosen not to do that. Through a spokeswoman, he said he believes the people of Alabama should decide. You know, like a lot of Americans who are experiencing these allegations, they - the president seems to also be judging them through the eyes of a partisan lens. Which party you stand for is the party you tend to agree with most.

When we talk about this, I also think we just have to note that the president himself has faced allegations like this. And during the campaign when the Access Hollywood tapes were leaked, he was also caught on tape talking about kissing and groping women. So it adds an extra level of complexity to this when you have that Donald Trump is president weighing in on these.

GREENE: All right, a lot to talk about on Capitol Hill with congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, Thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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