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With Republican Tax Overhaul Expected To Clear Congress, What's Next?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Republicans celebrated today as the House voted this afternoon to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut bill. The Senate votes tonight, but a procedural hurdle late today means the House will have to vote again tomorrow. The bill is still expected to pass even though it has broad public disapproval. Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he believes that sentiment will change once the law takes effect.

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PAUL RYAN: When people see their withholding improving, when they see the jobs occurring, when they see bigger paychecks, a fairer tax system, a simpler tax code, that's what's going to produce the results. Results are going to make this popular.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been following every turn of the tax debate and joins us again. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What is this hiccup that is sending this back to the House for another vote tomorrow?

SNELL: All right, so this all has to do with the complicated Senate budget rules that allow Republicans to pass the bill in the Senate without the help of any Democrats. This problem appears to be more of a hiccup than a roadblock for Republicans. But what happened is Democrats challenged a few portions of the bill because they said they didn't fit the strict guidelines known as the Byrd Rule.

Senators Ron Wyden and Bernie Sanders, who are the top Democrats on the Finance Committee and the Budget Committee, announced today that they won that argument on relatively minor provisions. And those will be cut out of the bill before the Senate votes. That's expected to happen sometime tonight. But doing that means that the Senate bill and the House bill would be different. So if it passes out of the Senate, the House will have to go ahead and revote, which we're expecting could happen sometime tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: The bill has some big tax cuts temporary for individuals, permanent for corporations. It does not really simplify the tax code, as Paul Ryan and other Republicans have promised for years. So is this the big tax victory that Republicans have been after?

SNELL: Right. It may not be as simple as the House had - in particular had hoped. And in fact, it probably will be more complicated for people who file business income on the individual side of their tax returns, those people who have what's called pass-through income. For them, it'll be particularly more complicated.

But for millions of people who file and use the standard deduction, things will get a lot easier. That's because the standard deduction is being doubled or nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. Now, that means a lot more people won't have to go through the process of figuring out if they itemize deductions. And Ryan says that he wants to make those tax cuts permanent in the future. So they're kind of viewing this as the first step, a first very big step. But things could change still in the future in that way.

SHAPIRO: Democrats tried hard to stop this bill and failed after successfully blocking Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. What are Democrats saying today?

SNELL: Democrats are criticizing the bill and saying that it actually does fail to deliver on GOP promises. They don't believe that middle-class families will see the tax cuts that Republicans are promising. Democrats are also saying that this bill in the long run adds to the deficit. We know already that the independent analysis says that it would add about $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. And if these cuts are made permanent, it would last longer - it would - and it would grow our - grow the deficit even further. Here's what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had to say.

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NANCY PELOSI: The only greater delusion in this bill is the ludicrous Republican insistence - their claim - that these giveaways to the wealthiest will pay for themselves.

SNELL: And Democrats are also furious about a provision in the bill that would zero out the individual mandate requirement in the Affordable Care Act.

SHAPIRO: Once lawmakers get through this tax bill, they also have to vote to keep the government open by Friday. Do you think we're headed for a Christmas shutdown?

SNELL: Republicans and Democrats both say they want to make sure that there is no shutdown to discuss and that this will get handled. But they also haven't really figured out how to avoid it. I've been reassured by many people that they are working on it, and the likeliest path seems to be that they will keep government spending at the same level as it is right now until the middle of January.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell speaking with us from Capitol Hill. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.