Rubio to vote against GOP tax bill if child credit isn't expanded for low-income families

In this April 7, 2017, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
In this April 7, 2017, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Senate Republican leadership on Thursday that he intends to vote against the massive tax bill barreling through Congress if the child tax credit isn’t expanded, a potential major blow in President Donald Trump’s desire to pass a tax overhaul by Christmas.

If the bill isn’t changed and Rubio votes against the plan, there would be no room for additional Republican dissension as the GOP only holds 52 of 100 Senate seats. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker already announced that he would vote against the plan because of concerns over the federal deficit, leaving Republicans with only 51 votes.

Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie if the GOP has 50 votes, and his office announced that he will delay a planned trip to the Middle East in case his tie-breaking vote is needed.

Rubio’s plan to expand the child tax credit, which reduces some families' tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17, was shot down two weeks ago after Republican senators chafed at raising corporate taxes to pay for it.

But when Republican House and Senate tax negotiators met this week, they decided to raise a proposed corporate tax cut to pay for a lower tax rate for wealthy individuals.

Rubio wasn’t happy.

“My concern is, you found the money to lower the top rate and you found the money to add in (but) you can't find a little bit to somewhat increase the refundable portion of it?” Rubio said on Thursday. “There’s ways to do it and we’ll be very reasonable.”

Rubio said he didn’t have any assurances that his concerns would be addressed, though he talked to Trump about an expanded child tax credit and noted Trump alluded to it during a speech on Wednesday.

“You'll hear the numbers very soon but they're even larger than anticipated,” Trump said.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a point person in the Republican tax negotiations, said he also supports an expansion of the child tax credit along the lines of Rubio’s proposal, and that changes could be made to assuage the Florida Republican.

“It is not over,” Scott said of negotiations for the entire bill. “There is no done deal yet from my perspective, but we are making significant progress.”

Scott is closely aligned with GOP leaders on the tax bill and would not withhold his vote if Rubio's requests are not fully granted.

Texas Sen .John Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said leadership is working with Rubio to get him on board.

“I think he’ll be satisfied,” Cornyn told reporters.

Rubio’s plan, co-sponsored by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, would also make the $2,000 tax credit fully refundable, meaning that if a low-income family’s tax credit exceeds their total amount owed in taxes, they would be eligible for a tax refund. The tax credit would also be tied to the rate of inflation, which means the tax credit will increase if inflation increases.

“He (Trump) said the refundable portion would be higher, let’s hope he’s right,” Rubio said.

Lee is undecided on the bill in its current form, a spokesperson said. If Rubio, Lee and Corker vote against the bill it will fail in the Senate if all Democrats vote against it, which is expected.

Trump on Thursday predicted that Rubio will “get there” on the tax bill and that Republican leaders will get enough votes in “a very short period of time.”

“I think he’ll (Rubio) get there. He’s really been a great guy, very supportive,” Trump said. “I think that Sen. Rubio will be there, very shortly.”

Despite the failure of their proposal to expand the child tax credit two weeks ago, Rubio and Lee voted for the initial tax bill that passed the Senate with 51 votes and did not threaten to vote against it. Three Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana, have threatened to vote against the tax bill in recent weeks unless changes or promises were made.

Rubio has repeatedly said he would vote against a tax plan that does not sufficiently benefit the middle class, though he has previously stopped short of threatening to vote against the final plan because of the child tax credit until now.

Trump was undeterred by his formal presidential rival announcing opposition to the bill in its current state, doubling down on his promise to sign the bill by Christmas.

“I think we will get there. It’ll be in a very short period of time,” Trump said. “It will be the greatest Christmas present that a lot of people have ever received.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty