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Durbin Fears 'Mistakes' In Rushed Republican Tax Bill

Dick Durbin
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Democratic whip, smiles as he heads for a weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin criticized Republicans on Thursday for rushing to deliver a sweeping overhaul of tax laws before Christmas—a package that the senior Illinois Democrat says gives too much away to wealthy Americans and large corporations.

An agreement reached Wednesday combines key elements of separate tax bills recently passed by the House and Senate, striking compromises on some of them. The Republicans are pushing to deliver final legislation to President Donald Trump before Christmas. 

Durbin said Thursday morning he’s yet to see the final language, which lawmakers are expected to vote on Monday or Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, also opposes the tax plan. U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis and Darin LaHood, two Central Illinois Republicans whose districts include Bloomington-Normal, both supported the House GOP bill when it passed last month.

"Do you know how many wealthy Americans from Illinois have knocked on my door and said we desperately need a tax cut? None. Not one."

“I can guarantee that in a week or two, someone is going to read the detailed language and say, ‘Whoops. We made some mistakes,’” Durbin told GLT. “And when you think about the tax code that affects the economy of our country, every business, every family, every individual, we should take the time to get it right as best we can. Unfortunately, that’s not the approach that’s been used here.” 

The bill would provide generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Middle- and low-income families would get smaller tax cuts, though Trump and GOP leaders have billed the package as a huge benefit for the middle class. 

Durbin said he’s “for tax reform. I’m for tax cuts.” But he said the bill leans too heavily toward tax cuts for the wealthy. He also criticized the elimination of the individual mandate, a major tax requirement of the Obamacare health law, a step toward the ultimate GOP goal of unraveling the law. Durbin said that move will raise premiums for Illinoisans by 10 to 20 percent. 

A better approach to tax reform would have been to focus on existing “giveaways,” he said, like the carried-interest tax break used by managers of private equity firms that Trump famously criticized. Congress could’ve used those savings to reduce the tax burden of middle-income families, Durbin said. 

“Do you know how many wealthy Americans from Illinois have knocked on my door and said we desperately need a tax cut? None. Not one. And yet that’s the highest priority in this bill. I think it’s a mistake,” Durbin said. 

Durbin said he would support corporate tax reform as well, but not in the way that Republicans have pursued. The prospect of lower corporate taxes was cited by the president of Brandt Industries as one factor that led the Canadian company to recently announce its first U.S. manufacturing plant in McLean County. 

“I’m not surprised at what he said,” Durbin said. “We should make sure that the corporate tax is not paid primarily by smaller and medium-sized companies. Right now, the tax code is written in a way that the biggest companies end up with lots of friends, lots of attorneys, lots of advocates in Washington, they get breaks in the tax code that smaller and medium-sized corporations don’t receive. Smaller companies end up paying the top rate, and the biggest companies (don’t).

"If you’re going to have fairness in the tax code and a corporate tax—which I support—it ought to be done so that the smaller and medium-sized companies don’t end up carrying the burden. What they’ve done in this tax code reform is to give the tax break to the biggest companies, and only some of it to the smaller and medium-sized companies.” 

Alabama Election

Meanwhile, Durbin said he spoke Wednesday with Doug Jones, the newly elected Democratic senator from Alabama. Jones won an upset election Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore, who faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct before the election.

Moore’s flaws were a big reason for Jones’ win, Durbin said. But there were others. 

“Just like Virginia a few weeks before, people are sending a message. They don’t like what they see coming out of the Trump White House in Washington. We saw groups come forward in Alabama—African-American voters, women voters, younger voters—who are protesting what they see in Washington,” Durbin said. “Put those things together, and it was an upset victory no one would’ve predicted.”

You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Durbin:

GLT's full interview with Sen. Durbin.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.