NASHVILLE - Tennessee and Georgia Republicans hailed Congress' final approval Wednesday of a $1.5 trillion overhaul of federal tax laws as a boon to taxpayers and the economy, while Democrats condemned it as a boon to corporations and the rich.
House Republicans took final action on the landmark legislation, the first major rewrite of U.S. tax laws since the 1980s, in a 224-201, largely partisan vote with a handful of GOP lawmakers opposing it.
Senate majority Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who's been caught up in a furor after the self-described "deficit hawk" announced he would support the bill, earlier approved the measure on a 51-48 party-line vote in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
The bill was the first major piece of legislation enacted by Congress since Republican President Donald Trump took office last January, and GOP members relished the victory.
"This bill will reduce taxes for most Tennessee families and will grow the economy by making business taxes competitive with the rest of the world," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a statement.
"It nearly doubles the standard deduction and doubles the child tax credit. A family of four making a little over $70,000 a year will save more than $2,000 on their taxes, and a single mother making $41,000 a year will see a $1,300, or 73 percent, reduction in her taxes."
Corker had no immediate comment about the bill's final passage. The Chattanooga Republican was the lone GOP no vote in December on the bill when it first passed the Senate, citing concerns over its impact on the federal deficit.
He has been caught up in a media whirlwind since his announcement last week he would support the bill, acknowledging the bill is "far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit and far less would have been done on the individual side with items that do not generate economic growth."
But Corker announced he was backing the measure, saying the "once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss."
Matters weren't helped over the weekend after the International Business Times reported GOP leaders inserted a last-minute provision into the legislation involving income tax reductions on pass-through real estate entities. Corker, who holds investments in several of of those entities, immediately came under attack on social media and by Democrats. The has tag #CorkerKickback began trending on Twitter.
Corker, however, said he was unaware of the provision. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, backed him up on that point in a letter Monday, with Hatch saying the provision had been placed earlier in the House version and that Corker was unaware of it.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also defended Corker on that point.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a moderate Democrat, again voted against the final version up on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, sharply criticizing the new law.
It "increases the deficit dramatically, keeps the tax code complicated, prioritizes corporations over people, and even threatens Social Security and Medicare," Cooper said in a statement. "The vast majority of Americans don't like it, and with good reason."
Later in the day, Alexander, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Budget Committee and a 2018 candidate for governor, as well as U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., joined with Trump and fellow Republicans before the White House in a buoyant celebration.
"We can say 'Merry Christmas' to the American people, because we are giving them a huge gift for Christmas," the Gallatin Republican said.
Perdue, a former CEO of Nashville-based Dollar General Corp., later blamed the legislation's unpopularity in polls on critics' "messaging" during an interview with Bloomberg TV.
That should begin changing next year when voters will "see the reality" in their paychecks, Perdue said.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini, however, charged in a statement that "every Tennessee Republican member of congress from Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn to Bob Corker supported a bill that raises taxes on working families, cuts Medicare, and throws millions of people off their health care."
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., meanwhile, praised the measure in pre-vote Senate floor remarks Tuesday, saying that "on the personal side, you really can't argue with doubling the standard deduction. You can't argue with the doubling of the child tax credit. You can't argue with simplifying the tax process itself and the filing of taxes."
The standard deduction will double to $12,000. Corporations, meanwhile, would see rates slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent.
In a tweet, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam called the tax overhaul "good for low-tax states like Tennessee. I look forward to the additional investment and job creation in our state that should result."
When the bill first passed the House earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said he was "proud to have voted" yes for the first major tax overhaul since 1986. The Chattanooga Republican said the legislation "demonstrates what can happen when Members work in a bicameral fashion toward one common goal- tax relief for families, workers and businesses.
But U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, R-Tenn., panned it as a "con job."
"The plan blows a huge hole in the deficit to give tax breaks to corporations and the super-wealthy," said Cohen in a statement at the time. "In so doing, the bill paves the way for future cuts to social safety net programs like Medicare and takes us one step closer to dismantling the Affordable Care Act."
While Republicans and other plan proponents insist it will be a boon to business and job growth, Cohen argued it's "not clear companies will use their tax windfall to create jobs or improve wages, and history suggests they won't. Instead, the savings will likely go to stock buy-backs or to increase stockholder dividends."
U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Knoxville, however, said in his view "no other bill in the Congress will do more to help keep jobs in this country. Not only does this bill simplify our tax code, it provides much relief to the working families in East Tennessee."
Duncan said that although "no bill is perfect, this legislation goes a long way toward leaving money in the private sector where it will continue to encourage economic growth."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @Andy Sher1.