Just Taxes Blog by ITEP

Corker Claims Provisions Benefiting Him Could Not Have Changed His Vote Because He Never Read the Bill

Corker Claims Provisions Benefiting Him Could Not Have Changed His Vote Because He Never Read the Bill

December 18, 2017

Matthew Gardner
Matthew Gardner
Senior Fellow

Many Republicans who had previously claimed to be deficit hawks have been cheerfully supportive of major deficit-financed tax-cutting legislation as it has barreled through Congress this fall. But Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee initially took a defiant stand on the issue, insisting that “passing off increased debt to future generations” would be a deal-breaker for him. When the Senate passed its version of the tax plan last week, Corker was the only Republican to vote “no.”

But last Friday, Corker abruptly changed his tune, issuing a terse statement declaring his support for the legislation agreed upon by a conference committee earlier in the week. This was puzzling because last-minute changes wrought by the conference committee, designed to achieve agreement between the very different bills passed by the House and Senate, do not address Corker’s concerns.

On its face, the conference committee plan would cost slightly more over 10 years than the Senate-passed plan Corker opposed ($1.45 trillion as opposed to $1.44 trillion for the Senate passed plan). And the conference bill contains the same funhouse-mirror approaches—phasing in certain provisions, entirely sunsetting most individual tax cuts after 2025—that made the Senate bill even more damaging than its official price tag indicated. So why would Corker change his tune?

An investigative report from the International Business Times gives a troubling answer, and one that raises a lot of ethical red flags: a provision added at the last minute to a proposed new tax break for pass-through businesses would extend this new deduction to companies with few employees and large assets, such as the real estate firms that notably have generated profits for President Donald Trump and Sen. Corker.

Responding to the subsequent uproar, Senator Corker tried to defuse the controversy by telling the Times that the real estate provision couldn’t have changed his mind because he hadn’t read the bill when he changed his vote, and he didn’t know about the last-minute addition.

It looks bad for Corker either way: either he changed his vote because of the sizable real estate break he knew he would enjoy, or he changed his vote because his deficit-reduction pose was just that—a pose. Either he cared more about his bank account than his country, or he didn’t care sufficiently about either to understand the bill before supporting it.

In either case, the episode poses a larger, equally troubling question: where did this last-minute tax break come from? Who introduced it? Neither the House-passed nor Senate-passed bills included it, so it shouldn’t even have been part of the negotiating process.

Leaving aside the cloak-and-daggers way in which this provision was slipped into the bill, it’s clear that the change flies in the face of the goals claimed for the pass-through tax break. Far from creating jobs, it guarantees tax cuts to pass-throughs that create no jobs at all. Instead of targeting tax breaks to middle-income business owners, it reserves a slice for real estate magnates. And no one in either house of Congress has yet stood up to explain why it’s a good idea.