KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Republicans appear to be on the verge of passing the Senate version of a massive overhaul of the country's tax code. Things looked uncertain for the bill last night after concerns about a deficit increase of over a trillion dollars. This morning, Senate Republicans met privately to make changes to the bill, and now they appear to have enough votes to pass it in the next few hours. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is watching all of this at the Capitol. And she's with us now. Hi.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.
MCEVERS: So there have been a lot of things added to this bill over the last 24 hours to make sure it can pass. Give us some of the highlights.
SNELL: Sure. So the biggest takeaway is that the Senate plan would still cut tax rates for most people. The standard deduction would still be nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. And all of the individual tax breaks would still expire after 2025. But the new bill will allow some people to write off up to $10,000 in state and local property taxes and make it easier to deduct some costs for excessive medical bills.
And on the corporate side, corporations would still see the biggest benefits under the bill. Big corporations would still wind up paying the top rate of about 20 percent. And the new plan would give additional benefits to small businesses to keep their total tax bill down. They'd pay for most of these changes by increasing the amount big corporations would have to pay when they take foreign profits that they earned overseas and reinvest them back in the U.S.
MCEVERS: It seemed like things weren't looking good for this bill last night. And now all of a sudden Republicans say they've got the votes for it to pass. What happened over the last 24 hours?
SNELL: Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked all night to work out some special agreements with a small handful of Republican holdouts. He agreed to lower the small business tax rate and get some more benefits for those small businesses to win support from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson and Steve Daines from Montana. And he added property tax deduction and medical cost write-offs for Maine Senator Susan Collins.
Deficit hawks like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Bob Corker of Tennessee really didn't get much in this new bill, but Flake decided to support it anyway. He said he will vote it - vote for it because - a number of reasons, including a promise from leaders that they will consider a permanent legal fix for so-called DREAMers. Those are the 800,000 or so people who are in the country illegally and were brought here as children.
MCEVERS: What about Democrats - any chance they will decide to support this?
SNELL: Basically no. There's virtually no chance that any Democrats are going to come on board and vote for this tax plan. They see it as an entirely partisan exercise, and they are absolutely livid with the way McConnell handled late-night deal-making.
Earlier, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden gave a scathing floor speech today saying that senators waited around for a final version of the bill. They had just hours before leaders were going to hold a vote, and they still had no idea what was in it. They were really upset because they were talking about billions of dollars of changes that nobody's seen.
MCEVERS: Assuming this does pass, what happens next? Of course the House has passed its own version. The Senate has another. How will they come together?
SNELL: Well, if you thought this was a speedy process, get ready for what Republicans want to do. It's kind of a lightning round of policymaking. They say they're going to do all of the resolving of differences during what's known as a conference committee. It's where representatives from the House and the Senate sit down in a room, and they kind of mash the two bills together.
They have a lot in common already, so leaders hope they can wrap up the process in about a week or so. Then the House and Senate will have to vote again on a new bill without making any changes at all. If they can do that, then President Trump can get his wish of signing the tax bill into law before Christmas. But I think it's important to kind of step back and not lose track of how big a deal it is that they appear to be on the glide path to passing something in the Senate today. Not only did it happen quickly, but for a long time, it seemed like a Herculean task just to get a tax bill passed in Congress at all.
SNELL: This appears to be a really big win for Republicans, and they've been searching for one all year.
MCEVERS: NPR's Kelsey Snell on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.