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Tax rollout delayed to Thursday as US Congress braces for overhaul
[WASHINGTON] US Republicans have delayed unveiling the Donald Trump-backed tax overhaul until Thursday, signaling potential trouble ahead as congressional leadership struggles to lock in support for the historic but controversial effort.
Congressional aides late Tuesday confirmed that the roll-out, originally slated for Wednesday, had been pushed back as GOP negotiators continued to hammer out a deal.
Lawmakers want additional time to study the measure, which includes US$1.5 trillion in tax cuts that Trump has described as "rocket fuel" for the US economy.
Mr Trump wants lawmakers to pass the plan by the end of the year to salvage a key plank of his 2017 agenda.
That is lightning speed for a mammoth bill that has been crafted in secrecy, and is being unveiled in November just weeks before Congress goes on holiday.
With its delay, uncertainty about the tax bill's fate swelled.
It risks running afoul of fiscal conservative lawmakers intent on not adding to the deficit, and Senate moderates concerned with tax breaks for the wealthy.
In the midst of negotiations, House Speaker Paul Ryan told conservative groups that the GOP will preserve the top individual tax rate of 39.6 per cent for the wealthiest Americans, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Republicans had recently announced a top rate of 35 per cent, but concern rose about how to maintain sufficient revenues, and to win over Republicans concerned about tax cuts for millionaires.
Mr Trump weighed in ahead of the tax plan's release.
"The Republican House members are working hard (and late) toward the Massive Tax Cuts that they know you deserve. These will be biggest ever!" Trump tweeted.
The Republican intention to slash tax rates has been forecast to add more than US$5 trillion to the debt over a decade. But with the Republican budget passed last week setting a US$1.5 trillion cap, tax writers must find ways to offset the costs.
'SPECIAL INTEREST GHOULS'
The plan's chief author, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, acknowledged the difficulties in balancing competing interests, but said it was worth it to seek once-in-a-generation tax reform.
"We can improve the lives of every American, either by lowering their taxes so they can keep more, simplifying this code so that the complexity's gone, or... increasing those paychecks that have been stagnant for a decade," Mr Brady told Fox News.
The plan's basic outline is a drop in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 per cent, a reduction in income tax for most income groups and the elimination of many loopholes and deductions.
Democrats have assailed the plan, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it "a huge tax cut for the top one per cent."
Mr Ryan, embracing a fright-night Halloween theme, issued a statement - prior to the delay - urging lawmakers to act.
"Don't be spooked, and let's get this done," Mr Ryan said, as he blasted "special interest ghouls" and Democratic scare tactics.
Tax writers have struggled to find the sweet spot that will lower taxes for most Americans and spur economic growth while not ballooning the debt.
They have considered curbing 401(k) US retirement plans as a way to pay for the cuts.
But last week, Mr Trump inserted himself into the debate, warning lawmakers against tampering with the popular tax-deferred plans.
Another proposal involves limiting several local and state deductions. But that has antagonised Republicans in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey who warned the move would hurt their constituents.
Any plan would also have to pass the US Senate, where Republicans hold a narrower majority than in the House of Representatives, before making it to Trump's desk for his signature.