What's Inside The Senate Tax Bill?

Dec 4, 2017
Originally published on December 4, 2017 9:19 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was almost 2 a.m. Saturday, the wee hours, when the Senate passed its rewrite of the U.S. tax code. That vote came after a lot of last-minute changes to the bill, attempts to woo Republican senators who weren't quite onboard. So it is possible you haven't yet explored all the details of what's in it.

Lucky for us, NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has. She's been digging through the Senate tax bill, and she's here now to tell us about some of the stuff buried deep inside. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So we've heard a fair bit by now about what some of the headlines are - big tax cuts for corporations, for example. What are some of the things that got stuffed in there at the last minute that we may not have heard about yet?

SNELL: Sure. I think it's important to look at two big things that were added for individuals. They were advocated by Maine Senator Susan Collins. The first thing is she wanted to make sure that people were able to write off more of their state and local taxes.

KELLY: OK.

SNELL: So the Senate bill had gotten rid of all of those deductions, and Collins had them add back the ability to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes. So if you own a house in an expensive state, this will be really good news for you.

KELLY: Income taxes, though - separate thing. This is just property taxes.

SNELL: Still a separate thing.

KELLY: OK.

SNELL: This is just for your property taxes. The second thing is she had them and a more generous deduction for excessive health care costs. So if you got sick and you had really big bills, for the next couple of years, you can write off anything over 7.5 percent of your income. That'll go away after two years.

KELLY: What stuck out for you in terms of other tax breaks that Republicans took out that we may not have heard about, things to do with commuting, for example?

SNELL: Sure. So to start with commuting, if you bike to work, you won't be able to write off the cost of maintaining your bike or finding parking for it - just for bike commuters. They also took out a deduction for losses from fires and storms and theft. It used to be that if you had something catastrophic happen and your insurance didn't cover it, you could deduct that off of your taxes. That's out.

There is some good news, though, for grad students. If you get a tuition waiver and the school is paying for you to go to school, under the Senate bill, that wouldn't be considered income. Now, the House has a different version. And we'll see over the next week or so that the House and Senate are still going to work out some of these differences. So everything we're talking about in the Senate bill - it might not prevail in the end

KELLY: Right. Worth reminding people we still don't have a final Senate bill that we can look through, and they're going to have to reconcile what the Senate and House came up with...

SNELL: Right.

KELLY: ...And see what they can come up with, reconciling those two versions. One other thing - you mentioned students. And one thing that leapt out at me as a parent has to do with 529 college savings plans. Remind people what those are and what may change.

SNELL: Sure. They are this tax advantage plan that's kind of managed by the states, and it gives you a chance to save money to send your kids to college. Well, there was an amendment that passed very, very late, and it was a very close vote with Vice President Mike Pence coming in to break the tie.

But now parents would be able to save money to send their kids to school from kindergarten to 12th grade, not just for college. And that was a big win for advocates of school choice. So if you're - have children in private school, this would be a big benefit for you.

KELLY: All right. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. And by the way, if you are hungry for more detail on this bill, what else may be buried in all those hundreds of pages, you can go to our website, npr.org. We've got lots of analysis for you there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.