Robert Harding

The Senate passed its tax plan early Saturday, but there is still a major step in the process before legislation is sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Now that the Senate has acted on its tax overhaul, congressional leaders can form a conference committee to negotiate a final agreement. While the House and Senate bills have many similarities, there are some differences between the two proposals.

The Senate plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, a provision in the 2010 health care law known as ObamaCare that requires individuals to purchase health insurance coverage. The Congressional Budget Office projected that 13 million more people will be uninsured by 2027 if the individual mandate is repealed.

There are also differences in how the proposals would enact a corporate tax rate cut. In the House plan, lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would take effect in 2018. The Senate plan calls for the tax rate to be decreased beginning in 2019.

Tax cuts for individuals would be permanent in the House bill, but not in the Senate plan. The Senate's proposal wouldn't reduce the number of income tax brackets, while the House would lower the number of brackets from seven to four.

U.S. Rep. John Katko, who voted for the House bill last month, wants to be engaged in the tax talks by serving on the conference committee. It's a long shot because he doesn't serve on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the lead tax-writing panel in the chamber.

There are parts of the Senate bill Katko, R-Camillus, doesn't support. After a roundtable discussion with business leaders Monday in Syracuse, he was asked about the Senate's push to allow drilling in a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The proposal to allow drilling in the refuge is linked to the Senate tax reform plan. It's a provision that Katko doesn't support, but he added that he has to "look at the bigger picture."

He recalled how President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Democrat, negotiated deals on a few hot-button issues — immigration reform, Social Security reform and taxes.

"You gotta have give-and-take," he said. "Do I want drilling there? No. But do I also think it's critically important that we get this tax reform? Yes."

As the Senate finalized its plan last week, Katko's position was criticized. Activists organized rallies against the tax plan. Graduate students protested a provision in the bill that would consider tuition waivers as taxable income. The change, if adopted, could increase taxes on graduate students by thousands of dollars.

Teacher unions also held rallies throughout upstate New York. Educators marched outside Nottingham High School in Syracuse Wednesday to protest the tax plan.

The tax proposal would eliminate most credits and deductions, including a $250 deduction for teachers who buy supplies for their classrooms.

"Teachers have constantly been expected over the years to give all that they can give, and we do. And we spend thousands of our own dollars," said Megan Root, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association. "We're asking for a $250 tax deduction and it's pathetic that we're not even respected enough to be given that."

Katko addressed the loss of the deduction for teachers earlier in the week. He said that while teachers can deduct up to $250, the net benefit is $37.

"The average teacher will get a sizable tax cut exponentially more than that, perhaps as much as $1,000 or $1,500 a year," he said. "You gotta keep it all in perspective."

As House and Senate leaders iron out the differences between the two plans, Katko will face pressure from both sides of the debate. Tax reform is supported by several business leaders in his district. But there is also strong opposition to the proposal.

The final tax plan must be ironed out, but Katko outlined what he wants to see in the conference report.

"Tax cuts for a vast majority of my constituents (and) lowering the costs for corporations and businesses so they can create jobs," he said. ​

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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