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After House passage of tax bill, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith looks to the Senate for action

Congressman Jason Smith listens to attendees at a roundtable of health care professionals on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at Crystal City City Hall. Smith, R-Salem, is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Jason Rosenbaum
Congressman Jason Smith listens to attendees at a roundtable of health care professionals in September at Crystal City City Hall. Smith, R-Salem, sponsored a tax overhaul that passed the House earlier this week.

Missouri Congressman Jason Smith said the bipartisan vote on a bill that increases the child tax credit provides momentum to get through the Senate, even though some of his GOP colleagues are worrying about it helping President Joe Biden.

“You'll hear politicians say all kinds of things all the time,” said Smith, R-Salem. “But the focus and the foundation should always be delivering for their constituents. That's why I am pushing so aggressively for this package, because I think it's pro-American. It is what Republicans and Democrats in this country can use.”

Smith and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon teamed up to craft the legislation, which includes business incentives aimed at spurring research and development and a boost to the federal low-income housing tax credit. The other major part of the bill is an expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Workers who pay little to no federal taxes would get an additional $300 boost to the credit over the next three years. And for people who pay federal taxes, the credit will be tied to inflation — which means it will go up from its current $2,000-per-child rate.

Smith said the bill was the result of the Ways and Means Committee traveling throughout the country and hearing ideas from business owners. He added that he began working with the Senate after it became clear that buy-in from the Democratically controlled chamber was the only way the package would pass.

Despite passing out of the Ways and Means Committee 40-3, the bill faced turbulence — especially when Republicans from New York publicly criticized how it didn’t include an increase to the deduction for state and local taxes. Axois reported that Smith’s chairmanship of Ways and Means was in jeopardy, with one unnamed lawmaker criticizing him for working with Democrats and members of the Senate.

“There's always people who may be disgruntled that you work with, and they love to talk to reporters and hit their message,” Smith said about the article. “But I feel very comfortable and confident with the job I'm doing as chairman.”

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, speaks during a campaign event on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Northwoods. Bush, who was first elected to represent the Missouri's 1st Congressional District in 2020, is up for re-election.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, speaks during a campaign event on Saturday. Bush voted against Smith's bill. "I cannot justify supporting a bill that treats our most vulnerable families as an afterthought,” she said.

Bipartisan objection

Among the 357 people who voted for the legislation were Smith, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City; Mark Alford, R-Cass County; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, and Sam Graves, R-Tarkio.

Cleaver said that while he would have liked to boost the Child Tax Credit to where it was in 2021, at $3,600 per child, “democracy demands compromise, and we must be pragmatic when searching for progress.”

'St. Louis on the Air': U.S. Rep. Jason Smith talks with STLPR's Jason Rosenbaum

“Although the U.S. is experiencing the strongest post-pandemic economic recovery in the world, I know that there are Missouri families that are still struggling to get by and I refuse to play politics when I could help provide those families with this lifeline instead,” Cleaver said.

A number of Cleaver’s Democratic colleagues, including U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, voted against the measure, contending it was too slanted toward corporations.

“I raised my own children as a single mother and understand what it’s like to be overlooked when it comes to federal policies that could have made the difference between putting food on the table or going hungry,” Bush said. “I refuse to turn my back on the thousands of children in St. Louis who stand to gain from meaningful policies that will save lives, especially when the alternative is helping billionaire corporations get richer. Our work is rooted in the need to deliver for the everyday families in St. Louis and across our country and I cannot justify supporting a bill that treats our most vulnerable families as an afterthought.”

Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Eric Burlison of Battlefield, were critical of the expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which they say amounted to an expansion of the welfare state.

“While there were some pro-growth provisions in the bill, there were also provisions that expanded welfare payments while weakening work requirements,” Burlison said. “In the end, the negative aspects of the bill outweighed the positive, so I voted against the bill.”

Congresswoman Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also voted against the measure. She said in a statement that “extending the Trump tax cuts is important, but not at the expense of increasing tax dollars sent to illegal immigrants and weakening work requirements."

"This is DOA with Senate Republicans," Wagner added.

Wagner's comments align with what some other Republicans, including Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Matt Gaetz of Florida, contended during Wednesday debate. Several said the bill would incentivize people to enter the country illegally.

Smith described the people who voted against the bill, such as Bush, Gatez and Roy, as “the extremes of both parties. He also pushed back against contentions that the Child Tax Credit changes would incentivize illegal immigration, pointing to provisions in the 2017 tax cuts that only allow the credit to go to children who have a Social Security number.

“So it's easy for people to say one thing, but the facts are a little bit different,” he said.

Senate showdown

Smith’s bill now heads to the Senate. The measure received backing from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer several weeks ago, which is important since Democrats control the chamber.

But whether Republicans come on board is unclear. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said this week that he was worried that passage would help Biden’s reelection efforts. That’s a similar argument Republicans are making about why they don’t want to pass any legislation to overhaul immigration policy.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri, said he is monitoring the bill’s progress, while a request for comment from U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, was not immediately returned.

Smith isn’t expecting the bill to sail through the Senate, adding that “just as we had bumps in the road for the last 15 days here in the House of Representatives, there'll be bumps over there.”

“Because a tax package does not move often in Congress, let alone a bipartisan tax package,” Smith said. “But when you see something get 84% of the vote, that's a mandate.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.