Las Vegans take their sides as Heller votes to move GOP tax bill forward

Protesters against the Republican effort to rewrite the tax code gather Wednesday, November 29, 2017, outside the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. (Scott Kost/KSNV)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, joined his majority Republicans Wednesday to move the GOP tax bill to a full debate in the U.S. Senate. The final vote was 52 to 48, along party lines.

Republicans hope to bring the bill to a final vote later this week.

Heller on Wednesday morning reiterated his support for the measure, saying its goal “is to give the kind of relief that the middle-class family have been asking for, begging for, for the last generation.”

He will get no argument from restaurant owner Irma Aguirre, whom I met at her business, the El Sombrero on Main Street, as the lunch rush was finishing. You’ll find no bigger fan of President Trump.

“He was sitting right over there,” she said, motioning to a few tables, when then-candidate Trump stopped by. She’s even returned the favor, stopping by the White House after his inauguration for a meeting with the president and small business owners.

One of the big selling points of the bill is it will drop tax rates for small business people like her. She tells me hers would go from somewhere in the 30 percent bracket to somewhere in the 20s.

“That would allow me to expand, definitely invest in equipment that is much needed,” Aguirre says.

Under the tax plan, this small business owner would win.

But progressives claim a lot of Nevadans wouldn't. They gathered Wednesday afternoon in front of the Lloyd George U.S. Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas.

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“I don't like it ’cause it hurts too many people, and I don't like it because the people that are pushing this and perpetrating this fraud are duplicitous — trying to tell us it's a tax cut when it's not. It's a tax increase,” says state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Clark County, who joined a handful of supporters for a news conference.

They say the tax plan is skewed toward the wealthy and that the bottom 40 percent of Nevadans would only get 5 percent of the cuts. They also say the measure’s repeal of Obamacare’s mandate to have insurance could increase the number of uninsured in the state by 112,000 by 2025.

They’re also upset the tax cuts would add, according to various estimates, between $1.4 trillion and $1.7 trillion to the nation’s debt.

Heller has his own numbers: He says it would create 8,300 Nevada jobs and boost middle class Nevada incomes by $2,500. The Senate measure also includes a Heller-sponsored provision that doubles the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000.

“The average Nevada family is living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Heller said Wednesday. “In fact, there are more Nevadans living paycheck-to-paycheck today than probably most other states. These are some of the reasons, and the important reasons to me, as to why tax reform needs to happen.”

Heller’s Nevada U.S. Senate colleague had a different take.

“This bill is nothing more than a Christmas bonus to the top 1 percent,” says U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada. “This bill will raise taxes on hard-working Nevada families by offering a temporary tax cut that expires in a decade.”

So now that the bill moves forward, it's a battle over whose numbers are right and who gets helped.

“Don't drink the Kool-Aid, Dean. Go to Starbucks. Get some coffee. Don't drink the Kool-Aid,” Spearman said.

“Look, this is the moment that we've been waiting for,” Aguirre said.

Any Senate bill that passes will have to be reconciled with a House version that passed this month.

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