(CNSNews.com) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told reporters on Tuesday that Republicans "fully intend to accomplish" the first comprehensive tax reform in 31 years.
McConnell spoke shortly before the bill passed the Senate Budget Committee on a party-line, 12-11 vote. Two Republican critics, Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — ended up approving the bill in committee.
McConnell stopped by the news conference on his way to the White House for a second meeting with President Trump, who earlier held an hour-long Q-and-A session with Senate Republicans during a luncheon on Capitol Hill.
A number of Republican senators have concerns about the Republican-produced tax reform legislation, and McConnell was asked how he can address all of their concerns without making the bill even more expensive than its estimated $1.4 trillion price tag.
"It's a challenging exercise," McConnell admitted. "Think of sitting there with a Rubik's cube, trying to get to 50. And we do have a few members who have concerns, and we're trying to address them. And we know we would not be able to -- to go forward until we get 50 people satisfied, and that's what we're working on."
McConnell refused to criticize the Republican holdouts. "Look, big, complicated bills like this are challenging. You all have watched us wrestle with this sort of thing in the past. It's always difficult, but everybody has an opportunity to weigh in, and some members are still weighing in, and we're hoping to satisfy them all."
Chuck and Nancy decline
Although they were invited to Tuesday's White House meeting, Democrat leaders -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- refused to attend because Trump had earlier tweeted that he doubted a spending deal could be struck with them.
McConnell noted that he never refused to attend a meeting called by former President Barack Obama. "It never occurred to me that I could just say to President Obama, "I'm not showing up," McConnell said. "That strikes me as a lack of seriousness about the matter before us, which is the funding of the federal government of the United States for the rest of this fiscal year.
"So you'll have to ask them why they think it's appropriate to refuse to meet with the president of the United States over something as significant as how we're going to fund the troops, and all the other needs that are addressed by the spending decisions we make every year."
President Trump spoke to reporters before the White House meeting began, flanked by two empty chairs symbolizing the absence of Schumer and Pelosi.
The tweet that so offended the two Democrats, issued by Trump on Tuesday morning, said: "Meeting with 'Chuck and Nancy' today about keeping government open and working. Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don’t see a deal!"
Later, Schumer and Pelosi released a joint statement, saying:
Given that the President doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead. Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won’t result in an agreement, we’ve asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon. We don’t have any time to waste in addressing the issues that confront us, so we’re going to continue to negotiate with Republican leaders who may be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement.
If the President, who already said earlier this year that ‘our country needs a good shutdown,’ isn’t interested in addressing the difficult year end agenda, we’ll work with those Republicans who are, as we did in April. We look forward to continuing to work in good faith, as we have been for the last month, with our Republican colleagues in Congress to do just that.
The full Senate will now take up the tax reform bill, which needs 51 Republican votes to pass. If that happens, the Senate bill will then be reconciled with the House bill.