ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There is furious work going on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill so that Republicans can meet their goal of passing a final tax bill before Christmas. The House and Senate passed separate measures over the last few weeks. Members of both chambers will meet formally in a conference committee later this week to hammer out a final bill.
But a lot of that negotiation is well underway, and NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been keeping watch on Capitol Hill, where she joins us now. Hi.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
SIEGEL: How close are we to seeing a final tax bill?
SNELL: Republicans I talked to say they are very close, but there is a lot still up in the air. They've been working behind closed doors all weekend to try to hash out these differences. The goal is to resolve any issues before they formally meet later this week. But there are a lot of fixes that need to be done.
SIEGEL: Yeah, in order to get the Senate bill passed, there were a lot of deals cut with individual Senators. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin wanted benefits for small businesses. Susan Collins of Maine wanted money to shore up the health care market. Are any of those concessions at risk as all this gets negotiated or renegotiated between the House and the Senate?
SNELL: Yeah. There were actually three main agreements during that last-minute haggling. And as of now, they all appear pretty solid. First we talked about Johnson and the small businesses. They really wanted to make sure that there were better breaks for small businesses to keep them better in line with corporations. Those kinds of protections have lots of support in both the House and Senate, but the two bills disagree on the best way to structure those benefits. So it's unclear right now which side will prevail.
The second one, the deal with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska which involved oil and gas exploration in the ANWR, which is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - that also seems pretty solid. She is on that conference committee, and so is Congressman Don Young of Alaska. So they'll have a lot of power.
And last, there's Maine Senator Susan Collins. She says she's confident in an agreement she reached with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote on funding to help the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Here she is speaking to CBS' "Face The Nation."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")
SUSAN COLLINS: I've talked to the president three times about this issue. And once again, I have no reason to believe that that commitment will not be kept. After all, who wants to see health insurance premiums become more unaffordable than they already are for individuals who are buying insurance, say, in the individual market?
SNELL: So there's a lot to take in here, but Collins hasn't fully committed to voting for the tax legislation. But it does seem clear that the health care measures will likely be part of the year-end spending bill that also needs to get done in the next two weeks.
SIEGEL: Now, it's been said that the - most of the benefits in the tax bill would go to businesses. Would that change as they're making these fixes this week?
SNELL: Actually from what I'm hearing, the bill could get better for some businesses. According to my reporting, a major issue, though, is how to handle a parallel minimum tax system for businesses. Companies have been pushing really hard to see that that is repealed. But it was kept in the Senate bill. Getting rid of it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and cost is incredibly important here. There are also some more esoteric issues like clearing up a potential conflict with the World Trade Organization. But all that is being worked out right now.
SIEGEL: And the middle-class tax cuts Republicans have promised - will those change?
SNELL: So first and foremost, the focus is still on lowering rates and doubling the standard deduction. But there's a lot of talk about those state and local taxes that we've been hearing about. One option being discussed would be to let people deduct up to $10,000 of any state and local taxes they pay, not just the property deduction that's allowed under the Senate bill.
SIEGEL: Well, NPR's Kelsey Snell at the Capitol, thanks.
SNELL: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "NOSTRAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.