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Tax Debate Tests Tempers of Hatch and Brown

Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sherrod Brown of Ohio shouted at each other while debating the tax bill on Thursday night.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Photo by Eric Thayer for The New York Times.

As the $1.5 trillion tax cut sailed through the House on Thursday along party lines, the Senate Finance Committee was beset by sharp exchanges between Republicans and Democrats, who spent an arduous day trying — and failing — to change a bill they said would favor corporations and the rich over everyone else.

As midnight approached, Republicans on the usually collegial committee united to push an amended version of their tax overhaul toward the Senate floor, prompting an angry exchange between Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, the committee chairman and Utah Republican, over who really benefits from the bill.

“That whole thing about higher wages, well, it’s a good selling point,” Mr. Brown said. “Just spare us the bank shot, spare us the sarcasm, and the satire.”

Mr. Hatch, who had wearily tolerated hours of debate on a bill that Republicans have always planned to push along party lines, had heard enough.

“I come from the poor people, and I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying I’m just doing it for the rich,” he said. “Give me a break.”

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The exchange highlights the degree to which Democrats have found themselves outboxed in the most sweeping tax rewrite in generations. While Republicans in both chambers have allowed Democrats to offer amendments to the legislation, they have universally rejected those provisions. That has left Democrats with little recourse other than publicly pillorying the bill.

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Ahead of the House vote on Thursday, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and California Democrat, accused Republicans of passing the bill in the cloak of darkness.

“With straight faces and with the speed of light — I have to give them credit — they raced this thing through in the dark of night,” she said. “They’re trying to sell a bill of goods to the middle class that this is in their interest, that this is a middle income tax cut.” She added that “Republicans are raising taxes on 36 million middle-class families.”

The exchange between the usually staid Mr. Hatch and the more fiery Mr. Brown appeared to awaken a hearing room in the Senate’s Hart Building that had been overtaken by exhaustion after nearly 12 hours of talk about taxes.

Defending his position, Mr. Brown said that he could not stand silent in the face of Republican talking points about trickle-down economics that he found to be false.

“I get sick of the richest people in this country getting richer and richer and richer,” Mr. Brown said.

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Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, during a finance committee hearing on Wednesday. Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

A furious Mr. Hatch then raised his gavel and slammed it against the dais nine times to silence the Ohio senator.

“What you’ve said is not right,” Mr. Hatch said. “I come from the lower middle class originally, we didn’t have anything, so don’t spew that stuff on me.”

He added: “This bull crap that you guys throw out there really gets old after a while.”

An aide to Mr. Brown said that while he and Mr. Hatch did not get a chance to speak afterward, there was no personal animosity between the senators and described the exchange as “a passionate argument about the policies in the bill.”

The Senate now begins its Thanksgiving recess, during which Republican leaders will try to sell reluctant senators within their own party on the legislation so that they can have a successful vote in early December.

Big differences still remain between the House and Senate bills, and at least four Republican senators have openly expressed trepidations about the bill over its potential impact on the national debt and whether it does enough to help the middle class.

The late-night clash in the Finance Committee could foreshadow a coarser debate to come.

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