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GOP's Sasse likes tax bill, but won't call it key to 2018

Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse says Republican leaders are overstating how much passing tax-cut legislation can protect their party in next year's elections.

The Nebraska Republican, who addressed an evangelical conservative group Saturday night, told reporters after his speech that he likes the tax bill moving in the Senate.

"And yet to pretend this tax bill is world-changing is the way politicians in Washington, D.C., regularly pretend that every bill being debated every day is the thing that will usher in heaven," he said.

Republicans, who control the House and the Senate, have failed so far this year to pass top agenda items, chiefly the long-promised dismantling of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care bill.

GOP leaders in Congress and around the country have suggested a tax cut bill could boost enthusiasm for Republicans when they campaign in 2018 to retain their control of Capitol Hill.

Though Sasse wouldn't say if enactment of tax cuts before next year's elections would lift Republicans, he did say former White House strategist Steve Bannon's crusade to challenge virtually all Republican senators seeking re-election next year was not helping the party.

Bannon "is trying to run to the front the parade" of conservative anger at Congress, said Sasse, among the Senate's most vocal critics of President Donald Trump.

"The party I'm in is going through a split between two sides," he said, describing veteran leadership characterized by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Bannon, who has vowed to topple McConnell.

Addressing a fundraising banquet of 500 Christian conservative donors and activists, an influential group in Iowa, Sasse steered clear of criticism he has regularly lobbed at the president this year. Nor did he mention his call for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore to quit the race over allegations of improper sexual conduct.

Instead, Sasse took pains to describe himself as an outsider despite his party's lock on Congress and said the work of Congress is "not that interesting."

"The really, really important debates of our time, the really big things we need to do, really can't be reduced to a political spectrum of right versus left," he said.

Sasse plugged his conservative credentials, affirming his opposition to abortion rights and describing himself to the group as a Christian first, then father, husband and conservative.

Trump carried Iowa in last year's general election, though he finished second in the Iowa caucuses to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Some religious conservatives in the state have since expressed dissatisfaction with Trump.