WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defended the recently unveiled GOP plan to overhaul the tax code in a Wednesday night debate against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“This debate is very very simple, Bernie and the Democrats want every one of you to pay more taxes,” Cruz said during the program, which was hosted by CNN. “And the Republicans want to lower the taxes for each and every person watching this debate.”

The Republican tax framework would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three at rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, increase the Child Tax Credit and eliminate most itemized deductions as well as the estate tax.

Sanders argued the plan would cut taxes by $1.9 trillion dollars for the wealthiest 1 percent, increase the national debt and cut welfare programs.

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“I do not believe that America is about giving tax breaks to the very, very wealthy and cutting life-and-death programs for the working class,” Sanders said.  

Cruz, a polished debater who looked comfortable behind the podium, delivered a practiced message that ultimately promoted every aspect of the GOP’s plan. 

Sanders said while his plan might raise taxes, it would be so that more people have access to affordable health care, child day care services and better education.

“We are talking about taxes today, but ... this isn’t just about taxes, it’s about a vision for America,” Sanders said.

Their respective visions often took the attention away from discussion over the merits of rewriting the tax code throughout the evening, with the moderators often having to redirect the focus back to the questions at hand. The two senators, standing only three feet apart, constantly interrupted one another, waved hands in each other’s faces and made snide comments.

At one point, Cruz told Sanders that he should “curb his enthusiasm,” and that Larry David’s impersonation of him is “spectacular.”

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After Cruz replied to an audience question saying repealing the estate tax would encourage more people to keep their businesses open, Sanders paid Cruz a compliment: “That’s a good speech, but it has nothing to do with reality.”

The town hall was a rematch of sorts for Cruz and Sanders after a previous CNN debate in February over health care. Since their respective runs for president in 2016, the two have become megaphones for their brand of party politics.

With a Republican president leading the country, Cruz said his party must act.

“We have got to deliver on our promise to cut taxes for working families, for small business, for farmers, for ranchers,” Cruz said. “I’ll tell you what I believe: that you know better how to spend your hard-earned money than the government does.”

Before Congress can even take up the details of rewriting the tax code, they must pass a budget. That vote may come as soon as the end of this week.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • As the latest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act appeared dead Tuesday, Republicans appeared poised to pivot to overhauling the tax code. [Full story]

  • As the latest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act appeared dead Tuesday, Republicans appeared poised to pivot to overhauling the tax code. [Full story]

  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz outlined his vision for overhauling the tax code in a speech Wednesday, while U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, pitched his own proposal. [Full story]

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