Echoing Reagan, Trump pushes Congress to act swiftly on tax reform

Published: Sunday, October 22, 2017 @ 10:05 PM

Pushing the House to take another step this week on the road to major tax reforms, President Donald Trump used an op-ed in USA Today to argue that GOP tax plans will “ignite America’s middle class miracle once again,” as he channeled former President Ronald Reagan, saying with “tax reform, we can make it morning in America again.”

“Revising our tax code is not just a policy discussion — it is a moral one, because we are not talking about the government’s money – we are talking about your money, your hard work,” the President wrote.

Mr. Trump meanwhile used a conference call with House Republicans on Sunday to make much the same argument – that now is the time for action on tax reform.

Here is where things stand on Capitol Hill when it comes to GOP plans to move legislation on tax reform.

1. The budget comes first for the GOP. Before they can focus solely on tax reform, Republicans must approve a non-binding budget outline for 2018, which would authorize expedited action on a tax bill – without the threat of a Senate filibuster. The Senate approved their plan last Thursday, and now the House seems ready to accept that this week, though the budget details are sure to give some GOP fiscal hawks some heartburn, as the plan would not ensure a balanced budget within ten years. But GOP leaders are basically telling rank and file Republicans that now is the time for tax reform, and that there is no use in getting caught up in a battle over budget cuts. Look for the House to vote later this week.

2. But ‘what if’ the House refuses to go along? If enough Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate-passed budget, then there would have to be formal House-Senate negotiations, which could take some time to hash out a deal on the budget resolution for 2018. That would obviously delay work on tax reform, and make it that much more difficult to swiftly get a tax bill moving on Capitol Hill. It seems unlikely that will happen, as more conservative lawmakers have been assured they will get votes on measures dealing with budget savings. But it is safe to say that the ‘normal’ Republican focus on budget deficits has melted away now that the GOP is in charge of the White House and Congress. Here is the sales pitch being made by the Republican Study Group, which says Speaker Paul Ryan has promised votes on some budget-related bills.

3. Let’s assume the House approves the budget – then what? If the House heeds the advice of President Trump, and votes for the Senate-passed budget outline this week, then the focus will shift to the tax-writing committees of the House and Senate – the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, as they produce an actual tax reform bill. Remember – we don’t have a bill as yet from the White House – just some bullet points. In 1985, President Reagan sent Congress an actual 489 page bill as a starting point. President Trump’s bullet points are just a small piece of a much larger bill that is expected to be released by Republicans, as the scrums of reporters grow each day for key lawmakers, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

4. What’s the possible timing on tax reform? Ask veterans of Capitol Hill what they think about a GOP tax plan, and they cannot imagine it getting done this year (or even at all). But the White House and GOP leaders in Congress keep talking about doing it fast, maybe having a vote in the House before a Thanksgiving break, and a Senate vote in December. If we go back and look at the tax reform timeline in the Reagan Administration, it took a lot longer. The House Ways and Means Committee started work on a draft bill in late September 1985 – it took two months to finish. The deal almost fell apart in December, as the House voted to approve that plan just before Christmas. In the Senate, it took six months to get the bill out of committee and to a vote, in June 1986. In other words, Republicans think they can move at legislative warp speed compared to thirty one years ago in the Congress.

5. Remember, there are a lot of details involved. If you are going to do just tax cuts, that’s pretty straightforward. But if you are going to try to do sweeping tax reform – for both the individual and corporate sides – that is very complicated. Just look back at 1986, and you can see that bill is filled with rifle-shot provisions intended to help just one company or group. Back then, there was no way to get this out to the voters. But with the internet and social media, these types of provisions will get a lot of attention and scrutiny.

6. One more thought on timing – from 1986. As I write this on October 22, it is 31 years to the day that President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act into law. But I clearly remembered the final agreement being struck in August – and the vote taking place soon after Labor Day. My memory was correct. So, why did it take another month for the President to sign the bill into law? For one, there were a number of errors in the final agreement, which needed to be fixed. So, on September 25, 1986, the House passed H. Con. Res. 395, to make “technical and clerical” corrections in the final bill. The Senate took that up a few weeks later, and made some changes, which were sent back to the House. The House made a few more changes. But no final resolution was agreed to, as the Congress adjourned for the year on October 18, 1986. So, four days later, the President signed the bill into law anyway. Want to do some more reading about what happened in 1986? Here you go:

And by the way, that explanation of the 1986 Tax Reform Act runs almost 1,400 pages. Happy reading!

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Trump goes after Mueller – a new strategy on the Russia probe?

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 6:49 PM

As President Donald Trump this weekend repeated some of his complaints about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether it involved anyone on his campaign, Mr. Trump did something unusual – sending out a pair of his tweets which included the name of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading that investigation.

It was the first time on Twitter that the President had more directly taken aim at Mueller, a former FBI Director who was named by the Trump Justice Department in 2017 to investigate the charge of Russian meddling in last year’s elections.

Were the weekend mentions of Mueller a new game plan from the President? Or just more of him venting frustration about the Russia investigation?

1. Is Trump now going to more publicly confront Mueller? Before this weekend, President Trump had mentioned the Special Counsel’s name in a tweet just one time, back in December. But this weekend, the President did it twice. “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Mr. Trump said in a familiar refrain about the investigation. But his next tweet went further, directly accusing Mueller of putting together a biased investigation. In the process, the New York Times reported that the President shrugged off the advice of his legal team to not even mention Mueller’s name. Democrats in Congress said the Twitter volleys showed one thing – that the President is feeling pressure from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

2. Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller probe. While the President condemned the Russia investigation, one of his lawyers, John Dowd, went a step further, saying it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to bring the Mueller probe to a close. Asked about that on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) basically told lawyer John Dowd to shut up, saying no matter what you think of the issue of collusion, Mueller’s task is to find out how Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. “To suggest that Mueller should shut down, and all he is looking at is collusion – if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Gowdy said bluntly. Gowdy was one of the few Republicans to address the issue on Sunday.

3. Most Republicans say little about Trump-Mueller. About 12 hours after the President’s Sunday morning tweets, one of his White House lawyers sent word that the President was not “considering or discussing the firing of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.” But Democrats said that’s the way it looked to them, and a handful of Republicans joined in airing similar concerns. “It’s critical he be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — unimpeded,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a statement. “Members of Congress need to be vocal in support of Special Counsel Mueller finishing his investigation,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). But there were few other Republicans making such statements.

4. Mueller remains silent on Russia investigation. While the President has expended a lot of energy in recent months raising questions about the Russia probe, Special Counsel Mueller has said nothing. He has not appeared in public to discuss the investigation. He has not released any statements on all the furor surrounding the investigation. He has not taken issue with any comments by the President. Instead, Mueller has let the guilty pleas and indictments do the talking for him, as several people who worked for the Trump Campaign have already plead guilty to lying to the FBI about their conversations related to Russia. For some Republicans, Mueller’s work has already gone on too long.

5. Few details on the firing of ex-FBI official Andrew McCabe. The weekend got off to a fast start at 10 pm on Friday night, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. No paperwork was released, so despite a lot of press reports on what exactly happened, we haven’t seen any part of an internal investigation that’s being done on the way top FBI brass handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and the Trump-Russia probe. While the President celebrated the firing of McCabe – “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – most GOP lawmakers stayed quiet. On Sunday, Trump accused both McCabe, and former FBI Director James Comey of fabricating evidence against him. “Fake memos,” he wrote. One Republican who raised a red flag about the firing of McCabe was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who expressed concern about a bureaucratic process involving federal workers that usually takes much longer to complete.

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Trump lashes out at Mueller, Comey, McCabe, over Russia probe

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 4:44 AM

Continuing to attack the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any links to his campaign, President Donald Trump on Sunday went on Twitter to attack the veracity of former top officials of the FBI, accusing them of lying, and making up information to use against him in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

As he attacked former FBI Director James Comey, and recently fired top FBI official Andrew McCabe, Mr. Trump appeared to be watching television on Sunday morning, citing one of his favorite Fox News programs, Fox and Friends.

“Wow, watch Comey lie under oath,” the President tweeted at one point, moving on to take more jabs at McCabe, who was fired on Friday.

“I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at later date,” the President wrote. “Can we call them the fake memos?”

On Twitter in recent days, Mr. Trump has again focused his ire on the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once more making the argument that the FBI went easy on Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, and showed bias on the Trump-Russia probe.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” the President tweeted, ending with a familiar line: “WITCH HUNT!”

Mueller’s probe has already netted a series of guilty pleas from people who worked for the President’s campaign, with two specifically pleading guilty to lying about contacts involving Russia.

As the President used Twitter as his bully pulpit, one of the President’s lawyers also stirred the pot by saying it was time to end the Mueller investigation, which many in Washington believe is far from being complete.

Democrats in Congress again warned the President not to try to end that probe.

“What, Mr. President, are you hiding from the American people?” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

“Thou doth protest too much, methinks,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).

“This shows how scared the Trump Administration is about what Mueller will find,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “This investigation must continue.”

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With retirement of acting chief, NASA finds itself in leadership limbo

Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 1:00 AM

After operating for more than a year with a temporary chief, NASA faces an unprecedented leadership bind as its acting Administrator announced this week that he would retire at the end of April, with no hint that the Senate will vote by then on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the space agency.

“It has been a long process but we are optimistic that the vote will come soon,” said Sheryl Kaufman, the Communications Director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

“We hope that happens soon,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as House Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence pressed the Senate for action on Bridenstine.

The problem for Bridenstine is that just one Republican has refused to support him for the job as NASA Administrator – that being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and with only a bare majority, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bridenstine does not have the votes to win.

Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, NASA has been led by Robert Lightfoot, a well-respected NASA veteran who has drawn bipartisan praise.

But with Lightfoot announcing this week that he is retiring – effective April 30 – it’s possible that NASA could be forced to dig deeper down the depth chart for another temporary leader at the space agency.

“Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House Science Committee.

Apart from a couple of major issues, Bridenstine in 2017 did not cast votes on regular legislation in the House – while waiting for his Senate confirmation.

This year has been different – Bridenstine is voting on most legislation in the House, except for measures that deal with NASA.

“He will represent his constituents as fully as possible while awaiting the confirmation vote by the full Senate,” said his spokeswoman.

But without enough support, there’s no hint of a vote on Bridenstine in the Senate.

“The facts of this nomination have not changed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) back in January – and two months later, that statement is still true.

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Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:57 PM
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:48 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts


Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses, The New York Times reported Thursday. The newspaper was the first to report on the subpoena, citing two unidentified sources briefed on the situation.

The breadth of the subpoena was not immediately clear, although some documents sought were related to Russia, the Times reported. According to the newspaper, the subpoena was served “in recent weeks.”

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

The Trump Organization has already provided investigators with a range of documents, most focused on the period between when Trump announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015, to his inauguration, in January 2017, CNN reported in January. Citing an unidentified source familiar with the situation, the news network reported that the recently issued subpoena was meant “to ‘clean up’ and to ensure that all related documents are handed over to the special counsel.”

In a statement released to several news outlets Thursday, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing the Trump Organization, said reports of the subpoena were “old news.”

>> Related: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates to plead guilty in Mueller investigation

“Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests,” Futerfas said. “This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”

The decision to subpoena the Trump Organization, which is owned by the president and managed by his children, appeared to mirror the strategy employed by Mueller with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper noted that the campaign “voluntarily gave documents to the special counsel for months before receiving a subpoena in October.”

>> Related: Mueller indicts 13 Russians, 3 Russian entities in election meddling probe

Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017 to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His investigation has thus far led to several indictments and a handful of guilty pleas from people connected to Trump.

Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities last month on accusations that they interfered with American elections and political processes, starting in 2014. On Twitter, Trump claimed that information in the indictments proved his innocence on allegations of colluding with Russia to win the election.

Five people have pleaded guilty to charges levied against them in Mueller's investigation. Most recently, former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States.

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