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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!

Congress faces tricky political week as shutdown fight looms

Published: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 4:10 PM

With a temporary funding plan for Uncle Sam set to run out Friday night, there was no clear path forward as yet for Congress and the White House, as the President and Democrats remained on a collision course over efforts to secure a deal on spending levels for the 2018 federal budget, as well as an agreement on the status of certain illegal immigrants brought here as children, raising the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of the week.

After arriving back at the White House on Monday night, President Donald Trump re-tweeted four of his own Twitter posts from recent days, as he bluntly criticized Democrats in Congress over immigration and the budget.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it,” the President said, as he charged that Democrats “just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military.”

Let’s take a look at some of legislative sore spots that might come up this week:

1. Budget caps and the military – When you hear about talks on a spending deal, this has to do with the regular budget that the Congress works on each year, covering the funding for government programs like the military, various government departments, the Congress and the Judiciary. President Trump has been calling for a $54 billion increase this year in money for defense – Democrats say they’ll back that if they also get an equal increase in non-defense programs, something GOP leaders don’t want to do. One overall problem with funding levels for this year is simple – until you figure out how much money the feds will spend in 2018, you can’t finish the spending bills for this year. It’s one reason why another short term budget might be needed.

2. Hurricane and wildfire disaster aid – Officials from Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been making noise for weeks that more aid is overdue to areas hit by major hurricanes in 2017. They also agree that the emergency aid offered up by the President has not been enough. That’s why the $44 billion plan proposed by the White House in December quickly grew into an $81 billion package – and why some lawmakers think it should be even larger. Is it possible that Congress approves that extra aid this week as one way to get a short term funding plan through the House and Senate? Stay tuned.

3. No deadline right now on DACA & Dreamers – The most important thing to remember about the back and forth over the DACA program is timing – it does not have to be solved this week. When President Trump moved to end the Obama Administration program, he set a six month deadline for the Congress to act. That runs out March 5. Democrats don’t want to wait for early March, and have tried to tie any deal on the Dreamers to a plan that funds the federal government – that’s why they want to do it now, at the January 19 shutdown deadline. It still seems like a long shot for the DACA/Dreamers matter to get done in the next three days, simply because the fight over it has so intensified since last Thursday, and immigration remains a very controversial topic.

4. Children’s health insurance – Back at the end of September, the legal authorization expired for a federal-state program which helps about 9 million children get health care coverage. When Congress approved a short term funding plan for the government in December, the House and Senate also kicked in some extra money for the CHIP program – now lawmakers have reached another point where funding is in question for some states, which might have to ratchet back on services if nothing is done this week on Capitol Hill. One recent study said 20 states might have to cut off CHIP coverage. It’s one more thing in the mix this week.

5. Who has more leverage? – This is an interesting argument in Washington, D.C. Democrats believe they have the edge on the DACA issue, especially if the President uses it as the basis for arguing that Democrats are to blame for any government shutdown. Many GOP lawmakers contend they will be sticking up for national defense and a strong border, not for illegal immigrants. My rule of thumb on fights between the Congress and the President usually boils down to one simple idea – never underestimate the power of the President, and his bully pulpit to drive home his arguments. Democrats though think the country will rise up in opposition if Dreamers start being deported en masse. President Trump has the veto pen – he can use it, if he wants to do that.

Stay tuned. This could be a very interesting week in the halls of Congress.

Four days from shutdown deadline, no deals in sight on budget or DACA

Published: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 5:12 AM

President Donald Trump on Monday once again charged that Democrats in Congress were trying to force a government shutdown later this week by refusing to negotiate an acceptable budget deal for the military, and by not budging on what to do with hundreds of thousands of younger illegal immigrants in the U.S. under the Obama Administration’s DACA program, as that issue continued to be a flash point for the two parties.

“Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal,” the President tweeted on Monday.

“They talk about DACA, but they don’t want to help.”

Government funding runs out Friday night at midnight, and so far there is no evidence of progress in negotiations on a spending agreement for the rest of the current fiscal year; the President wants $54 billion more for the Pentagon in 2018 – Democrats have said they want an equal increase in domestic spending as well.

Along with a short term funding plan and spending bills for 2018, a number of other items remain unresolved in the House and Senate – what to do about funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and billions in disaster relief for victims of 2017 hurricanes and wildfires are two of the notable items.

The House passed an $81 billion disaster relief bill just before Christmas, but no action has been taken on that in the Senate, which has prompted pleas from officials in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico for action.

Congress returns to work on Tuesday. No plan has been publicly announced as yet by GOP leaders for how lawmakers will address this next funding deadline.

Trump blasts Democrats over immigration as feds resume DACA renewals

Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 @ 3:49 AM

With a federal court order from last week temporarily blocking President Donald Trump’s move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the immigration agency in charge of that effort announced that it would again accept applications to renew DACA requests, as President Trump chided Democrats on Sunday over the political impasse on the issue.

“Due to a federal court order, USCIS has resumed accepting requests to renew a grant of deferred action under DACA,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Saturday.

“Until further notice, and unless otherwise provided in this guidance, the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017,” the USCIS stated.

While that matter works its way through the courts, President Trump on Sunday was blasting Democrats over failed political efforts to reach a deal on the future of some 800,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” under DACA.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it,” the President tweeted from his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago.

Last week, there were earnest efforts by a number of lawmakers in both parties in Congress to reach a DACA deal – Mr. Trump has repeatedly made clear that he wants to help the “Dreamers,” but only if Democrats agree to money for his border wall, an end to chain migration, and an end to a visa lottery for people.

But those efforts ran aground last Thursday, as the President railed against the idea of providing more immigration slots to people from Haiti and African nations, using the term “shithole” countries, creating a furor in the U.S. and around the world.

Democrats have been pressing to get a DACA deal included in a spending deal which would fund the operations of the federal government, as Repubilcans and the President have been pushing to include a big increase in defense spending in that same package.

So far, no deal has been struck, and what may happen is that Congress will simply extend a temporary funding measure to avoid a government shutdown.

A bipartisan group of six Senators had reached an agreement on an immigration deal, but it was rejected by the President as a “big step backwards.”

As for the injunction against the administrative end to the plan, which Mr. Trump announced last September, it wasn’t clear when the Trump Administration would make its next legal move in the case.

Hawaiian officials demand answers after false alarm of missile attack

Published: Saturday, January 13, 2018 @ 9:11 AM

The state of Hawaii was jolted Saturday morning by a warning of an imminent incoming missile attack, which was sent to cell phones, and local television and radio stations, as it took almost 40 minutes for officials to confirm that it was a false alarm.

“What happened today was totally inexcusable,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) “The whole state was terrified.”

It was not immediately apparent what happened, and why the alert was issued. On TV in Hawaii, the warning said the “U.S. Pacific Command has detected a missile threat,” and people were urged to take immediate shelter.

As officials scrambled for answers, they also quickly tried to calm the nerves of residents and tourists.

“It was a false alarm based on a human error,” Schatz tweeted.

There was no immediate comment from the White House. At the time of the alert, President Donald Trump was at one of his golf courses in Florida; he returned to his Mar-a-Lago retreat soon after it occurred.