UPDATE


Jumping into the fine print of the Senate GOP tax reform bill

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 2:47 PM

As Republicans in the Congress press ahead with their legislative plans for major reform of the federal tax code, GOP leaders hope to hold a vote in the House late next week, while a key Senate committee will begin work on Monday on that chamber’s version of a sweeping tax reform measure.

Like the House bill, there are some interesting items in the fine print that may not grab the headlines in your local newspaper.

Here’s a few to chew on:

1. No more tax breaks for those who bicycle to work. Most people probably have no idea that you could ride your bicycle to work, and be eligible for a “qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement” of up to $20 per month. This was started because there were federal tax breaks for people who took mass transit to work, where employers could give money to their workers to help pay for their subway or train tickets, and that cash would not be considered as income. How much money will getting rid of the bicycle commuting reimbursement save Uncle Sam? The estimate that accompanies the new Senate tax reform bill is so small that it is qualified as being “less than $50 million” over ten years.

2. No more tax deductions for war profits. I learn something every day that I report from Capitol Hill. I did not recall that under current law, you are allowed to deduct: “State, local real and foreign property taxes; State and local personal property taxes; State, local and foreign income, war profits , and excess profits taxes.” The Senate GOP tax reform plan specifically says no more deduction for war profits in the future – and I guess I didn’t read the House plan closely enough, because the GOP tax reform bill would also do away with that deduction in the future. There is a reason that the fine print is important.

3. Changes dealing with your home. Under current law, you can deduct the interest on up to $100,000 of a qualifying home equity loan, but the House bill moved to end that write-off, and the Senate bill does the same. Also, the Senate takes a step in the direction of the House bill by extending the amount of time that you need to own (and live in) your principal residence, before you can sell it, and take advantage of the rules on tax-free capital gains ($250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a couple). The Senate extends that time frame to five years, up from the current two.

4. A new category of income for tax reporting purposes. “The proposal creates a category of income defined as “passenger cruise gross income,” it states in the explanation of the Senate tax reform bill. Think about this for a second. If you get on a cruise ship somewhere in Florida, and then you go around the Caribbean for a week, and then return to the U.S., what happens with all of the money that you and other passengers spend on that ship? Does it get taxed? Or is it just sort of in limbo, outside the reach of U.S. taxation? It’s an interesting little thing to think about. It’s estimated this provision would bring in $700 million over 10 years, so it’s not a big moneymaker for Uncle Sam.

5. Tax simplification for business – not so much. There is a lot of talk about how this plan would simplify the tax code, and while that would be true in some respects for individuals (if you don’t make enough money, and don’t have investments, or large deductions to itemize), that’s not true on the business side of the tax equation. Reading through the explanation of the Senate bill makes that brutally obvious. “The proposal addresses recurring definitional and methodological issues that have arisen in controversies in transfers of intangible property for purposes of sections 367(d) and 482, both of which use the statutory definition of intangible property in section 936(h)(3)(B),” it reads in one part. One thing is for sure, tax accountants and tax lawyers will still be a good place to make money in the future, as this Senate bill won’t reform them out of business.

6. Wait, where is the bill? This is one interesting part about the Senate tax reform proposal. There really isn’t a bill – there is a description and explanation of the GOP proposal, but no actual bill language. Back during the development of the Obama health law, Democrats did the same, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee steered that plan through by dealing in ‘plain English’ first, and then bill language later. But to this reporter, it always seems odd that the committee will release the details of a bill on miscellaneous tariffs, but not bill language on a major tax bill, where the technical language is so very important, as we saw in the House. Instead of the bill text, you can read the explanation of the Senate bill, which is still 253 pages in all.

Happy reading. The Senate Finance Committee markup starts on Monday.

The House is expected to vote on tax reform late next week; a Senate vote would come after Thanksgiving.

 

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Lawyer accused of lying in Russia investigation

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 9:38 AM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 10:38 AM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney is facing charges of lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

READ MORE: Who is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller? | Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation? | What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with? | MORE

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Files First Charges

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Mueller unveils new indictment, charging lawyer with lying to investigators

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 5:04 AM

The probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections produced another indictment on Monday, as the feds charged a man with making false statements to investigators working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also accusing the lawyer of deleting emails, and not cooperating with the probe.

The initial document released by a Washington, D.C. federal court showed Alex Van Der Zwaan lied about his interactions with Rick Gates, who has already been indicted by Mueller’s office.

Gates, who once worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign, already faces charges of a money laundering conspiracy, and failure to file as a foreign agent.

Even though there were only two pages of information released on Tuesday morning, the details of the indictment raised a series of interesting items.

+ Van Der Zwaan was accused of secretly recording phone calls before the 2016 elections:

+ The mention of Rick Gates comes as Gates has reportedly been in discussions with the Special Counsel’s office about a plea bargain agreement.

+ This new indictment includes references to a “Person A” and a “Law Firm A.”

The latest indictment came as the President again took to Twitter to talk about the Russia investigation.

Back at the White House after a long weekend in Florida, Mr. Trump on Tuesday once more suggested that the Russia investigation was mainly sour grapes about his defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016:

The New York Times had reported last September that the Skadden law firm in New York had been asked to produce information to the Mueller investigation.

Reportedly at the urging of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, the firm had helped put together a report on the political situation in Ukraine, which was used to help the country’s Moscow-backed leader.

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While Trump backs bipartisan gun bill, there’s no guarantee of action in Congress on guns

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:53 PM

The White House on Monday signaled that President Donald Trump is willing to back at least one bipartisan measure to strengthen the national instant check system for those who buy firearms, as Democrats in the House and Senate continued to argue that action by the Congress on gun violence is long overdue.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In a written statement sent to reporters, Sanders said the President spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday; the Texas Republican has a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), which would force states and federal agencies to submit more information into the instant gun check system.

After a mass shooting last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people died, the Air Force acknowledged that the killer – who received a ‘bad conduct’ discharge from the military – should not have been able to buy guns, but those records were never placed in the instant check system.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in November when he introduced this bipartisan gun measure.”

Democrats had hoped there would be action on that measure – just like they had hoped there would have been action to ban “bump stocks” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, action on the “No Fly, No Buy” measure after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and then the “FixNics” bill after the Texas shooting.

Last week’s shooting in Florida simply put all of those requests for legislation to deal with guns on repeat for Democrats.

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.”

Democrats would certainly like to do much more than the ‘FixNics’ bill, or banning bump stocks, as other ideas have popped up in recent days, like not allowing anyone under age 21 to buy weapons like an AR-15.

But as the President returned to Washington on Monday evening from a long weekend at his Florida retreat, it wasn’t clear if his support for one bipartisan plan would actually mean action – as GOP leaders have not put such measures on the fast track to a vote in the House and Senate.

On Sunday, when the President met with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Florida, the two men discussed a series of issues, including “the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.”

The White House statement on their meeting did not characterize whether legislative action was discussed.

No action will happen on anything gun-related this week – as the Congress won’t be back on Capitol Hill for votes until February 26.

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After latest indictments, President Trump vents on Twitter about Russia investigation

Published: Sunday, February 18, 2018 @ 4:01 AM

In the wake of a fresh round of indictments in the wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday and Sunday to repeatedly express his frustration with the probe, again proclaiming his innocence, attacking his critics, and demanding attention instead on actions of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton.

“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” the President tweeted on Sunday morning – though Mr. Trump has been very slow to embrace the concept that Russia was at fault, as he derided the investigations into Russian interference in 2016.

“They are laughing their asses off in Moscow,” the President said on Twitter. “Get smart America!”

Those were just a sampling of a number of tweets from this weekend, as the President let off steam on a number of fronts.

The President even rebuked his own National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, over a point that Mr. Trump and his supporters have zeroed in on repeatedly – a lack of evidence that ties any Russian operation to the Trump Campaign.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians,” as the President again tried to switch the attention of the moment to questions that the GOP has raised about Hillary Clinton, the Steele Dossier, and the Democratic National Committee.

“The Fake News Media never fails,” the President wrote on Saturday, repeatedly making the argument that any Russian interference in 2016 did not tip the scales of the election in his favor.

“Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President,” the President added.

“The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” he tweeted.

Critics of the President noted what was missing in his Saturday and Sunday tweets about the Russia investigation was any pledge by Mr. Trump to implement tougher sanctions against Russia which were approved by the Congress, or to order tougher measures to stop any Russian meddling.

Last week, the nation’s top intelligence officials all agreed that Russia was going to try to repeat their 2016 effort in the 2018 election – asked by Democrats if there was any specific order from the President to focus on that threat, the intelligence chiefs only indicated that they were focused on the matter.

“Look, this is pretty simple,” said retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency. “The Russians objective was to mess with our heads.”

“Based on his late PM – this AM joint Twitter meltdown, it’s safe to say “Trump” is having a nervous breakdown as Mueller’s walls close in,” said John Schindler, a former U.S. intelligence official who has been highly critical of the President’s statements on the Russia probe.

Late on Saturday night, the President also drew in the Russia investigation to criticize the FBI over the mass shooting at a high school in Florida last week.

” They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign,” the President said.

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