Tax split between House, Senate poses a big challenge

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 3:57 PM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 3:56 PM

The House and Senate tax overhaul plans are broadly similar, but crucial differences are creating headaches for Republican leaders determined to keep myriad interest groups and factions of the GOP satisfied. And then there's the ambitious timetable they've set of finishing in time to get legislation to President Donald Trump by Christmas.

The most politically challenging decisions involve dealing with popular and widely used tax deductions, structuring tax cuts for business and balancing personal income tax rates between middle-class families and the rich.

All of these decisions come against a generous — but firm — 10-year, $1.5 trillion cap on the measure's cost to the federal deficit. Both House and Senate have adopted accounting gimmicks to squeeze tax cuts that appear larger down to fit that restraint.

Trump's enormously expensive demand for a cut in the corporate tax rate to 20 percent — from the current 35 percent — is a big complication, as is unrest among House Republicans hailing from affluent suburban districts who are upset over the proposed loss of the deduction for state income taxes.

Here's a rundown on the major differences between the House and Senate bills:

INDIVIDUAL TAX RATES

The Senate measure keeps the current number of personal income tax brackets, seven, though it changes the rates to 10, 12, 22.5, 25, 32.5, 35 and 38.5 percent. That last top bracket for the wealthiest earners carries a higher rate of 39.6 percent under current law.

The House bill goes further toward simplifying the tax system. It shrinks the number of brackets from seven to four, with rates of 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent.

Lots of numbers here for congressional negotiators to play with, to move up or down.

The inheritance tax on multimillion dollar estates, called the estate tax, is an especially hot-button issue. Democrats point to the proposed GOP changes as proof that the Republicans are out to help wealthy people like Trump and his family.

Currently, when someone dies, the person inheriting the estate must pay taxes on its value above $5.5 million for individuals, $11 million for couples. The House bill initially doubles those limits and then repeals the whole tax after 2023. The Senate version doubles those exemption amounts — but doesn't repeal the tax.

To repeal or not to repeal? That may be the class-warfare question.

DEDUCTIONS

The Senate bill would eliminate a taxpayer's ability to deduct state income taxes and local property taxes. But the final bill may have to closely track a House compromise that provides a property tax deduction of up to $10,000 or else risk a revolt from GOP lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, and California.

The Senate bill preserves popular individual tax breaks for large medical expenses, mortgage interest, electric vehicles and college costs that were targeted by the House. The House limits deductibility of mortgage interest to the first $500,000 of a loan, riling the real estate and housing industries, and eliminates a deduction for medical expenses that's often taken by families facing crippling nursing home costs.

BUSINESS:

Both the House and Senate versions slash the tax rate for corporations to 20 percent from the current 35 percent. But there's a big twist: The Senate bill delays the rate cut for a year.

The delay was put in to reduce the bill's cost by $100 billion or so — but it's opposed by the White House and House Republicans. Wall Street hates it too. U.S. stock markets sold off Thursday in response to news of the proposed deferral, with industrial and technology stocks leading the decline, before recouping some of the losses by the close of trading.

Might the implementation delay be traded for a smaller corporate tax cut, something above 20 percent?

Trump actually had been demanding 15 percent and reportedly was initially furious at the 20 percent figure. The issue is setting the corporate rate at a level that experts and tax writers believe would bring the U.S. closer to its overseas competitors.

The electric car industry — notably makers Tesla and Chevrolet — and producers of wind power for generating electricity are losers under the House bill. The tax credit of up to $7,500 for plug-in electric vehicles would be repealed, and the credit for wind energy would be reduced. But the Senate version retains the incentives.

The loss of tax credits for renewable energy would free billions to help pay for the corporate tax cuts in the legislation. But in addition to environmentalists' objections, the prospect also angers some Republican senators, including powerful Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has vowed to defend the credit.

There's a special rate for businesses whose profits are counted in the owners' personal tax returns. Millions of U.S. businesses use this "pass-through" format. The House bill taxes many of them at a maximum 25 percent, down from 39.6 percent currently, and adds a lower minimum rate. The Senate version would set a new 17.4 percent deduction for "pass-through" income, aimed to help smaller businesses.

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to 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

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

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“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

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