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.

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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 says he misspoke at Putin summit on Russian interference

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 3:52 PM

A day after publicly siding with Vladimir Putin over U.S. Intelligence on the question of whether Moscow had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, President Donald Trump defended his efforts to improve relations with Russia, even as he back tracked slightly to say that “I accept” the conclusions of intelligence officials on Russian meddling.

In remarks to reporters at the White House, the President said he had simply misspoke, dropping the word “not” in a sentence about his view on Russian responsibility for election interference in 2016.

“I need to make a clarification,” Mr. Trump said, reading from a prepared script before television cameras, as he met with a group GOP lawmakers.

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“I accept our Intelligence Community’s conclusion,” the President said – but he swiftly raised the possibility that actors other than Russia might have been involved, something not supported by the CIA and Congress.

“Could be other people also – there’s a lot of people out there,” the President said.

President Trump’s explanation was that he meant to say, “I don’t know any reason why it would not be Russia,” but that he only said, “I don’t know any reason why it would be Russia.”

The comments came as the President faced a bipartisan firestorm of criticism from Capitol Hill, as lawmakers said the President was wrong to have stood on the same stage with Putin, and downplayed the Russian threat.

Mr. Trump defended his effort to deal with Putin, arguing “that diplomacy and engagement is better than hostility and conflict,” as he accused the press of biased reporting on his European trip.

“The press covered it quite inaccurately,” Mr. Trump added, “They said I insulted everybody,” as the President made clear he was thrilled with efforts to deal with Putin, casting that as more important than his previous meetings with European leaders at the NATO summit.

The President remarks came as Democrats in Congress all but accused President Trump of being a Russian Intelligence asset.

“Is the President an agent of a foreign power?” wrote Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Twitter.

“He wrapped his arms around Vladimir Putin,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) on the House floor.

“When are the Republicans in Congress going to provide a check on President Trump?” asked Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

“It’s embarrassing and alarming that the U.S. President would believe the Russian President instead of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Meanwhile, many GOP lawmakers made it clear that while they supported the President’s summit meeting with Vladimir Putin, there was an acknowledgement that Mr. Trump’s statements which sided with Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 elections were not helpful.

“I think anybody that watched that press conference – including the President himself – would say that it was not his finest hour,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), as some conservative voices expressed frustration with Mr. Trump.

“I don’t agree with President Trump’s comments,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “The evidence from our national security agencies is clear; Russia deliberately tried to undermine our republic. This is unacceptable.”

“We have seen time and again that Russia will stop at nothing to interfere with and undermine our system of government,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

“Let’s be very clear, so that everybody knows, Russia did interfere with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who bluntly denounced the Putin regime, clearly labeling him as an enemy of the West.

“Russia is trying to undermine democracy itself,” the Speaker added, seemingly inviting action by Congress on new sanctions against Moscow.

“Vladimir Putin does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin does not share our values,” the Speaker said.

Senate Republican leaders meanwhile went out of their way to proclaim their public support for European allies in NATO, trying to send a much different message than what was transmitted in person by President Trump during his visit last week.

“We believe the European Union countries are our friends, and the Russians are not,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he heaped praise on NATO, and the need to preserve the North Atlantic alliance.

On the issue of election interference, the message was also different from what the President had said in Helsinki.

“Clearly, the Russians tried to interfere in our elections,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

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Russian woman arrested, charged with illegal political activities in U.S.

Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 7:41 PM

Hours after President Donald Trump publicly sided with Vladimir Putin over questions of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the Justice Department announced the arrest of 29 year old Maria Butina, alleging that the Russian citizen violated U.S. law by engaging in a series of political activities involving members of one major political party and a U.S. gun rights organization.

“Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government,” the Justice Department said in a statement, charging she was tasked with “developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”

“The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law,” the DOJ stated.

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While the highly detailed FBI affidavit does not identify the particular political party or gun rights organization – all signs pointed to it being the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association.

After entering the U.S. in August 2016 on a student visa, the 17 page affidavit basically says the only studying done by Maria Butina was of the U.S. political process, engaging in a conspiracy to exert influence in American politics, especially through her contacts with gun rights supporters.

The details also involve two unidentified Americans, one who Butina first contacted in Moscow around 2013, the other who was part of efforts to gather support for Russia within political circles in 2016 and 2017.

Much of the evidence came from documents, emails, and Twitter direct messages on Butina’s laptop, which was seized by authorities during the investigation.

But the FBI affidavit also seems to indicate that investigators have emails from one American linked to Butina – identified only as “U.S. Person 1.”

“I’ve been involved in security a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key POLITICAL PARTY 1 leaders through, of all conduits, the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION],” the communication read.

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The FBI affidavit offers a variety of efforts to curry favor with Americans, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Russian-American “friendship” dinners, attending annual meetings of a national gun rights organization, and other political gatherings.

Butina’s work evidently also included an instance in 2015, when Butina was able to ask a question of President Trump at the “FreedomFest,” where Mr. Trump – the candidate – assured his audience that he wanted better relations with Moscow.

“Putin has no respect for President Obama,” Mr. Trump tells Butina, in this exchange.

While the charge against Butina was not brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, the details of the inquiry dovetail with that investigation of illegal influence in the 2016 election, a probe which President Trump on Monday again labeled a ‘witch hunt.’

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Kasich talks arms control, ‘fraying’ Western stability under Trump

Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 1:31 PM
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 1:31 PM

Ohio Governor John Kasich talked to CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday morning about what his expectations would be from the Trump, Putin meeting.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he hopes the U.S. and Russia will re-engage in arms control talks following President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

“What I hope they get out of this summit is an agreement to sit down and continue arms control discussions,” Kasich said Monday morning on CNN before the Trump-Putin summit. “It is in all of our interests, the world’s interest, for the two powers who control 90 percent of the nuclear weapons to sit down and re-engage in arms control.”

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At a press conference Monday, Putin said he Trump agreed to continue detailed discussions on arms control issues.

Putin said Russia and the U.S. should discuss a possible extension of the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and the implementation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. He added that Russia would like to also discuss U.S. missile defense plans and the weaponization of space.

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Kasich also said he is concerned the stability of the Western order is “fraying” under Trump’s “wrecking ball diplomacy.” Following Trump’s comments to CBS News over the weekend that he viewed the European Union as a foe, Kasich said Trump’s attitude toward the U.S.’s traditional allies bothers him.

“If you read the papers over the weekend, many of these European leaders are getting fed up, and they really are beginning to wonder if they can trust and rely on us,” Kasich said.

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The Associated Press contributed reporting from Helsinki.

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With Putin, Trump calls Russia probe a ‘disaster’

Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 12:40 PM

After several hours of talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Finland, President Donald Trump on Monday called the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections a ‘disaster,’ as he seemingly rejected the findings of his own intelligence organizations, accepting the word of Putin that Russia did not meddle in the last campaign for President, and making the case that the investigation had undermined relations between the two countries.

“President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a joint news conference. “I will say this – I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Mr. Trump added, as the President wrapped up the news conference by attacking FBI official Peter Strzok, and declaring the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller “a giant witch hunt.”

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“It’s ridiculous – it’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe,” the President said. “There was no collusion with the campaign.”

Asked directly about Russian interference, the President instead talked about the missing emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the computer server that Russians allegedly hacked at the Democratic National Committee, and ex-House IT aide Imran Awan.

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