House budget plan a step toward goal of tax overhaul

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:36 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:34 AM

The House has passed a $4.1 trillion budget plan that promises deep cuts to social programs while paving the way for Republicans to rewrite the tax code later this year.

The 2018 House GOP budget reprises a controversial plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for future retirees as well as the party's efforts to repeal the "Obamacare" health law. Republicans controlling Congress have no plans to actually implement those cuts while they pursue their tax overhaul.

That's especially so in the Senate, where the Budget Committee on Thursday gave party-line approval to a companion plan.

Instead, the nonbinding budget's chief purpose is to set the stage for a tax overhaul plan that is the party's top political priority as well as a longtime policy dream of key leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan.

The White House issued a statement saying the House plan is a key step toward "Making America Great Again."

The House measure, passed by a near party-line vote of 219-206, calls for more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over the coming decade, promising to slash Medicaid by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years, cutting other health care costs, and forcing huge cuts to domestic programs funded in future years by Congress.

"It's a budget that will help grow our economy, and it's a budget that will help rein in our debt," said Ryan, R-Wis. "It reforms Medicaid. It strengthens Medicare."

But Republicans are not actually planning to impose any of those cuts with follow-up legislation that would be required under Washington's Byzantine budget rules. Instead, those GOP proposals for spending cuts are limited to nonbinding promises, and even a token 10-year, $200 billion spending cut package demanded by tea party House Republicans appears likely to be scrapped in upcoming talks with the Senate.

Instead, the motivating force behind the budget measures is the Republicans' party-defining drive to cut corporate and individual tax rates and rid the tax code of loopholes. They promise this tax "reform" measure will put the economy in overdrive, driving economic growth to the 3 percent range, and adding a surge of new tax revenues.

"In order to pay for these huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, this Republican budget makes savage cuts to the life and death programs that mean so much to ordinary Americans," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Passing the measure in the House and Senate would provide key procedural help for the tax measure because it sets the stage for follow-on legislation that can't be filibustered by Senate Democrats. Republicans used the same so-called reconciliation procedure in their failed attempt to kill "Obamacare," including its tax surcharges on wealthy people.

"Through reconciliation, our budget specifically paves the way for pro-growth tax reform that will reduce taxes for middle-class Americans and free up American businesses to grow and hire," said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Budget Committee.

Eighteen Republicans opposed the measure, including several from high-tax states like New York and New Jersey who are concerned that the upcoming tax effort would repeal the deductions for state and local taxes.

Democrats blasted the sweeping spending cuts proposed by Republicans — more than $5 trillion over 10 years in the House plan and somewhat less in the Senate GOP measure — as an assault on middle-class families and the poor.

"Is it a statement of our values to take a half-trillion dollars out of Medicare to give a tax cut to the wealthiest people in our country?" said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The Senate Budget Committee's companion plan approved Thursday differs in key details — but would still result in a deficit of $424 billion in 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The House measure assumes the upcoming tax bill won't add to the deficit; the Senate version, however, would permit the measure to add $1.5 trillion to the $20 trillion-plus national debt over the coming 10 years. The final version is likely to stick closely to the Senate measure in key respects. A final House-Senate agreement won't come until November, Black said, but she anticipated conflict over the Senate plans.

"That is certainly going to be a very lively discussion," Black said of House-Senate talks. "Our members are concerned about (budget) balance and they're also concerned about the debt and deficits."

The real-world trajectory of Washington, however, is for higher deficits as Republicans focus on tax cuts, a huge hike in the defense budget, and a growing disaster aid tally that is about to hit $45 billion.

"The train's left the station, and if you're a budget hawk, you were left at the station," said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.

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House defeats one GOP immigration bill, delays vote on second plan

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 3:04 PM

Struggling to find consensus on immigration reform, the House on Thursday rejected a more conservative Republican immigration reform bill, and then in a bid to salvage the effort, GOP leaders delayed action on a second immigration reform measure until Friday.

41 House Republicans voted against the first GOP bill, which was defeated on a vote of 231-193, as the plan received more votes than most GOP lawmakers had expected.

The Republicans who voted against the first GOP bill were a mixture of the Republican Party’s different flanks, featuring more conservative lawmakers who wanted to do more, and moderates who felt it went too far.

“This is a difficult issue,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who voted for this bill, but wouldn’t tell reporters whether he would support a second measure on Friday.

“Any jot or tittle one way or the other, you lose people because of the complexities, because of the sensitivities, and the emotions in this particular piece of legislation,” Meadows said.

Here is the list of the 41 Republicans who voted “No.”

One of the reasons more moderate Republicans voted against the first bill was because of the lack of a path to citizenship for younger illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

While that is in the bill to be voted on Friday, those provisions then could cause some other Republicans to vote against it, arguing it is nothing but amnesty.

“I’m a big fat no, capital letters” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), after the first vote.

“It doesn’t do anything to stop illegal immigration,” Barletta added.

In debate on the House floor, Democrats focused mainly on the more recent immigration battle over the separation of illegal immigrant families, blaming President Donald Trump for doing little to seek compromise.

“On this issue, God is going to judge you as well,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) said to Republicans who were backing the President’s get-tough effort on the border.

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Supreme Court: States can force online sellers to collect sales taxes

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:48 AM

In a decision that will impact online shopping for all Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a South Dakota law which required online companies to collect and remit state sales taxes, even if that company did not have a ‘physical presence’ in the state.

“Each year, the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 5-4 decision.

“These critiques underscore that the physical presence rule, both as first formulated and as applied today, is an incorrect interpretation of the Commerce Clause,” the majority wrote.

The ruling overturned previous Supreme Court precedents from the 1992 Quill case, which had theoretically made internet sales a tax-free zone in certain situations; over the years, that changed, but this ruling will now require online sellers to collect sales taxes for all states.

The decision allows state and local governments now to press online retailers to collect sales tax revenues – which some experts believe could bring in billions of dollars in additional revenues, which would be collected if the online seller had a ‘physical presence’ – a store – in that state.

Maybe the most interesting part of the ruling was the lineup of Justices, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined with Kennedy, and three more conservative Justices to provide the majority, while the Chief Justice sided with the remaining three more liberal Justices.

“This Court ‘does not overturn its precedents lightly,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the minority, as he said the Court was wrong to change the way states can deal with sales taxes and online sales, arguing the Legislative Branch should take that step.

“Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development
of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress,” Roberts wrote.

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House to vote on two GOP immigration bills – both may fail

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 7:28 AM

After months of internal wrangling over how best to deal with illegal immigration, the House is poised on Thursday to debate and vote on two immigration reform bills written by Republicans – but because of fissures inside the GOP – it’s possible both measures may go down to defeat on Thursday afternoon.

“This is very good compromise legislation,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was struggling to convince more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus to back a bill that some GOP lawmakers denounced as “amnesty” for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

“The failed policies of previous administrations have catered to open border radicals and left Americans less free, less safe,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), one Freedom Caucus member reluctant to vote for a more moderate GOP measure.

The internal bickering boiled over on the House floor on Wednesday afternoon, when Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) appeared to engage in an angry back-and-forth with Speaker Ryan, during a vote on the House floor.

With no Democrats expected to back either of the GOP immigration bills – a rupture inside the GOP on these plans will lead to only one thing – defeat.

Two measures are on the schedule in the House – the “Securing America’s Future Act,” and the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.”

The first bill is the more conservative measure, drafted mainly by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the head of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m a ‘yes’ ‘yes,'” Goodlatte said of how he would vote on both bills. “I want 218 votes.”

But the chances of getting a majority on either bill seemed slim – moderates think the conservative bill is too harsh, while conservatives think the more moderate measure doesn’t do enough.

The measures delve deeply into a number of subjects, how to treat illegal immigrant DACA “Dreamers,” reform the asylum system, a host of changes in interior immigration enforcement laws, ending the diversity visa lottery, reforms for temporary agricultural workers, measures to address so-called “sanctuary cities,” more aggressive efforts to return unaccompanied children and other migrants, and much more.

The Goodlatte bill runs 414 pages – the other plan backed by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo totals 299 pages.

The House debate comes a day after a rare retreat by President Trump on the issue of immigration, as he announced a hastily drawn executive order, designed to stop the forced separation of illegal immigrant families.

But Democrats said while the order stopped children from being taken away from their parents, it left many questions unanswered.

“The president’s order does not solve this problem”,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “It does nothing to reunify the 2,300 children who have been taken from their parents.”

“As a country, we are better than this! Separating children from their parents,” said Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)

Republicans also chided the White House.

“It is about time the Administration takes action to address this issue, but more needs to be done,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “I want to make sure this practice is ended, unequivocally, and I strongly believe we still must take legislative action.”

“The President did the right thing by signing an executive order to keep families together at the border,” added Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

But despite all the talk, nothing on that seems likely to make it through the Congress anytime soon – as a possible double defeat for the GOP in the House on immigration reform seemed a strong possibility.

And it was obvious that a visit by President Trump on Tuesday night to the Capitol had done little to unify Republicans, as the President took another jab on Wednesday as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), after mocking Sanford during the GOP meeting.

“I have never been a fan of his!” the President said of Sanford on Twitter.

“This was a classless cheap shot,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

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Trump stops family separations, keeps ‘zero tolerance’ at border

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 3:42 PM

Under growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that would allow illegal immigrant families detained by U.S. border authorities to remain together in many situations, ending an outcry over forced separations which took young children from their parents.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the President told reporters in the Oval Office, as he signed the new plan, which was drawn up as more and more Republicans publicly said Mr. Trump’s border crackdown had become a PR nightmare.

“The border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together,” the President told reporters, as he repeatedly emphasized that an early May “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for those caught crossing the border illegally would continue.

It was that Trump Administration change which resulted in families being separated in recent weeks, spurring multiple news stories about young children, taken hundreds of miles away from their parents.

The signing represented a rare retreat for the President on any controversial policy during his administration; in recent days, top officials had repeatedly said there was no requirement that families be separated, but under current federal law, that option was triggered when parents of the kids were prosecuted, under the ‘zero tolerance’ plan.

“We have to have strong borders, and ultimately it will be done right,” the President declared.

Mr. Trump had tried in recent days to place the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying his hands were tied on the matter of family separations, as top officials said the law left them no leeway for change.

“What about executive action?” the President was asked during an impromptu press conference with reporters on the White House driveway last Friday.

“You can’t do it through an executive order,” Mr. Trump replied.

But that’s what he ultimately did.

The President’s move came amid a growing firestorm of criticism in Congress from members of both parties in the Congress, stirred by stories of young children taken away from their parents.

“This must stop NOW,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he noted a story from his home state, where an 8-month old baby had been brought, after being taken from her parents.

“He can sign an executive order today,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was blocked on Tuesday from visiting a group of detained children at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida.

“This shameful chapter in American history lies with the President and his pen,” Nelson said, arguing the President started these separations, and should halt them.

“We must stop the madness, and stop it now,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

“America is weakened in the eyes of the world,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

“This is a policy straight from the pit of hell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

GOP leaders also made clear they wanted the Trump Administration to change course.

“As I said last week, we do not want children taken away from their parents,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as he urged GOP lawmakers to unite behind a pair of immigration bills which are expected to be voted on Thursday.

But while the Speaker and other Republicans said provisions in those bills would fix the family separation matter – those plans would not advance through the Senate – making it unlikely that Congress could anything done on the family separation matter.

That left the President with just one option – an administrative reversal on something that he had fiercely stood behind the effort.

The change on illegal immigrant families came in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy dealing with those illegally coming over the southern border.

“Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said in that May 7 speech.

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