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Trump administration officials meet GOP senators on tax bill

Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 3:45 AM
Updated: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 3:45 AM

Top administration officials met privately with Republican senators Wednesday as Senate GOP tax writers put finishing touches on their high-stakes bill cutting levies on people and corporations and reshaping the federal tax code.

A day before Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, planned to unveil the legislation, some of its most basic contours were set while others seemed in flux.

As leaders hunted for ways to pay for their tax cuts, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said the measure would fully eliminate the deduction people can take for state and local property, income and sales taxes. The House version would retain the deduction only for property taxes and cap that at $10,000, drawing opposition from GOP lawmakers from states with high local taxes like New York and New Jersey.

Perdue said the Senate plan would compress the current seven personal income tax brackets down to four. On Tuesday, two Republicans had said the bill would retain the seven brackets but cautioned that changes were possible.

Hatch's plan was likely to include a one-year delay in its reduction in the corporate tax rate, which will be permanent, said a GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Shrinking that rate to 20 percent from its current 35 percent has been a chief goal of President Donald Trump and the business community, and delaying that reduction would help contain the bill's costs.

"We're excited, everything looks good," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after he and chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn met with Republicans on Hatch's panel in the Capitol late Wednesday.

The tax bill must worsen federal deficits by no more than $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. If Republicans don't do that, the measure will be vulnerable to a bill-killing Senate filibuster by Democrats that GOP senators lack the votes to block. It also cannot add to red ink beyond the first 10 years without facing the same fate.

Across the street, the House Ways and Means Committee completed a third day of debate on the nearly $6 trillion legislation, with the Republican-led panel wading through dozens of amendments and rejecting Democrats' efforts to revise the bill.

Republican leaders want the panel to approve the bill Thursday. Their goal is for Congress to send a measure to Trump by Christmas, which they hope would protect their congressional majorities in next year's elections.

A preliminary estimate by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation said the House measure would add $74 billion more to 10-year deficits than the $1.5 trillion target allows.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, plans to make last-minute changes in the measure before final passage, presumably to meet the target and nail down GOP votes so the House can approve the legislation soon. Democrats are expected to uniformly oppose the legislation.

The committee voted along party lines against a battery of Democratic proposals to restore to the bill tax benefits to student borrowers, people with significant medical expenses, homeowners and teachers.

The proposed elimination of the deduction for medical expenses not covered by insurance is especially controversial. The deduction has helped offset costs of such things as nursing home care, laser eye surgery and out-of-state travel for a second opinion on a rare cancer.

Eliminating it "is a direct assault," said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., the failed amendment's sponsor. "This is devastating to individual families."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Republican drubbing in Tuesday night's elections "just puts more pressure on making sure we follow through" on the party's drive to overhaul the tax code.

Ryan, speaking at an event held by the Washington Examiner newspaper, said, "We've got to get on with keeping our promise, and one of the chief promises we made when we ran for office ... in 2016 was that we would do tax reform and tax cuts for families, for people, and so we've got to get on with that."

Ryan, R-Wis., spoke after Republicans lost gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey by large margins in off-year elections that appear to be a bad omen for GOP chances in next year's midterms. The tax rewrite effort has assumed even greater significance in the wake of the GOP failure to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.

Republicans have discussed repealing Obama's individual mandate in their tax legislation to raise more money to pay for tax cuts. That mandate requires most people to buy coverage or face a fine.

But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office lowered its estimate Wednesday for how much money repealing that requirement would save from $416 billion over a decade to $338 billion.

Repeal would save money because without being forced to get coverage, fewer people would sign up for Medicaid or buy federally subsidized private insurance.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Gulf grows between Trump and Congress on trade

Published: Saturday, June 23, 2018 @ 5:15 AM

As President Donald Trump this week threatened $200 billion in new tariffs on Chinese imports, and then warned Europe that he would slap a 20 percent tariff on imported automobiles, members of both parties Congress accused the administration of starting a trade war which could cause collateral economic damage across the United States.

The differences were on display at a hearing Wednesday with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who took a bipartisan tongue lashing on a recent round of tariffs levied on imported steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and Europe.

“We’re picking winners and losers,” argued Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who said those tariffs were already hurting businesses in his home state.

“Probably resulting – in my view – in far more jobs being lost than being gained,” Toomey told Ross, citing a very well-known Pennsylvania company that could find it less expensive to move jobs from the U.S. to Canada.

Almost every Senator on the panel had a story of a small business that was feeling the pinch due to Trump Administration tariffs, impacting all sorts of agricultural products, as well as manufacturing, big and small.

“Do you think we’re in a trade war right now?” asked Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “Because I do,” as Cantwell rattled off farm products that were losing markets because of retaliatory tariff measures.

Ross downplayed the cost of higher imported steel and aluminum, basically making the case that economic hardships were being overplayed.

“It’s a fraction of a penny on a can of Campbell’s soup, it’s a fraction on a can of Budweiser, it’s a fraction on a can of Coke,” Ross said.

That did not please the Senator from the state of Coca-Cola.

“Although a couple of pennies on a can is not much, a couple pennies times a billion is lots,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“We’re hit harder than any other state by the Canadian retaliatory tariffs,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), warning the Trump Administration against tariffs on imported automobiles, as GOP Senators labeled such actions a tax on consumers.

“Steel prices are going up – not just for foreign steel subject to tariffs, but also for U.S. steel,” complained Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

“Mexico’s buying their wheat from Argentina and their corn from Brazil,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), as he told Ross that Kansas wheat exports were encountering troubles because of new retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, bringing bad economic news on the farm report.

Ross simply told Senators if other countries put new tariffs on U.S. exports, that was out of his control.

“We have no control over what another country does in retaliation,” Ross said.

The bipartisan complaints clearly had no impact, as by Friday, President Trump was on Twitter, issuing new threats against European auto imports.

As Democrats registered their opposition, they also couldn’t help but note the oddity of a Republican President going against what’s been a bedrock belief of the GOP.

“I feel like I’ve gone down a rabbit hole,” said Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO), who said she found it hard to believe the party of free trade now had a President in office who was doing the exact opposite.

“In a chaotic and frankly incompetent manner, you’re picking winners and losers,” McCaskill told Ross.

But for the President, this is about re-setting trade deals, which he says were tilted against the United States.

“As far as trade is concerned with other countries, we want fair and reciprocal trade, we don’t want stupid trade like we had for so long,” the President said at a rally in Minnesota.

“Remember the world reciprocal,” Mr. Trump said. “We have been ripped off by almost every country on Earth, our friends and our enemies.”

“But those days are over,” the President said to cheers from the crowd.

But while they’re cheering Mr. Trump on the stump, at the U.S. Capitol, they’re worried about a trade war.

“We’re getting into a war that’s going to cost lots of billions of dollars,” Isakson warned.

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House approves big, bipartisan bill to deal with opioid crisis

Published: Friday, June 22, 2018 @ 1:25 PM

In a fresh reminder that political cooperation is not dead on Capitol Hill, the House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a sweeping package of over fifty bipartisan bills to address the misuse of prescription opioid pain medicine, as lawmakers voted to expand a variety of services under Medicare and Medicaid to deal with the drug scourge.

“We can do things when we put partisan politics aside and work together,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), one of a number of lawmakers who touted various provisions in the sweeping opioids measure.

“This particular bill, H.R. 6, is the crown jewel of all that legislation,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

“This legislation will strengthen our efforts to advance treatment and recovery issues, and bolster the fight against deadly and illicit drugs,” said Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA).

“This is a big deal in the fight against the largest public health crisis in our country,” said Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Mr. Speaker, so often we hear about the partisan wrangling in Congress and clearly there are dividing lines on some high-profile issues,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). “But this an issue where Republicans and Democrats have come together.”

The final vote was 396-14. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“Currently, Medicare doesn’t cover opioid treatment programs,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA). “These bills are pieces of a large, complex puzzle. We need to find realistic solutions with long term outcomes.”

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Trump: GOP should give up on immigration until after 2018 elections

Published: Friday, June 22, 2018 @ 7:29 AM

A day after Republicans in the House defeated one more conservative immigration reform plan, and delayed action until next week on a second bill because of a lack of GOP votes, President Donald Trump on Friday suggested a different avenue entirely – urging Republicans in Congress to drop the issue until after the November elections.

“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” the President tweeted early on Friday morning, saying the answer was simple – get more GOP lawmakers in the 2018 mid-term elections.

“Elect more Republicans in November and we will pass the finest, fairest and most comprehensive Immigration Bills anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump pledged, as he blamed Democrats and the Senate rules, which would force him to get 60 votes to do what he wants on immigration.

Mr. Trump’s suggestion came as GOP leaders were still looking for a magic legislative formula on immigration reform, as the issue has divided Republicans in both the House and Senate.

The suggestion by the President that immigration efforts are a waste of time came as Republicans were trying to fine tune a second immigration bill in the House, with hopes of approving that next week, before lawmakers go home for a July Fourth break.

Many GOP lawmakers had been hoping that the President instead would come out very publicly in favor of those efforts, and help convince some reluctant House Republicans to get on board, and vote for the plan, despite misgivings about certain provisions.

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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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