Originally Published: 11/18/2017
Tax Cuts: The House and Senate are still working on separate bills. More is coming to light and it’s really ugly. But Republicans are admitting that the whole thing is done for the benefit of their donors. Rep. Chris Collins (R, NY) tweeted, “My donors are basically saying, “Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” (Common Dreams) Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC) said that financial contributions to the GOP will stop if they don’t pass the tax cuts. (The Hill) Since the tax cuts will lead to a $1.5 trillion deficit over the next decade, they must cut spending somewhere to offset it in order to pass the Senate under the reconciliation process which only requires a simple 51 votes and is not subject to a filibuster. If they can’t come up with the offset, the bill will be subject to filibuster, meaning they’d need 60 votes to pass it. What they’re doing to eliminate that deficit is different in the House and Senate.
House Bill: Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he would “not accept elimination of a federal deduction for state and local taxes.” He was referring to the State and Local Taxes (SALT) deduction. (Reuters) This is being proposed by the Senate but the House just “scaled back” the deduction to $10,000. (NY Times) The plan also “caps mortgage interest, property tax write-offs, and cuts personal exemptions while raising tax rates for middle-income earners” and it cuts medical expense write-offs. (Forbes) It also preserves the $15 billion tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry but it slashes incentives for renewable energy and the electric car industry. (Mother Jones) The House passed the bill on Thursday 227 to 205. 13 Republicans voted against it. No Democrats voted for it. All but 1 of the Republicans who voted against it are from New York, New Jersey, and California - high tax states - lawmakers opposed to the bill because of the SALT roll-back. (NY Times) 6 are in competitive races in 2018 and 11 are being targeted by Democrats. (Roll Call)
Senate Bill: The Senate Finance Committee voted 14 to 12 along party lines to pass its tax cut bill. (NY Times) It repeals the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) mandate and makes the individual tax cuts temporary, but the corporate tax cuts will be permanent. (Washington Post) It also has “a trigger that will automatically slash some half a trillion dollars from Medicare over the coming decade” although it does not, like the House plan, cut medical expense write-offs. And all those tax cuts for the upper class? Well, there’s a limit to those, too. The Senate is changing the rules for taxing stock options. Current law only taxes stock profits when the employees actually exercise their options. The Senate wants to tax the options when the employees vest with the companies even though they have not yet earned the right to exercise the options. (Mercury News) The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed legislation that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) open to drilling and that bill was attached to the tax cut bill. (Vox) This plan is opposed by major industry groups representing insurers, hospitals, and doctors, who sent a letter to Congress (CNBC) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about 13 million people would lose their insurance coverage and middle-class families would see premium increases of nearly $2,000. Senator Ron Johnson (R, WI) and Susan Collins (R, ME) are opposed to bill as it stands right now. (Reuters)
Corporate Tax Cuts: Make no mistake. The tax cuts included in the GOP plans are not just for American corporations. And while they want to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% there’s a boon for multi-national corporations. They’re proposing to discount the rate to 14% to get corporations to bring their money back to the U.S. “Apple alone has secreted more than $252 billion offshore. Everyone from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to Ivy League Colleges have moved their money away from U.S. taxation.” (Forbes) According to Public Citizen, this amounts to nearly $75 billion for 8 tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft. Apple gets the biggest share at $47.1 billion on that $75 billion.
Individual Tax Cuts: The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released a report saying that the Senate’s plan will raise taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next 10 years. The Washington Post has a good graphic of how the federal tax rate will change over the next 10 years. The NY Times put up an interesting graphic of the tax increases and cuts for the various earner groups. More than 400 billionaires and millionaires sent a letter to Congress urging them not to cut their taxes. (Washington Post)
Don Jr. and WikiLeaks: It has now come to light that Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr., received private Twitter direct mail messages from WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign “at the same time the website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials.” He did not respond to the messages, “but he alerted senior advisers on his father’s campaign, including his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner.” (Washington Post) This was going on at the same time that VP Pence denied the campaign was “in cahoots” with WikiLeaks. (Washington Post) Don Jr. released the messages. As CNN explained, the communications between Don Jr. and WikiLeaks proves that WikiLeaks was a Russian intermediary to help the Trump campaign. If you need a chuckle, John Oliver has a nice summary of what we’ve learned so far. (You Tube)
Jeff Sessions: If you remember, during Jeff Sessions’ hearings for confirmation as Attorney General he denied having spoken with any Russian agents during the campaign. This week, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said that he now remembers adviser George Papadopoulos (TWW, George Papadopoulos, 11/4/17; Russian Connection, 8/26/17) saying that he knew people who might be able to help arrange a Trump-Putin meeting. (Washington Post)
Russian Connection: Reuters did some investigation and found that at least 63 individuals “with Russian passports or addresses” have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in 7 Trump-branded luxury towers in Florida.
Alex Azar: He’s Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to replace Tom Price. (TWW, Tom Price, 9/30/17) Azar served as general counsel and as deputy secretary for HHS under Dubya. (Roll Call) But Azar served for 5 years as president of Lilly USA, “the largest affiliate of global biopharmaceutical leader Eli Lilly and Company.” In public statements, he was clear that he is “opposed to measures to restrain prescription companies’ profiteering and limit improper marketing, while favoring weaker safety approval standards.” (Common Dreams)
Brett Talley: This judicial nominee (TWW, Brett Talley, 11/11/17) did not disclose in his written Senate questionnaire that he is married to Annie Donaldson, chief of staff to White House counsel Donald McGahn. He said he had no “real or potential conflict or relationships that could give rise to the appearance of conflict.” (Washington Post)
Don Willett: This Texas supreme court judge is Trump’s pick for a federal appeals court. Willett has questioned “the need for laws protecting women against discrimination.” (Think Progress)
India: A 49-day “noxious blanket” of smog enveloped New Delhi. Even United Airlines has canceled flights there. (Washington Post) Officials planned to spray water over the city. (EcoWatch)
Poland: Polish Independence Day festivities were interrupted by white nationalist protesters marching down the streets of Warsaw, carrying banners that read “White Europe, Europe must be white” and “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust.” (CNN)
Puerto Rico: Governor Ricardo Rosselló has asked Congress for $94.4 billion for Hurricane Maria recovery. (PBS)
UK: The United Kingdom launched a 2-week campaign to get people to surrender unlawfully-held firearms, including trophies of war and those in the hands of criminal gangs. (ITV)
Zimbabwe: The military seized power “saying it was holding President Robert Mugabe and his family safe while targeting ‘criminals’ in the entourage of the only ruler the county has known in its 37 years of independence.” (Reuters)
Net Neutrality: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai is going to hold a vote in December killing net neutrality. (Bloomberg) Better get on the phone.
Guns: A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to strengthen reporting to the national background check system. John Cornyn (R, TX), Chris Murphy (D, CT), Tim Scott (R, SC), and Richard Blumenthal (D, CT) introduced it. (The Hill) This is really needed. Americans own at least 265 million firearms, “which gives Americans the highest rate of per capita firearm ownership in the world, with about 1 gun for every American.” However, not every American owns a gun, so the ownership is more highly concentrated. According to a 2015 survey, “Most of America’s gun owners have relatively modest collections, with the majority of gun owners having an average of just 3 guns, and nearly half owning just 1 or 2.” The scary news is that just 3% of American adults own a collective 133 million firearms, half of our total gun stock. “These owners have collections that range from 8 to 140 guns. . . Their average collection: 17 guns each.” (Guardian)
Student Debt: Students who prove they were defrauded can get their student loans forgiven through the Borrower Defense to Repayment program. But currently there are 87,000 applications for debt relief pending at the Department of Education. (Washington Post) Senators Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) and Richard Durbin (D, IL) have issued a report on the backlog of applications. It’s clear Secretary Betsy DeVos is deliberately holding up relief for these defrauded students.
ACA: The IRS is starting to enforce, for the first time, the Affordable Care Act’s law that employers offer insurance. “Thousands of businesses - many of them small or midsize - will soon receive a letter saying that they owe the government money because they failed to offer their workers qualifying health insurance.” (NY Times)
Digital Pill: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a digital pill, “a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine.” It’s estimated that the costs of not taking prescribed medications costs the U.S. about $1 billion a year. (NY Times)
Fossil Fuels: The burning of fossil fuels around the world “is set to hit a record high in 2017 . . . following 3 years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached.” (Guardian)
Keystone Oil Spill: Just days before the final approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Keystone pipeline running from Canada across the Great Plains leaked, spilling a reported 5,000 barrels of oil, about 210,000 gallons. This occurred just northeast of Amherst, South Dakota. (Washington Post)
Plastics: Animals from the “deepest places on Earth” have been found with plastic in their stomachs, “confirming fears that manmade fibers have contaminated the most remote places on the planet.” (Guardian)
Big Game Hunting: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the lifting of the ban on the importation of remains from elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia. (Independent) If you remember, Trump’s sons are big game hunters. (Daily Mail) Then Trump reversed that decision in a tweet. (NY Times)
CFPB: Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is stepping down. “Cordray’s resignation will give President Trump an opportunity to reshape an agency that oversees a significant portion of the financial industry. It comes less than a month after the agency suffered a stunning rebuke when Congress voted to block one of its most aggressive regulations allowing consumers to sue their banks.” (Washington Post)