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Washington Report December 15, 2017

15 Dec 2017

Washington Report December 15, 2017

Tax Bill … #AtTheTable With Our DC Team … Infrastructure … Debt Drama … Senate Spoilers … Uh. Just Wow. +4 Million Views. … Rexit Coming … The Couch Caucus … Calling Putin … Lame Duck? … Epic Story of The Year … Words of the Year … Quote of the Year (Feeling Nostalgic for 2017) ….. and other news of the week.

Best,

Joyce Rubenstein

Capstone National Partners

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Tax Bill Update

WaPo “Congressional Republicans finished rewriting their massive plan to overhaul the tax code on Friday, adding in a significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit aimed at boosting benefits for low-income families.The change was added to meet demands from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who threatened on Thursday to vote against the bill unless the credit was expanded, injecting last-minute chaos into a process.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), one of the Republicans tasked with ironing out a final bill, said the credit had been expanded, particularly for low-income and working-class families.A Rubio spokeswoman said Rubio was reviewing the final measure to see if it was enough to satisfy his demands. The package is likely to become public early this evening. REMEMBER: This bill is scheduled for a vote in the early part of next week.

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#AtTheTable With Our DC Team

The entirety of the 1.7 million people across the 423 square miles inside the Beltway is waiting on Congress to announce details on the tax negotiations. If there are other issues moving or being debated (which there are), very few people are attentive to them. As Congress awaits the release of a final package, a few of the key principles have leaked out:

  • Reports indicate that the final negotiated package increased the corporate tax rate by 1%, to 21%; this is up from the House and Senate proposals but down from the current rate of 35%.
  • The corporate alternative minimum tax has reportedly been stripped from the final package. Lawmakers yielded to concerns raised by business groups about the Senate’s last-minute inclusion of the corporate alternative minimum tax.
  • The top individual income tax rate will drop to 37 percent, down from the current rate of 39.6 percent in the Senate bill and the 38.5 percent in the House bill. This lower rate will also apply to more people.
  • On SALT deductions specifically, the bill will allow individuals to choose how to use their state and local tax deduction, giving them the ability to write off up to $10,000 in property taxes, income or sales taxes paid or a combination of property and sales or property and income taxes.
  • The deal would cap the deduction for interest on mortgage debt at $750,000 for newly purchased homes. This is a higher cap than the $500,000 limit in the House bill but lower than the $1 million limit that currently exists and remains in the Senate bill.
  • The consensus bill will preserve the individual alternative minimum tax, which the House bill had eliminated and the Senate bill retained.
  • The consensus bill will keep the Senate provision to provide a tax deduction for so-called pass-through companies, whose owners pay taxes on profits through the individual code.
  • The consensus bill will retain the Senate approach to taxing multinational companies.
  • The consensus bill will allow taxpayers to continue to deduct high out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • The consensus bill will retain a provision allowing graduate students who receive tuition stipends to avoid paying taxes on that benefit.
  • The consensus bill repeals the Affordable Care Act requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty.

TIMING It is fair to say, particularly in light of the impact of this legislation, this effort is moving forward at striking speed. This is due to the political desire to accomplish a major piece of legislation before the year’s end. In order to finish the bill this year, Congressional negotiators really needed to have details of the package released today (Friday, December 15th). Until each chamber receives the text of the legislation, neither can move toward achieving their goal of passing the bill by the end of next week; effectively sending the tax bill to the President for signature before Christmas.

OUTLOOK If House and Senate negotiators are unable to strike a deal by early next week, then all bets are off. The most likely scenario in that instance would be an extension of federal funding through the Christmas holiday to try to finish work on the bill before the New Year. If deliberations move in to 2018, the road to passage becomes increasingly steep, particularly in the wake of a Democratic Senator being elected in Alabama this week.”

Infrastructure “Principles Document”

On Monday President Trump met with key transportation leaders in the Oval Office to discuss his long-awaited infrastructure proposal, which has taken a back seat to other GOP priorities in Congress this year. The White House said it plans to submit “detailed legislative principles” to Congress in early January outlining Trump’s infrastructure vision. Officials are still putting the finishing touches on the roughly 70-page document, which is expected to serve as the building block for lawmakers to write actual legislation next year. The administration has said it wants to use about $200 billion in federal seed money, along with significant permit reform and other incentives, to leverage $1 trillion worth of overall infrastructure investment in the country.

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Debt Drama

Roll Call “In the first year of the Trump administration, Capitol Hill has specialized in drama. From health care to taxes, decisions affecting large swaths of the economy have come down to the last minute. Months of wrangling over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act culminated in an ignominious defeat. Tax reform also came down to the wire in the Senate, narrowly squeaking through in a middle-of-the-night roll call. Next up, a debt limit drama could be on the way. The debt limit’s suspension quietly ended on Dec. 8, the same day policymakers chose once again to punt on negotiating a budget agreement. In what has become ordinary practice over the past seven years, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the implementation of so-called extraordinary measures — accounting maneuvers that temporarily give Treasury extra borrowing room (and thus, cash) to pay the government’s bills while operating at the debt limit. BPC’s projection is that those measures would last until March, although tax reform, spending cap adjustments, and additional disaster relief could shorten the time frame.

While policymakers have historically taken timely action, there are new reasons for concern. If this issue remains unresolved going into the new year, the upcoming “X Date” will be the first time the Trump administration and this Republican-controlled Congress have run up against the debt limit deadline with no easy out. Yes, the debt limit was extended in September, but the skids were greased by attaching it to emergency relief for Hurricane Harvey.”

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Senate Spoilers

Roll Call “Senators are preparing to completely rework the temporary spending bill needed to keep much of government open past Dec. 22. Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt said, referring to as-yet-undecided discretionary spending levels for fiscal 2018.“I would assume … a CR that goes to either early January, which would be my preference, or mid-February,” the Missouri Republican said.

Blunt said the Senate’s bill will have to be entirely different because “the House bill is not going to pass over here.”

The House GOP introduced its continuing resolution on Wednesday. The bill, which would extend current government funding until Jan. 19, includes the Defense appropriations bill the House has already voted on twice, additional funds for missile defense requested by the White House, the House’s CHIP bill and $2.1 billion to help bolster a health care program that allows veterans to seek private health care.

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Uh. Just Wow.

+4 Million Views. Brutal. — @SenWhitehouse: “MUST WATCH: Republican @SenJohnKennedy asks one of @realDonaldTrump’s US District Judge nominees basic questions of law & he can’t answer a single one. Hoo-boy.” Click Here.

Senate Panel To Consider Rules Change (after watching above video …. seriously, you can’t make this up) Roll Call … Senate Republicans are readying another rule change to the chamber, this one aimed at reducing the number of hours the chamber debates executive and judicial nominees. The Rules and Administration Committee resolution … would reduce the time the chamber debates nominees drastically from the current 30 hours after debate is cut off. High-ranking executive branch nominees and most judges or justices would get eight hours of post-cloture debate. District court nominees would get two hours of debate time.

Republicans have fumed that their Democratic colleagues have insisted on full debate time for most such nominees, although this week they have yielded time back. And it comes at a time that the Senate is setting a record for the number of appellate court judges confirmed during a president’s first year. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a former Rules and Administration chairman and now vice chairman of the GOP conference, said he was frustrated that Democrats are pushing it and that he does not think “the rules to protect the minority” should stay.

OH, THE IRONY Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., held open for more than a year the Supreme Court seat created when Antonin Scalia died so a GOP president could nominate a replacement. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed this year. And in the last Congress, dozens of judicial nominees by President Barack Obama languished without a hearing under GOP control.

It would be just the latest change to Senate tradition and longstanding rules in the last few months, and years. Republicans pushed through a rules change to cut the number of votes required to cut off debate for considering a Supreme Court nominee earlier this year. In 2013, Democrats pushed through a change that lowered the threshold to cut off debate on executive and judicial nominees.

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Paul Ryan. Lame Duck?

Politico Magazine “Paul Ryan has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker. … In recent interviews with three dozen people who know the speaker … not a single person believed Ryan will stay in Congress past 2018. Ryan’s preference has become clear. Click Here For Article

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Rexit Coming

WaPo “Inside the West Wing, several aides said people close to Trump are essentially counting down the days until Rex Tillerson leaves as secretary of state, which they guess will be in February.  MEANWHILE … Tillerson … went off script by again offering diplomatic talks with North Korea, which put him crosswise with Trump and senior White House officials, who are increasingly exasperated with Tillerson and say he cannot remain in his job for the long term.

  • “While Trump and Tillerson have clashed on several policy issues — including negotiating with North Korea, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and planning to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — much of the distance between them seems personal and probably irreversible, White House officials said . . .
  • A senior U.S. official said foreign diplomats and leaders often ask if Tillerson is speaking for the administration and when he will depart.
  • Another White House aide said White House officials, diplomats and other Cabinet secretaries largely deem the former ExxonMobil chief executive ‘irrelevant.’
  • One senior official said Trump will sometimes commend senior policy aide Stephen Miller for the time he clashed with Tillerson, or will mention disagreements Tillerson has had with other aides — and not take Tillerson’s side.
  • Tillerson’s State Department continues to clash with the White House over personnel — picks are often scuttled or delayed, officials say — and Trump would sometimes react with exasperation when the secretary’s name is brought up, other officials said.”

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CHIP

theSkimm “The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is in trouble. WHAT’S THAT? CHIP uses federal funds to provide health insurance for nearly nine million kids from low-income families that don’t qualify for Medicaid.Earlier this year, funding for the program expired. Congress has been a bit preoccupied (hello tax reform) and still hasn’t come up with a fix. Lawmakers are expected to tack CHIP funding onto a gov spending bill next week. But it’s unclear if that’s a sure thing. In the meantime, states on the verge of running out of money are starting to warn families that the program could collapse by early next year. If Congress doesn’t act, hundreds of thousands of kids with life-threatening conditions may no longer have health insurance.”

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New Year. New Rules.

theSkimm “… a federal judge said the military has to start accepting new transgender troops by January 1. Under President Obama, the military reversed a long-running ban on transgender people openly serving in the military. And required the military to accept new transgender recruits starting in 2018. But earlier this year, President Trump said, ‘let’s stop all this,’ saying transgender troops are a “disruption” and their medical expenses are too high. LGBT rights groups said ‘ummmm, that’s unconstitutional’ and sued. Earlier this year, this federal judge put the ban on hold while the issue makes its way through the courts. Now, after some legal back and forth, she’s ordering the administration to meet the January 1st recruitment deadline.”

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The Couch Caucus

(as NYTs dubbed members of Congress who live in their offices)

BuzzFeed ‘Dozens Of Members Of Congress Sleep In Their Offices. In Light Of Harassment Allegations On Capitol Hill, Some Say That Needs To Change, “For members of Congress, living in their Capitol Hill offices has long been seen as a quirky display of frugality. But a handful of politicians are coming forward to say the practice is unprofessional and needs to end. Capitol Hill may be the only workplace in the nation where dozens of offices turn into the boss’s bedroom at a certain hour. … ‘I think it is unseemly. I’m not saying that these persons are engaged in sexual harassment. It is just wrong,’ California Rep. Jackie Speier told BuzzFeed News.

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Doubting Intelligence, Trump Pursues Putin

WaPo “In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real. …But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma. AND NOW Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

… overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was “more than worth the effort.”

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

Deep Dive … Article based on interviews of more than 50 current and former U.S. officials … Click Here.

CALLING PUTIN USAToday “Russian President Vladimir Putin had some kind words for President Trump’s handling of the U.S. economy on Thursday — so Trump called Putin to personally thank him. The two sides sent out only bare-bones summaries of the afternoon phone call, but the White House version of the call noted that Trump “thanked President Putin for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance” earlier in the day.

The Russian account said Trump initiated the phone call. Politico “”The leaders talked for about 10 minutes, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t participate in the call, a White House official said. The call offered fresh evidence that Trump will continue to work with Putin, in spite of potential political liabilities.”

After nearly a year in office, Trump’s fan-boy adoration of Vladimir Putin remains baffling.

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Doug Jones Wins In Alabama

‘Oh Alabama, The Devil Fools With The Best Laid Plan’ (h/t Neil Young)

Roll Call “For the first time in more than two decades, Alabamians are sending a Democrat to the Senate. Doug Jones pulled off a stunning upset, defeating Republican nominee Roy Moore in Tuesday’s special election.

He will serve out the remaining term of former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned in February to become attorney general. Jones will be up for re-election again in 2020.

Meanwhile, Roy Moore still hasn’t conceded.  He says he’s waiting on God to step in. … In reality, all precincts have reported, and Jones received 50% of the vote to Moore’s 48%. Under Alabama law, there’s an automatic recount at the state’s expense if the results are within half a percentage point. But the gap between Jones and Moore is 1.54%, or about 20,715 votes.”

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Epic Story Of The Year

Axios “Steve Bannon would later call President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9 one of the biggest mistakes in “modern political history.” Peter Baker wrote presciently on the front page of the next day’s NYTs: “President Lands a Punch, and Many Hear Echoes of Watergate.” (Illustrated online with a 1972 Nixon pic.)

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Words Of The Year

Axios “Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism, according to the 189-year old dictionary company (now “provider of language information”), which calls it “a top lookup throughout the year”:

“Feminism spiked following news coverage of the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January (and other related marches held around the country and internationally), and follow-up discussions regarding whether the march was feminist, and what kind of feminism was represented by organizers and attendees. The word spiked again when Kellyanne Conway said during an interview that she didn’t consider herself a feminist. In this case, the definition of feminism was itself the subject of the news story — an invitation for many people to look up the word.”

“Interest in the dictionary definition of feminism was also driven by entertainment this year: we saw increased lookups after the release of both Hulu’s series The Handmaid’s Tale and the film Wonder Woman. More recently, lookups of feminism have been increasing in conjunction with the many accounts of sexual assault and harassment.”

“Today’s definitions of feminism read: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

And FROM OXFORD DICTIONARIES …its word of the year is “youthquake.” The word is defined ‘as a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” ***Interesting to note:  it’s a word nobody actually uses!

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Quote Of The Year

“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.” — Kellyanne Conway on “Meet the Press,” Jan. 22, 2017.

“Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.” — Chuck Todd to Kellyanne Conway, same show. “Alternative facts,” by Kellyanne Conway, tops a Yale Law School librarian’s list of the most notable quotes of 2017. Fred Shapiro, an associate director at the library, told AP: “I actually had to limit the amount of Trump-related quotations on the list so as not to have the list overwhelmed by him.”

The yearly list is an update to “The Yale Book of Quotations,” first published in 2006. Shapiro chooses quotes that are famous or revealing of the spirit of the times — not necessarily eloquent or admirable.”

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Daily News “ISIS fanatic detonates suicide bomb in Times Square subway station, but plot … BLEW UP IN HIS FACE”

CNN “It was the latest lone wolf attack to target New York City. And it might have been worse. A man wearing a homemade pipe bomb set off the explosive in a busy transit hub on Monday, injuring five and setting off panic during the morning commute.

Authorities said the explosion in a walkway below Port Authority Bus Terminal was an isolated attempted terrorist attack.

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