Editorial February 16, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Other People’s Money II

The other week we wrote about President Trump’s comments on the campaign trail that he loves using other people’s money because there is less risk. We considered his recent explanation of how he intends to make Mexico pay for the wall by imposing a 20 to 30 percent tariff on goods coming into the country, over time, the government would take in enough money to pay for that wall. So the taxpayers pay for the wall, the Treasury gets the money back and Americans are left with paying 20 to 30 percent on those goods. It appears as though the President is attempting to win the battle against Mexico’s refusal to pay for the wall and when the smoke clears it will cost individual taxpayers 20 to 30 percent for any number of goods ranging from appliances to auto parts.

Adding insult to injury House Speaker Paul Ryan would appear to be taking the President’s proposal seriously but is calling it ‘border adjustment’. Under Ryan’s plan an exporter would take a deduction on goods exported but importers would pay a tax to bring goods into the country. You might say, ‘call it what you want but it pays for the wall’ but you would be wrong; Ryan’s plan would not earmark the import taxes to cover the wall but would use the revenue to lower the corporate tax rate to 20%, he says. The Federal Budget begins with a baseline of revenues which appears to be what Ryan is targeting; he must show some effort to bring in as much as what is spent. Good Idea but, again, we end up paying the increase cost of imported goods and probably the sales tax )as long as they allow us to continue to deduct sales taxes.)

As for the wall? at this time it appears to be on the shoulders of the taxpayers. But you know, there is some dreaming going on here; the export deduction is supposed to increase exports and so jobs and the import tax is supposed to encourage outsourced US companies to come back to the country and create jobs. With all the jobs created and returning companies paying a 20% corporate tax there is supposed to be so much money flying around this economy it won’t matter is you have to pay more for goods.

More of our money.

This President has quite some skills and inclinations towards being the center of attention. That may be what we observed when he entertained the Prime Minister of Japan at his Mar a Lago club in South Florida, now referred to by the White House as the Winter White House.

It was a strange evening made stranger by the announcement of North Korea’s missile launch. The reaction to the launch was then carried out in part publicly in front of many who paid to attend the event. The security matter is one thing but there is more to consider about this unusual meeting place.

The first standout is that the President has been in office only about three weeks and has twice made the trip to South Florida for a long weekend or a holiday. You might consider that those first three weeks were filled with challenges and confusion and may well seem to the President as three months of work jammed into those three weeks but presidents don’t usually take breaks let alone out-of-town breaks so soon after being sworn in.

We can question whether or not a president needs a vacation after three weeks on the job or conclude that this is just his style; entertain a foreign minister at his plush resort. also, taking a break is not all that much of a break since he travels on Air Force 1 and Air Force 1 is about as close to a White House as one can get. So tooting off on AF1 is not really getting away from it all because it provides for the ‘all’ to be addressed on board.

Aside from Trump’s showman-like feting of the Japanese Prime Minister that could have been done in the White House Trump took to several members of his family as well as Prime Minister Abe and wife on Air Force 1.

The cost of flying Abe and wife, Trump and wife and some of Trump’s family to West Palm on the plane cost taxpayers $800,000 according to fiscal year 2015 calculations that set the plane’s operating rate at $200,000 per hour. And keep in mind that the recent trip and the three day holiday trip put the taxpayers on the hook for $1.6 million.

But Trump’s use of our money for vacation, social, and political doesn’t end with the Abe trip; he will be flying Air Force 1 to Melbourne, Florida on February 18th for a rally. It is reported that Trump has already filed with the FEC for his 2020 run for reelection and the trip to Florida is a campaign stop of which we are likely to see many of over the next four years…each costing at least $800,000 per trip for use of the plane.


Bill: Easing Russian Sanctions Would Need Congress.

Washington, DC – Today, a bipartisan group of Representatives introduced H.R. 1059, the Russia Sanctions Review Act. This legislation would require Congressional approval of any sanctions relief provided to Russia. Sponsored by Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Intelligence Subcommittee on the NSA and Cybersecurity Chairman Tom Rooney (R-FL), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA), Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA), and Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH), this legislation is a companion to an identical bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The Russia Sanctions Review Act takes as its premise that Russia must earn any relief it receives from sanctions, which were imposed both for its aggression in Ukraine and occupation of Crimea as well as for its hacking activities aimed at interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.  Similar to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, it will provide a clear check against any sanctions relief that has not been merited.

Click here for a summary of the bill.

“Russia cannot be allowed to get away scot-free after illegally annexing Crimea, supporting an armed uprising in Ukraine, and interfering in last year’s election here in the United States,” Whip Hoyer said.  “The Putin regime has shown no indication of changing its behavior. Congress must send a powerful message to the Russians that they cannot meddle in the internal affairs of our country and be rewarded for it.”

“Vladimir Putin is not an ally of America and this bipartisan bill stresses to Putin that until Russia changes its behavior, Congress will not support alleviating or lifting any sanctions on his corrupt regime,” said Rep. Rooney.

“Make no mistake: Putin is testing this new Administration,” Ranking Member Engel said. “That’s why he’s deploying missiles in defiance of a decades-old treaty, a Russian spy ship is floating off the east coast, and we’re dealing with Kremlin hacking our democracy. All the while, Russia continues its illegal occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, with violence again on the rise. The last thing the United States should do is lift sanctions, and Congress should do whatever’s necessary to ensure that doesn’t happen. This bill would allow us to play a stronger role in holding Putin accountable. So long as his aggressive behavior continues, Russia should see no relief from American sanctions.”

“On too many occasions, Russia, under the helm of Vladimir Putin, has been a menace to our national security interests at home and abroad,” said Rep. Kinzinger.  “Rewarding Putin with sanctions relief will do nothing to leverage Russia from stopping its destabilizing activities in Eastern Europe, Syria and the wider Middle East.  It is critical for Congress to have oversight of any action that rewards Russia without proper adherence to the Minsk Accords.”

“Sanctions placed on Russia by President Obama for destabilizing Eastern Ukraine and interfering in our elections should only be lifted in response to a clear change in Russian behavior,” Ranking Member Schiff said. “Though Russia’s malignant actions in Ukraine and meddling in French elections have only intensified, President Trump has nonetheless suggested he may pursue a policy of appeasement towards Russia and lift some or all of these sanctions regimes. While the President’s motives are inexplicable, Congress can prevent this catastrophic course of action by passing the bipartisan Russia Sanctions Review Act which will ensure that the Trump Administration cannot act unilaterally.”

“Each day, we learn more about secret dealings that President Trump’s confidants have had with the Russian government,” said Ranking Member Smith. “We don’t yet know the full extent of these interactions, but it would raise serious questions if the administration attempted to ease the sanctions on Russia right now. We imposed these sanctions for several reasons: To serve as a check on Russian aggression in Ukraine and the broader European region, and to dissuade Russia from its campaign to influence elections and discredit democratic values worldwide. Russian behavior remains a serious concern. Sanctions should not be relaxed at this time. Doing so would look like a reward to Putin for his meddling. Congress has a role to play, and it must exert its authority to ensure that appropriate measures are in force.”

“This bipartisan legislation will work to keep our country’s foreign policy in check as we continue to face evolving threats at home and abroad,” Rep. Turner said. “Russia’s past actions must be taken seriously as the new administration forms their foreign policy plan.”


Foreign Affairs

Syria

“The war, ongoing for six years now, has turned Syria into separate patches of land, each controlled by a warring party, the Assad regime, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Islamic State (IS), factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.  “The stability of these zones is far-fetched since this is linked to the general situation in the entire country, where there is no comprehensive solution or a political transition.” Al Monitor

Russia

“Finland is nixing real estate sales to foreign citizens buying homes and land near military bases over fears that Russia could use the purchases to acquire more than just scenic views. Finnish intelligence issued a warning in 2016 that foreign citizens had been buying up property near key military bases and that the homes could be used to quarter enemy troops in the event of a conflict. The Finnish Ministry of Justice plans to investigate real estate purchases already carried out along Finland’s border with Russia.” The Independent via Foreign Policy Magazine.

ISIS

“The US Special Operations head said Tuesday that the US and its allies had eliminated more than 60,000 ISIS fighters. “We have killed over 60,000,” Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, commander of US Special Operations command, told a symposium Maryland. Thomas oversees America’s elite Special Operations troops, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, which have played a large role in combating the terror organization, including raids against key leaders.” CNN International.


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