for the week ending December 1, 2017
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The race to the Christmas break begins with Congress aiming mostly for passage of the tax reform / cuts package one version passed in the House and the Senate version still on the floor. But that is not all that has to be done; the debt limit vote must be made by December 15th as per a previous deal between Trump and congressional Democrats, funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired on September 20th giving States only a few months (less for some States) before they have to end benefits. The House passed its bill without Democrat support some weeks back. Democrats objected to the bill’s offsets.
The big ticket is the congressional budget that must be passed or a continuing resolution must be passed or the government will begin the process of shutting down.
The Senate bill repeals the Obamacare individual mandate requiring everyone to buy health insurance. Should the bill pass CBO has calculated that the deficit will be reduced by around $350 billion but at least three million will lose health insurance coverage with the number rising to over ten million as if premiums rise.
Those Investigations –
The plot is thickening or maybe not but it appears that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is interviewing individuals closer and closer to the White House inner circle while Mueller doggedly pursues his mission to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and the possibility of collusion between Trump and / or his campaign or White House staff with Russian operatives. This week’s speculation about Mueller’s tightly run investigations is that former Trump National Security Advisor Ret. Gen. Michal Flynn has met with the Mueller team and has notified White House counsel that he will no longer be discussing the matter with them.
Mueller will also interview Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner regarding Flynn and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees also intend to interview Kushner behind closed doors.
Jeff Sessions again appeared before the House panel but did not answer the question if he had discussions with Trump about Russian meddling.
As an indication that Mueller is getting close to his investigative goals conservative media has definitely ramped up its vilifying Mueller by suggesting; he is a close friend of James Comey, the FBI Director fired by Trump, and cannot then be objective, he is a Democrat and has hired Democrat-leaning attorneys to work on his investigation, and that he dropped the ball years back when a deal was being struck for Russia to take 20% of US nuclear waste.
Most vocal was Shawn Hannity of FOX News who insists that Mueller is not capable of objectivity and should resign immediately. Mueller is not without his support among Republicans particularly in the Senate where the attitude is that he is respectively above suspicion and to just let him do his job.
In addition to passing the bill requiring civil right training for Members the House took up several public land bills renaming a couple of peaks, adding some offshore (Alabama) islands as part of a National Resource, and adding land to be held in trust for Indian tribes.
The House also passed a bill requiring mental testing for law enforcement and passed as did a bill to change the terminology used to describe the racial background or place of origin of people in regulations, and $250 million over 4 years to provide grants for brownfield cleanup.
Tax Reform / Cuts –
Senators agreed on party lines (52-48) to proceed with debate on HR 1, the House-passed tax reform bill. What follows is 20 hours of debate divided between both sides, any number of amendments any of which must be considered if they are germane to the bill. Vote on passage is likely after Monday December 4th.
If the bill passes as amended it will go to the House. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) signaled two weeks back that the House would not just agree to the Senate version. If that is still his position the bill will go to a Senate / House conference to iron out differences and then back to both bodies for a final vote.
Media and those in opposition of both bills hold that it is a gift to the wealthy and corporations at the expense of middle-class Americans.
One of the things that stand out about the bill is that the tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals are made permanent while breaks for individuals will expire in three to ten years depending on the House or Senate version. That was done because if the individual breaks were made permanent the addition to the deficit would trigger a Sequester from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Media and those in opposition to both bills hold that it is a gift to the wealthy and corporations at the expense of middle-class Americans. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office in ten years people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut.
Perhaps the real danger in this bill is the potential for it triggering Sequester rules that kick in when a bill raises the deficit or spends beyond caps that were established in the Sequester of 2013 and those calculations are tricky’ “Without enacting subsequent legislation to either offset that deficit increase, waive the recordation of the bill’s impact on the scorecard, or otherwise mitigate or eliminate the requirements of the PAYGO law, OMB would be required to issue a sequestration order within 15 days of the end of the session of Congress to reduce spending in fiscal year 2018 by the resultant total of $136 billion. However, the PAYGO law limits reductions to Medicare to four percentage points (or roughly $25 billion for that year), leaving about $111 billion to be sequestered from the remaining mandatory accounts. Because the law entirely exempts many large accounts including low-income programs and social security, the annual resources available from which OMB must draw is, in CBO’s estimation, only between $85 billion to $90 billion, significantly less than the amount that would be required to be sequestered.” – cbo
Should OMB move forward with a Sequester the options are to raise taxes (not likely in a tax cut bill) or reduce spending. Republicans have tinkered with options to replace Medicare and reorganize Medicaid such that States have more say in how fewer dollars are spent but under Sequester rules, as noted above, the depth of cuts to those programs is limited directing attention to other entitlement programs.
The final concern about the bill responds to the assertion that freeing up $1.5 trillion will stimulate the economy big time and pay down the enormous debt the bill creates. Economists doubt if there is enough stimulation to absorb such a debt. Many others argue that this is yet another ‘trickle down’ effort through which the money released to the wealthy and corporations will cause them to invest in business and so create jobs. The idea of something trickling down suggests a small stream and we had such a situation with the Reagan tax cuts and those of George W. Bush. Reagan’s cuts may have helped the country crawl out of stagflation and the Bush cuts either stimulated the economy or coincided with an economic upturn caused by other reasons. In the end neither produced the predicted growth or sustained what growth happened at those times.
More about this bill on our front page.
Not this week.
The Senate and House are Adjourning and will return to work on Monday, December 4th. The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening December 7th.
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