For the week ending December 15, 2017
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Congress would normally be adjourning for the year by December 15th but will stay opened for at least the early part of the week beginning December 18th in order to get a vote on HR 1, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.
There are three reasons for the delayed adjournment; the election of Democrat Doug Jones to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General. Jones, when sworn in, would give Senate Republicans one less vote leaving them with only being able to lose one vote. Should a Republican fail to support HR 1 the bill is dead. The second reason is the drive to get HR 1 passed and sent to Trump before Christmas fulfilling campaign promises and the third reason is that while the Senate continues to modify the bill it is not yet out of the Senate / House conference. That is important because until the conference votes there will be no bill for both bodies to vote on. Finally they need to either pass a budget before adjournment which is likely to be done with another Continuing Resolution to fund the government until sometime in January.
Democrats, after a meeting with Trump last month, expect that DACA will be recognized and codified by Congress as part of the budget and will not support a continuing resolution without DACA consideration.
Tax Cuts and Jobs –
As we mentioned above that bill is still being written even though the Conference Committee is still working on it. What appears to have changed is an increase from the proposed 20% tax bracket for corporations to 21% and a high-earner tax rate of 37%. What has not changed is repealing the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act.
Votes on the bill that needs 50 votes to pass along with a tie breaker from Vice President Pence are still shaky. Senator Bob Corker appears to be against the bill, Marco Rubio has signaled he will not vote for the bill if it does not raise the corporate tax break above 20% and increase the child tax credit for families. Rubio is expected to get his way but Senator John McCain who is fighting brain cancer and hospitalized is said to be in a fragile condition and it is not certain if he will show up for the Senate vote next week. There are other Senators whose vote is not certain.
Passage of the package give two political wins to Republicans and Trump; having made good on the promise to reduce taxes and repealing the individual mandate in one fell swoop. The repeal would effectively sink the ACA, cause millions to give up or otherwise be without health insurance, and bring higher premium rates.
Trump has said that Americans will begin reaping the benefits of the bill in February 2018. What he means is up for grabs; no one in a lower tax bracket will be filing then. He says there will be more money in their paychecks but did not make it clear which provision in the Tax bill will provide that.
The House is expected to vote on the conference report on Tuesday, December 19th.
Those investigations –
FOX news and other conservative media are increasing their blanket coverage aiming to undermine American’s faith in Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and / or the Trump administration and the Russian effort to undermine the election results and the sanctions on Russia that it wants relieved.
Two House committees (Intelligence and Judiciary) continue to take their investigations away from their original purpose and deeply into finding bias against Trump and for Clinton among FBI investigators. That agenda were most evident this week when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the Judiciary Committee.
Republican Committee members based their questioning on preconceived conclusions of partisan bias for which they are now seeking evidence. Last year Peter P. Strzok II an FBI counterterrorism investigator was removed from his post by Mueller when Mueller and Rosenstein discovered he was sending text messages to his lover, also an FBI employee, which vilified Trump and at least indirectly supported Hillary Clinton. While all government employees have a right to and are even encouraged to have political positions and express them in a way that is limited by the Hatch Act (Created to allow political opinions but not allow certain behaviors in the workplace) Mueller and Rosenstein acted as though Strzok’s actions could lead to claims of bias and so removed him from the investigations. What Strzok did was not illegal. What Mueller and Rosenstein did was the right thing.
What Republicans on those committees are looking to accomplish is the hiring of another special counsel to investigate Mueller and the FBI itself to determine if the agency is weighted with anti-Trump investigators and so any damning conclusions the Mueller investigation might turn up is tainted with partisan bias. This drive to delegitimize Mueller and any conclusions his investigation turns up seems inclined to be functioning on political bias itself if we look to what they are not looking at; Mueller is a Republican and FBI Director Wray donated $34,000 to Republicans during the campaigns.
On the allegations of bias and a call for an investigation Rosenstein was clear that it is his job to conduct internal investigations of such concerns and that is how Strzok was identified and removed from investigations.
As far as overseeing the Mueller investigation Rosenstein was equally as clear stating that he knows what Mueller is doing and it is appropriate and within bounds of the mandate of his investigation. Rosenstein also said if there was a problem he would have investigated it but found no grounds for such actions.
This attack on Mueller and the FBI is not likely to slow down but rather continue and the committees are getting tricky by interviewing two significant witnesses next week in New York rather than at the Capitol. The witnesses will be interviewed by Republican staff, not the Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees
More on this on our editorial page.
If the Tax Cut bill passes with the repeal of the individual mandate the revenue from those who paid penalties that support the ACA law will disappear. It is believed that those who did buy coverage to avoid the penalties will drop their policies and money spent on any who got government subsidies to cover the premiums will stay in the Treasury. Perhaps the conclusion to support such a repeal is based on another conclusion that those who will lose coverage with the mandate repeal would prefer to be without coverage and those who paid the penalties don’t want coverage anyway. No hearing were held to determine the reality there.
Roy Moore and Doug Jones –
Doug Jones, a Democrat defeated Roy Moore, a Republican in the special election in Alabama to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he left to be the Attorney General. Democrats want the Senate to hold off on the tax cut bill vote until after Jones is seated in January. They note that when Republican Scott Brown was elected to fill the seat Ted Kennedy held Brown threatened the slim majority supporting the Affordable Care Act which later was passed under reconciliation. But he was seated before the vote. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said then that he was happy there was no gamesmanship in the matter. Things apparently have changed for McConnell since then.
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The Senate and House are adjourning and will return to work on Monday, December 18th. The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published when Congress adjourns for the year. Because of a Tuesday December 19th vote on the tax cut bill the yearly adjournment date may be then or perhaps by Thursday, December 20th.
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