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Republicans to unveil tax reform bill
After a one-day delay, House Republicans are set to unveil their tax bill today, the first step towards achieving a large-scale overhaul of the U.S. tax code. According to CNN, the bill "is expected to expand the child tax credit, repeal the estate tax, lower the corporate tax rate and reduce the number of individual tax brackets from seven to four."
Even after its release, more changes to the legislation's framework are still likely, as some rank-and-file Republicans remain hesitant towards the bill. House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) made a key concession at the last minute when he promised to preserve the State and Local Tax (SALT) Deduction after the original plan to roll it back met protests from Republicans representing high-tax states, including New York and New Jersey. Changes will still be made to the property tax deduction; it remains unclear if the dissenting lawmakers, who want the deduction fully preserved, have been won over. Discussion over the legislation has occurred largely behind closed doors, and many Republican members will see the bill text for the first time today, in a meeting scheduled just before the public release.
With the reversal on SALT, GOP negotiators were left scrambling to find out how to pay for the legislation's promised $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, as the change left them "hundreds of billions dollars short," according to Politico. On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted his support for a proposal that would tie health care to tax reform, repealing Obamacare's individual mandate to help pay for the proposed tax cuts. "Wouldn't it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts for the Middle Class," he said in a series of two tweets. "The House and Senate should consider ASAP as the process of final approval moves along. Push Biggest Tax Cuts EVER." The White House soon backed away from that proposal, which has been pushed by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) but dismissed by GOP leadership.
Although the Trump Administration has been party to negotiations over the bill, not all of the President's proposals will make it into the bill. According to ABC News, the legislation will limit how much individuals can anually contribute tax-free to their 401(k) accounts, despite President Trump's tweet promising that no changes would be made to the retirement accounts. The White House was pushing to keep the current maximum limit ($18,000), while Brady and other House Republicans were hoping to lower the limit to $2,400. The bill is expected to lower the limit to an amount about halfway between the current limit and Brady's initial proposal.
In addition, another one of Trump's key promises, lowering the corporate tax rate to 20%, will only be temporary, to ensure that the bill can pass the Senate under the rules of the reconciliation process, which make certain restrictions but ensures legislation won't be subject to a Democratic filibuster. Republicans are even having difficulty agreeing on a name for the bill, ABC reported, with House Republicans pushing back on President Trump's idea: "the Cut Cut Cut Act." The President is reportedly insistent that the legislation be given his proposed branding, although Brady and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) are opposed to that title.
Trump responds to New York attack
Despite refusing to discuss politics immediately after the mass shooting in Las Vegas last month, President Donald Trump has already jumped into a policy debate in the days after a terrorist attack in New York killed eight people this week.
In a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Trump seemed to pin blame over the attack on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), criticizing the Diversity Visa Loan program that Schumer helped craft in 1990. Trump referred to the program as "Democrat Lottery Systems" and "a Chuck Schumer beauty" on Twitter, although it was created by bipartisan legislation signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
At a Cabinet meeting later in the day, Trump announced that he was urging Congress to "move to a merit-based system" instead of the current program, which distributes about 50,000 visas to nations with low rates of immigration to the United States. "I am, today, starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program," Trump said. "I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program," he continued, adding that the diversity lottery "sounds nice" but "it hasn't been good and we have been against it." Sayfullo Saipov, the suspected New York attacker, entered the United States from Uzbekistan after being approved through the diversity lottery.
Schumer responded on Twitter, invoking the White House's comments after the Las Vegas massacre: "I guess it's not too soon to politicize a tragedy." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also came to the Democrat's defense, pointing out that the bipartisan 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill that Schumer supported would have introduced a merit-based system and removed the diversity lottery program. "I know, I was there," Flake tweeted, in response to Trump's messages. Both Schumer and Flake were members of the group behind the Gang of Eight bill, which passed the Senate but never received a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
President Trump also referred to other immigration policy changes on Twitter, announcing on Tuesday that he "just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program" and repeating on Wednesday that the U.S. "will be immediately implementing much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures." Although Trump did not offer any other details, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders outlined his proposals at her daily press briefing.
On Wednesday night, also inserted himself into the debate over Saipov's punishment, tweeting that the suspect "SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY," a message he repeated this morning, despite the prospect that the defense attorneys could use to the tweets to argue that their client won't get a fire trial due to the President's involvement. Earlier on Wednesday, Trump called the U.S. criminal justice system "a joke" and "a laughingstock," expressing openness to sending Saipov to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cua.
The President's Day
In the morning, President Donald Trump meets with Republican senators; according to Politico, they will "hash out details of a potential legislative measure on so-called Dreamers," discussing the possibility of reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he ended, in exchange for border security legislation.
In the afternoon, he "makes a job announcement."
Later in the afternoon, the President meets with House Republican leaders and GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee on tax reform.
Finally, Trump announces his nominee for Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Trump is expected to tap Fed governor Jerome Powell for the post; according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the selection, Powell is "likely to combine continuity on interest-rate policy with perhaps a lighter touch on financial regulation." Powell was one of five finalists for the post, including sitting chairwoman Janet Yellen, who Trump is replacing in a break with precedent. Politico described Powell as "a safe pick," although "he was not the first choice of conservatives on Capitol Hill and inside the administration."
Today in Congress
The Senate continues its blitz of judicial confirmations today, voting to confirm the nomination of Allison Eid to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit and to advance the nomination of Stephanos Bibas to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit.
The House will vote on the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act, which would repeal Obamacare's Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was created to make changes to Medicare.