Congress

Commentary & Community

Can President Trump’s Immigration Reform Succeed?

 

Immigration played a big part in President Trump’s first State of the Union Address this week. It appears, however, that neither Democrats nor Republicans are pleased with what the president wants to do on this highly controversial topic.

 

In late January, the president released four principles that outline how he would like to see the nation’s immigration laws changed:

  • Spend $25 billion to set up a trust fund for a border wall security system
  • Provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million individuals (known as “Dreamers”) who were covered by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or who were eligible for that program
  • End the ability of immigrants to sponsor family members for entry to the U.S., except for spouses and minor children
  • Eliminate the visa lottery system

 

When President Trump discussed this plan during his speech before both houses of Congress, it received a mixed reaction. Democrats are steadfastly opposed to any attempts to end what they call “family reunification” and what the president calls “chain migration.” Neither side can even agree on what this type of immigration should be called. Many congressional Democrats said that they will reject any immigration deal that has this as a provision, regardless of what else is in the package.

 

On the Republican side, some conservatives are labeling as “amnesty” the proposal to provide citizenship to DACA recipients. They note that this path to citizenship affects far more people than was proposed under President Obama. Some observers charge that the president is breaking his anti-amnesty pledge that played such a large role in his campaign.

 

With both liberals and conservatives in Congress opposed to major parts of the president’s plan, it is unclear what will emerge from the legislative process. It is possible that there will be no plan that can achieve the support of the majority. This will leave current immigration laws intact, but will also mean an end to the DACA program. This initiative, put forth under President Obama, protected from deportation some illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump’s cancellation of this program goes into effect in March.

 

Do you support President Trump’s deal to curtail legal immigration and give citizenship to Dreamers? Do you think that ending family reunification immigration is too big of a price to pay for Dreamer citizenship? Or is the president breaking his campaign promise and supporting amnesty for 1.8 million illegal immigrants?

 

The Government is Open – For Now

 

After a shutdown that lasted for a weekend and one workday, the federal government is re-open and running. However, two large questions remain after this brief shutdown: Will Congress hold a vote that provides “Dreamers” protection from deportation? And, will the government shut down again after the short-term funding bill expires in February?

 

Dreamers

 

A solid block of Democratic senators voted against a government funding bill on January 19. Needing to reach a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have sufficient votes to advance this bill through the Senate. What followed was a brief shutdown.

 

The Democrats were upset that this funding measure did not resolve the situation of individuals covered under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These individuals, known as “Dreamers,” were brought to the country illegally by their parents. President Obama issued an order giving some of them protection from deportation. President Trump revoked that directive, and asked Congress to act on legislation that would codify legal protection.

 

When President Trump, Congressional Republicans, and Congressional Democrats could not agree on the details of a DACA bill, Democrats in the House and Senate voted against short-term funding legislation. After days of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reversed course upon assurances by Sen. McConnell that a bill containing DACA protections would be brought to the floor of the Senate for consideration. Sen. McConnell also said this bill would include other immigration measures.

 

A Long-Term Funding Fix

 

The measure approved by the Senate only provides funding for the government through February 8.

 

With Congress failing to pass individual appropriations bills to fund the various federal agencies, the operations of the federal government are dependent on either continuing resolutions (which fund the government at the previous year’s levels) or omnibus appropriations bills (which combine smaller spending bills into one larger bill).

 

For the federal government to continue operating past February 8, the House and Senate must pass either another continuing resolution or an omnibus appropriations bill. Efforts to do this are complicated by spending limits that are in place due to the 2013 sequester legislation. That agreement put caps on defense and discretionary spending. These caps can be lifted, and have been in the past. But there is no agreement among members of the two parties on how to lift the caps for this fiscal year (which began on October 1, 2017).

 

It seems unlikely that such an agreement can be reached by early February. That means that there will be another short-term continuing resolution to give congressional negotiators more time to accomplish this.

 

What do you think about the government shutdown? What path should Congress take on immigration and spending?

 

Will Trump and Congress Make a Dreamer Deal?

 

President Trump and Congress may be close to making a deal on immigration. Or they may not. It depends on how one interprets what happened earlier this week.

 

The president met with a group of Republican and Democratic members of Congress on Tuesday to discuss the fate of children covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. These children, known as “Dreamers,” were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. There is bipartisan agreement that Congress should take some steps to protect them from deportation. President Trump has also said he favors legislation on this issue. The sticking point is whether any such legislation should also be tied to further immigration reform.

 

While the original intent was for the meeting between the president and congressional leaders to be behind closed doors, the participants opened it up to the press. What occurred was an hour-long discussion of what President Trump, congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats want to do about immigration.

 

President Trump has long held that any attempts to solve the Dreamer issue must be tied to other immigration reform measures, such as a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Congressional Democrats have pushed for a “clean” DACA bill with no other immigration provisions attached.

 

During Tuesday’s meeting, the president seemed inclined to agree with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) when she said she wanted a clean DACA bill, saying “We’re going to come up with DACA, and then we could start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive.”

 

Congressional Republicans pushed back on that suggestion, and the president later clarified that he still wants border security included as part of any DACA legislation.

 

President Trump has set March 5 as the deadline when President Obama’s executive order providing protection to Dreamers expires. Congressional Republicans said that they want to see legislation completed by then. It is unclear whether or not there can be bipartisan consensus on what else should be included in such a bill. Some Republicans are pushing for wider immigration restrictions, such as ending the diversity lottery. Democrats have said they would support some funding for border security, but not money for constructing a wall.

 

This meeting did show that there is broad agreement on some immigration priorities, but there is also sharp disagreement on how to achieve those priorities. And, as always, there remains a wide gulf on immigration issues that do not involve the Dreamers. One thing is clear – immigration will be a significant issue for Congress and the president in 2018.

 

Do you support congressional action to allow Dreamers to stay in the country? Do you think that any legislation to deal with Dreamers should also have funding for a border wall?

 

“Dreamers,” Government Funding Face Congress in 2018

 

With a flurry of activity on taxes to end 2017, members of Congress took a short break over the Christmas season. This week, however, legislators return to Washington, D.C. They will be taking up a variety of important issues that could reinforce the already sharp partisan divisions in Congress:

 

Funding the Government – Before leaving for their holiday recess, members of Congress passed a measure that temporarily funds the federal government. This avoided a government shutdown over Christmas, but only runs until January 19. Either Congress must pass an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year or another series of short-term continuing resolutions that provide funding over a limited time-frame.

 

“Dreamers” – Last year President Trump reversed the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but he also called on Congress to do something about the “Dreamers,” children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. There is bipartisan support to pass legislation to deal with children in this category, but no consensus yet on what the details should be. The president wants action on Dreamers tied to funding for a wall on the Mexican border, something that congressional Democrats reject.

 

Entitlement Reform – Republicans in the House of Representatives have said they would like to focus on reforming entitlement programs like welfare and Medicaid. Changes to these programs could result in significant budget savings over the long run, but Democrats worry about how these changes may affect people who depend on the programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also been cool to any talk of debating entitlement reform in the Senate.

 

Infrastructure – President Trump has repeatedly said he would like to see more money put into an infrastructure improvement program. Some Republicans are wary of a large new government spending program, but this could be an area where the president works with Democrats to advance his agenda in the new year.

 

Disaster Relief – The House of Representatives passed legislation to provide aid in response to hurricanes and wildfires last year. The Senate failed to act before 2017 ended, however.

 

Children’s Health Insurance – Congress passed temporary funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but this funding only lasts through March. There is a bipartisan push to provide a more permanent funding fix for this program.

 

What do you think Congress should focus on in 2018?

 

Congress Key Votes – Taxes, Spending, Class-Action Lawsuits, “She Persisted”

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

U.S. House Bill 1, Reduce tax rates and eliminate some deductions: Passed 51 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on December 2

To set new federal income tax rates (10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 38.5%) to replace the current tax rates (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%), increase the standard deduction ($12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000 for joint filers), eliminate the mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance, increase the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, cut the corporate income tax rate from 39% to 20% starting in 2019, authorize a 23 percent deduction for income from smaller businesses whose earnings are taxed at the owner's individual tax rate, double the estate tax exemption, and more. The individual income tax provisions sunset in 2025.

 

U.S. House Bill 1, House version of federal income tax cuts and reform: Passed 227 to 205 in the U.S. House on November 16

To create four new federal income tax rates (12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6%) that would replace the seven current rates (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%), increase the standard deduction (to $12,200 for single filers, $18,300 for heads of household, and $24,400 for joint filers), eliminate a deduction for state and local tax payments (except homeowners could still deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes), limit the mortgage interest deduction to loans under $500,000, increase a child tax credit from $1,000 to $1,600, cut the corporate income tax rate from 39% to 20% starting in 2020, cut and phase-out the federal estate tax, and more.

 

U.S. House Bill 601, Fund disaster-related programs, raise the debt ceiling: Passed 316 to 90 in the U.S. House on September 8 and 80 to 17 in the Senate on September 7

To provide $7.4 billion in direct funding for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief, $450 million to the Small Business Administration’s disaster loans program, and $7.4 billion in general disaster spending. As “emergency” spending, this funding is exempt from budget controls aimed at controlling the deficit. The bill also raises the federal debt limit and funds federal government operations for another three months.

 

U.S. House Bill 985, Restrict class action lawsuits: Passed 220 to 201 in the U.S. House on March 9

To prohibit lawyers from bringing class action lawsuits unless the individuals in the lawsuit have suffered the same type and scope of injury. The bill also mandates that lawyers who successfully bring class action lawsuits get paid only after the victims collect any damage awards.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 57, Affirm Senator Warren broke Senate rules: Passed 49 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 7

To uphold the ruling of the chair that Senator Elizabeth Warren broke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Senator Warren had been reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump had nominated to be Attorney General. The chair had ruled that by reading certain sections of this bill, Sen. Warren had disparaged her colleague, Sen. Sessions.

 

Senate Advances Tax Legislation

 

At 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Senate voted 51-49 in favor of legislation that would reshape the nation’s tax code. The Republicans who supported this bill say that it will provide much-needed tax relief for families and boost the economy. Democrats contend that it is a giveaway to the rich that will dramatically increase the deficit.

 

Here are some of the major provisions in this tax bill:

  • Retains the current seven tax brackets, but reduces the top marginal rate to 38.5% and cuts rates in other brackets
  • The standard deduction increases to $12,000 from $6,500 for single filers, $18,000 from $9,500 for heads of households, and $24,000 from $12,500 for joint filers
  • Increases the child tax credit to $2,000 from $1,000
  • The phase-out for the child tax credit starts at $500,000 (compared to $110,000 today)
  • Lowers the corporate income tax rate to 20% from 35% starting in 2019
  • Creates a higher exemption for the corporate minimum tax
  • Exempts $11.2 million from the estate tax, up from $5.6 million now
  • Repeals the individual health insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare

 

The individual income tax changes are set to expire in 2025. This was done to give the bill a more favorable budget score, which helps ease passage. Some observers expect that these provisions of the bill would be made permanent in the future, since members of Congress will be hesitant to allow (in effect) a tax increase to tax place upon their expiration. However, there is no guarantee that this will occur.

 

All Senate Democrats opposed it. Every Senate Republican except Bob Corker of Tennessee supported it.

 

The Senate bill differs in some key respects from the House tax cut legislation. These differences must be resolved in a conference committee, then the same bill must be passed by both house of Congress and signed by the president. Given the commitment by Republicans in both branches, this process should proceed fairly quickly. It is also possible that the House of Representatives could pass the Senate version of the bill. Whatever happens, it is likely that President Trump will have tax legislation on his desk to sign before the end of the year.

 

Do you support the tax cuts in the Senate bill? Or do you think that this legislation is the wrong way to reform the tax code?

 

Keystone XL Pipeline Moving Forward

 

After years of delay, the Keystone XL Pipeline cleared its last significant regulatory hurdle. TransCanada is now free to complete its controversial multi-billion pipeline project.

 

This final approval came when the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval for TransCanada to build the pipeline through that state. On a 3-2 vote, the PSC supported an alternate route for the Keystone XL Pipeline instead of TransCanada’s first choice. This new route will not go through the state’s Sandhill region.

 

President Obama had stopped this project at the federal level. TransCanada initially applied for a federal permit in 2008 to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S./Canadian border. In 2015, Congress passed legislation that would authorize the construction of the pipeline. President Obama vetoed this bill. Later that year, he rejected TransCanada’s application to build. President Trump reversed this action when he took office, clearing the way for Nebraska’s consideration of the issue.

 

Business and labor groups support the pipeline, saying that it will create jobs and provide the U.S. with a reliable supply of oil. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because it will be carrying petroleum from oil sands in Canada. They also have concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on Nebraska’s water supply.

 

Approval of the alternate route means that TransCanada will have to devise new agreements with landowners, something that will further delay the pipeline’s completion. However, barring any court challenges, the fight over the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline appears to be over.

 

Do you support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

 

Tax Plan May Axe Individual Mandate

 

If Senate Republicans get their way, Americans may not only see their taxes cut, but they may also be free from the federal mandate to buy health insurance. Depending on your views about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, this is either a win-win situation or a sneaky move to end health care for millions of Americans.

 

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have been busy writing their version of a tax bill for consideration by the full Senate. Among traditional tax reforms such as cutting rates, they also included a provision to end the Obamacare mandate that punishes taxpayers who do not have health insurance.

 

This “individual mandate” is designed as a tax administered by the Internal Revenue Service. In a 2012 case, the Supreme Court upheld this provision of the law on the grounds that it was not a true mandate to purchase a product, but a tax on those who did not purchase it.

 

Ending the individual mandate will not only kill a vital part of Obamacare, a key Republican legislative priority, it will also ease the path for deeper tax cuts. Due to budget rules, this tax legislation can only add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. An individual mandate repeal would produce an estimated $338 billion in new federal revenue over the next decade. That new revenue could be offset with more tax cuts.

 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this new revenue will be available because fewer people will purchase health insurance, thus saving the federal government money that it would otherwise spend on subsidies. This has Democrats upset. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) tweeted, “Senate GOP just added provision to their tax plan that would gut ACA & kick 13M ppl off insurance. Yes, it's same tax plan that would add $1 trillion+ to deficit while giving majority of benefits to corporations & the rich.”

 

Tax reform must pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by the president. The tax reform bill proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives does not include a repeal of the individual mandate. President Trump has expressed support for including the repeal as part of the tax package.

 

Do you think that the tax reform bill should also repeal the individual health insurance mandate? Or are Republicans hurting Americans’ health care with the mandate’s repeal?

 

Tax Cuts May Be Coming

 

On Thursday, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a blueprint for tax reform. While details will change as the bill makes its way through Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady’s outline appears to have broad support among Republicans. The “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” is likely to be very close to what actually emerges if Congress passes a tax bill this year.

 

Here are a few of this bill’s changes to the current code: (more complete details are available from the Tax Foundation here):

  • Reduce tax brackets from seven to four
  • Increase the standard deduction from $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers, $9,350 to $18,000 for heads of households, and $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filers
  • Repeal itemized deductions except for mortgage interest, charitable, and property tax deductions (property tax deduction would be capped at $10,000)
  • Cap the mortgage interest deduction for new home purchases at $500,000 of principle
  • End the alternative minimum tax
  • Replace the exemption for dependents with a higher child tax credit, and increase the amount of income taxpayers could earn before this credit is phased out
  • Lower the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 20%
  • Repeal the estate tax after 6 years, and in the meantime increase the amount of the estate exempt from tax to $10 million (indexed for inflation)

 

Due to the passage of a budget resolution in October that allows for tax reform to be considered under an expedited process not subject to Senate filibuster, this tax legislation will only need a majority of votes in the House and Senate. If Congressional Republicans can remain united and devote time to moving it through the legislative process, it is possible that they could present this bill to President Trump by the end of the year.

 

Do you think that the House GOP is on the right track with its proposed changes to the tax code? Or would you prefer to see other tax reforms being discussed?

 

Should Congress Have a Role in Authorizing Military Force?



When four American soldiers were killed in Niger recently, many people were surprised to know that the U.S. military was operating in that country. Even though it is not widely publicized, there are U.S. troops conducting military operations in a variety of countries around the globe. Some members of Congress think that these operations call for a blessing from the legislative branch. The Trump Administration, however, rejects calls for Congress to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

 

The president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but only Congress can declare war. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed an AUMF that led to military operations in Afghanistan. Congress also passed an AUMF prior to the invasion of Iraq. Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have used these authorizations of force to expand the U.S. military role far beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, however.

 

The presidential use of an AUMF to justify military action in numerous nations rankles some in Congress. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are pushing for a new AUMF to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This AUMF would have a five-year sunset and would require congressional oversight if fighting occurs outside Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, or Somalia. Those pushing for a new AUMF contend that the original authorization passed in 2001 only targeted those who planned or aided the 9-11 attacks. As such, they say, it cannot also authorize the use of force against ISIS or other terrorist organizations.

 

There was debate in 2015 over an AUMF to fight ISIS (or ISIL) after President Obama had already committed military forces against that group. The president submitted a resolution for new authorization, and many members of Congress (including Sens. Kaine and Flake) pushed for consideration. However, Congress never passed an authorization and the president did not stop military action against ISIS.

 

President Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, rejects calls to pass a new AUMF. Testifying before Congress, he said, “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force, or AUMF, remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat.” In general, presidents have opposed efforts by Congress to interfere with or place limits on the executive branch’s power to deploy military forces.

 

Do you think that Congress should vote on a new authorization to use military force against terrorist groups? Or does the 2001 authorization of force provide justification for President Trump’s military actions? 

 

Trump Puts Pressure on Iran

 

President Donald Trump is not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under President Obama. He has spent years criticizing it. Now he is saying that he won’t certify that Iran is complying with the agreement. What does that mean for the U.S.?

 

While President Trump can play a key role in determining the future of U.S. policy toward Iran, there are other nations involved in the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities. The “Iran Deal,” as many call it, also involves China, France, Russia, the U.K., and Germany. These nations, in essence, negotiated with Iran to limit its program to acquire nuclear arms in exchange for the relaxation of sanctions. If the president and Congress both want the U.S. to act alone to ramp up these sanctions, however, that could do a lot of damage to this multi-party agreement.

 

By itself, the president’s announcement does not do anything to derail the deal. Under a 2015 U.S. law passed after the Iran deal was negotiated, the U.S. has the power to re-impose its sanctions only if Congress and the president agree. Under this law, every 90 days the president must certify that Iran is complying with its part of the bargain. If the president does not do this, Congress has 60 days within which it can re-impose sanctions on Iran.

 

President Trump’s announcement that he would not certify Iran as in compliance with the deal triggers that 60-day window in which Congress can choose to act. However, Congress does not have any obligation to re-impose sanctions. The Trump Administration has even said that it does not want to see sanctions put back in place; instead, it is calling for Congress to set forth new conditions under which these sanctions would be re-instated in the future.

 

There are a few vocal members of Congress who have long urged a harder line on Iran. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), for instance, is pushing legislation that would set in place a system for automatically re-imposing sanctions on Iran for noncompliance. It is unclear if this type of proposal has enough support in Congress to pass. There is also a chance that, once legislation is introduced, Congress could amend it to re-impose sanctions immediately.

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is dismantling its nuclear program in response to this agreement. If Congress and President Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, many observers think that Iran would view this act as freeing it from the conditions of the multi-party agreement.

 

Do you think the U.S. should continue to be part of the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Or is President Trump right that this deal is bad for the U.S.?

 

Congress Unlikely to Take up Gun Control

 

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, some politicians are calling on Congress to pass new laws restricting access to firearms. They say that it is time for strict gun control aimed at stopping these events. Opponents of this idea push back on the claim that new laws will be effective. Given the makeup of Congress and the limited time period left for work, gun control proponents face a lot of obstacles in D.C.

 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has perhaps been the most vocal member of Congress in calling for new gun laws. In a statement made after the Las Vegas shooting, he said:

 

This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren't public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.

 

A White House spokesperson has said it is premature to discuss gun control, and congressional Republican leadership have not given any indication that they support such a debate.

 

After other shooting events, Democrats have attempted and failed to enact new firearms restrictions at the national level. Congress has a limited time before the end of this year to work on issues such as tax reform, so it appears unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Speaker Paul Ryan will give Democrats an opportunity to advance their proposals this time, either.

 

In fact, if any firearms legislation were to move through Congress yet this year, it may actually loosen federal laws. One proposal that was on the verge of being considered before the Las Vegas shooting was a bill to repeal the $200 federal tax on silencers and make it easier to buy them. Proponents of the bill say that silencers can be useful in preventing hearing damage during hunting or sport shooting. Opponents say that silencers would make mass shootings more deadly by masking the sound of gunshots.

 

If Congress does not act, there is the possibility that state legislators could do something. In 2016, voters and legislators in a few states took action on gun laws. Some of these states (including Nevada) enacted stricter laws, but many others loosened their restrictions.

 

Should gun control be a top priority in Congress? Or do you oppose new restrictions on gun ownership?

 

Congress Set to Tackle Tax Cuts

 

One of President Trump’s major legislative priorities is set for introduction in Congress: tax reform. While details are not yet finalized, there appears to be agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans on general changes to the tax code. What remains to be seen is if any legislative package this complex can emerge from Capitol Hill to be sent for the president’s signature.

 

Once details are finalized, we could see a tax reform bill introduced this week. Here is what may be in such a bill:

  • Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%
  • Cut the top individual income tax rate from 39.5% to 35%
  • Reduce the number of tax brackets from 7 to 3

 

While the president and congressional Republicans appear to agree on these aspects of the bill, they could change. President Trump, for instance, has repeatedly said that he would like to see the corporate income tax rate lowered to 15%.

 

There is also the issue of what, if any, changes to the tax code will be made to offset the effect of cuts on the federal deficit. There has been talk about reducing the number of tax breaks, but each deduction or credit in the tax code has a constituency that will fight very hard to keep that provision. If no offsets are made, tax cuts threaten to increase the budget deficit.

 

Whatever the final version, tax reform legislation will be complex and will face a difficult fight on Capitol Hill. Democrats have shown little willingness to embrace these kinds of changes to the tax code. If they are unified in their opposition, it could be difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass anything out of the Senate.

 

Do you support cutting the corporate income tax rate and the individual income tax rate? Or would you rather see other reforms made in the tax code?

 

Republicans Renew Push to Repeal Obamacare

 

Senate Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in July, but failed to gain 50 votes. Now they are making one last effort to undo President Obama’s signature health care law. It is unclear if they will have more success this time than they did previously.

 

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have sponsored the bill being considered now. This legislation differs in some key ways from the earlier repeal bill, but it would still have the effect of rolling back much of Obamacare.

 

Among its provisions, the Graham-Cassidy legislation would:

  • Turn Medicaid into a per-person block grant program, giving states more authority to determine how the program is administered and who receives services
  • Take the funds currently being spent by the federal government on health insurance subsidies, premium tax-credits, and Medicaid expansion and give that money to states in the form of grants to provide health care coverage
  • Loosen restrictions on what types of insurance must be sold

 

Critics of the bill are concerned that it will lead to less coverage than exists today. They point out that the formula for Medicaid block grants excludes many able-bodied adults who are currently covered under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They also contend that unless the federal government mandates what insurance policies must contain, companies will skimp on benefits to save money.

 

Proponents say that Medicaid block grants will give states incentives to tailor their program to meet their needs, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all mandate from D.C. They also say that putting some limits on spending is the only way to control the ballooning cost of the program at both the state and federal level. In addition, loosening restrictions on insurance, according to them, helps to ensure that people can buy a policy that meets their needs, not a policy that pleases a federal bureaucrat.

 

For the Cassidy-Graham bill to proceed under special budget reconciliation rules that allow it to bypass a filibuster threat, the Senate most vote on it by September 30. Many observers are watching Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who voted against the last repeal bill. He has indicated he may support it if Arizona Governor Doug Ducey backs the bill, something Gov. Ducey did earlier this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would only bring the bill up for a vote if he has enough senators lined up to pass it.

 

Do you think this legislation is a good way to reform health care? Or do you want to see Obamacare left in place?

 

Trump Deals with Democrats on Immigration

 

Fresh off working with congressional Democrats on the debt ceiling, President Trump has signaled he is on the verge of partnering with them again on an unexpected issue: immigration. For some conservatives, this potential deal is causing a lot of concern.

 

Both the president and Democrats confirmed they were close to an agreement that would protect “Dreamers” (illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) coupled with stricter border enforcement. The deal would not include funding for a border wall, although the president said that would come later. This legislative package is necessary because President Trump rescinded an Obama Administration policy, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that protected Dreamers.

 

The president discussed the issue with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prior to reaching out to the Republican leadership in Congress. While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seem supportive of this type of legislative package, there is concern about the president undercutting his own party in Congress.

 

There is also consternation in conservative circles about the president’s moves. Campaigning as a hardliner on Immigration, President Trump now appears to be softening his views on the issue in the minds of some supporters. From conservatives in Congress to talk radio hosts, the president has received significant pushback from his base for a perceived reversal on an issue they deem highly important.

 

On Thursday morning, President Trump used Twitter to reassure his followers that he was not giving up on the border wall. However, Democrats will not accept funding for a border wall as a quid pro quo for the president accepting a deal on Dreamer legislation. All indications point to bipartisan legislation on DACA and then further negotiations on the border wall.

 

Do you think that the president is right to work with Democrats on immigration issues? Or has the president betrayed his supporters who want him to take a hard line on immigration?

 

Congress Reining In Asset Forfeiture

 

How much leeway should the government have to take the property of someone suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?

 

That is the debate surrounding civil asset seizure and forfeiture, a process where the government takes property from someone based on the belief that the property was used in a crime. Under civil forfeiture, no conviction is necessary for the government to take ownership of this property.

 

This practice has come under increasing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Legislators across the country have passed bills to restrict it. The Obama Administration also enacted a policy that prevents state and local law enforcement from using the federal government to bypass these restrictions.

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not among those who support reform. In July, he rescinded the Obama Administration restrictions, saying “we will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”

 

The attorney general’s actions did not sit well with members of Congress. This week, the House of Representatives passed on a voice vote three amendments that would roll back his attempt to weaken asset forfeiture reform. Amendments offered by Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Justin Amash (R-MI) would limit or prohibit funding to implement the attorney general’s asset forfeiture policy.

 

Generally, VoteSpotter publishes links to congressional votes so individuals can see how their member of Congress voted on bills or amendments. However, in this case the votes were voice votes, which means they were not recorded. It also suggests that there was overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for these amendments. If a voice vote is close, generally opponents of a measure will call for a recorded vote.

 

The bill containing these amendments must still be considered by the Senate. Regardless of the final outcome, it seems clear that there is strong congressional support in both parties to restrict civil asset forfeiture.

 

Do you think that civil asset forfeiture is an abusive practice that needs to end? Or is it a necessary tool to fight crime?

 

Time for the Government to Take Over Health Care?

 

Medicare for all. Single Payer. Government-run health care. Socialized medicine.

 

The concept may go by a few different names, but the idea is the same – the federal government providing health care to everyone, with private providers either being banned or strictly limited.

 

That is an idea that is growing in popularity among Democratic lawmakers. Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing legislation that would enact “Medicare for all.” He is expected to release it this week. Although he is not a Democrat, he does caucus with the party. Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said they support this bill. Democratic Senators Corey Booker of New Jersey and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are also expected to cosponsor it.

 

While Senator Sanders has yet to introduce his bill, there is legislation in the House of Representatives that would accomplish the same goal. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has 117 cosponsors for HR 676. That bill would, among other things:

  • Establish the Medicare for All Program, which would provide all “medically necessary care” to U.S. residents at no cost to them
  • Ban private health insurance that duplicates the government-provided care
  • Dictate how doctors and health care providers would be paid by the government
  • Increase the income tax on the top 5% of earners, impose a new payroll tax and a tax unearned income, and institute a tax on stock and bond income

 

Proponents see this type of system as a fair way to provide health care to every American. Opponents contend that government-run health care will be expensive and lead to denials of service.

 

Regardless of its merits or defects, this type of health care plan is unlikely to be instituted in the U.S. any time soon. During the debate over Obamacare, there was little support for anything resembling single-payer. While there are more Democratic politicians embracing the idea now, a government-run health system is not being discussed in congressional debates over the replacement for Obamacare.

 

Do you support a single-payer system? Or do you think that such a system will be harmful for Americans who need health care services?

 

Trump Works with Democrats to Raise Debt Limit

 

President Donald Trump has found new allies in Congress – Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The president bypassed Republican leadership to work with Democrats on an agreement that raises the debt ceiling for three months.

 

What is unclear is if this event heralds a new era of bipartisanship between the president and congressional Democrats, or whether it is merely a one-time deal. Regardless, this move stunned Republicans in Congress, undercutting conservative efforts to tie raising the debt ceiling to limiting spending.

 

With the Trump-backed deal in place, Congress quickly passed legislation that provided over $15 billion in disaster-related spending along with the debt ceiling increase. This will allow the federal government to continue borrowing money for the next three months. Mere hours before the president and congressional Democrats agreed to do so, House Speaker Paul Ryan had panned efforts to tie the two issues together in one bill.

 

In both the House and Senate, opposition votes to this legislation came from conservatives. The Senate rejected efforts by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to remove the debt limit provisions from the bill. Senators also turned back efforts by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to pay for disaster-related spending by cutting foreign aid.

 

Do you support President Trump working with congressional Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase without tying the measure to spending limits? Do you think it’s a good idea for Congress to pass a bill that contains both disaster aid and an increase in the debt limit? Or was this a bad deal that hurts efforts to control federal spending?

 

What will Happen to the “Dreamers”?



Congress has six months to act to clarify the legal status of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors.

 

These illegal immigrants, sometimes labeled “Dreamers,” are at the center of President Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama Administration’s policy known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This policy allowed some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to be shielded from deportation.

 

On September 5, the president withdrew the guidance letter from 2012 that established this program, but deferred implementation for six months. During that time, President Trump said he would like to see Congress act on this issue.

 

What’s next for the people who were eligible for the program?

Some state attorneys general have said they will sue the Trump Administration to stop the president. However, President Obama established DACA through executive authority. President Trump merely reversed President Obama’s action. Regardless of the merits of his action, many legal scholars think that the president is on solid legal ground.

 

That leaves the legislative branch. There is bipartisan support in Congress to do something. Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, has said he will introduce a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some Dreamers as long as they have no criminal record and are working, in college, or in the military. There are also other members of Congress considering legislation that would codify protection for these individuals in the law.

 

While President Trump has called on Congress to act, he has not been clear about the details. His spokesperson also hinted that such action may need to be part of comprehensive immigration reform to get the president’s backing.

 

Senators have a busy agenda through the rest of the year. This includes finalizing spending for the next fiscal year, providing disaster relief, and raising the debt ceiling. President Trump has also said that he wants Congress to focus on tax reform. Whether lawmakers can agree on DACA legislation amongst all these other issues remains to be seen.

 

What do you think should happen to Dreamers? Should they be protected from deportation? Or should they be treated the same as other illegal immigrants in the U.S.?

 

Congress Has Full Agenda upon Return

 

Members of Congress are on their August recess, leaving D.C. behind to go back to their home states. But their departure from Washington left a lot of work undone. When they return in September, they will be facing numerous unresolved issues.

 

Among these issues are:

 

Federal Spending

As is the usual case for Congress, the annual appropriations, or spending, bills are far behind schedule. These bills fund what is known as discretionary federal spending, such as for the military, national parks, and the operation of Congress. To avoid a government shutdown, the House and the Senate will probably pass a temporary funding measure prior to October 1. A longer-term spending deal may revolve around the question of how much money President Trump will receive for a border wall.

 

Debt Ceiling

If Congress does not act, the federal government will soon come up against a limit on how much it can borrow. Conservatives have been reluctant in past years to raise the debt ceiling without receiving some concessions on spending. It is unclear what will happen this year, but the White House has set September 29 as the deadline for action.

 

Defense Authorization

Defense authorization legislation stalled due to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s health issues. Once he returns to work, there will be a push to finish a bill that maps out the nation’s military strategy.

 

Taxes

President Trump and members of Congress have made tax reform a top priority. However, there has been little substantive work in either the House or Senate on this issue. It is difficult to see how a significant overhaul of the tax code could be completed given the limited amount of time left on this year’s congressional calendar.

 

Health Care

Republican efforts to repeal and replace portions of Obamacare failed in the Senate. President Trump has pressured senators to make health care a priority, but there is little consensus on how to proceed. There may be efforts to revive legislation during the fall, but senators may also decide that they have other matters that take priority. One of the items that will need to be addressed separately from Obamacare is reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which (as its name suggests) subsidizes health insurance for children.

 

Judges

President Trump has given the Senate a slate of new nominees to fill federal judicial vacancies. For many conservatives, confirmation of these judges is a top priority.

 

What do you think Congress should be focusing on? Is there anything not on the congressional agenda that our elected officials should be working on?

 

Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.