Posts Tagged ‘Senate Finance Committee’

The 30 Republicans Holding Up Tax Reform

September 14, 2017

The Freedom Caucus threatens to side with Democrats and block the GOP majority.

By Karl Rove
The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 13, 2017 6:53 p.m. ET

No matter how persuasive President Trump is, it’s unlikely he can round up enough Democrats to get 60 votes in the Senate for tax reform. That means Republicans will need to use the Senate’s reconciliation process, which avoids the filibuster, to pass their plan with 51 votes. But first the House and Senate must pass a budget resolution—and soon.

A budget resolution sets spending levels and authorizes congressional committees to prepare bills fulfilling the blueprint. With the reconciliation plan in mind, this year’s resolution would set the size of the tax reform and then instruct the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to flesh out the provisions.

Gaining agreement on a budget resolution is always tough. No more than a handful of lawmakers from the opposition party ever vote for the majority’s resolution. It helps that Republicans control both the House and Senate, but the GOP must still resolve its internal philosophical disagreements.

House Republicans tend to insist on resolutions that balance the budget within 10 years. This means resolutions that pledge to slow substantially the growth of entitlement spending. Such promises are rarely fulfilled. But putting them in the budget blueprint fuels Democratic ads claiming Republicans will throw grandma off the cliff and deprive poor children of free school lunches. Knowing this, Senate Republicans tend to want resolutions that reach balance after 10 years. Another GOP tension is between defense hawks, who want increased military spending, and deficit hawks, who want all spending restrained or cut.

Then there are nerdy but important technical arguments, starting with how the resolution’s spending baseline is calculated. Beginning with a baseline of “current law” means assuming that a tax break currently authorized for only a year or two will actually expire instead of being reauthorized. But Congress renews some tax breaks annually and probably will keep doing so through the next decade. To account for this, many in the GOP want to calculate the baseline under “current policy.”

It sounds technical, but it quickly becomes political. Democrats demand “current law” because a higher baseline would make tax reform appear to raise the deficit more than it actually would. On the other hand a lower baseline would give tax reform more wiggle room: One GOP budget expert tells me that “current policy” would provide, on paper, $450 billion that could be used to lower rates and make the tax code simpler and fairer.

Dynamic scoring is another geeky fight. A tax reform that generates economic growth will offset some of the government revenue lost from cutting rates. Republicans want their bill evaluated with dynamic scoring because it takes this effect into account and makes reform more attractive. Democrats oppose it for the same reason.

Still, given time and leadership—both on Capitol Hill and from the White House—Republicans could cobble together a budget resolution setting up a strong tax reform, which in turn would juice the economy and redeem the GOP in the midterms.

The biggest obstacle is the House Freedom Caucus. This group of just over 30 Republican congressmen has already slowed up the process by threatening to vote with Democrats against the GOP budget resolution unless they can see and approve, in advance, every major provision of the tax-reform bill. The Freedom Caucus tried in late July to block the House Budget Committee’s passage of a resolution unless the border-adjustment tax was taken off the table—which it then was. Now the Freedom Caucus’s members say they’ll flake on the budget resolution if tax reform includes full, immediate expensing of business investment. But if that’s agreed to, they’ll have more demands.

These lawmakers say they want Congress to operate in “regular order,” with committees grinding away to write legislation instead of leadership handing it down. This is hypocritical bunk. What they want is for their caucus to dictate the details of tax bills to the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Republican majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill. Their approach is to make demands while threatening to join Nancy Pelosi in opposing the budget resolution unless they get their way.

If the Freedom Caucus acts on its threat, the budget resolution could be voted down, making tax reform impossible. No doubt, following their M.O., the group’s members would then blame the GOP leadership. Even if the resolution passes, the Freedom Caucus’s shenanigans may delay tax reform until 2018. These lawmakers are demonstrating once again that the freedom they most prize is freedom from the responsibility of governing.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley ” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Appeared in the September 14, 2017, print edition.


Mnuchin Defends Investments, Qualifications in Senate Hearing — Treasury nominee struggles to explain his ethical lapse

January 20, 2017

Trump’s pick for Treasury faces scrutiny of Democrats, hews to GOP line on some issues

Image may contain: 2 people, eyeglasses

Donald Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, took questions on how a Trump administration would, or would not, follow precedent in discussing monetary policy. Photo: AP

Updated Jan. 19, 2017 11:52 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Donald Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, brushed aside a drumbeat of criticism from Democrats over his qualifications and investment holdings Thursday and sought to reassure lawmakers on a range of issues he would face as part of the Trump administration.

Mr. Mnuchin adopted several positions that sounded closer to the outgoing administration, including urging Congress to quickly raise the nation’s borrowing limit after a current suspension of the ceiling expires in March. He reaffirmed the..


Trump’s Treasury secretary pick claims the Obama administration unemployment rate is ‘not real’ — “The average American worker has gone nowhere.”

January 20, 2017

“The average American worker has gone nowhere,” Mnuchin said in his confirmation hearing.

Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, claimed during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the unemployment rate is “not real” and that “the average American worker has gone nowhere.”

In response to a line of questioning by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) about what he would do to protect voters from another recession, Mnuchin claimed that he has traveled with the president and understands why Trump was elected.

“The unemployment rate is not real,” he said. “The average American worker has gone nowhere, and president-elect is committed, as am I, as his economic adviser, to work for the American people and grow the American economy so that the average American worker does better.”

On the campaign trail, Trump also repeatedly claimed that the unemployment rate is a “phony number,” and that the real rate could actually be close to 42 percent.

But Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the co-founder of a major lending bank, should know better. Calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed but actively seeking employment. The number is a critical indicator of how the economy is doing and is widely used by economists. The number is respected by both Democrats and Republicans as a valid indicator of job growth. The BLS has calculated the rate the same way since the 1940s, and its methods do not change from one administration to the next.

The rate has also fallen by more than one-third since President Obama took office, dropping last month to just 4.6 percent — the lowest level since August 2007.

Despite the (real) numbers, a recent poll found that 53 percent of Republicans believe that the unemployment rate has risen under Obama. More than a third of all Americans think its worse now than when Obama took office.

Some believe that there’s a better measure to track unemployment. That statistic, called the U-6, tracks everyone who is out of work, people not looking but who want work, and those unable to find full-time employment. That number is higher — currently it hovers over 9 percent. But Mnuchin made no mention of this statistic being a better indicator of job growth, and it’s not clear he would give any credence to any labor statistic as Treasury Secretary.


Mnuchin Defends Investments, Qualifications in Senate Hearing — “I would love to work with the IRS to close these tax issues”

January 20, 2017

Trump’s pick for Treasury faces scrutiny of Democrats, hews to GOP line on some issues

Donald Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, took questions on how a Trump administration would, or would not, follow precedent in discussing monetary policy.

Updated Jan. 19, 2017 11:52 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Donald Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, brushed aside a drumbeat of criticism from Democrats over his qualifications and investment holdings Thursday and sought to reassure lawmakers on a range of issues he would face as part of the Trump administration.

Mr. Mnuchin adopted several positions that sounded closer to the outgoing administration, including urging Congress to quickly raise the nation’s borrowing limit after a current suspension of the ceiling expires in March. He reaffirmed the…


IRS ‘Delinquent’ in Unfair Scrutiny of Conservative Groups — Senate Report

August 6, 2015


Republicans and Democrats disagree on whether there was political motivation

Former IRS official Lois Lerner on Capitol Hill in March 2014 during a House committee hearing.
Former IRS official Lois Lerner on Capitol Hill in March 2014 during a House committee hearing. PHOTO: LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawmakers Fume Over Lost Emails in IRS Probe

June 14, 2014
WASHINGTON June 13, 2014 (AP)

America Must Stop Driving Companies Out of The U.S. — Comprehensive tax reform necessary more than ever, ensuring that the U.S. is on a long-term path to sustained economic growth

May 10, 2014

By Ron Wyden
The Wall Street Journal

Cutting corporate taxes to 24% would be a good start. So would closing loopholes that encourage moving overseas.

In pursuit of lower tax rates, American multinationals are merging with smaller foreign companies and moving their headquarters overseas. About 50 U.S. companies have leveraged this “inversion” tactic in the past 30 years—and more than 20 have done so in the past two years. And just recently we have seen Pfizer make a bid for AstraZeneca that would move its tax domicile to the United Kingdom.

While they may not be breaking U.S. laws, many of these companies are navigating a loophole in America’s broken and dysfunctional tax code. And while their shareholders may secure a temporary win, workers, taxpayers and this country all lose. America’s tax base erodes at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, increasing the burden on other companies and individuals. America also loses good jobs, talent, investment, and the ability to compete on a global stage.

Legal or not, this loophole must be plugged. Current law requires that U.S. companies reincorporating overseas must ensure that at least 20% of their stock is owned by their new, foreign partner. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am committed to raising this floor to at least 50% for all inversions taking place from May 8, 2014, on. I don’t approach retroactivity in legislation lightly, but corporations must understand that they won’t profit from abandoning the U.S.

It would be easy to point a finger at these runaway corporations alone and simply question their morality or patriotism, but that would be ignoring our own failure to bring the tax code into the 21st century. An uncompetitive tax code strains our economy, and we should not be surprised when corporations fight to get out from under antiquated tax rules.

Congress has a responsibility to reverse the tide—now.

Comprehensive tax reform will entice leading companies to invest further in the U.S. and reduce the ability, as well as the need, to manipulate the system. I’m committed to making this happen and including changes in the inversion rules as part of a tax overhaul. Tax reform is a heavy lift and won’t be done overnight, but it has been done before and it can be done again.



Getty Images

The U.S. is stuck with a 35% corporate tax rate—one of the highest in the world—and a painfully complicated and outdated tax code. Few companies pay the full 35%, but some come close and others pay next to nothing. Effective tax rates vary wildly by industry; the entire system flunks the fairness test.

The last overhaul of the U.S. tax code was in 1986. Meanwhile, other countries have modernized their tax policies to encourage investment, and today the average corporate tax rate among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has fallen to 25%.

A corporate tax rate that creates a favorable investment climate and reduces the incentive to game the system is critical to successful reform. The bipartisan tax-reform bill I introduced in the Senate with Republican Judd Gregg in 2010, and reintroduced with Republican Dan Coats and Democrat Mark Begich in the last Congress called for a single flat corporate rate of 24%. Where the rate ends up depends almost entirely on the American business community’s willingness to pitch in by closing loopholes. I continue to believe that reducing the current corporate tax rate by approximately one-third will bring the U.S. in line with other developed countries that long ago recognized the need to evolve their policies to compete globally while growing their domestic economies.

The window of opportunity to enact comprehensive tax reform that both the business community and individual taxpayers desperately need is short. Recognizing the unique dynamics that come with a presidential election, there is just over a year to get the job done. But with the cooperation of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we can.

Over the next few months, I will be working closely with members of the Senate Finance Committee to delve into the areas necessary for modernizing our tax code. That includes taking a serious look at addressing the growing and emergent challenge of our international tax regime.

While there are many varying viewpoints and approaches to this pressing issue, members of Congress share a common goal of ensuring that the U.S. is on a long-term path to sustained economic growth. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and former Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus have played important roles in building a solid foundation for tax reform. Now is the time for us to build on their work and move the country forward.

Mr. Wyden, from Oregon, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.


Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius: We Don’t Know How Many New Obamacare Enrollees Never Had Insurance Before

April 10, 2014
  • HHS secretary told senators ‘I do not have data to give you right now’ showing how many enrollees are actually new insurance customers
  • She proudly said that 7.5 million people have chosen health plans, but it’s unclear how many have paid their premiums
  • Democrats still face November headaches as a large majority of Americans say they don’t like the new law and it will affect their votes
  • Investors Business Daily doubts White House numbers, saying a small number of states had to have shown massive enrollment growth last month

By David Martosko, U.S. Political Editor

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday that 7.5 million Americans had enrolled in Obamacare insurance coverage by the time the dust settled on April 1, but reused to tell senators how many of them were already covered before the law took full effect.

The question is an important one: Republicans claim that most of those who signed up are Americans who lost their existing policies in 2013 because they didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s strict and sometimes bewildering minimum standards.

President Barack Obama promised that his signature insurance overhaul law would dramatically reduce the ranks of the uninsured. Democrats hope the numbers turn out to show he’s delivered on that pledge.

‘I do not have data to give you right now in terms of who exactly was previously uninsured,’ Sebelius told Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch during a Senate Finance Committee hearing focused on her agency’s 2015 budget request.


Deer, meet headlights: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius couldn't answer the thorny question of how many Obamacare enrollees already had insurance before the Affordable Care Act kicked in

Delivering? President Barack Obama, shown Thursday speaking at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, has promised for years that his signature health insurance law would insure everyone, or nearly everyone, in America

Delivering? President Barack Obama, shown Thursday speaking at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, has promised for years that his signature health insurance law would insure everyone, or nearly everyone, in America

She said HHS is still collecting that data from insurance companies since it has no way of tracking the previous insurance status of individual enrollees.

It’s possible that both sides could be right on the question of the law’s impact.

A RAND Corporation report released days ago estimates that 9.3 million people are newly insured since the Obamacare law kicked in.

But a large majority of those gains are due to Americans who received new coverage from their employers, not through the government-run insurance exchanges.

And RAND concluded that some of the uptick was due to the normal churn of the industry, which sees new insurance customers entering the marketplace and others dropping out every month.



The report also found that 5.2 million Americans lost their coverage in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s calamitous fall rollout.

Sebelius touted RAND’s 9.3 million statistic in her testimony on Thursday.

Hatch insisted that her claimed pool of 7.5 million enrollees will inevitably shrink once people are challenged to pay for their new medical insurance, likening it to some online shopping that stops before getting to a virtual checkout.

‘Indeed, it’s like taking stock of how many people have placed items in their shopping carts and then counting them as sales,’ he said. ‘In other words it’s a false metric.’


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Fair question: Sen. Orrin Hatch (L) asked Sebelius what the net effect of Obama has been -- not just how many enrollments governments have seen online

No matter whose version of reality prevails, Democrats face a perception problem and almost certain electoral defeats in September because of the well-publicized problems with the law’s rollout, its increased costs and the limited scope of doctor networks in the insurance plans it includes.

The Pew Research Center and USA Today released poll numbers Thursday from April 3-6, showing that 53 per cent of Americans disapprove of the law, while just 41 per cent support it.

And 64 per cent of Republican registered voters said a candidate’s position on Obamacare will be ‘very important’ in their Election Day decisions, compared with only 52 per cent of Democrats.

An editorial writer in Investor’s Business Daily claimed Thursday that the Obama administration might be cooking the books.

Using data released by the 14 states – plus the District of Columbia – which run their own exchanges, added to the public totals of seven states that participated in the exchange, the paper’s John Merline determined that Sebelius’ number could only be correct if 29 states added nearly 2 million Obamacare enrollees in March alone.

That metric would represent ‘an eye-popping 90% increase in just the last month,’ he wrote.

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Obamacare: Maryland’s dysfunctional health exchange Web site may be abandoned

January 15, 2014

By Jenna Johnson
The Washington Post

Maryland’s health exchange Web site is still riddled with glitches and might need to be completely overhauled — or even abandoned — once the first round of enrollment ends March 31, a member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Cabinet told lawmakers Tuesday.

Until then, state officials say they have come up with a system of temporary fixes aimed at getting as many Marylanders as possible signed up for health coverage before the deadline. That has included hiring dozens of people to staff call centers and, in some cases, resorting to paper applications.

“There are serious challenges that still remain. I don’t want to sugar­coat that,” Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of health and mental hygiene, told members of the state Senate Finance Committee late Tuesday afternoon. “It’s going to have to improve for us to stick with it for the long term.”

His comments came as legislators are looking into how the state’s rollout of its health exchange, part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, went so wrong. State officials were among the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of the federal health-care law, and Maryland was one of 14 states that chose to run its own health insurance marketplace. But the online site crashed when it was launched Oct. 1 and has been plagued by technical problems that have stymied an unknown number of Marylanders from signing up for coverage.

The General Assembly is expected to vote as early as this week on emergency legislation to assist those who tried unsuccessfully to sign up and were left uncovered when the new year began. The bill would provide retroactive coverage through a separate state-run insurance plan that normally covers high-risk individuals.

Also, O’Malley (D) announced Tuesday that the four insurance carriers participating in the state’s exchange have agreed to provide coverage that is retroactive to Jan. 1 as long as residents sign up by Jan. 21 and pay their premiums for January and February.

Sharfstein began his remarks before two separate panels of legislators by acknowledging the troubled launch of Maryland’s exchange and apologizing to the people without insurance who have been impacted.

“I take responsibility for the disappointing launch,” he said in his opening remarks. “I apologize to the many Marylanders who have struggled with the Web site and the call center, and I regret the anxiety experienced by individuals and families who are seeking health insurance and have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain it.”

O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) announced Tuesday that they will stick with the state exchange for the remainder of this enrollment period, which ends March 31, and that they have no plans to begin using all or part of the federal exchange. Switching at this point would only complicate the situation, they said.

But beginning April 1, the site will have to be reassessed and all options will again be open, Sharfstein said. If by then the federal exchange or another state’s exchange was stronger than Maryland’s, he said, officials would consider using all or parts of those.

Brown, who was in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, came before the panels earlier in the day, but he did not face as intense questioning as Sharfstein. After a Republican senator asked him to apologize, Brown said Marylanders would rather see action than an apology.

Brown, a candidate for governor, has said that his job was to set up a legislative framework for the exchange — and that the exchange’s governing board, staff and the contractors hired to create the Web site failed to let him know that it would not be ready for its Oct. 1 launch.

“Never was I informed that the exchange, the Web site, would not be able to — or would be unable to —  launch on October 1st,” Brown said at the Senate Finance Committee hearing when asked whether he had seen reports that contained warnings of problems. Brown said that he was told there could be problems for families with unique or complicated circumstances, but “that was the extent of it.”

One of the most intense lines of questioning came from Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick), who compared the “colossal failure” of the health exchange to a botched military operation. Brinkley said to Brown, a colonel in the Army Reserve, that just as the military has forms of accountability, so should Maryland.

“With all of the resources and sophistication that Maryland has, we’ve been embarrassed by this,” Brinkley said. “We need to get to the root of this because it put a black eye on everybody.”

Lawmakers criticized state officials for not keeping them in the loop on problems, both before the launch of the site and afterward. They said Sharfstein and other officials should have shared monthly audit reports that contained red-flag warnings. And some said that their faith in the state’s health-care leadership was so shaken that they weren’t sure it can be trusted with further projects.

In questioning Sharfstein, some lawmakers compared building a health exchange Web site to hiring contractors to renovate a kitchen or build a deck. One delegate compared it to sixth-graders making science fair projects with varying success.

Sharfstein gave legislators a thick packet of documents that included his answers to questions such as “Why did the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange procure this system from these vendors?” and “How did the state respond to early warning signs?”

He said that at the heart of the dysfunctional Web site are three significant problems: Maryland opted to use “off-the-shelf” software and did not realize how much work it would take to stitch the different programs together; there were “serious software defects”; and the hardware was poorly configured, resulting in the crash of the site on its Oct. 1 launch.

Felons could have been hired as ObamaCare ‘navigators,’ Sebelius tells Senate panel

November 6, 2013

APTOPIX Health Overha_Cala.jpg

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (AP Photo)

By Barnini Chakraborty

November 6, 2013

WASHINGTON –  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted Wednesday that it was possible convicted felons could be hired as ObamaCare ‘navigators,’ giving them access to personal information like Social Security numbers and addresses of anyone signing up for the program.

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Sebelius made the admission in an exchange with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. It was the second time in a week Sebelius was on Capitol Hill, forced to defend the problem-plagued ObamaCare website.

“Isn’t it true that there is no federal requirement for navigators to undergo a criminal background check,” Cornyn asked her.

“That is true,” Sebelius answered. “States could add in additional background checks and other features, but it is not part of the federal requirement.”

Cornyn pressed, “So a convicted felon could be a navigator and could acquire sensitive personal information from an individual unbeknownst to them?”

Sebelius answered, “This is possible.”

The nearly three-hour hearing had Sebelius once again shouldering much of the blame for the rocky rollout of the ACA, commonly referred to as ObamaCare. Last week she testified before a House panel on the growing concerns about President Obama’s landmark legislation.

On Wednesday, Sebelius also acknowledged that the early enrollment figures for ObamaCare scheduled to be released next week will be “very low.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, demanded monthly progress reports from her.

“No more excuses,” Hatch told her. “No more spin, just give us the truth.”

During her opening statement Sebelius said, “a number of fixes have already been completed” to the glitch-ridden website

“Two weeks ago, the tech team put into place enhanced monitoring tools for, enabling us to get a high-level picture of the marketplace application responding, and to measure how changes improve user experience on the site.”

On the panel is Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who was one of the architects of the 2010 law.

Until now, Baucus has been a very vocal supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but even he has had his share of doubt in recent days over the site.

Specifically, Baucus has a problem with security testing of the site that could potentially expose millions of Americans to cyberfraud or identity theft.

Documents have surfaced that seem to indicate Obama administration officials cut corners on security testing while rushing to meet a self-imposed Oct. 1 deadline to launch online health insurance markets.

The administration has been struggling in recent days to knock back a wave of criticism that has been mounting since the rollout.

While the White House has promised the site would be up and glitch-free by Nov. 30, Baucus challenged Sebelius to beat the deadline.

“You said recently that you expect the website to be running smoothly for a majority of users by late November,” he said. “There is no room for error. You must meet — and I prefer you beat — that deadline.”

The last time Sebelius testified before a House committee, she fell on the sword, personally apologizing for the failures.

“Hold me accountable for the debacle,” she said. “I’m responsible.”