Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Senate’

U.S. Senate set to vote on ending U.S. war operations in Yemen

March 20, 2018
Militants loyal to Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi take their positions in Taiz, Yemen, March, 30, 2015. The United States military has been engaged in Yemen since 2015 but a vote on Tuesday could end its operations there. File Photo by Anees Mahyoub/UPI

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March 20 (UPI) — The Senate is scheduled to hold a vote Tuesday on whether to end the U.S. military’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war.

The GOP Senate Cloakroom on Twitter said the Senate will vote on S.J. 54 at approximately 4:15 if all debate time on the measure is used.

The measure, brought forth by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., seeks to end U.S. military’s now three-year involvement in Yemen by invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which says that the U.S. president can approve engagement in combat abroad “only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Neither of those conditions have been met, the senators argue, making the U.S. operation in Yemen illegal.

The United States began supporting Saudi Arabia’s military involvement in Yemen under President Barack Obama in 2015. That operation has continued under President Donald Trump and today, U.S. troops are on the ground conducting various ground operations, the Pentagon confirmed.

But if the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution passes the Senate, it will likely have little affect on troop levels in Yemen because it gives an exception to U.S. military attacks on Al Queda and Islamic State.

But the resolution would put limits to how much the U.S. military can assist Saudi Arabia’s military attacks on Yemen. Currently, the U.S. provides the Saudis with air-to-air refueling, intelligence assessments and other military advice.

The New York Times reported that State Department and Pentagon officials are strongly opposed to the resolution and warned senators that ending U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen cold damage relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counter-terrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a letter to congressional members last week.

Sanders has criticized the Saudi war in Yemen — and the U.S. military’s support of it — as making matters worse in a country that is already among the poorest in the world.

“Every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen,” Sanders said in February. “What few Americans know, however, is that the U.S. military is making the crisis worse by helping one side in the conflict bomb innocent civilians.”

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Bipartisan, Centrist Senators Outflanked Party Leadership to End Shutdown

January 23, 2018

Bipartisan group grew frustrated by party leaders’ standoff over immigration; some lawmakers and White House officials were surprised fight fell to Senate and not House

Senators gathered to celebrate their bipartisan effort outside the chamber in Washington on Monday, following a procedural vote aimed at reopening the government.
Senators gathered to celebrate their bipartisan effort outside the chamber in Washington on Monday, following a procedural vote aimed at reopening the government. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—The 2018 government shutdown may go down as one of the shortest, and much of the credit for that is going to a bipartisan group of senators who wrested control from their own leadership.

Inside the Capitol, Democrats attributed their decision to allow the government to reopen to a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to bring an immigration measure to the Senate floor if an agreement can’t be reached before Feb. 9. Outside the Capitol, progressive activists attributed the reversal to the lack of a plan for how to stand firm.

“Democrats went into battle and then buckled and weren’t ready for it,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of The Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “There should have been an outside game that was planned.”

How Senate Democrats got to the point of charging forward on Friday night and then pulling back on Monday morning is the story of a Republican party more organized than the Democratic insurgents and centrists in both parties who challenged the partisan rhetoric of both Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.)., forging a path forward during meetings where one senator nearly broke a glass elephant with a “talking stick.”

A shutdown could be repeated in several weeks if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on a sweeping range of immigration policies, including protecting those children brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents.

This article is based on dozens of interviews with lawmakers, administration officials and advocates.

That the Senate would become the focal point of the shutdown surprised some of Washington’s top officials, who saw greater risks in the House.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump dialed into a meeting of the Freedom Caucus, a group of staunch House conservatives, and warned: “We’re one party and we control the House, Senate and White House,” said one senior administration official with knowledge of the call. “Shutting down the government is not productive to us gaining leverage on the issues we care about.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the call “sent a very clear message” and added: “That was the best work he did.” The House passed a short-term extension of government funding later that day.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) sided with the liberal wing of his caucus that was skeptical that Republicans would take up immigration legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) sided with the liberal wing of his caucus that was skeptical that Republicans would take up immigration legislation. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some Senate Democrats, many of whom expected the spending bill would fizzle in the House, weren’t fully prepared for the shutdown fight now upon them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) was pushing a three-week spending deal—shorter than the measure that passed the House—and a commitment by Mr. McConnell to take up immigration legislation. Centrist Democrats, crowded around Mr. Schumer’s desk on the chamber floor, wanted to back the Graham fix.

Mr. Schumer sided with the liberal wing of his caucus, saying there was no guarantee Mr. McConnell would allow the legislation to pass, people familiar with the matter said. The Democratic caucus was also still steaming over Mr. Trump’s controversial remarks about African immigrants.

On the other side of town, Mr. Trump was smarting over Mr. Schumer’s characterization of a lunch in which they had discussed immigration issues, including funding for a border wall.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) met privately with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), above, on Monday morning.
Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) met privately with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), above, on Monday morning. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“It took the president by surprise that Schumer would mischaracterize the meeting that badly that quickly,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “The president decided: That’s the end of those negotiations…That’s when we first realized that we might go to a shutdown.” Mr. Schumer has stood by his recollections of the meeting.

Later that evening, Mr. Mulvaney spoke with the president, who said for the first time he thought a shutdown was likely. “OK, what’s going to happen?” Mr. Trump asked. He told him: “Make sure we keep open as much of the government as we can.”

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, all but five Democrats lined up behind their leader and blocked the spending bill on a procedural measure that needed 60 votes. The government officially shutdown at 12:01 a.m.—before the final vote, 50-49, was gaveled to a close.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump largely receded from public view, save for a few tweets touting the nation’s economic gains and criticizing Democrats for their role in the dispute that the White House said was “holding our troops hostage and our border agents hostage.” His re-election campaign ran ads that claimed Democrats were “complicit” in murder perpetrated by immigrants in the country illegally.

Democrats, meanwhile, found their offices inundated with phone calls.

“I called and left messages at their offices,” Gregg James, the vice president of a Minnesota branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, said of his efforts to reach Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Tina Smith (D., Minn.) He said he understood their concerns about immigration but that “we never feel shutting down the government is the right thing to do.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike were also growing frustrated with their leadership. A group of nearly two dozen members began meeting in the offices of Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) to hash out a solution.

“It is a pretty poor excuse to sit here and say: We can’t deal with President Trump,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), a member of the group, said on the Senate floor. “We don’t have to deal with President Trump. We are the U.S. Senate. We can make our own decisions.”

The Collins-led sessions began to grow. At one meeting, the senators used a Native American “talking stick” as a way of designating which member would speak at any given moment.

A gift to Ms. Collins from Sen Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), its use wasn’t without drama, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Alexander at one point nearly broke a glass elephant with the talking stick during a dispute with Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) The senators eventually switched to using a basketball, tossing it to the next person due to speak. And Mr. Alexander apologized to Mr. Warner.

On Monday morning, the bipartisan group gathered with muffins, bagels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. “We had so many people in the office that we were running out of chairs,” Ms. Collins said.

One issue that helped bond the group was the frustration vented toward their own leaders, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer.

“I don’t believe that either leader on either side should have the powers that they have,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), said Monday, complaining that it was too easy for leaders to force their conferences to block deals. “We weren’t going to be beaten into submission.”

Ms. Collins met privately with Mr. McConnell on Monday morning and urged him to make a stronger statement about his commitment to moving the immigration bill. “So that’s what happened, really,” Ms. Collins said.

Midday Monday, 28 Democrats who had initially voted to block government funding changed their positions and cleared the way for passage of the spending bill.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com, Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/centrist-senators-outflanked-party-leadership-to-end-shutdown-1516673596

With Alabama Loss, Trump and GOP Face Political Reckoning — “We remain bitterly divided.”

December 13, 2017

Democrat Doug Jones’s Senate win may further drive a wedge between the president and party leaders

Roy Moore telling his supporters that he wouldn’t yet concede defeat late Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala.
Roy Moore telling his supporters that he wouldn’t yet concede defeat late Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala. PHOTO: DAN ANDERSON/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Donald Trump /Steve Bannon takeover of the Republican Party will have to be put on hold.

Tuesday’s Senate race in Alabama represented an attempt by the president and Mr. Bannon, his foremost political strategist, to show that they weren’t only in control of the party but could use their rebellious, antiestablishment message to drive their new version of the GOP to victory.

Instead, Roy Moore, the candidate Messrs. Trump and Bannon fully supported, lost in a state Republicans had controlled comfortably for most of the past two decades. Mr. Moore was a seriously flawed candidate, controversial enough to have been tossed off his own state’s Supreme Court twice, and more recently accused of having made improper sexual advances on teenage girls. Thus, much of the loss to Democrat Doug Jones will be laid at the candidate’s feet.

Still, the loss is a huge blow to Mr. Trump personally. He now has backed three straight candidates for statewide office who have lost. He backed the loser in the Virginia governor’s race. He backed the loser in the Alabama Republican Senate runoff. And, in the past two weeks, he threw his full support behind the man who lost in the Alabama Senate general election.

The implications are enormous. If Mr. Trump’s message and personal power aren’t enough to win a state in the deep-red South, then mainstream Republicans will have little reason to think they can rely on those factors elsewhere. Nor will they think they are compelled to follow the lead of their own president on matters political.

That, in turn, will drive a further wedge between the president and Republican leaders—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who never wanted the party to throw its support behind Mr. Moore in the first place.

Similarly, Mr. Bannon’s pledge to field and fund nationalist, rabble-rousing Republicans to challenge a whole series of Republican senators up for re-election next year will strike less fear in the hearts of the party’s mainstream. His ability to act as a kind of Pied Piper leading a long string of candidates formed in his image to the front ranks of the party now is in doubt and will be resisted with new vigor by party regulars who fear he could lead the party to a broader disaster.

“The challenges the GOP faced remain and the finger pointing will only increase,” said Douglas Heye, a longtime top Republican congressional aide. “We remain bitterly divided.”

For Democrats, the victory in a state they never dreamed of winning just a few months ago delivers a jolt of energy—and, perhaps as important, could encourage balky donors who have left the party’s national machinery seriously underfunded this year. Heading into a crucial midterm election year, that combination of energy and dollars—and a belief in actually being able to win races in what last year was Trump country—is essential for Democratic hopes.

Perhaps most encouraging for Democrats, the same coalition of voters that propelled the party to victory in Virginia last month also emerged in Alabama. Exit polls showed that women made up a slight majority of the electorate and went for the Democratic Mr. Jones over the Republican Mr. Moore 58% to 41%. Nonwhite voters, principally African-Americans, made up one-third of the electorate and went for the Democrat 88% to 11%. And voters under the age of 30 went for Mr. Jones by a 60%-to-38% margin.

Democrats now will try to ride that combination of voters—women, minorities and young voters—to victory in race after race next year. They will need to pick off a net of only two Republican Senate seats to win the majority there, though that actually will be a tough assignment in light of the large number of Senate seats Democrats have to defend, several in GOP-leaning states.

Another key question Alabama’s results bring to the fore is whether Democrats can take control of the House of Representatives next year. That, too, remains an uphill climb.

The key numbers to keep in mind as Democrats approach that challenge are 24, 23 and 12.

Democrats need to turn 24 House seats from Republican to Democrat to take control. Their best chance at winning that number starts with the 23 House seats held by Republicans from congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election.

They will have to pick off most of those to win the House.

Meantime, they have to defend the seats of 12 Democratic House members from districts Mr. Trump carried last year.

In short, it’s still a tough task for Democrats in the contest that really will determine the contours of Washington in the era of Mr. Trump.

They will need a national wave. The results in Alabama certainly don’t guarantee such a wave. But they do suggest it’s possible.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

Appeared in the December 13, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump, GOP Face Political Reckoning.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-alabama-loss-trump-and-gop-face-political-reckoning-1513141779

Announcement coming from Sen. Franken amid fresh accusations

December 7, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, appears on the brink of resigning from the Senate.

Franken’s office said he will make an announcement at 11:45 a.m. Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. His office tweeted Wednesday evening that he had not made “a final decision” on resigning.

But a majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to quit after a woman emerged Wednesday morning saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” faces a chorus of calls to step aside, and Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.

“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.

Led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-I.L., lawmakers from across the political spectrum spoke Wednesday against sexual harassment in the workplace. They took aim at forced arbitration clauses in many work agreements. (Dec. 6)

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken’s departure was not certain. A tweet posted Wednesday evening on Franken’s Twitter account said: “Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”

Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.

“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.

The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

But it was clear his position had become untenable.

Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”

The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.

While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.

Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.

Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.

The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.

___

Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Washington and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Senate Passes Sweeping Revision of U.S. Tax Code

December 2, 2017

Republican-backed plan lowers corporate rate to 20% and reduces individual rates

Senate staff talk on the first floor of the Capitol in Washington on Friday.
Senate staff talk on the first floor of the Capitol in Washington on Friday. PHOTO: ALEX EDELMAN/ZUMA PRESS

WASHINGTON—The Senate passed sweeping revisions to the U.S. tax code past midnight Saturday after Republicans navigated a thicket of internal divisions over deficits and other issues to place their imprint on the economy.

The bill, which included about $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, would lower the corporate rate to 20% from 35%, reshape international business tax rules and temporarily lower individual taxes. It also touched other Republican goals, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and repealing the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, which would punch a sizable hole in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But some objectives, such as repealing the alternative minimum tax, fell by the wayside in last-minute wrangling.

“In the end it all came together and we’re pretty excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in an interview Friday. “We’ve got a corporate rate at 20% that we think makes us competitive in the world again and provided substantial middle-income tax relief.”

The bill passed 51-49, with all but one Republican voting for it and all Democrats voting against. The sole Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, stated his opposition before the vote, citing worries it would expand budget deficits.

The bill’s ultimate passage would mark a legislative victory for President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans. Mr. Trump has made the tax overhaul a centerpiece of his economic policy goals, focusing on a rewrite of business taxes, which he has argued make the U.S. uncompetitive internationally. The bill could also give lawmakers something to campaign on in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats blasted the bill, calling it an unacceptable giveaway to corporations and the wealthy. They also criticized last-minute Republican adjustments and waved handwritten amendments around the Senate floor to show how hastily the changes were being made.

“A flurry of last-minute changes will stuff even more money into the pockets of the wealthy and the biggest corporations while raising taxes on millions in the middle class,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s Democratic leader, said.

The House and Senate still need to reconcile competing versions of the tax plan, something GOP leaders hope to do by Christmas. The House and Senate bills overlap in many ways, and lawmakers expressed optimism about getting a final deal done.

“The bills are not all that different,” Mr. McConnell said. “We tried to move ours somewhat in the House direction.”

Senate Republicans called their bill an economic booster shot, their best chance to create faster sustained growth and higher wages. But it comes with risks. Congress’s own nonpartisan analysis found that the economic benefits would be modest and fade over time.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the tax cuts wouldn’t pay for themselves, as Republicans promised. Instead the analysis found they would increase deficits by $1 trillion over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth.

Reconcile This

The House and Senate tax bills differ in some important ways which will need to be sorted out in a conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers before final passage.

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Investors, for now, are more excited about the prospect of lower corporate taxes than about the risks associated with larger government deficits. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 673.60 points for the week, or 2.9%, to 24231.59. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes, which might be expected to rise if bond investors were worried about deficits, remain comfortably low, below 2.5%.

Senators began voting on amendments late Friday night and that continued into early Saturday. They defeated, 29-71, an attempt by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) to expand the child tax credit for low-income families, which would have been paid for by setting the corporate tax rate at 20.94%.

Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in favor of a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) to allow the use of 529 savings accounts to pay for elementary and secondary school costs, including private-school tuition.

Saturday’s vote came after a week of long hours and frantic rewriting and deal-making. The GOP tax effort wobbled late Thursday after the Joint Committee on Taxation analysis raised the concerns of budget hawks about deficits. An attempt to add deficit countermeasures in the bill failed to clear parliamentary rules.

Mr. McConnell and his team salvaged the measure with a series of last-minute deals to sway wavering senators.

Sens. Steve Daines (R., Mont.) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) won bigger tax breaks for pass-through businesses such as partnerships and S corporations. Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) secured more aggressive depreciation rules to encourage business investment after 2022.

Sen. Bob Corker (R. Tenn.) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.
Sen. Bob Corker (R. Tenn.) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) scored a $10,000 deduction for property taxes, an expanded but temporary deduction for people with large medical expenses, and a promise of future bipartisan health-care legislation to mitigate the effects of repealing the individual health-insurance mandate.

“This bill will provide much-needed tax relief and simplification for lower- and middle-income families, while spurring the creation of good jobs and greater economic growth,” Ms. Collins said.

To help pay for some of those changes, Republicans increased a new tax on companies’ stockpiled foreign profits to 14.5% for cash and 7.5% for illiquid assets, from 10% and 5% in a previous version.

Senate Republicans abandoned other goals. They preserved the alternative minimum tax instead of repealing it. They backed off a plan to abolish the estate tax. They retained seven tax brackets instead of collapsing them into three as planned. And after years of warning about the rising national debt and promising a tax overhaul that would be revenue-neutral, they chose to proceed despite warnings the measure would add to deficits in the long run.

Lawmakers released the final changes—moving around hundreds of billions of dollars—a few hours before the last vote, and there was no updated analysis of the bill’s impact on taxpayers and the economy as Republicans moved toward voting on it.

“The Republicans have managed to take a bad bill and make it worse. It was chock-full of special-interest giveaways before tonight,” Mr. Schumer said.

The bill would overhaul much of the U.S. tax system in ways that tax experts are only beginning to understand.

Mr. Trump and some Republicans set the 20% corporate tax rate as an immovable objective and despite some occasional doubts, the GOP stuck with it. That is a win for domestic retailers and manufacturers who have spent years building the political case for a lower tax rate.

Pass-through firms, which pay their business taxes through individual returns rather than corporate returns, won major concessions. They would get a 23% deduction from individual rates. More than half of U.S. business income goes to pass-throughs, and more than half of that goes to the top 1% of households.

Tax analysts said this deduction opens new and unprecedented avenues for tax avoidance, with individuals likely seeking to declare as much of their income as possible as lower-taxed business profits.

Even in a bill that provides sizable tax cuts to many, some taxpayers are set to lose. The bill would prevent individuals from deducting state and local income taxes. That is likely to raise federal taxes on upper-middle-class wage earners in high-tax states, such as California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. They are all represented by Democrats in the Senate.

The standard deduction would be nearly doubled and the child tax credit would rise, while personal exemptions would be repealed. For many households, that combination would modestly increase the amount of earnings that aren’t subject to income tax.

The bill also would push millions of households out of itemizing deductions. That would reduce the incentive to deduct mortgage interest and charitable contributions. But nonprofits, home builders and real-estate agents were unable to sway Republicans to reverse course on the measure.

Debt-reliant businesses would lose, too, under a provision that limits interest deductions to 30% of income.

Republicans said those changes were necessary to lower the rate and make other changes that would encourage investment in the U.S.

“The reforms that we make in this bill allow American companies to compete and win against those other countries around the world,” Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) said.

Write to Richard Rubin at richard.rubin@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/senate-passes-sweeping-revision-of-u-s-tax-code-1512197717

Related:

Republican Tax Plan Is Entering Its Make-or-Break Week

November 24, 2017

Bloomberg

  • Concerns over business income and deficit effects top agenda
  • Senate leaders plan to hold a floor vote as early as Thursday
Dimon Says U.S. Needs a Competitive Tax System
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Image may contain: 1 person
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Jamie Dimon. Photo by Dylan Martinez – Reuters

The $1.4 trillion item on President Donald Trump’s wish list — a package of tax cuts for businesses and individuals that he has said he wants to sign before year’s end — is headed into the legislative equivalent of a Black Friday scrum next week.

Senate Republican leaders plan a make-or-break floor vote on their bill as soon as Thursday — a dramatic moment that will come only after a marathon debate that could go all night. Democrats are expected to try to delay or derail the measure, and the GOP must hold together at least 50 votes from its thin, 52-vote majority in order to prevail.

Their chances improved this week when Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she’ll support repealing the “individual mandate” imposed by Obamacare — a provision that Senate tax writers are counting on to help finance the tax cuts. Murkowski had earlier signaled some reservations about the provision; and her support was widely viewed as a positive sign for the tax bill’s chances.

If the bill clears the Senate — a step that’s by no means guaranteed — lawmakers in both chambers would have to hammer out a compromise between their differing bills, a process that presents potential pitfalls of its own. For now, though, much of the Senate’s attention will focus on its legislation’s price tag.

Three GOP senators — Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma — have cited concerns about how the measure would affect federal deficits. Independent studies of the legislation have found that — contrary to its backers’ arguments — its tax cuts won’t stimulate enough growth to pay for themselves. Both the Senate bill, and one that cleared the House earlier this month, would reduce federal revenue over a decade by roughly $1.4 trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

On Wednesday, a report from the Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania said the bill would reduce federal revenue in each year from 2028 to 2033. That finding would mean it doesn’t comply with a key budget rule that Senate Republican leaders want to use to pass their bill with a simple majority over Democrats’ objections.

Budget Rule

In essence, that rule holds that any bill approved via that fast-track process can’t add to the deficit outside a 10-year budget window. The JCT has already found that the Senate bill would generate a surplus in its 10th year because it has set several tax breaks for businesses and individuals to expire.

But JCT hasn’t yet weighed in publicly on the revenue effects in subsequent years. Senate GOP leaders have expressed confidence that their proposal will satisfy the rule ultimately.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Ron Johnson of Wisconsin

Another potential stumbling block stems from the fact that Congress is trying to act on complex tax legislation under a tight, self-imposed timeline in order to deliver on promises from Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

For example, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said he can’t support the current Senate bill because it would give corporations a tax advantage — a large rate cut to 20 percent from 35 percent — that other, closely held businesses wouldn’t get.

‘Change the Most’

His concern centers on the Senate’s plan for large partnerships, limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and other so-called “pass-through” businesses. Under current law, these businesses simply pass their earnings to their owners, who pay income taxes at their individual rates — currently, as high as 39.6 percent, depending on how much they earn.

Read more: A QuickTake guide to the tax-cut debate

The Senate bill would provide pass-throughs with a 17.4 percent deduction for income — effectively giving the highest-earners a top tax rate that’s more than 10 percentage points above the proposed corporate tax rate. The House bill would allow owners to pay a 25 percent rate on 30 percent of their business’s earnings — or calculate their amounts based on their income from capital assets.

Reconciling those differences — and addressing Johnson’s concern — may be a complicated process. “That’s part of the equation that could change the most over the next few weeks,” Isaac Boltansky, senior vice president and policy analyst at Compass Point Research and Trading LLC, told Bloomberg Tax. “No one is planning around it yet. There is uncertainty across the board.”

Meanwhile, the Obamacare issue looms in the background — threatening at least one GOP senator’s vote. Susan Collins of Maine said earlier this week that tax bill “needs work,” and “I think there will be changes.”

The 2010 Affordable Care Act — popularly known as Obamacare — contained a provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a federal penalty. Removing that penalty in 2019, as the Senate tax bill proposes to do, would generate an estimated $318 billion in savings by 2027, according to the . The savings would stem from about 13 million Americans dropping their coverage, eliminating the need for federal subsidies to help them afford it.

Because many of the newly uninsured would be younger, healthier people, insurance premiums would rise 10 percent in most years, the nonpartisan fiscal scorekeeper found.

— With assistance by John Voskuhl, and Laura Davison

Includes videos:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-24/trump-s-1-4-trillion-tax-cut-is-entering-its-make-or-break-week

Tax Proposals Most Likely to Pass in Washington

November 17, 2017

While the differences between the two versions stand out, the similarities are an indicator of items that could actually pass

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate have separate tax-overhaul bills with a multitude of differences, but the similarities between them are a good indicator of what could actually pass.

Right now, the differences stand out most. Republicans in the House, for example, have voted to shrink the mortgage-interest deduction and end the write-off for large medical expenses and teachers’ expenses. Senate Republicans want to keep the current deductions for mortgage interest and large medical expenses. And they would expand the write-off for teachers’ expenses.

Republicans in both chambers want to cut taxes for pass-through businesses such as partnerships and S corporations, but in very different ways.

There are provisions that appear in both bills, and these are likelier than others to make it to the finish line. There are also a few proposals that were in both bills but have been discarded, and are likely to stay out.

More

  • The New Tax on Stock Investors Hidden in the Senate Tax Plan November 14, 2017
  • Tax Overhaul Is Planned for 2018, Leaving Just a Few Weeks to Prepare November 10, 2017
  • Concerns Mount Over the Pass-through Tax Cut November 3, 2017
  • Winners and Losers of Republican Tax Plan November 2, 2017

Here are areas of overlap between the House and Senate tax bills for individual taxpayers.

STANDARD DEDUCTION AND PERSONAL EXEMPTION. Both bills would almost double the deduction taxpayers get if they don’t itemize writeoffs on Schedule A. For 2018, this break would rise to $24,400 in the House bill and $24,000 in the Senate bill for married couples, and half that for singles.

Currently about 30% of more than 150 million filers itemize, and the change could reduce the percentage of those who itemize to 10%. This would simplify filing for many people and make enforcement easier for the IRS, but fewer filers could deduct charitable donations.

Both bills would also repeal the personal exemption for each family member, which is $4,150 in 2018.

ESTATE TAX. Both bills would double the current estate-tax exemption of $5 million per person, adjusted for inflation. The change would take effect for 2018, and the exemption would be $11.2 million per individual and $22.4 million per married couple.

ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX. Both bills repeal the AMT, a complex surtax that rescinds or postpones the value of many tax breaks.

STATE AND LOCAL TAXES. Both bills repeal the deduction for state and local income and sales taxes, so expect that to happen.

It is worth noting that they differ on property taxes. The House would allow filers to deduct up to $10,000 of property taxes, while the Senate fully repeals this write-off.

HOME SALES. Both bills make an important change to the popular exemption of profit on the sale of a home, which is $500,000 for married couples and $250,000 for singles.

The new rule would require sellers to live in a house for five of the prior eight years, rather than two out of the prior five years, to get the exemption. The Senate bill also limits deduction for high earners.

RETIREMENT PLANS. Current law allows a saver with a traditional individual retirement account, or IRA, which typically has taxable payouts, to convert some or all assets to a Roth IRA, which typically has tax-free payouts. Taxes are usually due on such transfers.

Current law also allows savers who do this Roth conversion to undo it, as long as the reversal is complete by Oct. 15 in the following year. This option has allowed savers whose assets drop in value after a Roth conversion to get out of owing tax on phantom income.

Both bills would end the ability of savers who do these Roth conversions to reverse them.

Both bills also include a provision that would extend the time for employees who leave a company to repay 401(k) loans. Under current law, workers must repay such loans within 60 days of leaving a firm, or else owe income tax on the loan’s balance.

Under the proposal, borrowers would have until they file their federal return to repay the loan.

STOCK OPTIONS. Both bills originally had provisions that effectively killed the use of so-called nonqualified stock options, which many companies award to valued employees. These provisions have been withdrawn from both bills.

MOVING EXPENSES. Both bills also repeal a deduction by taxpayers for certain moving expenses and another break for moving expenses that are reimbursed by employers. There is an exception for Armed Forces members on active duty.

DONATIONS FOR ATHLETIC SEATING. Both bills prohibit charitable deductions for donations made to colleges and universities for the right to purchase tickets to sporting events beginning in 2018. Current law allows such deductions.

Write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com

Russia’s Kaspersky to Allow Outside Review of Its Cybersecurity Software

October 23, 2017

Company hopes sharing source code will build trust after allegations its software helped Russia spy on Americans

Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm whose software U.S. officials suspect helped the Russian government spy on Americans, promised to make its source code available for an independent review.

The company said Monday the review is part of a “global transparency initiative” that it hopes will improve the trustworthiness of its products. It said it would hand over the source code for its software in the first quarter of next year but didn’t specify who would undertake the review or how widely the code would be…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-cybersecurity-firm-kaspersky-to-make-source-code-available-for-review-1508756502
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Eugene Kaspersky

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Kaspersky fights spying claims with code review plan

October 23, 2017 — 0745

Apple Pay now in 20 markets, nabs 90% of all mobile contactless transactions where active

Russian cybersecurity software maker Kaspersky Labs has announced what it’s dubbing a “comprehensive transparency initiative” as the company seeks to beat back suspicion that its antivirus software has been hacked or penetrated by the Russian government and used as a route for scooping up US intelligence.

In a post on its website today the Moscow-based company has published a four point plan to try to win back customer trust, saying it will be submitting its source code for independent review, starting in Q1 2018. It hasn’t yet specified who will be conducting the review but says it will be “undertaken with an internationally recognized authority”.

It has also announced an independent review of its internal processes — aimed at verifying the “integrity of our solutions and processes”. And says it will also be establishing three “transparency centers” outside its home turf in the next three years — to enable “clients, government bodies and concerned organizations to review source code, update code and threat detection rules”.

It says the first center will be up and running in 2018, and all three will be live by 2020. The locations are listed generally as: Asia, Europe and the U.S.

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Finally it’s also increasing its bug bounty rewards — saying it will pay up to $100K per discovered vulnerability in its main Kaspersky Lab products.

That’s a substantial ramping up of its current program which — as of April this year — could pay out up to $5,000 per discovered remote code execution bugs. (And, prior to that, up to $2,000 only.)

Kaspersky’s moves follow a ban announced by the US Department of Homeland Security on its software last month, citing concerns about ties between “certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks”.

The US Senate swiftly followed suit, voting to oust Kaspersky software from federal use. While three months earlier the General Services Administration also removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of approved federal vendors.

The extensive system-wide permissions of antivirus software could certainly make it an attractive target for government agents seeking to spy on adversaries and scoop up data, given the trust it demands of its users.

The WSJ has previously reported that Russian hackers working for the government were able to obtain classified documents from an NSA employee who had stored them on a personal computer that ran Kaspersky software.

Earlier this month CEO Eugene Kaspersky blogged at length — rebutting what he dubbed “false allegations in U.S. media”, and writing: “Our mission is to protect our users and their data. Surveillance, snooping, spying, eavesdropping… all that is done by espionage agencies (which we occasionally catch out and tell the world about), not us.”

We’re proud to keep on protecting people against all cyberthreats – no matter of false allegations in U.S. media https://kas.pr/x78t 

Photo published for What’s going on?

What’s going on?

I doubt you’ll have missed how over the last couple months our company has suffered an unrelenting negative-news campaign in the U.S. press.

eugene.kaspersky.com

But when your business relies so firmly on user trust — and is headquartered close to the Kremlin, to boot — words may evidently not be enough. Hence Kaspersky now announcing a raft of “transparency” actions.

Whether those actions will be enough to restore the confidence of US government agencies in Russian-built software is another matter though.

Kaspersky hasn’t yet named who its external reviewers will be, either. But reached for comment, a company spokeswoman told us: “We will announce selected partners shortly. Kaspersky Lab remains focused on finding independent experts with strong credentials in software security and assurance testing for cybersecurity products. Some recommended competencies include, but are not limited to, technical audits, code base reviews, vulnerability assessments, architectural risk analysis, secure development lifecycle process reviews, etc. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach, we welcome input and recommendations from interested parties at transparency@kaspersky.com

She also sent the following general company statement:

Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question, and the company reiterates its willingness to work alongside U.S. authorities to address any concerns they may have about its products as well as its systems.

As there has not been any evidence presented, Kaspersky Lab cannot investigate these unsubstantiated claims, and if there is any indication that the company’s systems may have been exploited, we respectfully request relevant parties responsibly provide the company with verifiable information. It’s disappointing that these unverified claims continue to perpetuate the narrative of a company which, in its 20 year history, has never helped any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.

In addition, with regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore, Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organisations to help mitigate this threat.

Contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab technologies are designed and used for the sole purpose of detecting all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organisations from these cyberthreats — its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission.

“We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide,” added Kaspersky in another statement.

Interestingly enough, the move is pushing in the opposite direction of US-based cybersecurity firm Symantec — which earlier this month announced it would no longer be allowing governments to review the source code of its software because of fears the agreements would compromise the security of its products.

Source:https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/23/kaspersky-fights-spying-claims-with-code-review-plan/

Many Senate Republicans Reject Bob Corker, Stick Up for President Trump

October 10, 2017

By CHARLIE SPIERING

10 Oct 2017

Sen. Bob Corker claimed to speak for his Republican colleagues in an interview with the New York Times, but some in the Senate are not happy with his decision to pick a fight with President Donald Trump.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Corker told the Times, claiming Trump was viewed as a threat to U.S. national security and global stability.

But a spokesperson for Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told Breitbart News that the senator did not agree with what the retiring Corker had to say.

“No, he does not agree with Sen. Corker,” the spokesperson revealed in a statement. “Senator Barrasso has worked closely with President Trump and will continue to be a strong ally in Congress.”

Barrasso is facing re-election in 2018 amidst rumblings of a possible Republican primary challenger.

Some Republicans staffers made it clear that Corker’s comments were self-serving and unhelpful — especially after announcing his decision to retire rather than seek re-election.

“Given his severe case of short man syndrome and the fact he would have lost his primary, it’s not surprising Corker is seeking attention and affirmation from the Beltway elites,” a senior Republican aide working for a Senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told Breitbart News.

Although many Senate Democrats celebrated Corker’s criticism of the president, Republican staffers viewed Corker’s outburst as a bad strategy.

“Senator Corker should not be picking this fight, he won’t win it,” a senior Republican aide for one of Corker’s Senate colleagues told Breitbart News.

Trump allies in Congress explain that Corker has joined what they describe as the “naysayers caucus” — veteran Republicans like Senator John McCain who vote based on their shared dislike of Trump rather than on principled opposition.

Corker’s critics also view the Senator as in league with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and actively working against some of Trump’s more controversial foreign policy goals.

“Corker is Tillerson’s lapdog on the Foreign Relations Committee,” the aide working for a senator on the Corker’s committee told Breitbart News. “Our staff cheered when Corker announced his retirement.”

One Republican aide explained that although many Senators thought Corker’s comments were ridiculous, his fellow senators were unlikely to publicly criticize the powerful veteran senator as they still had to work with him for the remainder of his term.

Many of Republican senators serving with Corker on the Foreign Relations Committee did not respond to requests for comment from Breitbart News.

Although Paul serves with Corker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not criticize him directly.

“Senator Paul considers President Trump a personal friend and has worked with him on numerous issues,” Rand Paul’s press secretary Sergio Gor replied, when asked about Corker’s comments.

Other conservative Republicans declined to criticize Corker, but signaled their support for Trump.

When asked if Cruz agreed with Corker’s comment a spokesperson for the Texas Senator replied, “No.”

“From day one, Senator Cruz has worked closely with President Trump to honor our promises to the voters to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, rein in job-killing regulations, and confirm strong constitutionalist judges,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Breitbart News.

When asked about Corker’s comments, Sen. Mike Lee spokesman Conn Carroll replied, “Sen Lee speaks for himself.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reverted to his usual non-combative tone, when asked about Corker’s comments.

“Sen. Corker is a valuable member of the Senate Republican caucus and he’s also on the Budget committee and a particularly important player as we move to the floor on the budget next week and he’s an important part of our team,” McConnell said on Monday.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/10/10/exclusive-many-senate-republicans-reject-bob-corker-stick-up-for-president-trump/

Lindsey Graham: Jeff Sessions ‘is wrong’ on Dreamers taking jobs from Americans

September 6, 2017
Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin are pictured. | AP Photo
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (right) speaks with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about their bipartisan Dream Act during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 5. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion Tuesday that so-called Dreamers have taken jobs away from American citizens is “wrong,” Sen. Lindsey Graham declared Wednesday morning, pushing back against his former Senate colleague and calling for compassion from Congress.

“Jeff Sessions is wrong. These kids are not taking jobs from American citizens, they’re part of our country,” Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC’s “Today” show, rebuking Sessions’ assertion from the previous day. “They’re fully employed for the most part, they’re in school, they will add great value. The president is right to want to have a heart for these kids.”

The attorney general’s comment about Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, came during his announcement that the Trump administration will rescind DACA, a program that offers work permits to Dreamers and protects them from deportation. Sessions, known as a hawk on immigration issues during his Senate tenure, blamed the program for hurting American job-seekers and for creating a “humanitarian crisis” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Donald Trump, though, has adopted a warmer attitude towards Dreamers, pledging to treat them compassionately both before and after his announcement rescinding DACA. The president’s decision keeps the program in place for six months, creating a window for Congress to act on legislation to more permanently protect Dreamers. Similar legislation, dubbed the DREAM Act, failed to pass Congress during former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Should Congress fail, Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday night that he would “revisit this issue.”

Graham, in his “Today” show interview, said Congress should create not just a path to legal status but also offer U.S. citizenship to Dreamers. But he also said Trump was right to rescind DACA because the program was on track to be ruled unconstitutional.

“The compassionate thing to do is to give these kids legal status, let them become citizens, they are all non-felons, they have no other country to go to,” Graham said. “They came here as young children, they’ve lived their life in America and they would add great value to our country. That’s the right thing to do regarding the kids.”

 

The South Carolina senator predicted that legislation to protect Dreamers could make its way through Congress packaged alongside funding for border security, money that would help Trump make good on a campaign promise. But Graham also said that money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a specific campaign pledge of the president’s, need not be part of an immigration compromise, in part because it would not be effective.

“I think there is a congressional deal to be made for border security, that would not include a 2,200 mile wall, and the DREAM Act,” Graham said. “Because nobody — I’ve been to the border — nobody believes a 2,200 mile wall is the way to secure a border.”