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National Govt & Politics
With health care bill in limbo, GOP shifts into push for major tax reform
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With health care bill in limbo, GOP shifts into push for major tax reform

With health care bill in limbo, GOP shifts into push for major tax reform
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

With health care bill in limbo, GOP shifts into push for major tax reform

As a GOP plan to overhaul the Obama health law foundered in the U.S. Senate earlier this month, Republicans in Congress quickly shifted their focus in recent days to a new goal, getting a major tax reform bill to the President's desk, though many on Capitol Hill believe the undertaking could be more complicated - and includes even more political pitfalls - than the derailed debate on a plan to get rid of Obamacare.

"We want a tax code that is more simple, affordable, and competitive," said Speaker Paul Ryan. "And we want to get this done in 2017."

What are the chances of that happening, and when will we see the details on the GOP plan?

1. GOP still figuring out the details of tax reform. While you will hear a lot in coming weeks about how Republicans are focused on tax reform, there is still no actual bill to look at. There are trial balloons being floated. There have been bullet points issued. But there is no bill that you can look at right now, and it's not exactly clear when we will see something introduced. Lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee - which is in charge of tax issues - are at work on the plans, but Republicans have said they want to pre-clear a plan that the House, Senate and White House will be on board with. But the advertisements for it from the GOP are not about tax cuts, but about fundamental tax reform - no more 1040A, with all the complicated schedules. Just do it on a postcard.

2. Will tax reform go through budget reconciliation? This was the original plan, for the GOP to bring forward a bill that would be dealt with under reconciliation, in order to avoid the possibility of a Senate filibuster. That would mean you only need a bare majority to pass major changes to the tax code. But there have been conflicting signals in recent weeks from GOP lawmakers on this. The last time there was major tax reform legislation in 1986, the House approved it with 292 votes, the Senate with 74 - both were veto proof margins. That process was not done through reconciliation, so it had to be bipartisan to work. The budget resolution in the House - which has yet to be voted on by the full House - calls for budget reconciliation. But some key Senators have been making noise about a regular tax bill. We'll see.

3. One of the trial balloons - limit the mortgage interest deduction. One idea that was floated last week was not eliminating the mortgage interest deduction - frankly, that seems impossible - but limiting it, maybe to no more than $500,000 loans. Under current law, taxpayers can write off the interest they pay on mortgage loans of up to $1 million - that would include first and second mortgages. That has drawn the expected reaction from the National Association of Realtors: "Proposals that repeal or weaken tax incentives to encourage homeownership must be rejected," the group said in their 'August Recess Talking Points.' "We need tax reform, but it must first do no harm."

4. Also maybe on the chopping block - state and local tax deduction. This is an issue that doesn't really hit much of Red State America, because high state and local taxes are more often linked to states on the East Coast, along with California. The problem for Republicans though is that there are a decent chunk of GOP lawmakers - maybe around 20 to 30 - who could feel the heat from voters about any major changes on that front. Like the mortgage interest deduction, this is one that might not be abolished, but maybe there would be limits placed on how much you can write off on your federal return. The top ten spots to be hit by any changes - New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, DC, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Rhode Island. There are 34 GOP lawmakers in those ten states.

5. The work of 1986 has not been replicated in 2017. I keep reading all these optimistic forecasts about getting tax reform done this year. But all I keep thinking is that the groundwork has not been laid like it was in the Reagan Administration. As for the Congress, when you look back on that legislative endeavor, there were some heavy hitters involved in this legislation, as the lineup was notable at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Dan Rostenkowski, Bob Packwood, Tip O'Neill, Bob Dole, and James Baker. Nothing against those in charge now, but as a group, Kevin Brady, Orrin Hatch, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Steven Mnuchin, probably don't have the edge on their 1986 counterparts. Mnuchin said earlier this year that tax reform would be done by August. Reporters laughed at that prediction. Click here to read more about the work that went on for the 1986 Act.

6. Gucci Gulch isn't even in high gear yet. Gucci Gulch is the name that was given to the area outside the House Ways and Means Committee, where well-heeled lobbyists roamed the halls, waiting for news about the 1986 Tax Reform Act. If you think there was lobbying involved in the health reform effort by Republicans, that will be dwarfed by what goes on around any tax bill. All sorts of businesses would be impacted by major changes. That was a giant legislative undertaking. It wasn't done in a few months, but rather over a period of several years. And many believe it has little chance of getting done in 2017, no matter the optimistic statements of supporters. There aren't many people in Congress who were actually around for the 1986 tax bill. It's difficult to describe to my colleagues just how big of a deal that bill was - and still is. I feel like the old curmudgeon in the press gallery talking about the glory days of old, when it comes to tax reform.

Have you read anything about the Tax Reform Act of 1986? Most people haven't, so amaze your friends and family by leafing through the 902 page Joint Committee on Taxation report from 1987 about the law.

That's right - a 902 page explanation of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Just think of how long that document will have to be this time around if you make major changes to the tax code for both businesses and individuals.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Southeastern Grocers announced the closing of another eight Florida stores in coming months. Jacksonville based Southeastern Grocers, is the parent company to Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco y Mas grocery stores.  The company owns more than 550 stores throughout the southeast and declared bankruptcy last spring. The bankruptcy restructuring included closing 94 stores to help lower debt by about $600 million.  In addition to the eight stores closing in Florida, two of which are in Central Florida, another 14 are closing throughout the South.  The two in Central Florida include the Winn-Dixie at 7840 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy in Kissimmee and the Winn-Dixie at 5732 N. Hiawassee Road in Orlando.
  • Prosecutors in Illinois have filed 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against R&B musician R. Kelly, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Friday at a news conference. Foxx said the charges were related to incidents alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with four separate victims. >> Read more trending news Update 9:20 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly turned himself in to Chicago police after being charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. The 52-year-old singer, whose real name is Robert Kelly, arrived at the precinct in a van about 8:15 p.m. Friday. If taken into custody, he is expected to be held overnight and appear Saturday in bond court. Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg said he maintains his innocence and looks forward to being acquitted at trial. Update 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly’s attorney said the singer is “shell-shocked” by the aggravated sexual abuse indictment against him and plans to turn himself in to authorities Friday night. Steve Greenberg told The Associated Press that his client is “extraordinarily disappointed and depressed” by the 10 counts Chicago prosecutors filed against him. Update 3:15 p.m. EST Feb. 22: Authorities held a brief news conference Friday to announce the charges against Kelly. Foxx said the charges brought against Kelly involve four victims, three of which were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. The alleged sexual abuse took place between 1998 and 2010, she said. The charges are class 2 felonies which carry maximum sentences of seven years per charge, Foxx said. She added that they were “also probationable.” “We anticipate that Mr. Kelly will appear in bond court tomorrow afternoon,” Foxx said. Update 2:50 p.m. EST Feb. 22: The Chicago Tribune reported that the charges against Kelly involve four victims, at least three of which are underage. The incidents were alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with minors between the ages of 13 and 16, according to the Tribune. A judge on Friday approved of a no-bail arrest warrant for Kelly, the Sun-Times reported. Authorities are expected to provide more information on the case at a news conference Friday afternoon. Original report: Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, confirmed to The Associated Press that charges had been filed against the 52-year-old Grammy winner but declined to say the specific number. Media reports said there were 10 counts, all involving underage victims. >> New sex tape allegedly shows R. Kelly having sex with underage girl, according to reports The charges are felonies that carry maximum sentences of seven years each, if Kelly is convicted, WGN-TV reported. Kelly, one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, has several times over the years been accused of sexual misconduct, allegations that he’s consistently denied. Jurors acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges at a 2008 trial. Those charges stemmed from a video prosecutors alleged showed of Kelly having sex with a girl as young as 13. >> Report: R. Kelly being investigated by Atlanta-area DA after docuseries abuse allegations The latest charges were filed nearly two weeks after a man gave authorities new footage that purportedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual acts with an underage girl. The man's attorney, Michael Avenatti, told CNN last week that the man was a whistleblower. Avenatti said his client “worked for and has known R. Kelly for decades and he met the girl on a number of occasions.” On Friday, Avenatti seemed to announce the charges against Kelly with a two word tweet: “It’s over.” >> Who is R. Kelly? 7 things to know  “After 25 years of serial sexual abuse and assault of underage girls, the day of reckoning for R. Kelly has arrived,” he wrote in a subsequent tweet. Avenatti said he will provide more information about the case at a press conference Friday afternoon. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is also expected to hold a news conference Friday. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office have until midnight Friday to make recommendations about the sentencing for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who pleaded guilty to several charges last year. >> Read more trending news Prosecutors are expected to file the sentencing memo in federal court in Washington, where Manafort pleaded guilty in September to charges including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice through witness tampering. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation  Manafort agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s team as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors; however, authorities later said Manafort lied to investigators. Prosecutors are not expected to recommend leniency for him. Manafort’s attorneys will have until midnight Monday to file their own sentencing memo. A judge is expected to hand down Manafort’s sentence March 13 at a 9:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. >> Judge rules Paul Manafort intentionally lied after agreeing to cooperate In a separate case that also stemmed from Mueller’s investigation, a jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty last summer of tax and bank fraud charges in a case related to work he and an associate did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. Prosecutors last week recommended Manafort serve between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison and be fined as much as $24 million for those crimes. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in that case during a 9 a.m. hearing March 8 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, according to a court filing. >> Mueller recommends Paul Manafort be sentenced to 19.5-24.5 years in prison and $24M fine Last month, defense attorneys said Manafort has been kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. He’s had severe gout for several months of his incarceration, according to his attorneys, and it’s sometimes been severe enough to require him to use a wheelchair. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • An Alabama woman has been charged with multiple burglaries that she is accused of committing while the homeowners were at the funerals of loved ones. Jennifer Lynn Azizian, of Madison, is charged with four counts of felony burglary out of Priceville and a single count of misdemeanor burglary by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.  Sheriff’s Office and Priceville police officials allege Azizian found her targets by reading local obituaries. She then Googled addresses of those listed as survivors and broke into their homes while they were attending the funerals, investigators said.  “She would then go to the address during the time of the funeral and forcibly enter the home to locate prescription medication,” Sheriff’s Office officials said in a news release. “As people were laying their loved ones to rest, little did they know that someone was adding to their grief by breaking into their homes,” Priceville police officials said in a statement obtained by AL.com. “It was clear that the suspect had been researching obituaries for some time.” >> Read more trending news Princeville police officials said they had video footage of the burglar and her vehicle but did not know who she was, AL.com said. That changed Feb. 20, when Morgan County deputies received a call about a burglary in progress in neighboring Hartselle.  The deputies performed a traffic stop on Azizian, who was identified by the homeowner, Sheriff’s Office officials said.  Azizian allegedly gave investigators a statement admitting to the burglaries. She was booked into the Morgan County Jail with bond set at $60,300. She is no longer listed as an inmate, suggesting she has been released. Geoff Halbrooks, a longtime employee of Peck Funeral Home in Hartselle, told WHNT News 19 in Huntsville that social media is making crimes like those Azizian is accused of easier to commit. “(They) look on social media and look at their newspapers and just find those families,” Halbrooks said. “There are ways to do that now without a funeral home or anyone else giving their specific address.” He urged grieving loved ones to have someone they trust house-sit while they are away at funerals.  “There are friends and extended family members that would be glad to stay at their home to watch over their personal things while they're handling the affairs of the funeral,” Halbrooks told the news station. 
  • New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged in connection with a prostitution sting in Florida, WFXT reported. >> Read more trending news The charge follows a series of raids involving at least eight massage parlors on the east coast of Florida. In a statement, officials with the NFL said the league was “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments,” according to NFL.com. On Tuesday, police announced the arrest of two women on prostitution, racketeering and money laundering charges and said nearly 200 others would be arrested on solicitation charges. Police in Vero Beach announced the arrest of eight other suspects linked to three massage parlors, plus nearly 200 men who solicited prostitution. >> See the latest on Boston25News.com Police confirmed Friday that Kraft was involved in the bust. Authorities said surveillance camera footage showed him inside one of the spas. “He was a regular,” police said. Authorities in Jupiter said they filed a complaint against Kraft, who has been charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution. The charge is a misdemeanor. Kraft, 77, denied the veracity of the charges in a statement released Friday. Police said the state attorney in Palm Beach County is handling the case. >> Could Robert Kraft face sanctions from NFL for prostitution charges? Kraft has a long history in Foxborough and New England starting back in 1965, when he graduated from Harvard Business School. Kraft took ownership of the Patriots in 1994 after being a season ticket owner for 23 years. The day he bought the team, he said his objective was to bring a championship to New England.  In the five years before he bought the team, the Patriots had won fewer than 25 percent of their games. In February 2002, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. >> Photos: Patriots owner Robert Kraft through the years Later that year, Gillette Stadium opened to replace the Foxborough stadium. Gillette was privately funded by Kraft and remains one of the few sports stadiums in the country that didn't rely on public money. One year after buying the Patriots, Kraft became one of the founders of Major League Soccer when he established the New England Revolution.  >> Who is Patriots owner Robert Kraft? In 1998, the Kraft Group was founded, a group of companies including those in the paper and packaging, sports and entertainment, construction and real estate and philanthropy industries. According to the company’s website, they employ nearly 10,000 people worldwide.  Kraft lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and also owns a home in Palm Beach, Florida. The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Washington Insider

  • Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled their one page plan on Friday to overturn President Donald Trump's bid to funnel more money to a border wall by declaring a national emergency, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters said the House would vote next Tuesday to block the President's executive actions on funding for the wall. 'Members of Congress all swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution,' the Speaker said. 'The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated,' Pelosi wrote earlier this week in a letter to fellow Democrats. Democrats said they already have more than a majority of members signed on to the one page resolution to reject the Trump national emergency. 'We hope that enough of our normal Republican enablers will join us to stand up for the Constitution,' said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). 'If not, we’re ready to turn to the courthouse.' As of Friday, only one Republican in the House had signed on to the plan to reject the President’s national emergency, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “Trump’s absurd declaration of a “national emergency” undercuts the Constitution,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as approval in the House would send the plan to the Senate. Under special rules governing this process, GOP leaders would not be able to ignore the House action, as a vote must take place on the resolution. But even if it passes in the Senate, a veto is likely by President Trump, and at this point - it seems unlikely that Democrats could muster enough GOP votes for a two-thirds supermajority to override a veto.