Tax over­haul, must-do bills await Congress

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Richard Lard­ner, An­drew Tay­lor and Erica Werner of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Les­ley Clark of the McClatchy Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau.

WASH­ING­TON — Law­mak­ers re­turn­ing from re­cess af­ter La­bor Day will con­front a pile of bills they must ap­prove. They’ll also face an­other stack of work they’ve promised to tackle.

Wor­ried about the Repub­li­can Se­nate’s abil­ity to de­liver on big cam­paign prom­ises, the White House and its al­lies are mak­ing a strong push to get at least three vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate Democrats to back the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tax over­haul agenda.

The shaky Democrats, all up for re-elec­tion next year in states that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump won hand­ily, have al­ready sig­naled in­ter­est in work­ing across the aisle — even as their Demo­cratic col­leagues have urged unity in fight­ing any GOP tax plan that dis­pro­por­tion­ately helps the rich.

“We are con­fi­dent right now that we will be able to earn [Democrats’] sup­port with our tax re­form agenda,” said Marc Short, the White House direc­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, he said, have had dis­cus­sions with vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate and House Democrats.

Repub­li­cans were par­tic­u­larly cheered when Demo­cratic Sens. Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia de­clined to sign a Se­nate Demo­cratic cau­cus let­ter to Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers de­tail­ing what is not ac­cept­able in a tax plan, no­tably a tax cut for the top 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans. Ev­ery other Demo­crat and the two in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors who cau­cus with them signed the let­ter.

In­stead, Manchin said in a state­ment that he’s “par­tic­u­larly ex­cited” to work on the tax code with Trump, who crushed Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton in West Vir­ginia, win­ning 68 per­cent of the vote.

Trump drew thou­sands to a rally in Hunt­ing­ton on Thurs­day night, cel­e­brat­ing the de­ci­sion Thurs­day by West Vir­ginia’s Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Jim Jus­tice, to change party af­fil­i­a­tion and be­come a Repub­li­can.

In Wash­ing­ton, Manchin dis­missed the Demo­cratic tax let­ter as a stunt.

“Press re­leases don’t solve prob­lems, peo­ple do,” he said. “Now is not the time to make tax re­form harder. Now is the time to get every­one in­volved and put ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble.”

Heitkamp is up for re-elec­tion in a state Trump won by 36 per­cent­age points. She de­clined to sign the let­ter, say­ing, “We shouldn’t pre­judge any of this.” Don­nelly rep­re­sents In­di­ana, where Trump won by 19 per­cent­age points.

The pitch to Se­nate Democrats comes as Repub­li­cans have strug­gled to reach con­sen­sus within their own ranks and give Trump a big leg­isla­tive vic­tory. A years­long pledge to re­peal the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act col­lapsed in the Se­nate last month when three Repub­li­cans re­jected the GOP lead­er­ship’s ini­tia­tive.

But core prin­ci­ples of the tax over­haul re­main un­re­solved, in­clud­ing whether the ef­fort would raise the bud­get deficit. Cru­cial de­tails must be set­tled, among them how far to lower rates and which tax cred­its and de­duc­tions would be erased. The last time those prob­lems were rec­on­ciled and the tax code broadly re­shaped was 1986.

Although Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has said he’ll try to use a pro­ce­dural ma­neu­ver to al­low de­bate on the tax over­haul to be cut off with 51 votes in­stead of the tra­di­tional 60, Repub­li­cans hold a nar­row mar­gin of just 52 seats in the cham­ber. That means Democrats could cast de­cid­ing votes.

The White House has “learned how dif­fi­cult it is to thread the nee­dle with 52 sen­a­tors,” Short said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready had con­ver­sa­tions with more than 200 mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the House’s Blue Dog Coali­tion of fis­cally con­ser­va­tive Democrats and the Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus, a group of Repub­li­cans and Democrats. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has also spo­ken with red state Se­nate Democrats, Short said.

Two must-do items will dom­i­nate Congress’ Septem­ber agenda: in­creas­ing the gov­ern­ment’s debt limit to pre­vent a fed­eral de­fault and pass­ing a tem­po­rary spend­ing bill to avert a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Many Repub­li­cans can’t bring them­selves to back a debt limit boost. But they run the gov­ern­ment, and it’s their re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­liver those votes. Demo­cratic sup­port will be re­quired, and some hope they’ll win con­ces­sions in ex­change.

A stop­gap mea­sure will be needed be­cause the 12 an­nual spend­ing bills are be­hind sched­ule. There’s no agree­ment on their over­all price tag, which will be in the $1 tril­lion-plus range.

One wild card is whether Trump will press to fund the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der wall he’s pledged. That could spark a con­fronta­tion with Democrats.

The Se­nate aims to ap­prove the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill in Septem­ber. That’s when Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain, R-Ariz., ex­pects to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton af­ter start­ing brain can­cer treat­ment. He and McCon­nell wanted to pass the bill last month, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., thwarted that plan. Paul wants votes on amend­ments on in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion and war au­tho­riza­tion.

McCain has warned he’ll use the bill to map a strat­egy for Afghanistan if Trump fails to de­velop a plan.

Else­where on Capi­tol Hill, the House and Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Rus­sia worked with Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to try to help him win the elec­tion. The FBI and Jus­tice Depart­ment spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller are also in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Trump has re­peat­edly called the is­sue “fake news” and a “witch hunt.”

Law­mak­ers from both par­ties seem de­ter­mined to press on. Sen­a­tors in­tro­duced bi­par­ti­san bills last week cre­at­ing ju­di­cial re­view pro­ce­dures that could shield Mueller from fir­ing by Trump.

Law­mak­ers hope to ap­prove a bi­par­ti­san bill speed­ing fed­eral ap­proval of projects to ex­port liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas and boost­ing en­ergy sources and ef­fi­ciency.

Repub­li­cans also want to roll back the En­dan­gered Species Act, say­ing it hin­ders drilling and log­ging.

And sev­eral pro­grams ex­pire Sept. 30, in­clud­ing the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, a Demo­cratic fa­vorite.

Also fac­ing ex­pi­ra­tion are fed­eral flood in­sur­ance and pro­grams run by the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Con­ser­va­tives chafe at re­new­ing flood in­sur­ance, which is $25 bil­lion in debt. FAA re­newal is stuck over a plan to trans­fer the agency’s air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem to a pri­vate non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., re­sponds to ques­tions July 11 dur­ing a TV news in­ter­view on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton. Manchin is one of the Demo­cratic sen­a­tors who de­clined to sign a Se­nate Demo­cratic cau­cus let­ter to Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers de­tail­ing what is not ac­cept­able in a tax plan, no­tably a tax cut for the top 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans.

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