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Summary for week ending October 27, 2017

Maneuverings

Obamacare – 

While the budget resolution sets the stage for a return to a repeal and replace effort next year using the reconciliation process requiring 50% plus one for passage, the Congressional Budget Office weighed in on the Senators Murray and Alexander bipartisan bill that aims to stabilize the insurance markets thereby avoiding the imminent premium increases the insurers have been threatening in light of no legislative successes and Trump’s threat to end the cost sharing subsidies that keep rates lower for low income and those with preexisting conditions.

CBO has weighed in on the bill and calculated that passage would reduce the deficit by $3.8 billion.

The Budget Resolution – 

While the airwaves are jammed with reporting and commenting on the Republican / Trump tax reform- tax cut package, the House and Senate are moving forward with the FY 2018 budget resolution and, perhaps, the attention to the former rather than the latter is that the budget resolution is largely irrelevant to the actual budget process. What should be a guide to taxing, spending, and US policy will have no actual impact on what ultimately comes out of the Appropriation Committee largely because the real purpose of the bill is to, essentially, stack the deck so that Republicans can move their chosen legislation (primarily the forthcoming tax bill) without any support from the Democratic Minority.

 Those Investigations – 

Special Counsel Mueller continues while keeping a tight lid on his progress but there is some speculation that he is close to revealing something big since conservative media has been heavily trying to question Mueller’s ethics and spread doubts about his integrity.

On the Congress side of investigations, it is a different story;

The Senate Judiciary Committee investigation, having come late in the game is showing signs of partisan divide.

The Senate Intelligence Committee continues to wade through tens of thousands of documents but still cannot yet get an interview with Christopher Steele, the former MI6 operator who compiled a dossier on Trump and Russia under the research company Fusion GPS who was first paid by a Republican Trump opponent and then by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

The House Intelligence Committee leaders have finally come clean on their agenda, and with the Democratic committee members on the sidelines, are going full steam to investigate Hillary Clinton. That should be no surprise as we have written here Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) having recused himself due to a late-night visit to the White House where he was given classified information that some believe somewhat exonerated Trump from any campaign wrongdoing regarding the Russians but has reentered the fray seeking information from Justice and the White House that he now says is about investigating Clinton but has the potential to undermine Mueller’s investigations. On that team, if you will, are stalwart Clinton bashers Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC). Rooney, a second-term Member did little in his first term other than attack the constitutionality of ObamaCare. Gowdy ran the $7 million investigation into Benghazi but produced nothing definitive on the matter. The other person to watch is House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) who has entered the fray late and is seeking information regarding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and any relationship between him and Mueller. Goodlatte has gone on record saying he just wants to make sure the American public is getting the right information but, again, the devil is in the details of what Goodlatte is looking for. Expect Mueller to be next in line to be vilified in the conservative pushback.

The Big Beautiful Tax Reform / Tax Cut plan –

The tax reform/cut bill is now just being run up the flagpole to see which way the political winds are blowing. It is not to be defined by Trump’s proposals, though. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) who is not running for reelection and has made lucid statements questioning Trump’s soundness for office has stated that the tax reform effort has been on the Republican agenda for years and it will be a congressional bill that gets sent to Trump. Not a Trump bill.

The purpose behind the bill will be to reduce taxes and so stimulate the economy thereby providing jobs and further tax revenues. Current proposals would be to reduce the tax free donations to 401 k accounts from $18,000 to $2,400, creating a new tax status for millionaires, and repealing the tax write-off for local and state taxes. Another possibility that seems to be waning is a cross border tax whereby US exporters would pay no export tax but incoming goods would be taxed at 20%.

Too indefinite at this point to predict, but it should be noted that the revenues lost in tax cuts must be paid for and that is where the budget resolution comes in; reductions in social safety net programs would seem to be the order of the day. Since the fate of the Alexander-Murray healthcare bill mentioned above is uncertain, it is not known that the nearly $4 billion in deficit reduction would somehow fit into the tax cut strategy. But despite the much needed revenue to help sustain a tax package, many will resist the bill because it does not repeal ObamaCare.

Tax reform and tax cuts are complicated; no one wants to give up a deduction and everyone wants some kind of relief. From that perspective, in spite of the Republican drive to get some substantial legislation passed by the end of 2017, the effort may produce a bill in the House but getting Senate approval could leak into next year.

Senate

Senators agreed with the House-passed HJR 111, a bill that rolls back a recent regulation that would have allowed financial consumers to sue for financial wrongdoing rather than rely on binding arbitration.

The Senate also agreed to HR 2266, the vehicle for some $36 billion in disaster aid including nearly $500 million to fight the California fires.

House

The House approved three bills that would affect Hezbollah through sanctions, and encourage the EU to support the US in its efforts to undermine the group. Hezbollah began as a humanitarian organization in Lebanon and later morphed into a military opposition to Israel and its machinations in the area.

The House also imposed sanctions on North Korea and Iran with efforts to block banking financial involvement in North Korea and block Iran from further development of a missile system.

Another bill requires better security at several Cuban airports.

The House also passed a bill that strengthens punishment for not responding to a congressional subpoena and would provide sophisticated electronics to identify opioids, fentanyl to be specific, and other drugs crossing the border or being moved around the country by mail or special delivery.

The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening November 2nd.

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