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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 19 hours 16 min ago

North Carolina investigation finds little voter fraud in 2016

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 12:31

An audit of the 2016 election by the state of North Carolina found that out of 4.8 million votes cast last November, elections officials uncovered evidence that just over 500 votes were cast illegally, most of them by convicted felons who were out of prison on probation or parole, as authorities unearthed no evidence of large scale voter fraud.

“It is important to recognize that suspected cases of ineligible voters casting ballots and/or committing fraud represent a tiny fraction,” read the report from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

The report broke down the ineligible voting in North Carolina this way:

+ 441 possible votes by suspected active felons

+ 41 non-citizens living in the U.S. legally

+ 24 cases of double voting

+ 2 cases of voter impersonation

Of those, North Carolina's audit confirmed 41 votes were made by non-citizens; 441 were made by active felons. https://t.co/CxBtXkj0I4

— ⚡️ luis (@RunGomez) April 21, 2017

The results of that investigation did not show anything close to a situation in North Carolina which would contribute to 3-5 million illegal votes in the November elections, as has been claimed by President Donald Trump.

“441 of the 508 allegations involve felon voting,” said Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida. “Simplest solution: let paroles and probationers vote.”

Of the legal non-citizens who voted in North Carolina – 41 votes total – investigators also zeroed in on several dozen others, but those people were able to provide documents showing they were in fact United States citizens.

There were no examples found of someone voting in North Carolina who was in the United States illegally.

“All cases involve documented non-citizens who were admitted into the country lawfully,” the report noted.

“One registrant in her 70s has lived in the United States for more than 50 years and believed that she was a citizen because she had been married to a U.S. citizen,” the report stated.

The North Carolina election audit found the main problem with voting by felons and voting by non-citizens was the same – people simply didn’t understand the rules on who was eligible.

“Consequently, warnings on voter registration forms and voting documents are being reviewed to improve their effectiveness,” the North Carolina elections board reported.

The two cases of voter impersonation both involved voters who died in the weeks before Election Day, where the family members felt like they still needed to cast that person’s vote.

“I was not trying to be deceitful or fraudulent,” one woman wrote of filling out her late husband’s absentee ballot. “I completed the ballot on my husband’s behalf, according to his wishes, and signed his name,” she wrote in an email to investigators.

In the second case, a family member explained to authorities that her 89 year old mother “was a tremendous Donald Trump fan,” and that family members had obtained an absentee ballot for her.

In an email to investigators, the relative explained that the woman had made clear, “you be sure to vote for Donald Trump for me” – she died on October 26, 2016.

A week later, the daughter went ahead and submitted the absentee ballot.

“Please understand that my actions were in no way intended to be fraudulent, but were done during my grief and an effort to honor my mother’s last request and I knew that one vote from the 89 year old lady would not affect the outcome of the election anyway.”

North Carolina officials said neither case of voter impersonation will be prosecuted.

Trump teases tax plan release, but it may not be a complete plan

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 12:44

President Donald Trump on Friday promised a “big announcement” next week on his plans for major tax reform, but soon after, top administration officials were tempering expectations, indicating that the White House would be releasing broad goals of a tax plan, not the details in full legislative text.

“We’ll be having a big announcement on Wednesday having to do with tax reform,” Mr. Trump said as he signed several executive orders dealing with financial matters at the Treasury Department.

“The process has begun long ago, but it really formally begins on Wednesday,” the President added, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – his chief tax reform architect – standing beside him.

#URGENT: President Trump says he will have a "big announcement" on tax reform Wednesday

— Carol Costello (@CarolCNN) April 21, 2017

Mr. Trump has talked for months about acting on tax reform, but after three months in office, the President has not sent any formal plan to the Congress, where many GOP lawmakers are waiting to see some details.

Reports on Friday night seemed to indicate that the announcement next week will be on the broad brush side – not the nitty gritty details of major tax changes.

In an hour long interview with the Associated Press, the President also hyped his own tax reform announcement for next week, saying the tax cuts he will propose would be “massive.”

BREAKING: Trump tells @AP he will unveil tax plan next week that includes "massive" tax cut for individuals and businesses.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) April 21, 2017

“Bigger, I believe than any tax cut ever,” Mr. Trump said.

But his goal to get it out next week – just days before the 100 day mark of his presidency – evidently wasn’t what top aides had been envisioning.

“Trump Vows to Unveil Tax-Cut Plan Next Week, Surprising Staff,” was the headline in the New York Times.

Capitol Hill still trying to figure out departure of Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 15:27

Capitol Hill is still trying to digest the biggest news of the week from the halls of Congress, as the decision of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to not run for re-election in 2018 – and maybe resign his seat in Congress before the end of his term – could open up a fight for the chairmanship of a key House committee, even as many wonder why Chaffetz would just walk away from that powerful post.

Here is a look from Capitol Hill:

1. Chaffetz giving up a prime committee chairmanship. The House Oversight Committee has a broad charter, allowing its leader to conduct reviews on all sorts of possible wrongdoing in the federal government. In 2015 and 2016, Chaffetz used some of that spotlight to zero in on the Hillary Clinton email server matter from her time as Secretary of State, as he vowed that if Clinton became President, those investigations would continue. Obviously, things changed when Donald Trump won the White House instead of Clinton. But did that somehow make this committee chairmanship less attractive? Imagine the oversight you could do – with a friendly Trump Administration – that might then translate into major legislative and bureaucratic changes in the operations of Uncle Sam.

Chaffetz Leads Oversight and Gov. Reform Committee To AUDIT The Federal Reserve https://t.co/aLS44KdOdT

— Deplorable John (@presleyjohn99) April 3, 2017

2. Chaffetz denies there is any scandal involved. The sudden announcement on Wednesday that Chaffetz would not run in 2018 clearly caught many by surprise on the Hill. Words like “odd” and “strange” were frequently heard in the hallways, as many reporters and lawmakers tried to figure out why the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee would head for the exits, just a few months after his party took charge of both houses of Congress and the White House. Like many Republicans in the Congress, Chaffetz had never served with a Republican President until January 20 of this year. Three months later, the Utah Republican has decided the grass is greener away from Capitol Hill and the Congress.

.@jasoninthehouse tells me regarding speculation he might resign as early as tomorrow: "No. Absolutely not true."

— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) April 20, 2017

3. Most lawmakers don’t leave by choice between elections. Let’s take Chaffetz at his word, that he is not leaving early for any reason other than he wants to spend more time with his family and stop the political grind. Experience though shows that is not usually the way things go for House members. In the last Congress for example, four members left because of ethics or criminal investigations (Schock, Whitfield, Grimm and Fattah); Two members died during their terms (Takai and Nunelee); Two left early because they were elected to another office (Hahn, Miller). The sole House member to leave on his own was Speaker John Boehner – and only when it became apparent he might be booted out of that post by his own party.

AP: Kentucky GOP Rep. Ed Whitfield to resign from Congress next week; hit with ethics violatons https://t.co/lMjncMggbp

— Matthew Daly (@MatthewDalyWDC) September 1, 2016

4. It’s rare, but some do leave Congress for another job. Let’s be fair – while it doesn’t happen very often, there are members who just decide they want to do something else, and leave Capitol Hill during their term. A few recent examples come to mind from early 2013: Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) left to run the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL) took a job in the University of Alabama education system; Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) left to run the Heritage Foundation. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) left for the Woodrow Wilson International Center. This type of move though is a recent phenomena. When I first started working in the halls of Congress in 1980, you pretty much only left the House or Senate before the next election if you died, ran afoul of the law, or moved to another elected office.

If Rep Jason Chaffetz R-UT is in talks for a new job, he might need to file one of these forms with the Clerk pic.twitter.com/VddpYBLzBB

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) April 21, 2017

5. Reading the social media tea leaves. When Chaffetz announced his decision on Wednesday, he thanked supporters on Twitter and Facebook for their praise. “Many thanks for all the kind comments…. Thank you!” he wrote on Twitter. “Thank you very much. Very kind,” he answered to one well-wisher on Facebook, a few hours after announcing he would not run again in 2018. But by Thursday, as Chaffetz confirmed that he might leave Congress before his term ended, the Utah Republican posted only one thing on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, a web story that was about his wife. “Julie Chaffetz, Jason’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.”

Julie Chaffetz, Jason’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know https://t.co/PwCxqH9gt5

— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) April 20, 2017

6. Is this more about the future of Republicans? Some wondered whether Chaffetz simply looked ahead in his own future, and saw political challengers barreling at him on a number of fronts – and decided it might be best to step aside now, before being roughed up in 2018. Democrats were ready to fund a candidate against him. Some Republicans were already pushing for the mayor of Provo to primary Chaffetz. And Chaffetz was already feeling the heat locally and nationally over his reluctance to probe any links between the Trump Administration and Russia.

As one R notes, Hillary losing made House less appetizing for Chaffetz: no future in R politics being thorn in Trump side

— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) April 21, 2017

Trump tax reform plan coming “very soon”

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 02:38

A week before the 100 day mark of President Donald Trump’s time in office, top administration officials say they are on the verge of releasing a sweeping plan to reform the nation’s tax system, waving off questions about whether legislative troubles with a GOP health care proposal would foreshadow tax troubles as well.

Asked when the details of the plan would be released, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “Soon, very soon.”

“We’re very focused on it,” Mnuchin said at a Washington, D.C. event sponsored by the Institute of International Finance.

“Big priority for the President – we will get tax reform done,” Mnuchin added.

Earlier in the week, Mnuchin had backed off his vow to get tax reform through the Congress by the summer break that lawmakers take in August – his latest prediction is just a few months after that, at the end of the year.

Without giving away many details, Mnuchin did say the Trump tax plan would have either three or four tax brackets – there are currently seven – along with a streamlined tax system.

“Fundamentally, fewer brackets, less deductions, simpler tax code,” said Mnuchin.

“This will be the most significant change to the tax code since Reagan,” the Treasury Secretary added.

But nothing is on the schedule right now in the Congress on taxes, as when lawmakers return next week after an over two week break, they will have to immediately turn their focus to a funding measure to avoid a government shutdown next Friday night.

Trump on Paris attack: “What can you say? It just never ends”

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:41

Again calling for the United States to be ‘strong’ and ‘vigilant’ when it comes to terrorism, President Donald Trump made clear the shooting of police officers in France on Thursday was an all too familiar refrain.

“It looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends,” the President said at a joint news conference with the Italian Prime Minister.

“We have to be strong, we have to be vigilant, and I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Mr. Trump added.

The two leaders had walked into the East Room of the White House to address reporters just moments after news of the shooting on the Champs-Elysees had been broadcast on television.

President Trump says the Paris incident is a “very, very terrible thing” and “looks like another terrorist attack” https://t.co/IuRiaRlMPM

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 20, 2017

News organizations in Europe swiftly reported that the Islamic State had taken responsibility for the attack.

#IS has already claimed responsibility for the attack in #Paris and named the gunman. It's never been this fast before. Highly unusual.

— Charlie Winter (@charliewinter) April 20, 2017

For second time this week, Trump jabs at Canada over trade

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 17:15

As he signed an executive order providing for a review of possible dumping of steel in U.S. markets, President Donald Trump on Thursday demanded new trade negotiations with Canada, charging American producers are being hurt in trade involving dairy, lumber, timber and energy resources.

“We going to have to get to the negotiating table with Canada, very, very quickly,” the President said in the Oval Office.

Mr. Trump has previously raised questions about U.S.-Canada trade in dairy products, but expanded those public complaints today to include lumber, timber and energy.

“We can’t let Canada – or anybody else – take advantage, and do what they did to our workers, and our farmers,” Mr. Trump said.

U.S. President Donald Trump again takes aim at Canadian dairy industry, calling NAFTA 'a trading disaster.' Cites 'lumber and timber' too.

— CBC News Alerts (@CBCAlerts) April 20, 2017

The President has long voiced his desire to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement – but usually has aimed his fire over unfair trade matters at Mexico – not Canada.

“The fact is NAFTA – whether it’s Mexico or Canada – is a disaster,” Mr. Trump said.

“Our farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business,” the President said.

The complaints about Canadian trade barriers are bipartisan – especially on dairy matters, as Democrats in border states have backed the President’s tough trade talk.

I welcome Pres Trump’s opposition to Canada’s unfair dairy trade barriers. Will fight w him to help NY farmers & reverse this unwise policy.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 19, 2017

It was the second time this week that Mr. Trump had taken on Canada over trade, as two days ago during a trip to Wisconsin, he said Canadian trade practices were making life difficult for U.S. dairy producers.

At about the same time that the President was taking aim at Canada today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Bloomberg in an interview that the side with a surplus in dairy trade is the U.S., not Canada.

“We’re not going to overreact,” Trudeau said of the criticism by Mr. Trump, in the Bloomberg interview.

GOP making noise again about renewed push on Obamacare overhaul

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 00:18

Almost two weeks after leaving Washington, D.C. on an Easter break without taking action on health care, the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Obama health law began rumbling again on Wednesday, both from the White House and Congress, as Republicans gave hints that they were narrowing differences on a health overhaul measure.

“We’re very close,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan during a speech in London, as he said the GOP health care plan “is not dead – we’re still working on it.”

Ryan noted that Republicans and President Trump had both run in the 2016 elections on the promise to repeal and replace the Obama health law.

“We now owe it to deliver those results,” Ryan said.

On Obamacare bill, @SpeakerRyan says in London Q&A that GOP in midst of negotiating what he called "finishing touches" to their overhaul

— Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) April 19, 2017

There were also hints down at the White House that the President wants to see the GOP make another run at an internal deal on a health care bill in the House before the end of the month, as he approaches his 100th day in office.

The first try in late March ran aground before the plan could even be voted on in the full House; another effort to bridge the gap came up short earlier this month, before lawmakers left on an extended Easter break.

Sources: WH exploring ways to revive Obamacare repeal next week before "100 day" milestone. "I think they have that in mind," I'm told.

— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) April 19, 2017

But on Capitol Hill, there was no indication that Republican lawmakers had suddenly found a magic formula while spread out across the country on their break.

Still, critics of the GOP effort rang the alarm bell.

“Zombie Trumpcare is coming back to life,” said Topher Spiro, a health policy expert with the liberal Center for American Progress.

With Congressional leaders likely to be focused on avoiding a government shutdown next week, a new push on health care seemed unlikely, and nothing was on the House schedule for that.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he will not run for re-election in 2018

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 15:23

In a surprise announcement, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said he would not run for re-election to the Congress, or any other office in 2018, as the high profile chairman of the House Oversight Committee will leave the U.S. House after his current terms runs out on Capitol Hill.

“For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins,” Chaffetz wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

Chaffetz had been feeling political headwinds in recent weeks, as Democrats mobilized to raise money for a candidate to run against him, as Chaffetz also faced the threat of a possible GOP challenger.

Key phrase from Chaffetz Facebook statement: "I may run again for public office, but not in 2018."

— paul schwartzman (@paulschwartzman) April 19, 2017

The immediate political speculation was that Chaffetz was warming up for a possible run for Governor in 2020.

Democrats saw the Chaffetz decision more in the prism of a political pendulum that is swinging back against President Trump, and the GOP.

If Trump's approval stays in the 30s, a lot more R's are going to discover the sudden allure of spending more time with their families.

— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) April 19, 2017

The decision of Chaffetz to retire at the end of his term means that nine members of the House won’t be back for the next Congress.

Chaffetz gained notoriety before the 2016 elections by leading inquiries into the email actions of Hillary Clinton during her time as Secretary of State.

Democrats complained the Utah Republican had used his committee post to do little in terms of oversight of the Trump Administration.

A few plugged in members I've spoken with are surprised by Chaffetz' retirement announcement

— Daniel Newhauser (@dnewhauser) April 19, 2017

Uncle Sam’s spending – from high tech and subscriptions, to cooks and bathrooms

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 03:51

While Congress and the White House try to work out a plan to fund the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year, spending by Uncle Sam continues on a whole host of items, from highly advanced technical research at NASA and the Pentagon, to more mundane items, like subscriptions to magazines and journals, and janitorial services.

Here’s a few things that the federal government spent your tax dollars on in the past few days:

1. Very smart people doing very smart people things. NASA has been very effective at sprinkling its research facilities around the country, which has spawned strong, bipartisan support for its various activities. One item being worked on at the John Glenn Research Center in Ohio is how to reduce the noise created by jet engines on airplanes. For that, you need to use something known as “Particle Image Velocimetry,” which allows researchers to see how jet exhaust mixes with surrounding air. NASA Glenn needed to upgrade the PIV system there, so they spent $181,059 to do that.

2. DARPA once more looking beyond the horizon. The work of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is almost always interesting when you look at how the Pentagon is spending research dollars. In recent days, the military has awarded contracts for “Advanced Friction Processing” ($940,310), “Generalized Network Assisted Transport” ($9.97 million), “Mission-oriented Adaptive Placement of Task and Data” ($6.8 million), and a “Direct Sampling Digital Receiver” ($487,286). DARPA also released a new request for futuristic technology development dealing with “Metamaterial-based Optical System Design.” Some of the questions asked of developers are not just 1+1=2.

3. Making sure you can eat and use the bathroom. If you like to take to the great outdoors in the summer, maybe you have gone out west to the vast reaches of federal lands, whether national parks or U.S. Forest Service areas. The Forest Service yesterday awarded a $15,450 contract to a company to provide a “Backcountry Trail Cook” in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and Trinity Alps Wilderness on the Klamath National Forest, for a total of almost five months. Of course, when you eat and drink, you might need to use the bathroom, so the Fish and Wildlife Service okayed an $11,240 contact for a portable restroom in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Research Center.

4. Subscriptions, subscriptions, and more subscriptions. As one might imagine, the sheer breadth of the federal government means there are a lot of workers with a lot of different interests. And they push their bosses to buy some interesting items. The Navy just agreed to pay $229,685 for a multi-site annual subscription to the library collections of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The Department of Energy authorized $23,700 for a one year subscription to Oxford Economics; the Air Force will spend $96,581 for the “Gold” level subscription to the Royal Society of Chemistry publications; the Energy Department will spend $64,821.92 for a one year SNL Energy Subscription Service for four users; the EPA will spend $10,675 to renew a subscription to CQ/Roll Call, while the FDA okayed $50,315 for a subscription to the PoliticoPro news service.

5. Odds and ends of military security. When you think about the U.S. military, you think about soldiers, ships, marines, planes and more. You don’t usually think about all the other needs that must be dealt with to secure those facilities. So, you have $6,172 being spent for a police radar gun by the Army. And you have Fort Bragg in North Carolina shelling out almost $164,000 for “Law Enforcement Vehicle Graphics” – “This requirement is for install and supply of graphics (decals) on vehicles when they are placed into law enforcement service. The Government will provide the vehicles but will not provide the graphics.”

There it is – another small snapshot of your tax dollars at work, for Uncle Sam.

Homeland Security chief says Congress should “shut up and support” Trump efforts to slow illegal immigration

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 16:13

After almost three months of stepped up enforcement under President Donald Trump, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday that new efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the United States are quickly paying off, as he said lawmakers in Congress who don’t like the enforcement changes by the Trump Administration should change the laws, or “shut up.”

“If lawmakers do not the laws that we enforce, that we are charged to enforce, that we are sworn to enforce, then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws,” Kelly said in a speech at George Washington University.

“Otherwise,” Kelly said of lawmakers, “they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

DHS Sec. Kelly swipes at lawmakers who should change laws they don't like or "shut up and support" DHS ppl on front lines.

— Joseph Marks (@Joseph_Marks_) April 18, 2017

In his speech, Kelly cited figures that show a steep drop in the number of people trying to ilegally cross the southern border of the United States.

“March apprehensions were 30 percent lower than February, and 64 percent lower than this time last year,” Kelly said in a speech at George Washington University in D.C.

“These numbers are lower because we’ve shown we are serious about border security, and enforcing our immigration laws,” the DHS chief added.

Kelly on immigration enforcement and deterrence: "We’re not just trying to keep them away, we’re trying to give them a reason to stay home"

— Alan Neuhauser (@alneuhauser) April 18, 2017

Kelly noted a large drop in the number of families trying to make the crossing into the United States.

“While more than 16,000 family units were apprehended at the border in December, only 1100 were apprehended in March,” Kelly told his audience.

“This is a phenomenal drop in movement,” Kelly said.

DHS Sec. Kelly at GW University #tvnews pic.twitter.com/TbKhK4Tc5i

— Kevin Johnson (@brollnet) April 18, 2017

In echo of Obama, Trump furthers his agenda by executive actions

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 02:12

As President Donald Trump signs a new executive order on Tuesday to spur both the hiring of American workers and the purchase of American products by the federal government, those type of executive actions represent most of the progress made on his agenda in his first three months in office, as the Congress remains grounded on health care, tax reform and other legislative priorities.

While Republicans growled about President Barack Obama using his “pen and his phone” on executive orders and actions, the GOP looks at things much differently, now that their party is setting that Executive Branch agenda.

“The executive orders that he’s signing are all consistent with the promises that he made to the American people on the campaign trail,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at a Monday briefing.

“And so I would argue that we’re going to continue to see the President not only keep his word but be rewarded by the American people on that front,” Spicer added.

NEW: Trump to sign order tomorrow echoing "Buy American, Hire American" campaign line calling for review of H1B visa program & trade deals

— CNBC (@CNBC) April 18, 2017

But while the executive orders generate headlines, they also are limited – just like the executive actions taken by President Obama, which can be overturned with a signature by Mr. Trump.

The executive actions also don’t apply to the entire country – like a regular law passed by the Congress – but instead, they apply only to the Executive Branch, and the functions of the federal government.

For example, in the order to be signed by the President in Wisconsin, federal agencies will have to conduct a review of whether they are properly buying American products, and a report will be given to the President in 220 days.

“This report and its recommendations will serve as a blueprint for additional executive and regulatory actions to further strengthen Buy American, as well as guide possible legislative proposals,” a senior Administration official told reporters at a briefing on Monday.

Mr. Trump has already issued close to two dozen executive orders, and another twenty actions that set out administration policy on a variety of matters, from climate change to trade and federal hiring – and they are very popular with his supporters.

Every Obama ruling, law, and executive order that is reversed by the Trump admin is a step in the right direction. It will #MAGA.

— Amber Waves (@Marsha250) April 11, 2017

Along with the White House rolling back orders of his predecessor, the GOP Congress has delivered a number of other measures designed to repeal specific rules and regulations from the Obama Administration.

But the time frame for approving those runs out in May, limiting the impact of those actions.

Still, look for the Trump executive actions, along with the regulatory votes in Congress, plus the Justice Gorsuch confirmation, to compose most of the achievements of Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office – that date is April 29.

Once again, Congress blows by another April 15 budget deadline

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 01:38

In the midst of a two week break from legislative work in Washington, D.C., most lawmakers in the Congress probably did not mark the failure of the House and Senate to approve a spending blueprint by a yearly April 15 deadline, as once again the budget work of the House and Senate is behind schedule before the leaves are fully on the trees.

“On or before April 15 of each year, the Congress shall complete action on a concurrent resolution on the budget,” it states quite clearly in the federal statute that sets out a series of deadlines for lawmakers to finish work on the budget by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

But this year, that budget resolution is nowhere in sight, as the Congress has made that April 15 deadline only a handful of times since it was put into law in 1974.

Just a few years ago when the GOP was in the minority in Congress, Republicans routinely mocked Democrats for failing to approve the budget resolution, which is a non-binding budget blueprint that guides the Congress on spending.

In 2015, Republicans finished work on the budget resolution in May; but in 2016, the GOP was unable to complete work on that measure until early 2017.

Now another budget resolution is needed for the 2018 budget.

April 15 is the goal for approval of the budget resolution, but won't happen again this year (true for R's & D's)

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) March 30, 2017

“Congress has seldom completed action on the budget resolution by the April 15 target date specified in the Budget Act,” noted the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last year.

While the budget resolution remains on hold in 2017, there are still no public answers on another budget issue – how lawmakers will deal with funding for the U.S. Government, which runs out on April 28.

The details of that funding plan are not expected to be revealed until lawmakers return to work in Washington next week – by that time, the House and Senate will have four days to approve a final deal to avoid a government shutdown.

The White House has downplayed talk of a shutdown.

“I think we’re making significant progress,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week. “I feel very good about the momentum,” he added.

Lawmakers could be addressing that piece of legislative business – if they were in D.C. this week.

Waiting on the details of a Trump tax reform plan

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 19:02

As I was finishing my taxes this weekend, the complexity of that work was again on display as the tax deadline was approaching, a fresh reminder that politicians of both parties have long talked about making the federal tax code simpler, but have achieved nothing substantial along those lines for over thirty years, since the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Will 2017 be any different?

1. Trump wants tax reform – but will he get that through Congress? It’s very easy to call for tax reform. It’s very easy to call for tax cuts. But as we saw with the Republican push to overhaul the Obama health law, it’s not easy to get major legislation moving in the Congress – and tax reform may be even more complicated than health care reform. The last time that lawmakers approved a major tax reform package was in 1986 – and it was not an easy legislative lift. You had major players in the Congress pushing for this – Rostenkowski in the House, Dole in the Senate, Reagan in the White House. Do we have those players today in Washington who can push a tax reform boulder up Capitol Hill?

Very few Congress members or staff w/experience approving complex, arduous tax legislation still alive&present.Reagan last big tax reform?

— Harald Malmgren (@Halsrethink) April 14, 2017

2. “Tax Reform” means many different things. Just pause and think about it for a minute – what does “tax reform” mean to you? For many, it means a tax cut, with lower tax rates. For others, it means lower rates while not getting rid of your favorite deductions. There are some who feel tax reform should be all about a dramatic simplification of the tax system. Some want a “flat” tax. Others have called for the “FairTax,” which is a system based on consumption. On the business side, tax reform might mean major changes in the corporate tax system. There’s been talk about a “border adjustment tax.” All sorts of options would be on the table, and would provide for a lot of winners and losers.

Farmers & ranchers grow our food, fuel & fiber in a world of uncertainty. We need a fair tax code now. https://t.co/muRw2aCKBQ #TaxReform pic.twitter.com/FiQK0ESTwr

— Zippy Duvall (@ZippyDuvall) April 14, 2017

3. What’s in the Trump tax reform plan? We don’t know that answer right now. On the campaign trail, and in the White House, President Donald Trump talked a lot about tax reform, but has not sent Congress the details of what he wants in such a plan. As mentioned above, the possible policy options are numerous. White House officials said in the last week that Mr. Trump would move away from the plans that he set out in the 2016 elections, and try to have the White House take the lead on setting broad policy changes in the tax code. But the bulk of the work would be up to Republicans in the Congress, who have also issued broad goals, but not all the nitty gritty details and the legislative text of their plans.

Both President Trump's campaign tax plan & House GOP's plan would increase standard deduction amounts. #taxexplainer https://t.co/LMpxWMESHa pic.twitter.com/jbunEwWDvo

— Tax Policy Center (@TaxPolicyCenter) April 14, 2017

4. What about “tax expenditures” in the IRS code? When you talk about ‘tax reform,’ does that mean the effort should get rid of some of the tax breaks in the IRS code? If you do that, it would help offset a lowering of overall tax rates. But when you get into this realm, there are distinct winners and losers. For example, how about getting rid of the deduction for mortgage interest on your home? Maybe the tax write off for property or sales taxes? Or what about the tax exclusion of up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 per couple) on a home sale? There are all sorts of options here that will impact some Americans, but not others. Remember – tax reform means real winners, and real losers. Some people will gain money, and some will lose.

5. No one will know the special tax breaks right away. One thing to remember is that you will hear all sorts of stories about what a Trump/GOP tax plan would do to your tax rates and popular exemptions. But you probably won’t get too much advance knowledge about some of the special interest plans that get included in the fine print. If you dig into the 1986 tax reform law, you will find there is a lot of legislative mumbo jumbo in there; if you don’t know what you are looking at, you will never understand the gibberish of tax law. Let’s just say, provisions like this one below are what the lobbyists in “Gucci Gulch” will be striving to get in a final tax reform bill.

Like health care, this will not be an easy legislative lift on Capitol Hill. Stay tuned.

The 1986 comprehensive tax reform took a full year to get done

— Alan Chaulet (@519AC) April 3, 2017

Trump keeps Export-Import Bank, but chooses fierce critic to run it

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 02:11

A few days after backing off on his campaign pledge to get rid of the Export-Import Bank, President Donald Trump on Friday sent mixed signals about the future of the agency, by nominating a former GOP Congressman to run the bank’s operations, who has said it engages in corporate welfare.

Former Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), who lost his 2016 bid for re-election, would be the new President of the Export-Import Bank, which helps foreign companies get the financing they need to buy U.S. products and exports.

During his final two years in Congress, Garrett made no bones about wanting to scrap all federal support for the Ex-Im Bank, labeling it “taxpayer funded welfare” for big corporations.

I opposed the House's vote to reauthorize the corporate welfare program known as the Ex-Im Bank. #CronyCapitalism https://t.co/pSbg0RMrdu

— Scott Garrett (@RepGarrett) October 27, 2015

Mr. Trump’s selection of Garrett as the new head of the bank raised immediate questions in Washington about the bank’s future, as a number of Republicans who are still in Congress believe the bank is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Yikes,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) about the news of Garrett’s selection.

#ExIm corporate welfare bank is the symbol of D.C. cronyism. It steals from taxpayers to subsidize big corporations. #EndExIm #DrainTheSwamp

— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 14, 2017

Along with the nomination of Garrett, President Trump named another former Congressman, ex-Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) to the Export-Import Bank board.

Both nominations must still gain Senate approval.

CIA chief slams Wikileaks as “hostile intelligence service”

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 01:14

Months after joining other Republicans in praising leaks about Democrats from the internet site Wikileaks, CIA Director Mike Pompeo blasted the group in a Washington, D.C. speech as a “hostile intelligence service,” charging that the overriding aim of Wikileaks is to help Russia and others in further anti-American goals.

“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” the CIA Director added, saying Wikileaks, “overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.”

It was a marked turnaround for the CIA Director, as back when Pompeo was a GOP Congressman from Kansas during the 2016 elections, he joined many others in Donald Trump’s campaign, including the President, in praising the leaks of Democratic emails by Wikileaks.

“BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked from Wikileaks,” Pompeo tweeted – though that tweet has since been deleted.

But – Wikileaks was happy to send out the original, just in case you couldn’t find it.

Tweet sent by CIA Director Mike Pompeo on 24 July 2016 https://t.co/sTMHw2nvOG pic.twitter.com/Qd0mYRl5QF

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 13, 2017

The U.S. Intelligence Community has long made clear that it believes there are distinct ties between Russian Intelligence and Wikileaks, though no formal evidence on the release of Democratic Party emails has been made public.

“They didn’t deal directly with WikiLeaks,” FBI Director James Comey said in Congressional testimony last month, as he told the House Intelligence Community that there was “some kind of cutout,” an intermediary that the U.S. believes delivered the emails to Wikileaks for release.

“I love Wikileaks,” Mr. Trump said last October on the campaign trail.

But that view is clearly not shared inside the Intelligence Community, as demonstrated by Pompeo’s speech:

White House Budget Chief: Trump vow to eliminate debt was “hyperbole”

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 01:03

While Republicans have vowed for years to balance the federal budget, there are few signs that President Donald Trump or GOP lawmakers will make significant headway to cut into the current $20 trillion federal debt, as a top White House aide said Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s campaign talk of getting rid of the debt was “hyperbole.”

“It’s fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who told CNBC in an interview that the President was not going to focus on major changes in mandatory spending as a way to balance the budget, “because the public’s not ready for it yet.”

A look at the most recent budget reports show the growth in spending at the federal level is not being driven by regular programs that Congress deals with on a yearly basis, the so-called “discretionary spending” programs, which fund everything from the Pentagon to Congress, and various Executive Branch departments.

Instead, the major cost drivers are what they have been for years – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other entitlement programs.

“Outlays for the first six months of fiscal year 2017 totaled $1,996 billion, CBO estimates —$ 61 billion (or 3 percent) more than they were during the same period last year,” read a recent report from the Congressional Budget office.

Here’s how the CBO summarized why the deficit is going up in 2017:

Also starting to go up more, the interest on the national debt – as interest rates increase, that figure will continue to increase – so far, spending on interest for the public debt is up $28 billion compared to a year ago.

In the first six months of the 2017 fiscal year, the CBO estimated the federal budget deficit was $522 billion, up $63 billion from a year ago.

In recent years, GOP plans to balance the budget have often not accomplished that goal for eight to ten years – President Trump’s first budget outline did not envision any decrease in the deficit for the 2018 budget, leaving it around $480 billion.

“Turns out neither party cares,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Turns out neither party cares https://t.co/xTLbZBRmeX

— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) April 13, 2017

Republicans have yet to put their budget plans on the table for 2018 in the Congress.

Federal budget procedures require Congress to approve the spending blueprint known as the “budget resolution” by April 15 – but that plan has yet to be unveiled by Republicans for 2018.

Trump infrastructure plan remains on the drawing board

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 08:00

One of the ideas to spur new economic growth that President Donald Trump has talked about repeatedly is his idea of forging a $1 trillion infrastructure package to build new roads, bridges, sewer systems and more around the country – but the White House so far has not produced any details of such a plan, and Republicans in the Congress don’t have anything on the table yet, either.

The President will meet with a group of CEO’s at the White House on Tuesday on the issue – it’s something he has highlighted repeatedly since taking the oath of office, even though it has a price tag that makes Republicans in the Congress somewhat queasy.

“We’re talking about a very major infrastructure bill of a trillion dollars — perhaps even more,” Mr. Trump said last week. The idea was front and center in 2016 on the campaign trail, and played a role in his first address to Congress in late February.

Trump's going heavy on his infrastructure promises today, both at in this address and his morning town hall with CEO's

— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) April 4, 2017

But at this point, White House spokesman Sean Spicer has only said the Trump Administration is in the “beginning phases” of putting together an infrastructure plan – which means there is no legislative text ready for action in the Congress.

The big question is, how much money do the feds fork over, and how big should the effort be – as a number of Republican lawmakers have been cool to the idea of spending billions on roads and bridges.

And even when you ask Republicans in the halls of Congress about the development of those plans, you get the feeling that a bill won’t on the floor of the House or Senate any time soon.

“What about infrastructure?” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee said to reporters, when asked about it last week.

“Any sense of when that might happen?” one reporter asked.

“Well, it’s a little early for me to say,” Hatch replied, giving no hint that any decision had been made by top Republicans on how to fund a Trump highway plan.

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Congress is not in session enough in D.C. to get its work done on time.

The problem with the Trump infrastructure plan is that nothing has been proposed, beyond the idea of a $1 trillion dollar, public-private partnership to build new roads and bridges.

And as several lawmakers told me last week, you can’t vote on an idea.

Congressional schedule not getting the job done for Congress

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 01:20

As lawmakers in Congress scatter back to their districts and around the world over an extended Easter break, a look at the calendar makes clear that if Republicans are going to make dramatic advances on the legislative agenda of President Donald Trump, the current Congressional work schedule might need to change, to ensure that Congress is in session and voting more often.

It’s easy to beat up on Congress about their legislative schedule; weeks that feature votes on the floor of the House and Senate from Monday through Friday are rare. Congress makes sure to take a lengthy summer break even when a lot of annual work is unfinished.

This past week, Republicans repeatedly said the House might come back into session over the Easter break if a deal was reached on a GOP health care bill.

Congress needs 2 weeks off for Easter , for what coloring eggs, we have a lot of work to do….how is that Health Care Coming Along ?

— Deplorable Rob (@robertmaturosr1) April 9, 2017

But the chances of striking a deal are much reduced when you are spread out around the country.

The House left town on Thursday for a 19 day break. They are back in session April 25.

The Senate left town Friday for a 17 day break. Senators return to session on April 24.

Having watched Congress up close since I was a Page in the House of Representatives in 1980, what has become painfully evident about the House and Senate, is that their usual work schedule isn’t doing the trick.

Just 4 times in 40 years that Congress finished its budget work on time (by October 1): 1996, 1994, 1988 & 1976

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) September 22, 2016

As I reminded people with that old tweet, the last time lawmakers finished their budget work on time – by October 1 – was over 20 years ago, in 1996.

That might be an indication that something needs to change.

Certainly, lawmakers like to go home to take the pulse of the voters back home, and their schedules are aligned to take advantage of that each week.

The Senate typically has a first vote on Monday evening, and a final vote by Thursday afternoon; this past week was one of the rare weeks where roll call votes occurred in the Senate on both a Monday and a Friday.

The House usually works Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday; here is their legislative schedule for the next six months, with the planned days in session in black:

Lawmakers bristle when reporters mention the recess, as some members make sure you know they aren’t just playing golf and watching game shows while they are at home.

“Follow me someday, and I’ll show you a 14, 16 hour day; it’s not a recess,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) to reporters as the House got ready to leave on a 19 day Easter break.

Murphy is right – many lawmakers are doing a lot of events back home, and talking to their constituents.

But – when they aren’t in Washington, the legislative business of the country pretty much goes on hold.

Budget expires April 28 Congress will be home April 8-22 so they have ~4 days to avoid government shutdown. lol. America.

— Shaena Montanari (@DrShaena) April 3, 2017

A prime example of that comes up later this month – when Congress returns the week of April 24, they will have just a few days to extend a stopgap budget, which runs out on April 28.

That full budget should have been approved by October 1 of 2016, as in last year – but because of the elections, lawmakers really didn’t try to pass the dozen annual spending bills, and instead approved what is known as a “Continuing Resolution” to fund the government.

As for the 2018 budget, the Congress is already well behind schedule on that as week. Lawmakers are supposed to approve a spending blueprint known as the “budget resolution” by April 15 of each year.

But in 2017, that budget resolution has not even been formulated, let alone voted on, as the failure to meet that April 15 deadline has become commonplace, and entirely bipartisan.

In the past 30 years, the April 15 deadline for the budget resolution has been met by Congress four times. http://t.co/fAglR1bzsW

— Matt Blunt (@MattBlunt) July 21, 2014

Think of it this way – if your assignment at work from your boss was to get the budget done by October 1, you would probably screw around early in the year, but then you would stay at work as long as needed to get the budget done by October 1.

Or, there might be consequences.

If you had failed to get that budget done on time in 36 of the last 40 years – that doesn’t sound like a plan that is producing results.

Again – I must emphasize – that record of budget failure is a bipartisan one. The Republicans are no better than the Democrats on the annual appropriations bills, just like the Democrats are no better than the Republicans.

As it turns out, legislating is difficult. https://t.co/kwpDZKXIiy

— Andrew Taylor (@APAndrewTaylor) April 4, 2017

And unless Congress decides to scrap its August recess and work a lot more hours on the floors of the House and Senate in May, June and July, 2017 will go down as yet another year that the budget work doesn’t get done on time.

That might not sound important to many of you, but when that work doesn’t get done, it also slows the other work of Congress – and this year, that could further bog down the legislative agenda of President Donald Trump, which is already moving slowly out of the gate.

My advice to members of Congress is simple – just the put the bills on the floor. Don’t be afraid of tough votes. Work late on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Have votes five days a week. Week after week after week.

And I’ll be there to cover it.

Senate confirms Gorsuch for Supreme Court, delivers big win for Trump

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 15:57

Brushing aside the opposition of Democrats, Republicans in the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, delivering the first legislative victory for President Donald Trump, and filling a vacancy on the court that had been open for over a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The vote was 54-45, as three Democrats voted for Gorsuch, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Sen. Johnny Isa

“He has sterling credentials, an excellent record, and an ideal judicial temperament,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who muscled Gorsuch through the Senate with a Thursday “nuclear option” rules change, that mirrored one made by Democrats in 2013 on non-Supreme Court nominations.

“Confirming Judge Gorsuch is one of the most important things we will do for future generations of Americans,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Judge Gorsuch proved that he has the knowledge & judicial philosophy that make him an ideal successor to Justice Scalia pic.twitter.com/nzVP3oOJIx

— Senator Roy Blunt (@RoyBlunt) April 7, 2017

“Judge Gorsuch is a world class jurist,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

“I think he’ll be a great addition to the court,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said of Gorsuch.

“He is there to interpret the law, not to be an activist for his own personal opinion,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

For Democrats, the outcome gave them heartburn on multiple levels, as they expressed frustration over the refusal of Republicans to vote on President Obama’s nominee from 2016, and then watched as the GOP changed the rules to get rid of the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

“I believe it will make this body a more partisan place,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

.@VP: "The nomination of Neil M. #Gorsuch of Colorado to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is confirmed." pic.twitter.com/WLx6oD3t8c

— CSPAN (@cspan) April 7, 2017

But this was not a day for the Democrats, as Republicans celebrated the first real victory in Congress for President Trump, who has seen lawmakers unable to forge a deal on health care reform, while other major agenda items like tax reform, infrastructure plans and more have not bolted from the starting gate.

Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday; he will attend his first Supreme Court arguments the next week, on Monday April 17.

Trump draws bipartisan support on missile strikes against Syria

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 03:38

President Donald Trump’s first major use of military force drew support and opposition in both political parties in Congress, as key lawmakers backed the barrage of cruise missiles, intended to punish Syria for its chemical weapons attack earlier this week that killed dozens of civilians.

“This action in Syria was appropriate and just,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“After six years of inaction by the Obama Administration, I am glad to see that President Trump is willing to stand up for these innocent victims and stop those responsible for this violence,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

“No world leader can get away with gassing innocent children to death,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a frequent critic of President Trump. “This was long overdue.”

Trump: “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria” https://t.co/Pa8m83vbrJ https://t.co/yUXS36asUR

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 7, 2017

There were also some Democrats who gave the President their full support, echoing their GOP counterparts on the need to send a strong message to the Assad regime in Damascus.

“I hope this teaches Assad not to use chemical weapons again,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

I support the admin’s strike on the air base that launched the chemical attack. I hope this teaches Assad not to use chemical weapons again.

— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) April 7, 2017

“Tonight’s strike in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, as she urged the President to seek the backing of Congress if he plans to escalate those strikes.

Most Democrats though found fault with the Trump attacks.

“This is an act of war,” fumed Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who demanded a full Congressional debate on the action.

“What is the strategy here? What is our end goal?” asked Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). “This is not how you conduct a military strike.”

“That feeling when a President governs in a manner entirely opposite to what he promised,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI).

On that point, during his campaign for President, Mr. Trump flashed two competing visions at times for the role of the United States in the world – one was, “America First” – an almost isolationistic argument, that the U.S. should stay out of foreign entanglements, and use money for improvements at home, not on wars overseas.

The other Trump argument was a much more direct and forceful appeal, that the U.S. was playing patty cake on the world stage too often, and it was time to bomb the living daylights out of anyone who was in our way.

.@marcorubio on US military strike into Syria: "This is not just some symbolic measure, it is a strategic objective" https://t.co/J4QCmwgnQF

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) April 7, 2017

Meanwhile, the more libertarian wing of the Republican Party was not pleased that Mr. Trump had chosen the option of military action to deal with Assad.

“The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

One lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), went back and pulled out an old tweet by Mr. Trump from 2013, when he was criticizing President Obama about possibly using military force in Syria, as Massie labeled these strikes a “big mistake.”

#bigmistake pic.twitter.com/u3xFXrTR6m

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 7, 2017

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