The Finance 202: Tax drama moves to Senate as Trump takes aim at House bill


Trying to keep track of the latest twists and turns on tax reform? Tory Newmyer has you covered.

House Republican tax writers are still holing up in Room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building, racing to finish their work on a sprawling rewrite of the tax code. 

Yet the center of gravity Wednesday was shifting to the other side of Capitol Hill, as Senate Republicans prepare to roll out their version of an overhaul as soon as today. 

President Trump, 7,000 miles away from the action but never out of frame, summed up the dynamic in one line during a Tuesday conference call with Senate Democrats — a Trumpian slip, perhaps not quite unintentionally revealing, that the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday: “You’re going to like it a whole lot more,” the president said of the forthcoming Senate version. 

It’s not clear how closely Trump is following the analyses of the evolving House bill’s impact from his 12-day Asia trip. But it’s possible he was referring to the finding that the House GOP’s measure crosses a bright line his administration has drawn for the exercise: No tax hikes on the middle class. That bill would mean an increase next year on the burden of 9 percent of those earning between $48,600 and $86,100 — a number that would jump to 31 percent of those taxpayers by 2027, according to a study the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Wednesday. That projection found that in a decade, the wealthiest 1 percent of households would reap about half the gains from the tax cut.

The assessment tracks with one from the Joint Committee on Taxation this week that found 11 percent of those earning between $75,000 and $100,000 would see a tax hike in 2019, and one in five households would see a hike by 2027. 

That places the measure in violation of the administration’s litmus test for it. And White House budget director Mick Mulvaney reemphasized the point in a Wednesday night interview with CNN: “If our numbers here at the White House actually show the same thing, if they show that taxes are going up on the middle class, on the House plan, on the Senate plan, on some combination of the two, we won’t sign it,” he said, although he noted he disagrees with the Tax Policy Center’s conclusions. 

Trump’s line will surely give vulnerable House Republicans flashbacks to his private-until-it-was-public condemnation of their chamber’s health-care bill as “mean” this year.

The difference is that in this case, the House GOP still has work to do. Republicans must plug a $74 billion hole in their own plan, either by further scaling back benefits to individuals or taking them away from businesses. The imminent debut of the Senate version could further tighten the political vise around House Republicans, as my colleague Mike DeBonis reports

The tough decisions come as Senate Republicans said they planned to release their own version of the bill Thursday, regardless of whether the House panel finishes its work.

That could create a political quandary for House Republicans, faced with voting next week on a tax bill with scores of controversial provisions, while another version sits across the Capitol that could be more palatable.

“It’s double jeopardy,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). “You get hit by all the people who don’t like the House bill, and then you get hit a second time by all the people who don’t like the Senate bill.”

Those House Republicans feeling unloved by the process in their own chamber are unlikely to find any relief when Senate Republicans present their draft. That plan is expected to call for a full repeal of the state and local tax deduction — a proposal that blue-state Republicans have labored to roll back in the House bill. But there are no Republican senators from California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, the states that would be hardest hit by scrapping the break. 

Trump may be reflecting the hard-won lesson of Obamacare repeal’s failure. Senate Republicans, facing strict budget rules and a hair’s breadth of a margin, will pass what they can. House Republicans probably will have to decide whether to take it or leave it, a dynamic some will find mean, indeed. 

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Yellen on the fence. Now it’s the sitting Fed chair’s turn to decide whether she stays or goes. Bloomberg’s Saleha Mohsin and Michael McKee: “Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen hasn’t yet decided whether she’ll stay at the central bank in a diminished role when her term as chair ends in February, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. ‘I don’t think she’s made any decision in regards to that one way or another yet,’ he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television, adding that he had breakfast with Yellen earlier Wednesday as part of their regular get-togethers… Though she’d no longer be chair, she can continue serving a separate term as a governor that runs until 2024.”

The House Ways and Means Committee marks up its bill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Senate will drop excise tax. CNBC’s Ylan Mui: « The Senate tax plan is not expected to include a controversial 20 percent excise tax on imports by multinational companies, according to three people briefed on the issue. The tax is a critical revenue raiser in the House bill — worth about $155 billion over a decade — and applies to purchases by U.S. subsidiaries of multinational businesses from their foreign counterparts. Among the most vocal opponents of the new fee is the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which called it a ‘backdoor border adjustment tax.' »

And preserve the medical expense deduction. WSJ: « Senate Republicans aim to preserve a popular tax deduction for household medical expenses when they release their version of a tax plan later this week, parting ways with House lawmakers on a proposal that costs about $182 billion over a decade, according to people familiar with the matter. »

A tax on banks? Industry lobbyists are worried, per the American Banker: « Among other things, the House GOP plan would eliminate the deduction for larger banks’ insurance premium assessed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Banks oppose that idea but may be willing to live with it given the proposed lowering of the overall corporate tax rate. Yet there is concern the Senate plan may widen the scope of a tax on banks in a search for more funds. Details about the Senate plan have been kept close to the vest, but lawmakers indicated that relying on banks to raise additional revenue has been discussed. »

Mnuchin won’t rule out delay. Bloomberg: « Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin isn’t ruling out delaying the start of a corporate tax rate cut, but emphasized the administration’s “strong preference” is for the relief to start in 2018. ‘The longer we wait, the worse it is for the economy and making companies competitive,’ Mnuchin said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg TV in Washington. Mnuchin declined to say that a phase-in of corporate tax cuts was completely off the table. ‘The president’s strong preference — he feels very strongly that he wants to start this right away,’ Mnuchin said. ‘But having said that, we’ll have to look at the entire Senate package.’”

Top Republicans reckon with election fallout. More from Mike: “Republicans in both chambers will have to contend with the results of Tuesday’s elections, in which state and local Republicans were drubbed by Democrats. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch ­(R-Utah) said the losses could complicate the tax push. ‘I mean, it could, because the elections went against the Republicans,’ Hatch said Wednesday morning. Asked whether he is feeling pressure to tilt the tax plan’s benefits more toward the middle class, Hatch said, ‘I think we’ve been moving that way anyway.’

Other top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), said the election results underscored the importance of the GOP delivering on promised changes to the tax code. ‘It doesn’t change my reading of the current moment,’ Ryan said of the elections during a morning event hosted by the Washington Examiner. ‘It just emphasizes my reading of the current moment, which is: We have a promise to keep, and we have to get on with keeping our promise.’”

CNBC’s John Harwood: « Voters just raised a massive red flag for the GOP’s agenda » « …Specifically, it made it more difficult for a specific subset of Republican lawmakers that Trump and party leaders need to hold behind a bill designed to pass without any Democratic support. ‘If you’re a suburban Republican member of the House, you’re terrified,’ said Peter Wehner, a former White House aide to President George W. Bush. If they didn’t already have enough anxiety about facing voters in 2018, the House GOP tax bill adds more because its elimination of the state and local income tax deductions will leave many upper-middle-class suburban Republicans with higher — not lower — tax bills. »

House whip overdrive. Politico’s Rachael Bade: « House GOP leaders are using a mix of behind-the-scenes cajoling and warnings about losing the majority to corral their oft-fractured conference on tax reform. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s team has been pulling district-by-district data to prove to skeptical lawmakers from high-tax states that their constituents will see a tax cut under the plan. That strategy successfully flipped Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) from a ‘no’ last week to a ‘lean-yes’ over the weekend. But leadership sources say the toughest part of the whipping effort has yet to begin. That’s because on Thursday, the Senate will release its own tax bill that is expected to upend some of the House’s careful negotiating. The Ways and Means Committee will also finish consideration of the bill this week, slamming the door shut on any last-minute changes sought by Republicans from across the conference. »

The deficit problem. CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk: « The House Republican tax plan may have a deficit problem. The GOP bill including some changes would increase federal budget deficits by $1.7 trillion over 10 years, according to Joint Committee on Taxation estimates shared by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That includes money for additional debt service payments due to the bill. Under the plan, U.S. debt would rise to 97.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2027, up from 91.2 percent under current CBO projections. »

Obamacare mandate repeal would yield real money. Bloomberg’s Anna Edney: « Rolling back Obamacare’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance would save the U.S. $338 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a smaller benefit than previously projected for a plan favored by the White House. Republicans are considering repealing the coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act as a way to pay for far-reaching changes in the tax code. The savings would come from the government spending less to subsidize Obamacare plans as more people opt to forgo health coverage. 

While ending the mandate could free funds up for a tax overhaul, it would also leave people without health insurance and lead to higher premiums. CBO estimated Wednesday that 13 million more people would be uninsured in 2027 compared with current law if the mandate is repealed starting in 2019. Premiums would increase by about 10 percent in most years of the decade the report covers. »

College sports takes a hit. Politico: « The House GOP’s tax plan — which would hit higher education hard — could also land a blow to some major college sports programs by targeting season ticket holders, top-dollar coaches and stadiums. First, the legislation… would do away with a deduction tied to season tickets. Many college booster clubs require a donation for the « right » to buy season tickets for football, basketball and other games. Donors now can write off 80 percent of that gift.. It’s a big deal to many booster clubs. Boosters at the University of North Carolina — the reigning national basketball champion — require a donation of at least $6,000 for the right to buy two season tickets. That jumps to $25,000 for four tickets. The House bill could also create a tax on high-paid coaches. »

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Bank deregulation bill gains steam. Bloomberg’s Krista Gmelich: « The top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee is getting closer to striking a deal on a bipartisan bill to ease financial rules that could have wins for banks both big and small. Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, the panel’s chairman, is in talks with moderate Democrats including Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana on a plan for rolling back parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. A deal could come as soon as this week, Tester has said. Reducing the compliance burden for community banks has been identified as a top priority, but the lawmakers are also discussing ways to free bigger regional lenders from some of the strictest post-crisis regulations. Also on the table, lawmakers say, are tweaks to measures such as the Volcker Rule limits on banks’ trading, though it’s unclear what will make it into the final bill. »

Randall Stephenson, chief executive officer of ATT. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

This could be a shakedown. Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana. The Post’s Brian Fung and Sari Horwitz: « Justice Department officials told ATT that its $85 billion bid to acquire Time Warner is unlikely to be approved without major changes, a move that is driving the two sides toward a high-stakes legal battle over one of the biggest media deals in history. The deal would transform the telecom company into a major media empire with control over CNN, HBO and Warner Bros studios as well as satellite cable provider DirecTV. Antitrust officials want ATT to either sell off the satellite business or Turner broadcasting, which includes CNN — conditions that ATT is unlikely to agree to easily.

But three people briefed on the situation had conflicting accounts of the specifics. One of the people said Wednesday that the Justice Department, at a meeting in Washington this week, pressed ATT to divest CNN, which has been criticized repeatedly by President Trump. But the other two denied that happened, adding that it was in fact ATT that had proposed the sale of the news network as a potential compromise. The three people spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the private discussions. Conflicting news reports about the role of CNN in the talks prompted ATT chief executive Randall Stephenson to release a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying he has ‘never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so.’”

FLASHBACKThe New York Times on July 5: « White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and ATT. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card. »

Dems register alarm. Politico’s Steven Overly: « ‘Any indication that this administration is using its power to weaken media organizations it doesn’t like would be a profoundly disturbing development,’ Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said… Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Politico that the DOJ’s reported actions ‘merit investigation,’ and that senators should ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions about it next week. » 

More from Schatz:

Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)


Manafort, Gates gag. The Post’s Spencer Hsu: « The federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates imposed a gag order in the case Wednesday, ordering all parties, including potential witnesses, not to make statements that might prejudice jurors. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington issued the order five days after signaling her intention to do so. In a two-page order, Jackson said she had received no objections by the Tuesday deadline she had set for the parties to weigh in. »

Lewandowski remembers now. Politico: « Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, said Tuesday night his ‘memory has been refreshed’ regarding his email exchange with Carter Page in which the former foreign policy adviser requested Lewandowski’s permission to travel to Moscow. Page, who testified last week before the House Oversight Committee as a part of its ongoing probe into Russian election meddling in 2016, told congressional investigators in testimony revealed Monday that he had asked the former Trump campaign chief and Hope Hicks, now the White House communications director, about his trip to Moscow in 2016 in which he met with Russian officials and discussed the presidential campaign. »

— 2016 platform fight under scrutiny. Politico: « U.S. investigators are focusing on an enduring mystery of the 2016 election: whether Trump campaign officials made the Republican Party platform more friendly to Russia as part of some broader effort to collude with the Kremlin, according to congressional records and people familiar with the probes. Congressional investigators have interviewed ex-Donald Trump aides and advisers including J.D. Gordon, the national security policy representative at last year’s GOP convention, about the campaign’s push to remove proposed language from the 2016 Republican platform that called for giving weapons to Ukraine. People involved with crafting the platform also were expecting interest from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, such as witness interviews or producing documents, some of those sources said. »

Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Icahn under investigation. NYT’s Matthew Goldstein: « Federal prosecutors are looking into the role played by Carl C. Icahn, the billionaire investor, in advising the Trump administration on regulatory issues that had the potential to affect the finances of a company he owns. Mr. Icahn stepped down as an unpaid adviser to President Trump in August, after scrutiny from members of Congress about whether he was influencing regulations on ethanol to benefit his financial investments.

One of Mr. Icahn’s main investment companies, Icahn Enterprises, disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday that federal prosecutors in Manhattan had served a subpoena seeking information about ‘Mr. Icahn’s activities relating to the renewable fuels standard and Mr. Icahn’s role as an adviser to the president.’ The filing said Icahn Enterprises was cooperating with the prosecutors’ demand for information.

When Mr. Icahn took on the advisory position this year, critics complained that it was a conflict of interest because he owns a big stake in an oil-refinery business called CVR Energy. Indeed, The New York Times reported in March that Mr. Icahn was pressing for a change in a requirement that refiners be held responsible for ensuring that corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline. »

Here’s the disclosure, via the Icahn Enterprises financial filing: 

Ross owns more ships. American Public Media: « Six years ago, Wilbur Ross thought investing in ships would create valuable financial assets. Today, they’ve become risky political liabilities. One shipping company is in a partnership with Russia, and another that the U.S. Commerce secretary partially owned is tied to China’s largest sovereign wealth fund. His chief of staff served on both boards. Now U.S. senators are calling for an investigation, and ethics experts demand he divest to prevent his policy decisions from being influenced by his business interests. Ross won’t say how many ships he owns, and government disclosure laws give him the choice to keep the information secret. An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company — Navigator Holdings Ltd. — Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. »

Treasury secretary vs. Treasury secretary. NYT’s Alan Rappeport: « It is an unwritten rule that if a former Treasury secretary has nothing nice to say about one of his successors he does not say anything at all. But in the nation’s capital these days, the rules of political comity are meant to be broken. Raising eyebrows in economic circles, Lawrence H. Summers, the mercurial Treasury secretary for President Bill Clinton, has leveled a barrage of increasingly personal criticism at the current Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. In podcasts, blog posts, op-eds and on Twitter, Mr. Summers, the former president of Harvard and a top economic adviser to President Barack Obama, has accused Mr. Mnuchin of damaging the credibility of Treasury by making “irresponsible” economic assessments of the administration’s tax plan and acting as a “sycophant” to President Trump.

The attacks have alternately amused and angered those who run in economic circles, with some saying it is Mr. Summers who is damaging the credibility of the office by leveling public attacks on a sitting Treasury secretary.’For me we have a tradition for people who have been in the position not to criticize current secretaries,’ said Paul H. O’Neill, who served as President George W. Bush’s first Treasury secretary. ‘That doesn’t mean we don’t have an opinion, but we don’t tell people what we think.' »

From The Post’s Aaron Blake: « Why Election Day was even better for Democrats than it appears: »


  • The Peterson Institute for International Economics holds an event on the policy implications of sustained low productivity growth.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance holds a hearing on “The Role of Ginnie Mae in the Housing Finance System.” 

From The Post’s Tom Toles: « Republicans want to know when they get to be tired of winning: »

Trump says U.S. trade relationship with China is ‘a very one-sided and unfair one:’

Democrats predict ‘a wave’ in elections to come:

What if Hillary Clinton had won? From The Post’s Department of Satire:

Bill Clinton chats with Conan O’Brien:

Watch the official trailer for Steven Spielberg’s movie about The Post:

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