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Instead of launching tax reform, Trump could ground it

President Donald Trump on Wednesday will release a plan to radically overhaul the American tax code that many Republicans say is unrealistic and could end up hurting the chances of getting anything done on the issue, long one of the party’s top priorities.

Driven by a president eager to show momentum heading into the close of his first 100 days in office, the hastily written plan could wind up alienating critical Hill Republicans while offering little or nothing to entice Democrats. It could also be widely dismissed by outside observers as an over-hyped rehash of promises the president already made during the campaign.

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“So far at least, the contours of this are starting to look a lot like what happened with Trump and Congress on health care,” said Lanhee Chen, a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and now a professor at Stanford. “On health care you had irreconcilable differences on the scope of government. And in the same way here, whether or not you pay for a tax cut is a fundamental difference Republicans have. And what we could see Wednesday is that there isn’t even as much middle ground on taxes as there was on health care.”

The main problem, observers say, is that Republicans are caught between two irreconcilable models for enacting major tax changes.

The president is likely to release a plan that repeats his campaign call for slashing the top corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and reducing and simplifying individual rates, while doing little or nothing to replace the trillions of dollars in lost revenue from such cuts beyond relying on rosy forecasts for faster growth.

The White House confirmed that the plan will include a boost in the standard deduction for individual taxpayers. The housing and charitable sectors fear that will hurt their bottom lines by making the mortgage interest and charitable deductions less attractive to taxpayers.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that reducing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent would cost the federal government $215 billion in 2018 alone and become a more expensive proposition as each year passes, according to the center’s analysis of Trump’s campaign plan.

Many congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, prefer a radically different approach that would employ a new border tax to generate over $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years to pay for a cut in the top corporate rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. People close to Ryan are dismissive of Trump’s approach to unfunded tax cuts as a “magic unicorn” that will never clear the House.

By releasing his plan without the border tax, as widely expected, Trump will be setting himself up in direct opposition to Ryan, whose help the president will need to get any major tax bill passed.

“The fundamental disagreement here is basically over which kind of Reagan-style tax change that Trump is going to embrace,” said Jeffrey Birnbaum, a former journalist and author of a book on


Trump to order review of national monuments

Trump to order review of national monuments

The Upper Gulch section of the Escalante Canyons within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument shown in an undated photo. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump is set to order the review of tens of millions of acres of land and water set aside as national monuments by the past three presidents on Wednesday, a move that environmental groups warn will undermine a crucial conservation tool and open up sensitive areas to fossil fuel development.

The review will be conducted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who told reporters it would encompass up to 40 monuments created over the past 21 years, although the main focus will be on President Barack Obama's designation last year of Bears Ears National monument, as well as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument protected by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both of those are in Utah, and the state's lawmakers have pressed to revoke the monument status for the two sites, which are believed to hold fossil fuel resources.

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But Zinke sought to quell concerns that the executive order would roll back conservation protections provided by 1906 Antiquities Act, saying the Trump's order "does not strip any monument ... or loosen any environmental conservation on any land or marine areas."

Yet environmental groups fear the review is a simply a pretense to unwind the federal protections in the future, since both Trump and Zinke have supported growing U.S. fossil fuel output.

The Antiquities Act is "one of our country's kind of bedrock conservation laws," said Daniel Ritzman, Sierra Club western public lands protection campaign director.

Sixteen different presidents have used the law "to protect some of our country's most special places. You know places like the Grand Canyon [National Park] started out out as a national monument," he said. "And it's not just our important landscapes that have been protected, it's also used to protect some unique American cultural sites, especially Native American cultural sites."

Presidents have also used the law to block off areas from fossil-fuel development, such as coal mining at Grand Staircase, but environmental and conservation groups worry those protections will be tossed aside as Trump looks for additional ways to unleash energy development on public lands and waters.

"This administration has made it clear that they're going to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Colorado-based conservation group.

The order gives Zinke 45 days to file an interim recommendations, and 120 days to issue suggestions for legislation or for Trump to revoke or slim down the size of any monuments that cover 100,000 acres or more that were created under the Antiquities Act.

The order does not make any assertions as to the scope of Trump's authority to revoke monuments, Zinke said and he reiterated his belief that presidents can revise the scope of monument designations, though that the broader authority to delist monuments remains untested in courts.

While presidents have tweaked the size of their predecessor's


Republicans finalize new Obamacare repeal proposal


The proposal calls for allowing states to opt out of key Obamacare regulations under certain conditions. | Getty

The White House, top House conservatives and a key moderate Republican have finalized an Obamacare repeal and replace plan they hope will break a month-long GOP logjam.

GOP leadership has been circulating the text to the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group that helped block the original bill, and to more centrist Republicans. But it not yet clear if the deal will provide Speaker Paul Ryan the 216 votes needed for the House to pass the legislation.

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The proposal would allow states to opt out of key Obamacare regulations under certain conditions.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who helped author the changes, is likely to support the measure, according to a conservative source. At least two members of the House Freedom Caucus also are shifting to support the new proposal, a sign of potential momentum for the stalled campaign to eliminate the Democrats’ health care law.

Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), both of whom opposed prior versions, indicated they will support the legislation once the new provisions are added to allow states to opt out of some of Affordable Care Act consumer protections.

The Freedom Caucus opposed the Obamacare repeal bill that Ryan pulled last month. But the hard-line conservative group faced blame from other Republicans for blocking the legislation, which they said didn't repeal enough of Obamacare. Now that the White House has made additional concessions to conservatives, there are signs some members of the group will get on board.

Still, it’s unclear how many members of the Freedom Caucus will join the bill and it’s far from certain the changes — drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), with consultation from Meadows and Vice President Mike Pence — won’t eliminate support from the few moderates who were already “yes” votes.

It's also uncertain whether the entire Freedom Caucus will take an official position, which would require support from 80 percent of its members. Some Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) told reporters they’re considering the changes.

“The Pence compromise [is] very promising, a lot of people like it,” said Brat, adding that he still needs to make sure that the legislative language matches the policy that’s been discussed.

Meadows said he’s waiting to see final language.

“There’s no definitive statement yet,” Meadows said. “I’m really waiting on the leadership and Tom MacArthur and them. Certainly, I support the premise of what it was drafted under and waiting to see final language.”

Privately, however, insiders say he’ll support the agreement. If more than 20 members of the hard-line conservative group supports the bill, it would bring the Republican whip count closer to the necessary 216 and provide much-needed momentum for the bill mired in GOP infighting.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) declined to tell reporters Tuesday evening whether he supports the bill. “We’ve got a meeting tomorrow with our whole group,"


The Case for Accrediting Breitbart

The Case for Accrediting Breitbart


The five-journalist -committee that controls press access to one of the Senate press galleries again tabled Breitbart’s request for permanent credentials on Tuesday morning. The site’s current temporary credentials will sunset on May 31.

“They are just not ready for a credential,” standing committee member Joe Morton of the Omaha World Herald sniffed to USA Today . The sticking points for the committee include these Breitbart shortcomings: The lack of properly zoned office space for the site; the ties between Breitbart’s masthead and Steve Bannon’s nonprofit Government Accountability Institute; and the right-wing Mercer family’s ownership stake in the site. Oh, and the charge that Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart chief who now works as chief strategist for President Donald Trump, has not sufficiently separated himself from the site, and therefore Breitbart is not sufficiently independent.

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You don’t have to be a Breitbart fan—and I’m not—to ask whether the site deserves this kind of rebuff and rejection. Does not the site run Washington news? Does not the site attract millions of readers (15.3 million in February compared with Politico’s 23.8 million, according to comScore)? Haven’t media figures moved to government service before Bannon? A short list would include Edward R. Murrow, Strobe Talbott, John Chancellor, David Axelrod, Amanda Bennett, Pat Buchanan and Bernard Kalb. A dozen journalists, including Jay Carney and Tony Snow, have left journalism to become the president’s flack. Since when is going through that revolving door disqualifying?

I’d wager that the standing committee’s upturned nose has more to do with Breitbart’s outré views on race, its toadyish support of Trump during the campaign and through the first 100 days, its shameful coverage of the Shirley Sherrod video, the witless misogyny of former staffer Milo Yiannopoulos and its unrelenting partisanship than it does its fitness to carry the “members only” card that allows reporters to collect news in Washington’s official sanctums.

If the standing committee wants to blackball Breitbart because its funders, the Mercer family, routinely take activist positions or have donated deeply to political campaigns, may I suggest that they arrange to have the credentials of Bloomberg News reporters revoked? Michael Bloomberg, who owns almost 90 percent of Bloomberg News’ parent company, gave more than $23 million to federal candidates, parties, PACs and other political groups in the 2016 election cycle, according to . He finances an anti-NRA political group and has pledged millions to the Sierra Club’s anti-coal activism. And, you may recall, Mike left his media and financial information business to join government, serving three terms as the mayor of New York City. Rupert Murdoch has a history of spending on federal candidates, too. I would call for the credentialing committees to take back the Fox News Channel and Wall Street Journal press cards, but somebody might take me up on it.

If it were the government denying Breitbart their precious press passes, the usual complainers would launch a First Amendment stink like nothing you’ve ever heard. I would be one


Republicans pitch spending compromise with military boost

The Pentagon is pictured. | Getty

“I can’t tell you exactly what amount of the $30 [billion] will be in there. But I think, yes, we will definitely have more money for the military in there,” Sen. John Hoeven said. | AP Photo

Congressional Republicans offered Democrats a spending deal Tuesday that would give the Pentagon and homeland security budgets a substantial boost, according to sources familiar with negotiations.

Free now from President Donald Trump’s border wall demands, GOP leaders’ most recent bid would deliver a major victory to the White House on military and border spending even as it leaves out funds specifically for a structure along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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The GOP’s offer would include “the most robust increase in border security in more than a decade,” according to one source familiar with negotiations.

Congressional leaders have been locked in negotiations for weeks on a spending package to fund the government by the Friday midnight deadline. Democrats say one of the biggest hurdles to a deal has been Trump’s insistence that Congress approve $1.5 billion to begin planning for a 30-foot wall along the Mexican border.

As the president backed away from his border wall request this week, Republicans on Capitol Hill were increasingly vocal about their desire to secure money outlined in the supplemental military funding request the White House submitted last month.

Multiple GOP senators said Tuesday they were confident a government spending package would deliver at least some of the $30 billion military package, and possibly all of the $1.5 billion requested for border security, albeit not for the border wall.

That position represents a stark reversal from last month, when several Republicans — including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), both an appropriator and member of Senate leadership — suggested lawmakers might have to advance the extra military money separately from the must-pass spending bill.

“I can’t tell you exactly what amount of the $30 [billion] will be in there. But I think, yes, we will definitely have more money for the military in there,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations Committee, told POLITICO.

Hoeven said some of the extra defense funding would be classified as emergency spending, which means it wouldn’t raise the overall cost of the package, making it more palatable to Democrats. Any boost for defense funding could become a problem in the House, however, due to potential objections from budget hawks.

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Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that handles homeland security spending, said the final funding package would likely include the full $1.5 billion Trump requested for border security, but with an understanding that it would not go to the wall.

“I think it would be the same,” Boozman told POLITICO. “Just instead of physical barrier, some of the other things you need to do on the

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