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Trump tax plan heavy on promises, light on details

Trump tax plan heavy on promises, light on details

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the Trump administration's tax plan “would pay for itself” through economic growth. | Getty

Administration's heralded pledge on historic tax overhaul crammed into one-page bullet points.

By Aaron Lorenzo and Colin Wilhelm

04/26/17 09:19 AM EDT

Updated 04/26/17 03:38 PM EDT

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President Donald Trump's eagerly awaited tax reform plan arrived Wednesday as a one-page sheet of mostly general principles, largely repackaging ideas from his presidential campaign with a promise to deliver the nation's biggest tax cut ever.

The rollout was hastily arranged after Trump took Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other White House officials by surprise last week when he promised a "big announcement" on tax reform would be coming this Wednesday. But what Mnuchin and top economic adviser Gary Cohn presented at a White House briefing will do little, if anything, to move the ball forward on tax reform.

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Instead, it seemed intended to give Trump another thing he could point to as the traditional 100-day mark for measuring presidential achievements looms and some of Trump's top priorities — including repealing and replacing Obamacare — remain undone.

The announcement included a big cut in tax rates for businesses, to 15 percent; fewer tax brackets for individuals; doubling the standard deduction; and providing tax relief to help pay for child and dependent care expenses.

At the same time, the plan would get rid of some taxes that mostly hit the wealthy, including the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, while promising to "Eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers."

The plan would retain deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations but get rid of all others, including for state and local taxes they pay and health insurance they get from employers — both controversial ideas.

"What this is about is creating jobs and creating economic growth," Mnuchin said at the White House. "And that's why massive tax cuts and massive tax reform and simplifying the system is what we're going to do."

Throughout the week, officials put out conflicting statements about what would be in the tax package, and one official told POLITICO that the plan hadn’t been written by late Tuesday afternoon.

As reporters peppered Mnuchin and Cohn with questions about the finer points, Cohn said, "We’ll get back to you with definitive answers on all these details,” National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters at the White House.

The rollout is likely to underwhelm, or frustrate, House Republicans who have been working on their own tax reform for months and waiting for clarity on where Trump stands on crucial details. That includes a controversial "border adjustment" tax on imports that lawmakers are counting on to generate more than $1 trillion to offset the cost of tax cuts.

Cohn and Mnuchin said they’d be in constant dialogue with lawmakers to remake U.S. tax laws based on four principles: reduced rates, simplification, middle-class tax cuts and getting American businesses with foreign earnings to bring home

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White House to continue Obamacare payments, removing shutdown threat

White House to continue Obamacare payments, removing shutdown threat

A government shutdown appeared unlikely after President Donald Trump dropped his demands for border wall funding. | Getty

The decision removes the last big hurdle in talks to avoid a government shutdown.

By Burgess Everett , Heather Caygle and Josh Dawsey

04/26/17 10:43 AM EDT

Updated 04/26/17 04:21 PM EDT

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The White House is telling lawmakers that it will continue paying Affordable Care Act cost-sharing subsidies, potentially defusing a bruising conflict between Democrats and Trump administration officials that had sparked a new round of shutdown fears in Washington Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed the news Wednesday afternoon after word started spreading around the Capitol. It was not immediately clear how long the White House planned to keep the money flowing.

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“Our major concerns in these negotiations have been about funding for the wall and uncertainty about the CSR payments crucial to the stability of the marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act," Pelosi said in a statement after two phone calls with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. "We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts."

With Congress closing in on a deal, lawmakers were expected to buy another week to finish the deal as a Friday evening shutdown deadline loomed, two sources said. Leaders are leaning toward passing a one-week extension of funding at current levels.

“More progress needs to be made on some of our priorities, and we continue to be concerned about poison pill riders that are still in this legislation," Pelosi said.

On Tuesday evening, Pelosi and President Donald Trump’s budget director clashed in a phone call over the Obamacare subsidies threatening delicate bipartisan negotiations to fund the government, according to sources familiar with the matter. The solution to the row appears to be the status quo: Paying for the subsidies outside of the congressional spending process. That would give Trump some future leverage over Obamacare while allowing Democrats to say they've protected the law, if only temporarily.

And it allows Republicans to avoid blame for causing chaos and confusion in the insurance markets.

“If we pull the subsidies ... I think there would be nobody with a health insurance plan next year.” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.).

The movement was unlocked after the Tuesday call between Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Pelosi told Mulvaney that she could not support a spending bill that didn't include a commitment to continuing the subsidies for Americans with low incomes, according to a high-ranking Republican source briefed on the conversation. Mulvaney responded that Trump would not sign a bill to fund the government through September that includes those payments, called cost-sharing reductions, the source said.

“She’s giving him back some of his own medicine,” the source said, referring to Mulvaney’s hard-edged tactics during the 2013 shutdown, which Mulvaney supported as a conservative House member. But Mulvaney “delivered [the] message that Trump would not sign a bill with CSRs.”

A Democratic aide confirmed the call, but

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Republicans tell Trump to hold up on NAFTA withdrawal

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty

“It’s been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers, and we’re going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA once and for all,” President Donald Trump said in a speech last week. | Getty

The Trump administration is considering an executive order on withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA — and initial reaction on Capitol Hill to the planned move has been mostly negative.

A draft order has been submitted for final stages of review and could be unveiled late this week or early next, two White House officials told POLITICO. The effort, which still could change in coming days as more officials weigh in, would indicate the administration’s intent to withdraw from the sweeping Clinton-era pact by triggering the timeline set forth in the deal.

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The approach appears designed to extract better terms from Canada and Mexico. But it raises the possibility the Trump administration could walk away from one of the largest trade deals on the planet after having already pulled the U.S. out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal that the Obama administration saw as a way to cement American influence over Asia-Pacific trade.

“I think we’d better be careful about unintended consequences,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to renegotiate or otherwise withdraw from NAFTA, a trade deal signed in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton that removes tariffs and allows for free flow of goods and supplies between the North American triumvirate. Trump in recent weeks has stepped up his rhetoric against the trading partners, returning to threats he had shied away from since taking office and once again vowing to terminate the agreement all together.

“NAFTA’s been very, very bad for our country,” he said in a speech last week in Kenosha, Wis. “It’s been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers, and we’re going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA once and for all.”

Peter Navarro, head of Trump’s National Trade Council, drafted the executive order in close cooperation with chief White House strategist Steve Bannon. The order was submitted this week to the staff secretary for the final stages of review, according to one of the White House officials.

The draft executive order could be a hardball negotiating tactic intended to pressure Mexico and Canada to come to the table to renegotiate NAFTA and make concessions that are more to Trump’s liking. But once Trump sets the withdrawal process in motion, the prospects of the U.S. turning its back on two of its most important trade partners suddenly become real.

Early returns from Capitol Hill lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were not encouraging and suggested that a go-it-alone move from the White House without Congress’ backing could cause trouble down the road, as the administration looks to strike a series of nation-to-nation “America First”

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Ann Coulter cancels UC Berkeley speech

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“There will be no speech,” Ann Coulter says.

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FCC chairman announces start of net neutrality pullback

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said "the free and open Internet developed and flourished under light-touch regulation." | Getty

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Wednesday unveiled his strategy to gut the Obama-era net neutrality rules by weakening his agency’s power over internet service providers, plunging his agency once again into a major policy battle pitting telecom giants against digital activists and tech companies.

Pai’s proposal seeks to eliminate the regulatory foundation of the rules approved by the agency's previous Democratic majority in 2015 and jettison a general conduct standard giving the FCC authority to oversee ISP behavior. The net neutrality rules require providers like AT&T and Comcast to treat all web traffic equally as it passes through their networks.

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Supporters of the original rules say they give the FCC sufficient oversight over internet providers to prevent them from blocking or throttling web traffic or charging websites for faster access to consumers. But Pai called that legal framework heavy-handed regulation that has hurt broadband investment, and said his plan will return the industry to a time when the internet was allowed to grow.

“For decades before 2015, we had a free and open Internet,” the chairman said in a speech at the Newseum in Washington co-hosted by FreedomWorks, a limited-government group. “Indeed, the free and open Internet developed and flourished under light-touch regulation. We were not living in some digital dystopia before the partisan imposition of a massive plan hatched in Washington saved all of us.”

Pai intends to seek a commission vote on his proposal at the agency’s May 18 meeting. The move is sure to reignite the policy war that has raged for years between nation's telecom giants and activists that fear that ISPs, if left unchecked, will abuse their power as gatekeepers of the internet.

Left-leaning advocacy groups and Democrats have promised a fierce fight to protect the current version of the rules. They point to the political fallout over Republicans’ repeal of the agency’s broadband privacy rules earlier this year, calling that a mere preview of the pain to come on net neutrality. Many progressives are deeply invested in the issue, having helped to generate a flood of comments to the agency during the last FCC debate.

"Millions of Americans as well as internet companies, startups and innovators have supported the order," David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, said in a statement. "The order’s main opponents are large ISPs that have made it clear they want to subvert the public interest by manipulating internet traffic to benefit corporate bottom lines."

Pai said his changes to net neutrality will spur companies to spend more money building networks and will restore the FTC’s authority to police ISP privacy practices. He said he intends to finish the rulemaking this year — and appeared to have no illusions about the resistance he'll face.

“Make no mistake about it: This is a fight that we intend to wage and it is a fight that we are going to win,” Pai

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