Senate OKs tax bill as Trump, GOP near big legislative win

Above, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the chamber after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers to advance the stalled GOP overhaul of the tax code, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Updated 02 December 2017
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Senate OKs tax bill as Trump, GOP near big legislative win

WASHINGTON: Republicans pushed a nearly $1.5 trillion (SR5.63 trillion) tax bill through the Senate early Saturday after a burst of eleventh-hour horse trading, as a party starved all year for a major legislative triumph took a giant step toward giving President Donald Trump one of his top priorities by Christmas.
“Big bills are rarely popular. You remember how unpopular ‘Obamacare’ was when it passed?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in an interview, shrugging off polls showing scant public enthusiasm for the measure. He said the legislation would prove to be “just what the country needs to get growing again.”
Senate approval came on a 51-49 roll call with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the only lawmaker to cross party lines. The measure focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, gives more modest breaks to others and offers the boldest rewrite of the nation’s tax system since 1986.
Republicans touted the package as one that would benefit people of all incomes and ignite the economy. Even an official projection of a $1 trillion, 10-year flood of deeper budget deficits couldn’t dissuade GOP senators from rallying behind the bill.
“Obviously I’m kind of a dinosaur on the fiscal issues,” said Corker, who battled to keep the bill from worsening the government’s accumulated $20 trillion in IOUs.
The Republican-led House approved a similar bill last month in what has been a stunningly swift trip through Congress for complex legislation that impacts the breadth of American society. The two chambers will now try crafting a final compromise to send Trump.
After spending the year’s first nine months futilely trying to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, GOP leaders were determined to move the measure rapidly before opposition Democrats and lobbying groups could blow it up. The party views passage as crucial to retaining its House and Senate majorities in next year’s elections.
Democrats derided the bill as a GOP gift to its wealthy and business backers at the expense of lower-earning people. They contrasted the bill’s permanent reduction in corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent to smaller individual tax breaks that would end in 2026.
Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the bill’s reductions for many families would be modest and said by 2027, families earning under $75,000 would on average face higher, not lower, taxes.
The bill is “removed from the reality of what the American people need,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He criticized Republicans for releasing a revised, 479-page bill that no one can absorb shortly before the final vote, saying, “The Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery.”
“You really don’t read this kind of legislation,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told home-state reporters, asked why the Senate was approving a bill some senators hadn’t read. He said lawmakers needed to study it and get feedback from affected groups.
Democrats took to the Senate floor and social media to mock one page that included changes scrawled in barely legible handwriting. Later, they won enough GOP support to kill a provision by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, that would have bestowed a tax break on conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.
The bill hit rough waters after the Joint Taxation panel concluded it would worsen federal shortfalls by $1 trillion over a decade, even when factoring in economic growth that lower taxes would stimulate. Trump administration officials and many Republicans have insisted the bill would pay for itself by stimulating the economy. But the sour projections stiffened resistance from some deficit-averse Republicans.
But after bargaining that stretched into Friday, GOP leaders nailed down the support they needed in a chamber they control 52-48. Facing unyielding Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose no more than two GOP senators and prevail with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, but ended up not needing it.
Leaders’ changes included helping millions of companies whose owners pay individual, not corporate, taxes on their profits by allowing deductions of 23 percent, up from 17.4 percent. That helped win over Wisconsin’s Johnson and Steve Daines of Montana.
People would be allowed to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, a demand of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. That matched a House provision that chamber’s leaders included to keep some GOP votes from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California.
The changes added nearly $300 billion to the tax bill’s costs. To pay for that, leaders reduced the number of high-earners who must pay the alternative minimum tax, rather than completely erasing it. They also increased a one-time tax on profits US-based corporations are holding overseas and would require firms to keep paying the business version of the alternative minimum tax.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona — who like Corker had been a holdout and has sharply attacked Trump’s capabilities as president — voted for the bill. He said he’d received commitments from party leaders and the administration “to work with me” to restore protections, dismantled by Trump, for young immigrants who arrived in the US illegally as children. That seemed short of a pledge to actually revive the safeguards.
The Senate bill would drop the highest personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent. The estate tax levied on a few thousand of the nation’s largest inheritances would be narrowed to affect even fewer.
Deductions for state and local income taxes, moving expenses and other items would vanish, the standard deduction — used by most Americans — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples, and the per-child tax credit would grow.
The bill would abolish the “Obamacare” requirement that most people buy health coverage or face tax penalties. Industry experts say that would weaken the law by easing pressure on healthier people to buy coverage, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the move would push premiums higher and leave 13 million additional people uninsured.


Drifter charged in stabbing death of champ golfer in Iowa

Updated 18 September 2018
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Drifter charged in stabbing death of champ golfer in Iowa

  • Celia Barquin Arozamena was found in a pond at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, about 50 kilometers north of Des Moines
  • A police dog tracked Barquin’s scent to a temporary camp along a creek near the golf course, where a suspect was apprehended

AMES, Iowa: A homeless man attacked and killed a top amateur golfer from Spain who was playing a round near her university campus in central Iowa, leaving her body in a pond on the course, police said Tuesday.
Collin Daniel Richards, 22, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Celia Barquin Arozamena, a student at Iowa State University.
Barquin was found Monday morning in a pond at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Des Moines. Police were called to the golf course around 10:20 a.m. to investigate a possible missing female after golfers found a golf bag with no one around it.
Officers found Barquin’s body some distance from the bag, with several stab wounds to her upper torso, head and neck, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday against Richards.
A police dog tracked Barquin’s scent to a temporary camp along a creek near the golf course, where Richards had been living in a tent, the complaint said. Officers found Richards with several fresh scratches on his face consistent with fighting, and a deep laceration in his left hand that he tried to conceal, it said.
An acquaintance of Richards told investigators that the suspect had said in recent days that he had “an urge to rape and kill a woman” while they were walking on a trail near the course, the complaint said. A second acquaintance told police that Richards arrived at his home on Monday appearing “disheveled and covered in blood, sand and water.” He bathed and left with his clothes in a backpack.
Investigators later recovered two pairs of shorts with blood stains and a knife that Richards allegedly gave to two other people after the slaying, the complaint said. Those two individuals were driving Richards out of town after the slaying, but he asked them to drop him off near the camp so he could get his tent and that’s when officers arrested him, it said.
Barquin was the 2018 Big 12 champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year. The university said the native of Puente San Miguel, Spain, was finishing her civil engineering degree this semester after exhausting her eligibility at Iowa State in 2017-2018.
She was one of the most accomplished players in Cyclone golf history, the university said. In April, she became the second women’s golfer at Iowa State to earn medalist honors at a conference tournament when claiming the 2018 Big 12 Championship. She did it with a three-shot victory.
Barquin, who was ranked No. 69 nationally by Golfweek, ended her career as a Cyclone with a fourth-straight NCAA Regional appearance and earned All-Big 12 Team honors for the third time — the second player in Iowa State’s history to do so.
She became the third Cyclone women’s golfer to compete in the US Women’s Open Championship, the university said. The team announced Tuesday it was pulling out of the East & West Match Play in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be with friends and family and to grieve their loss.
Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said in a statement on Twitter that she was “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death” of Barquin, describing her as a “dedicated civil engineering student” and an “acclaimed golfer with a bright future.”
Head women’s golf coach Christie Martens said in a release that Barquin was “loved by all her teammates and friends” and was an “outstanding representative of our school.”
“We will never forget her competitive drive to be the best and her passion for life,” Martens said.