Posts from Josh Israel

Donald Trump goes back to pretending to care about infrastructure

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Weeks after yet again publicly shelving his long-delayed promise to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday that action was just around the corner. His administration’s many stalled attempts to address the issue has become a national joke, as its promised “Infrastructure Week” became reminiscent of Groundhog Day.

Trump’s latest bluster came Tuesday morning as part of an effort to defend Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has drawn widespread bipartisan criticism for blocking election security legislation and virtually every other major bill since the start of the 116th Congress.

“Mitch McConnell loves our country,” Trump told reporters. “He’s done a great job. We are trying to pass an infrastructure bill. It’s being written up right now, for our highways, and our roadways.”

This news came as something of a surprise given that in May, Trump was adamant that he would not do anything on infrastructure because he was mad that Congress was fulfilling its constitutional duty to conduct oversight of his administration. After reaching a tentative agreement with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the outlines of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, anti-government activists in his own administration and congressional Republicans reportedly objected to the cost. Rather than stand up to his party, Trump called the Democratic leaders in for an ambush under the guise of a negotiation.

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Fueled by their donations, Mitch McConnell pushes special tax break for bourbon industry

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced a bill on Wednesday to provide special corporate tax advantages for liquor distillers.

A look at McConnell’s campaign finance history may offer a big clue as to why: hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the alcoholic beverages sector.

The Advancing Growth in the Economy through Distilled Spirits Act would renew an expiring provision from President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill that allows for the deduction of interest expenses related to bourbon inventory when the expenses are paid, rather then when the bourbon is bottled and sold. In a joint press release, Paul said the bill would “preserve Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry by boosting job creation and maintaining a level playing field between Bourbon and whiskey producers at home and their competitors abroad.”

But back in 2010, an examination by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity calculated the largest individual donors to McConnell over his decades-long tenure in Congress. Of the top five largest career donors, three had ties to the Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corporation. Brown-Forman’s products include Jack Daniel’s whiskey and Old Forester bourbon.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2014 — the last time McConnell was up for re-election — he also received more in donations from the beer, wine, and liquor sector than any other senator. The total for that campaign alone: $144,950.

So far this year, McConnell has received $5,000 from Brown-Forman’s corporate PAC and $10,000 from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

As majority leader, McConnell has spent most of the 116th Congress ensuring no lawmaking happens. He has boasted of being the “grim reaper” who blocks legislationfrom even coming to the floor and has so stanched the flow of bills that even his Republican colleagues have publicly complained. He has introduced little legislation, aside from housekeeping resolutions required to organize the Senate. So when the Kentucky Republican announces he will push for a bill, it is unusual.

While Paul is in just his second term in the Senate, he too has received tens of thousands in contributions from the alcohol industry.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

GOP congressman voted for tax cuts, now says America is too indebted to pay for appropriations bill

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) voted against a bill last week that would fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next year.

His reasoning? He says the measure included “support of taxpayer-funded abortions” — which it does not — and that he does not believe the nation can afford that, after tax cuts he voted for massively expanded the budget deficit.

Smucker is a longtime opponent of abortion rights. In his bi-weekly newsletter — delivered Sunday and tweeted out on Monday — the second-term congressman explained his objection in a section called “In Defense of the Unborn.”

“Last week, the House Democrats offered a spending package (H.R. 2740) that will spend billions more than our current budget caps allow—including in support of taxpayer-funded abortions,” he wrote.

“Our nation is more than $20 trillion in debt, and longstanding policy has been to separate abortion from healthcare funding. The bill would overturn these provisions and would also undermine other critical protections for the lives of the unborn. I couldn’t support these provisions and opposed the bill.”

Smucker included a link to a floor speech from Friday in which he railed against the provisions.

While the bill, which cleared the House, would continue limited funding for fetal tissue research and would lift a gag order by President Donald Trump for family planning providers who mention abortion, it does not actually provide any funding for abortions.

“Hyde Amendment” prohibitions also were included in the bill, which would make it harder for poor women and gender minorities to access abortions.

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Oops: Trump admitted he blew up the infrastructure deal, not Democrats

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

President Donald Trump blew up talks with congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday, vowing that he would not do anything to address America’s crumbling infrastructure — an issue he has repeatedly cited as a chance for bipartisan cooperation — until Congress stopped doing oversight of his administration.

Trump met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday morning, ostensibly to discuss a path forward on legislation to rebuild roads and bridges. Last month, the trio had agreed to the outlines of a $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan. But with congressional Republicans and his own advisers reportedly objecting to the cost, it quickly became apparent that Trump had little intention to actually reach an agreement at this meeting.

Minutes after the meeting, Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden and announced that he was angry that his campaign’s Russian ties and his repeated attempts to obstruct investigations are still being scrutinized even after he (falsely) declared himself totally exonerated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

He admitted at the podium he was the one to scuttle infrastructure talks before they even began.

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Republican congressman suggests GOP spent 8 years saving their health care plan for 2019

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OH), who chaired the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce until the 2018 blue wave cost his party its control of Congress, went on Fox News Tuesday to denounce Medicare for All and other proposals to create a single-payer system for health care. Asked about his party’s lack of an alternative, he suggested that they would have had one had they kept their majority.

Walden has been in Congress for just over 20 years. His party held the majority for 16 of them. Since 2011, they spent much of their time pushing to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, although most of their more than 50 attempts to kill the bill (in whole or part) were more focused on the “repeal” and less on the “replace.” In May of 2017, Walden voted for the wildly unpopular Trumpcare proposal, which would have taken health insurance away from an estimated 14 million people.

Walden said on Tuesday that the single-payer proposals were a “complete government takeover” of the health care system and would turn the United States into Venezuela.  Citing a single example of a Canadian woman who had a long wait for a cancer diagnosis under that country’s system, he predicted “If you think it’s fun to wait in line at DMV, you’ll gonna love [Sen.] Bernie Sanders’ [(I-VT)] wait times for Medicare for All.”

But pressed by Fox News to explain what his party’s solution was, Walden claimed that they would have tamed the nation’s growing health care costs had they only kept control of the House.

“I want to go after costs of health care,” he said. “If I had remained as chairman, if Republicans had stayed in the majority, that was our focus: to get drug costs down, find out why hospital costs are so high, look at every part of this medical industrial complex.”

Walden did not indicate why he, his committee, and his party did not do this during their time in the majority.

Fox News is very mad that a union endorsed Biden

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

The International Association of Fire Fighters, a labor union representing more than 300,000 firefighters and emergency medical service providers, endorsed Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign on Monday. Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade apparently found this very concerning.

In a Monday morning interview with the union’s general president, Harold Schaitberger, Kilmeade repeatedly demanded to know why the mandatory union dues for the “many of those firefighters” who actually support President Donald Trump would be used to elect a candidate they oppose.

Schaitberger explained that the group’s voluntary political action committee donations, not its union dues, would be used for political spending — but Kilmeade would not relent.

“Are you using their dues for Joe Biden?” Kilmeade asked of the union’s Trump supporters.

“Our role is to represent all of them in their profession,” Schaitberger began to respond.

“Right. Are you using their money to support Joe Biden?” Kilmeade pressed.

“We are using the money that those that choose to contribute to our political PAC, we use on their behalf in the political arena. Those that choose to make those contributions,” he replied.

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Trump’s tax cuts for Betsy DeVos and the very rich are being paid for by education cuts

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will testify before Congress on Wednesday about her priorities for the department just weeks after she proposed billions of dollars in cuts for education spending in fiscal year 2020.

DeVos has labeled the cuts “tough choices,” but new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) shows DeVos’ personal savings from the 2017 GOP tax bill alone could have covered a significant chunk of them.

(ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAPAF.)

According to her 2018 personal financial disclosures, DeVos’ income was somewhere between $46.8 million and $109 million, mostly stemming from LLCs, limited partnerships, and distributive shares. CAPAF’s analysis estimates the Trump tax cuts likely saved her $10 million or more in the last year alone.

Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on federal tax and budget policy, said DeVos was “illustrative of the windfall that extremely wealthy business owners were handed in 2017.”

“Because her family’s company, Amway, is — as we found out from a letter they sent to Congress — structured as an S-corporation,” he explained, DeVos’ holdings were eligible for a special new deduction created in the tax bill. The tax changes Trump and Republicans implemented in 2017 actually reduced the top rate for these types of holdings from 39.6% to 29.6% taxation.

“They sold this new deduction as a small business tax cut, but the kinds of businesses that really benefit are Amway, the Trump Organization, and their owners,” Hanlon said.

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Fox News tells Americans to stop complaining about their shrunken tax refunds

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

As Americans begin to prepare their 2018 federal tax returns, many are facing the unpleasant surprise that their tax refunds will be smaller this year or that they may even owe money to the government. This comes despite — or perhaps because of — the tax bill passed by the Republican Congress in late 2017 and signed by President Donald Trump, which Trump falsely promised would give everyone a tax cut, but actually raised taxes on many middle class Americans.

On Wednesday, Fox & Friends attempted to spin the situation, blaming taxpayers who should have somehow known to have adjust their withholding a year ago and should have saved more.

Noting that the average tax refund has dropped 8.4 percent since last year, guest and Fox Business Network host Charles Payne claimed Americans should have used their “fatter paychecks” more wisely.

“Here’s the thing. For the most part, the IRS is telling everyone that they just simply did not make the proper adjustments on the withholding at the beginning of the year. So they have been making all of this money,” he said.

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Mulvaney says Trump may still force another shutdown despite adequate funding

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

President Donald Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that the administration “absolutely cannot” rule out another government shutdown — even though he also claimed that there is plenty of money already available for Trump to build his unpopular wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bipartisan congressional negotiators are running out of time to reach an agreement on legislation to keep the government funded after the current three-week continuing resolution expires on February 15.

Trump ran for president in 2016 on a promise that he would build a wall along the entire southern border and that it would be funded entirely by Mexico. After Mexico refused, Trump has demanded $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding this year to begin construction on the project.

Earlier this year, he forced the longest partial government shutdown in the nation’s history in an unsuccessful attempt to get Congress to appropriate that money.  But Mulvaney said on Sunday that Trump can legally build the wall even if he does not get new appropriations.

On Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney vowed that Trump is going to build the wall, period. “We’ll take as much money as you can give us. And then we’ll go off and find the money someplace else — legally — in order to secure that southern barrier. But this is going to get built, with or without Congress.”

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House Republicans resort to wacky excuses to reject ending Trump’s shutdown

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

House Republicans are offering a series of strange justifications for refusing to join their Democratic colleagues in supporting legislation that would end President Trump’s government shutdown, which is about to set a record as the longest ever.

Democrats passed a series of bills this week to reopen parts of the federal government that are currently closed due to the partial shutdown, with only a few Republican votes joining in support of the legislation.

While Trump has vowed to veto these bills unless Congress gives him billions of taxpayer dollars for a border wall he promised would be funded entirely by Mexico, lawmakers could override a presidential veto if two-thirds of the House and Senate backed the bills.

Instead, House Republicans have offered a litany of excuses for their opposition to bills, which were crafted to match bipartisan Senate spending bills endorsed by the body last year. While some played on the notion that the House should never give the Senate what it wants, many noted that their pet pork projects were not adequately funded — and thus, they preferred to let government agencies including Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Interior continue to be shuttered with no funding whatsoever.

The gripes shared during the House debate included:

Dead House members wouldn’t like the process.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) argued that even though the bills received overwhelming support from senators from both parties last year, they should be rejected because the House was not involved. “The other side wants to claim that these bills are bipartisan, but they are clearly not bicameral, and they have no input from the 435 House Members,” he said. “Some of the great House appropriators of our time on both sides of the aisle would probably be rolling over in their graves right now if they knew of such a move to take up Senate spending bills without any House input.”

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Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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Health Care Should Not Be A Bargaining Weapon

Health Care Should Not Be A Bargaining Weapon