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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

On taxes, Republicans are effectively legislating while blindfolded

11/30/17 08:40AM

Yesterday afternoon, Senate Republicans voted on a procedural measure to bring their tax plan to the floor, setting the stage for a final vote that will likely come tomorrow. At the time, GOP senators advanced the legislation without a score from the Joint Committee on Taxation, without legislative text on the "trigger" provisions, without understanding the details of changes to state-and-local-tax deductions, without Byrd Rule scrutiny, and without the benefit of a single substantive policy hearing.

In other words, with Congress poised to overhaul the federal tax code of the world's most dominant economic superpower, Republican lawmakers are effectively winging it, legislating while blindfolded, hoping it'll all work out in the end.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne joked yesterday, "Most Americans take far more care in filling out their tax returns than Republicans are taking with this bill."

What's more, while Republicans are confronted with brutal analyses of their plan from official and independent economists, GOP policymakers can't pushback against them -- because Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his team haven't prepared an official Trump administration analysis.

Mr. Mnuchin has promised that Treasury will release its analysis in full. Yet, just one day before the full Senate prepares to vote on a sweeping tax rewrite, the administration has yet to produce the type of economic analysis that it is citing as a reason to pass the tax cut.

Those inside Treasury's Office of Tax Policy, which Mr. Mnuchin has credited with running the models, say they have been largely shut out of the process and are not working on the type of detailed analysis that he has mentioned. An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job, said Treasury had not released a "dynamic" analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because one did not exist.

There is no defense for trying to craft major national policy this way. When the Trump administration's own Office of Tax Policy gets "largely shut out of the process" of scrutinizing the Trump administration's preferred tax plan, we're witnessing policy madness.

The New York Times' article quoted a Treasury official saying the cabinet department won't have time to produce a full analysis of the final bill before Republicans vote on it.

Common sense suggests Congress could simply wait for detailed information before voting to overhaul the nation's tax code, but that would undermine the two pillars of the GOP leadership's strategy: stealth and speed.

After all, trying to legislate with more information might lead more Americans to learn what Congress is up to -- and Republicans have decided that simply isn't an option.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

If Trump's tax plan had merit, he wouldn't have to lie about it

11/30/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump argued via Twitter last night, "The only people who don't like the Tax Cut Bill are the people that don't understand it." The irony, of course, is that the president himself isn't exactly an expert in the Republican tax plan he's so eager to sign into law.

Trump traveled to Missouri yesterday, ostensibly to help sell his party's unpopular proposal, and in the process made clear he either has no idea what the plan entails or he's willing to brazenly lie to the public about its supposed virtues.

The president insisted, for example, "This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me.... I think my accountants are going crazy right now."

As Rachel noted on the show last night, it's possible Trump believes he can get away with claims such as these because he keeps his tax returns hidden from the public. But NBC News' recent report nevertheless made the facts plain:

In fact, Trump and his heirs potentially could save more than $1 billion overall under the GOP tax proposal that the House of Representatives passed Thursday, with most of that amount coming from a repeal of the estate tax, according to an analysis NBC News commissioned of Trump's one known 2005 tax return and his estimated net worth.

The Washington Post ran a related item this morning, adding that the available information "shows his claim of losing a fortune on the tax bill is poppycock."

What's more, the White House is helping negotiate additional changes to the Senate legislation that would further boost the president's personal finances.

It's worth emphasizing that Trump has made this claim before, probably because it seems like a politically persuasive talking point: if our wealthy president is going to be worse off under the GOP proposal, it may be more in line with public attitudes that show broad support for higher taxes on the richest Americans. It's precisely why it matters that Trump's claims are the opposite of the truth.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.29.17

11/29/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Congress: "The House on Wednesday adopted by voice vote a resolution that would require all House employees -- including all members -- to be trained annually on workplace harassment and discrimination."

* Good economic news: "The U.S. economy's pace of growth in the third quarter was raised to 3.3% from 3% under the government's latest revision to gross domestic product. How good is that? It's the fastest spurt of growth in three years."

* Worth keeping an eye on: "President Trump pledged Wednesday that 'additional major sanctions' would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang's latest intercontinental missile test."

* Let's note for context that the judge in the CFPB case was a Trump nominee: "A federal judge declined Tuesday to force out Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's choice to serve as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."

* "Today" anchor Matt Lauer "was fired by NBC News after a detailed complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior that took place during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The accusation also noted that the alleged behavior continued in the workplace after the games, NBC News confirmed. "

* Garrison Keillor "has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over 'allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.'"

* I meant to mention this yesterday: "A federal judge ruled on Monday that the military must move forward with plans for allowing transgender recruits starting on Jan. 1, 2018."

* FEMA: "After Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico, a newly created Florida company with an unproven record won more than $30 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs. Bronze Star LLC never delivered those urgently needed supplies, which even months later remain in demand by hurricane victims on the island."

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Sen. Bob Corker

Republican tax plan faces an unexpected 'trigger' warning

11/29/17 12:54PM

There's been a lingering suspicion among some Capitol Hill observers that something will eventually derail the regressive Republican tax plan. One of these days, the theory goes, there will be some kind of development that causes cooler heads -- and policy sanity -- to prevail before it's too late.

As things stand, those assumptions are in trouble. The GOP plan cleared the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, with two ostensible Republican skeptics -- Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bob Corker of Tennessee -- sticking with their party.

To defeat the proposal, the country will need at least three GOP senators to break ranks. As things stand, with a vote slated for this week, there are literally zero firm "no" votes.

What's left to argue about? The answer, oddly enough, is "triggers."

Bob Corker is one of a handful of Senate Republicans who seems concerned about the impact the GOP tax plan will have on the deficit, which is projected to grow by at least $1.4 trillion over the next decade if the Senate plan is implemented. The retiring Tennessee senator is apparently demanding "triggers" that would scrap scheduled tax breaks if the party's economic forecasts turn out to be wrong. The Washington Post reported:

Now he's concerned about various gimmicks and overly rosy assumptions in the bill that would almost certainly mean the true impact on the debt is far greater than that. So the retiring senator has been pushing in recent days to include a "trigger" that would automatically increase taxes down the road if the bill fails to generate the level of economic growth that Republicans leaders keep publicly predicting.

It's not clear what exactly GOP leaders promised Corker, who declined to share specifics with reporters. He said the amendment will be included in an updated version of the bill that is likely to be released publicly on Thursday.

As a rule, a secret plan, unveiled in the 11th hour, without scrutiny from anyone, isn't a good way to overhaul the tax code of the world's most dominant economic superpower.

Nevertheless, Republicans are moving forward, and according to Corker, he's getting what he wants in the bill. So, it's a done deal?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.29.17

11/29/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* The latest statewide poll in Alabama's U.S. Senate special election shows Roy Moore (R) in the lead, 49% to 44%, over Doug Jones (D). The election is Dec. 12, which is less than two weeks away.

* AL.com published an open letter today from Leigh Corfmann, one of Moore's accusers, directed at the right-wing candidate. "What you did to me when I was 14-years old should be revolting to every person of good morals," she wrote. "But now you are attacking my honesty and integrity. Where does your immorality end?"

* Moore's campaign touted support yesterday from a super PAC that Team Moore said was founded by "seasoned campaign veterans" who helped elect Donald Trump, In reality, the entity "was founded just weeks ago by a 24-year-old aspiring political operative who acknowledged to NBC News Tuesday that he's trying to disassociate himself from white nationalist organizations he appeared to have affiliated with in the past."

* As expected, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) announced he's retiring at the end of this Congress. Though the Illinois Democrat left open the door to other possible campaigns, he added yesterday that he isn't going to run for governor or in the next mayoral race in Chicago.

* Though the 2016 presidential election was over a year ago, Trump again last night went after "Crooked Hillary" and demanded further investigation of her emails.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump arrive to the "Make America Great Again Welcome Concert" at the Lincoln Memorial, Jan. 19, 2017, in Washington. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

With his tax plan, Trump forgets 'the forgotten men and women'

11/29/17 11:20AM

In his inaugural address earlier this year -- yes, it's been a long year -- Donald Trump articulated a vision for taking political power and "giving it back to you, the American people." The new Republican president added, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

In practice, of course, Trump's promises were as false as they were cruel. The White House's budget plan seemed to go out of its way to punish the working families the president vowed to protect. Trump's health care measures, by his own admission, ended up hurting many of the struggling people who helped elect him.

And as NBC News's First Read team noted this morning, Trump's tax plans are part of the same regressive governing vision.

When President Trump speaks on his tax plan at 3:30 pm ET today in St. Charles, Mo., it will no longer be accurate to describe him as an economic populist who pursues policies to benefit the poor and the middle class at the expense of the wealthiest Americans. The reason: The Senate tax plan he's selling is the exact opposite of economic populism.

Trump the candidate did his best to cater his sales pitch to a specific set of marks, I mean, voters. He talked about raising taxes on the wealthy, for example, and said in his convention speech, "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves."

It was then time for the bait and switch: Trump the president endorsed, among other things, a tax plan that rewards the wealthy and raises taxes on the middle class.

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In this Jan. 12, 2016 file photo, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks to the legislature in Topeka, Kan. (Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP)

GOP refuses to learn the lessons of Kansas' failed tax experiment

11/29/17 10:46AM

Shortly after the 2012 elections, with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) radical economic experiment already underway, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of his former colleague's plan, "This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington, but can't, at least for now."

At the time, McConnell's ambitions were largely irrelevant. Barack Obama was in the White House, a Democratic majority controlled the Senate, and there was simply no way Democrats would consider "the sort of thing" Brownback created in Kansas.

But five years later, McConnell and his GOP allies have all the power they need to impose a Kansas-style experiment on the nation. Many who saw Kansas' failures first hand have some advice to Republican policymakers: Stop.

The Kansas City Star published a piece over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend from Steve Rose, who described himself as a "Bob Dole Republican," and who lamented the fact that Kansas' failed tax plan and the current GOP tax plan "are twins."

Republicans at the federal level are claiming, just like Brownback did, that there will not be a resulting massive deficit if taxes are slashed. Most independent, non-partisan researchers predict a $1.5 trillion deficit will be the result of the tax cuts that have been proposed.

Blinded Republicans claim these huge tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy will stimulate the economy enough that overall revenue will grow, not shrink. Revenue growth is supposed to trickle down to the middle-class taxpayers.

Sound familiar? That is exactly what was sold to Kansans, who saw their state's budget hemorrhage. Nothing trickled down except cuts in services for the middle class.

The Kansas City Star's editorial board published a related piece this morning, asking Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), "Why take this failed experiment nationwide?"

Moran endorsed his party's regressive tax plan yesterday. Perhaps he hasn't paid close enough attention to what happened in his own state this decade.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump uses Twitter to promote extremist videos, faces backlash

11/29/17 10:11AM

After Donald Trump used his Twitter account to call North Korea's Kim Jong-un "short and fat," White House Chief of Staff John Kelly claimed he doesn't keep up with the president's written missives. "Believe it or not, I do not follow the tweets," the retired general said.

Perhaps it's time Kelly starts following the tweets, because they exist, they're ridiculous, and the rest of the world is taking note.

President Trump shared videos supposedly portraying Muslims committing acts of violence on Twitter early Wednesday morning, images that are likely to fuel anti-Islam sentiments popular among the president's political base in the United States. [...]

Mr. Trump retweeted the video posts from an ultranationalist British party leader, Jayda Fransen, who has previously been charged in the United Kingdom with "religious aggravated harassment," according to news reports. The videos were titled: "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!" "Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!" and "Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!"

It is unusual to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform.

Over the summer, Trump insisted, "When I make a statement, I like to be correct.... Before I make a statement, I need the facts." But before promoting anti-Muslim videos, Trump has no real interest in whether the unverified content is correct or not.

By all appearances, the president's point was to help spread bigotry. It's as simple as that.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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