Senate OKs tax bill as Trump, GOP near big legislative win
By Associated Press
Published: 16:41 EST, 1 December 2017 | Updated: 03:26 EST, 2 December 2017
Published: 16:41 EST, 1 December 2017 | Updated: 03:26 EST, 2 December 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans pushed a nearly $1.5 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-Ky., 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."
Trump hailed the bill's passage on Twitter, thanking McConnell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas!" the president wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber to his office during votes on amendments to the GOP overhaul of the tax bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday night, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Presiding over the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence announced the 51-49 vote to applause from Republicans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only lawmaker to cross party lines, joining the Democrats in opposition. 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-Wis., 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-Pa., 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 U.S.-based corporations are holding overseas and would require firms to keep paying the business version of the alternative minimum tax.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. – 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 U.S. 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.
Drilling would be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Another provision, knocked out because it violated Senate budget rules, would have explicitly let parents buy tax-advantaged 529 college savings accounts for fetuses, a step they can already take but which anti-abortion forces wanted to inscribe into law. There were also breaks for the wine, beer and spirits industries, Alaska Natives and aircraft management firms.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor in Washington and Scott Bauer Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, listens to a question from a reporter as he leaves the Senate chamber, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, walks through the Capitol, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican leaders believe they have the votes to approve a GOP overhaul of the tax code. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, walks with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Luther Strange R-Ala., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
With reporters looking for updates, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other senators rush to the chamber to vote on amendments as the Republican leadership works to craft their sweeping tax bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. It would mark the first time in 31 years that Congress has overhauled the tax code, making it the biggest legislative achievement of President Donald Trump's first year in office. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., arrives for votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday evening, Nov. 27, 2017. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are scrambling to change a Republican tax bill in an effort to win over holdout GOP senators and pass a tax package by the end of the year. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Pausing for a reporter's question, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and other senators squeeze into an elevator as they rush to the chamber to vote on amendments as the Republican leadership works to craft their sweeping tax bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. It would mark the first time in 31 years that Congress has overhauled the tax code, making it the biggest legislative achievement of President Donald Trump's first year in office. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
With reporters looking for updates, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Budget Committee, heads to the chamber to vote on amendments as the Republican leadership works to craft their sweeping tax bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. It would mark the first time in 31 years that Congress has overhauled the tax code, making it the biggest legislative achievement of President Donald Trump's first year in office. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joins protesters outside the Capitol as Republicans in the Senate work to pass their sweeping tax bill, a blend of generous tax cuts for businesses and more modest tax cuts for families and individuals, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. It would mark the first time in 31 years that Congress has overhauled the tax code, making it the biggest legislative achievement of President Donald Trump's first year in office. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber to his office as the GOP overhaul of the tax bill nears a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Why Australia decided to quit its vaping habit
He’s talking about students in his class, teenagers, who can’t stop vaping.
He sees the effect of the candy-flavoured, nicotine-packed e-cigarettes on young minds every day, with children even vaping in class.
“The ones who are deepest into it will just get up out of their seat, or they’ll be fidgeting or nervous. The worst offenders will just walk out because they’re literally in withdrawal.”
Those who are most addicted need nicotine patches or rehabilitation, he says, talking about 13 and 14-year-olds.
is enough and introduced a range of new restrictions. Despite vapes already being illegal for many, under new legislation they will become available by prescription only.
The number of vaping teenagers in Australia has soared in recent years and authorities say it is the “number one behavioural issue” in schools across the country.
And they blame disposable vapes – which some experts say could be more addictive than heroin and cocaine – but for now are available in Australia in every convenience store, next to the chocolate bars at the counter.
For concerned teachers like Chris, their hands have been tied.
“If we suspect they have a vape, all we can really do is tell them to go to the principal’s office.
“At my old school, my head teacher told me he wanted to install vape detector alarms in the toilet, but apparently we weren’t allowed to because that would be an invasion of privacy.”
E-cigarettes have been sold as a safer alternative to tobacco, as they do not produce tar – the primary cause of lung cancer.
Some countries continue to promote them with public health initiatives to help cigarette smokers switch to a less deadly habit.
Last month, the UK government announced plans to hand out free vaping starter kits to one million smokers in England to get smoking rates below 5% by 2030.
But Australia’s government says that evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit is insufficient for now. Instead, research shows it may push young vapers into taking up smoking later in life.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are lithium battery-powered devices that have cartridges filled with liquids containing nicotine, artificial flavourings, and other chemicals.
The liquid is heated and turned into a vapour and inhaled into the user’s lungs.
Vaping took off from the mid-2000s and there were some 81 million vapers worldwide in 2021, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction group.
Fuelling the rise is the mushrooming popularity of flavoured vapes designed to appeal to the young.
These products can contain far higher volumes of nicotine than regular cigarettes, while some devices sold as ‘nicotine-free’ can actually hold large amounts.
The chemical cocktail also contains formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde – which have been linked to lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
There’s also a suggestion of an increased risk of stroke, respiratory infection, and impaired lung function.
Experts warn not enough is known about the long-term health effects. But some alarming data has already been drawn out.
In 2020, US health authorities identified more than 2,800 cases of e-cigarette or vaping-related lung injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 68 deaths attributed to that injury.
In Australia, a major study by leading charity The Cancer Council found more than half of all children who had ever vaped had used an e-cigarette they knew contained nicotine and thought that vaping was a socially acceptable behaviour.
School-age children were being supplied with e-cigarettes through friends or “dealers” inside and outside school, or from convenience stores and tobacconists, the report said.
Teens also reported purchasing vapes through social media, websites and at pop-up vape stores, the Generation Vape project found.
“Whichever way teenagers obtain e-cigarettes, they are all illegal, yet it’s happening under the noses of federal and state authorities”, report author and Cancer Council chair Anita Dessaix said.
“All Australian governments say they’re committed to ensuring e-cigarettes are only accessed by smokers with a prescription trying to quit – yet a crisis in youth e-cigarette use is unfolding in plain view.”
In addition to the government’s move to ban the import of all non-pharmaceutical vaping products – meaning they can now only be bought with a prescription – all single-use disposable vapes will be made illegal.
The volume and concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes will also be restricted, and both flavours and packaging must be plain and carrying warning labels.
But these new measures are not actually all that drastic, says public health physician Professor Emily Banks from the Australian National University.
“Australia is not an outlier. It is unique to have a prescription-only model, but other places actually ban them completely, and that includes almost all of Latin America, India, Thailand and Japan.”
‘We have been duped’
Health Minister Mark Butler said the new vaping regulations will close the “biggest loophole in Australian healthcare history”.
“Just like they did with smoking… ‘Big Tobacco’ has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
“We have been duped”, he said.
Medical experts agree. Prof Banks argues that the promotion of e-cigarettes as a “healthier” alternative was a classic “sleight-of-hand” from the tobacco industry.
As such vaping has become “normalised” in Australia, and in the UK too.
“There’s over 17,000 flavours, and the majority of use is not for smoking cessation”, she tells the BBC.
“They’re being heavily marketed towards children and adolescents. People who are smoking and using e-cigarettes – that’s the most common pattern of use, dual use.”
Professor Banks says authorities need to “de-normalise” vaping among teenagers and make vapes much harder to get hold of.
“Kids are interpreting the fact that they can very easily get hold of [vapes] as evidence [they’re safe], and they’re actually saying, ‘well, if they were that unsafe, I wouldn’t be able to buy one at the coffee shop’.
But could stricter controls make it harder for people who do turn to vapes hoping to quit or cut down on tobacco?
“It is important to bear in mind that for some people, e-cigarettes have really helped. But we shouldn’t say ‘this is great for smokers to quit’, says Prof Banks.
“We know from
Australia, from the US, from Europe, that two-thirds to three-quarters of people who quit smoking successfully, do so unaided.”
“You’re trying to bring these [vapes] in saying they’re a great way to quit smoking, but actually we’ve got bubble gum flavoured vapes being used by 13-year-olds in the school toilets. That is not what the community signed up for.”
Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-65522841
Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-62683210
Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania
A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.
Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.
The other driver involved was not hurt.
Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.
The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.
“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.
“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”
Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.
Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.
Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-61103987
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