Congress expected to vote on budget to avert government shutdown

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were expected to vote on a proposed budget deal on Thursday that would avert another government shutdown but that has angered fiscal conservatives who complain it would lead to a $1 trillion deficit.

The plan to keep the government operating and to increase spending over the next two years faced resistance from conservatives in the Republican Party, who favor less spending on domestic government programs. At the same time, many liberal Democrats wanted to withhold their support as leverage to win concessions on immigration policy.

That meant the bill’s passage was not assured in the House and would need some Democratic support. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has backed the agreement, said on Thursday he believed the chamber will pass the budget deal.

“I think we will,” Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support.”

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the deal “eye-popping and eyebrow-raising.”

“We took an official position last night to say we can’t support this,” he told CNN on Thursday.

Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

The rare bipartisan deal reached by Senate leaders on Wednesday raises spending on military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion over the next two years.

It would allow for $165 billion in extra defense spending and $131 billion more for non-military programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle an opioid crisis in the country.

It would stave off a government shutdown before a Thursday night deadline and extend the federal government’s debt ceiling until March 2019, putting off for more than a year the risk of a debt default by the United States.

CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION

The agreement, backed by Republican President Donald Trump, disappointed conservative House Republicans and outside groups.

“It’s not like Republicans aren’t concerned about disaster relief, or Republicans aren’t concerned about funding community health centers or dealing with the opioid crisis,” U.S. Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican, said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“But when you add them all up, it adds to an awful lot of spending. … It’s not compassionate to bankrupt America.”

Liberal Democrats meanwhile opposed the deal because it does not include an agreement to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” young people brought illegally to the United States as children.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday staged an eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of immigration legislation, including reading letters from Dreamers pleading to be allowed to stay in the United States.

A number of lawmakers who supported the bill acknowledged the deal was not perfect. “It’s not pretty,” Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger said on CNN.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester said he hoped House Democrats would back the measure. “We don’t want the perfect to get in the road of the good,” he told the cable network.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said many lawmakers believe the defense spending in the bill was essential. “We’re going to get it through because most people will support it,” he told Fox News.

Senate Republicans planned a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill to increase military funding for the rest of the year to demonstrate support for Trump’s promised defense build-up.

Democrats will not support it because it does not contain similar spending increases for non-military programs. But the Senate’s failure to advance the bill will not damage the budget legislation, which is due for a vote later in the day.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News the agreement provides long-term certainty in the budget and funding for Trump priorities including infrastructure and military funding.

Failure to agree on spending led to a partial three-day shutdown of government agencies last month.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)

Trump promises to ‘take the heat’ for broad immigration deal

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was ready to accept an onslaught of criticism if lawmakers tackle broad immigration reforms after an initial deal to help the young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump told lawmakers at the White House he would back a two-phased approach to overhauling U.S. immigration laws with the first step focused on protecting immigrants who were brought here as children from deportation along with funding for a wall and other restrictions that Democrats have opposed.

Once that is done, Trump said, he favors moving quickly to address even more contentious issues, including a possible pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that is opposed by many Republicans and many of his supporters.

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care,” Trump told lawmakers about a broad immigration bill. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you wanted to go that final step, I think you should do it.”

Trump campaigned for the White House in 2016 with a hard-line approach on illegal immigration, and many of his supporters consider potential citizenship for undocumented immigrants to be an unacceptable grant of amnesty.

Trump said on Tuesday he would sign a bill that gives legal status to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers, as long as the bill had the border security protections he has sought, including funding for a wall.

“Now, that doesn’t mean 2,000 miles of wall because you just don’t need that … because of mountains and rivers and lots of other things,” Trump said. “But we need a certain portion of that border to have the wall. If we don’t have it, you can never have security.”

Trump and his fellow Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress, have been unable to reach agreement with Democrats on a deal to resolve the status of an estimated 700,000 young immigrants whose protection from potential deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program ends in early March.

“A VERY PRODUCTIVE MEETING”

Under pressure from immigrant groups ahead of midterm congressional elections in November, Democrats are reluctant to give ground to Trump on the issue of the wall, his central promise from the 2016 presidential campaign.

But after the meeting, lawmakers from both parties said they would meet as early as Wednesday to continue negotiations on a deal covering DACA and border security, as well as a visa lottery program and “chain migration,” which could address the status of relatives of Dreamers who are still in the United States illegally.

“From that standpoint it was a very productive meeting,” said Senator David Perdue, a Republican. “We have a scope now.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the broader bill with a path to citizenship was not a focus for now.

“We’re certainly open to talking about a number of other issues when it comes to immigration, but right now this administration is focused on those four things and that negotiation, and not a lot else at this front,” she said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also was at the meeting, said negotiators in Congress still faced difficulties but it was important that Trump had shown he had “no animosity toward the Dream Act kids” and the “wall is not going to be 2,220 miles wide.”

PARTY DIFFERENCES ON BORDER SECURITY

The U.S. Congress has been trying and failing to pass a comprehensive immigration bill for more than a decade, most recently in 2013 when the Senate passed a bill that later died in the House of Representatives.

The latest immigration negotiations are part of a broader series of talks over issues ranging from funding the federal government through next September to renewing a children’s health insurance program and giving U.S. territories and states additional aid for rebuilding after last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.

Top congressional leaders did not attend the hour-long meeting. The guest list included lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

A majority of those protected under DACA are from Mexico and Central America and have spent most of their lives in the United States, attending school and participating in society.

Trump put their fate in doubt in early September when he announced he was ending the DACA program created by former President Barack Obama, which allowed them to legally live and work in the United States temporarily.

Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said a DACA bill could win support for passage even though there are differences between the parties over what constitutes necessary border security.

“Democrats are for security at the border,” Hoyer told Trump during the meeting. “There are obviously differences, however, Mr. President, on how you affect that.”

On Monday, Trump announced that he was ending immigration protections for about 200,000 El Salvadorans who have been living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status program. Haitians and other groups have faced similar actions.

A congressional aide told Reuters that negotiators in Congress also have been talking about legislation that would expand TPS in return for ending a visa lottery program that Republicans want to terminate.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and Amanda Becker; Writing by John Whitesides and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. House gives final approval to tax bill, delivers victory to Trump

President Trump celebrates with Congressional Republican on the South Lawn of the White House.

By David Morgan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval on Wednesday to the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years, sending a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.

In sealing Trump’s first major legislative victory, Republicans steamrolled opposition from Democrats to pass a bill that slashes taxes for corporations and the wealthy while giving mixed, temporary tax relief to middle-class Americans.

The House approved the measure, 224-201, passing it for the second time in two days after a procedural foul-up forced another vote on Wednesday. The Senate had passed it 51-48 in the early hours of Wednesday.

“We are making America great again,” Trump said, echoing his campaign slogan at a White House celebration with Republican lawmakers. “Ultimately what does it mean? It means jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Trump, who emphasized a tax cut for middle-class Americans during his 2016 campaign, said at an earlier Cabinet meeting that lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent was “probably the biggest factor in this plan.”

It was uncertain when the bill would be signed. White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said the timing depended on whether automatic spending cuts triggered by the legislation could be waived. If so, the president will sign it before the end of the year, he said.

The administration expects the waiver to be included in a spending resolution Congress will pass later this week, a White House official told reporters.

BUSINESS FRIENDLY

In addition to cutting the U.S. corporate income tax rate to 21 percent, the debt-financed legislation gives other business owners a new 20 percent deduction on business income and reshapes how the government taxes multinational corporations along the lines the country’s largest businesses have recommended for years.

Millions of Americans would stop itemizing deductions under the bill, putting tax breaks that incentivize home ownership and charitable donations out of their reach, but also making tax returns somewhat simpler and shorter.

The bill keeps the present number of tax brackets but adjusts many of the rates and income levels for each one. The top tax rate for high earners is reduced. The estate tax on inheritances is changed so far fewer people will pay.

Once signed, taxpayers likely would see the first changes to their paycheck tax withholdings in February. Most households will not see the full effect of the tax plan on their income until they file their 2018 taxes in early 2019.

In two provisions added to secure needed Republican votes, the legislation also allows oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and removes a tax penalty under the Obamacare health law for Americans who do not obtain health insurance.

“We have essentially repealed Obamacare and we’ll come up with something that will be much better,” Trump said.

Democrats were united in opposition to the tax legislation, calling it a giveaway to the wealthy that will widen the income gap between rich and poor, while adding $1.5 trillion over the next decade to the $20 trillion national debt. Trump promised in 2016 he would eliminate the national debt as president.

“PILLAGING”

“Today the Republicans take their victory lap for successfully pillaging the American middle class to benefit the powerful and the privileged,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Opinion polls show the tax bill is unpopular with the public and Democrats promised to make Republicans pay for their vote during next year’s congressional elections, when all 435 House seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs.

“Republicans will rue the day they passed this bill,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters. “We are going to continue hammering away about why this bill is so unpopular.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the bill, saying support would grow for after it passes and Americans felt relief. “I think minds are going to change,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” television program.

A few Republicans, a party once defined by fiscal hawkishness, have protested the deficit-spending encompassed in the bill. But most voted for it anyway, saying it would help businesses and individuals while boosting an already expanding economy they see as not growing fast enough.

In the House, 12 Republicans voted against the tax bill. All but one, Walter Jones of North Carolina, were from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey and California, which will be hit by the bill’s cap on deductions for state and local taxes.

Despite Trump administration promises that the tax overhaul would focus on the middle class and not cut taxes for the rich, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, estimated middle-income households would see an average tax cut of $900 next year under the bill, while the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would see an average cut of $51,000.

The House was forced to vote again after the Senate parliamentarian ruled three minor provisions violated arcane Senate rules. To proceed, the Senate deleted the three provisions and then approved the bill.

Because the House and Senate must approve the same legislation before Trump can sign it into law, the Senate’s late Tuesday vote sent the bill back to the House.

Graphic: Republican tax bill’s tax brackets and rates – http://tmsnrt.rs/2BJnrIV

Graphic: U.S. debt level since 1950 – http://reut.rs/2B3Yl3C

(Reporting by David Morgan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Roberta Rampton, Gina Chon and Susan Heavey; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott)

House approves new Russia sanctions, defying Trump

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any sanctions on Moscow, in a rare rebuke of the Republican president.

It was unclear how quickly the bill would make its way to the White House for Trump to sign into law or veto. The bill still must be passed by the Senate, which is mired in debate over efforts to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system as lawmakers try to clear the decks to leave Washington for their summer recess.

The sanctions bill comes as lawmakers investigate possible meddling by Russia in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by Republican Trump’s campaign.

Moscow has denied it worked to influence the election in Trump’s favor, and he has denied his campaign colluded.

The White House said the president had not yet decided whether he would sign the measure. Rejecting the bill – which would potentially hamper his hopes of pursuing improved relations with Moscow – would carry a risk that his veto could be overridden by lawmakers.

“While the president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk,” said spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

House members backed the bill, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, by a near-unanimous margin of 419-3, with strong support from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, despite objections from Trump, who wanted more control over the ability to impose sanctions.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed an earlier version of the bill with near-unanimous support. The House added the North Korea measures after becoming frustrated with the Senate’s failure to advance a bill it passed in May.

Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the three countries “are threatening vital U.S. interests and destabilizing their neighbors. It is well past time that we forcefully respond.”

But the combined bill has run into objections from some senators, who are unhappy that the House added the North Korea sanctions after holding up the measure for more than a month.

Senate leaders have not said when they might consider the House bill. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not sure the bill would “fly through” his chamber.

“The only language we agreed to was Iran and Russia. So adding North Korea on, I just don’t know how we’re going to deal with it yet,” Corker told reporters. “The better route would have been to send over what had been agreed to.”

The bill had raised concerns in the European Union, where U.S. allies depend on supplies of Russian gas. But House members said the bill was tweaked to try to alleviate the worries of Europeans and the energy sector.

INVESTIGATIONS

The intense focus on Russia, involving several congressional probes and a separate investigation by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller, has overshadowed Trump’s agenda.

The scrutiny has angered and frustrated the president, who calls the investigations a politically motivated witch hunt fueled by Democrats who cannot accept his upset win in last November’s election against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Without offering evidence, Trump lashed out on Twitter on Tuesday about “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage” his presidential campaign in order to aid Clinton. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington denied the accusations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had been set to compel Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to testify at a hearing on Wednesday, but rescinded the subpoena late on Tuesday as negotiations over his participation continued.

Manafort has started turning over documents to the committee and is negotiating a date to be interviewed, the panel said in a statement.

The committee is looking at a June 2016 meeting in New York with a Russian lawyer organized by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. Trump Jr. released emails this month that showed he welcomed the prospect of receiving damaging information at the meeting about Clinton.

On Friday, the panel had asked that Manafort and Trump Jr. appear at the Wednesday hearing, but a witness list released on Tuesday evening included neither of their names.

Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Tuesday morning, his spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent three hours with the House of Representatives intelligence panel, his second straight day on Capitol Hill answering questions about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Kushner had a “very productive session” with the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said after the meeting.

Republican Representative Michael Conaway said Kushner was “straightforward and forthcoming. He wanted to answer every question that we had.”

Kushner, who is now a top aide in Trump’s White House, told reporters on Monday he had no part in any Kremlin plot..

U.S. House Republicans on Tuesday rejected a legislative effort by Democrats to obtain Treasury Department documents that could show any ties between the finances of Trump, his inner circle and the Russian government.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Karen Friefeld; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

U.S. Senate Republicans to issue revised health bill to win support

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks after Senate Republicans unveiled their version of legislation that would replace Obamacare on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans plan to issue a revised version of their healthcare bill on Monday, according to a Republican Senate aide, as the chamber’s leaders scrambled to get legislation passed ahead of a July 4 holiday recess starting on Friday.

The aide, who is familiar with the plan, did not provide details of changes in the works. Politico reported that a likely change to the bill would be to add a provision to encourage people, mainly those who are young and healthy, to enroll in insurance plans.

President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress have been pushing to repeal and replace Obamacare, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation. The House of Representatives passed its version of a healthcare bill last month.

The Senate bill unveiled last week was immediately criticized by both conservatives and moderates in the party. With Republicans holding only a 52-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate, the bill was unlikely to win passage in its initial form.

At least four conservative Republicans have expressed opposition to the draft legislation, saying it does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not comment on whether a vote on a bill would be held in the full Senate on Thursday, as originally anticipated.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office later Monday might release its assessment of the bill’s cost and impact on future budget deficits. It was not clear whether the report will also estimate how many people might lose healthcare coverage under the legislation or whether that estimate would come later.

Meanwhile, some moderate Republicans have either withheld judgment or expressed doubts about replacing Obamacare with legislation that is similar to the House version.

They are concerned that the party’s approach to healthcare would cause too many people, and especially those with low incomes, to lose insurance. Trump touted passage of the House bill as a victory but later called it “mean.”

Republicans have targeted Obamacare since it was passed in 2010, viewing it as costly government intrusion and saying individual insurance markets are collapsing. The legislation expanded health coverage to some 20 million Americans, through provisions such as mandating that individuals obtain health insurance and expanding Medicaid, the government program for the poor.

TRUMP’S INVOLVEMENT

As he did during the House negotiations, Trump has personally pushed for a Senate bill, calling fellow Republicans to mobilize support.

In the efforts by Senate Republicans to push through a bill, the party has split over a provision in the draft bill ending federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the women’s healthcare provider, for one year.

Moderates are wary of this, while conservatives have called for an end to federal funding of Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, even though they are not performed with taxpayer dollars.

Health insurance companies are concerned about the bill’s plan to cut Medicaid and any impact on state governments as well as the prospect of losing Obamacare’s mandate on individuals to buy insurance without creating alternative incentives for people to stay in their plans.

If the Senate passes a bill, it will either have to be approved by the House, the two chambers would have to reconcile their differences in a conference committee, or the House could pass a new version and bounce it back to the Senate.

The House is also controlled by Republicans but faced a similar balancing act between moderates and conservatives to pass its version.

A Republican leadership aide in the House said if the Senate manages to pass a healthcare bill this week, no decision has been made on when the House might schedule a vote on it or whether House Republicans might seek any changes to the Senate measure.

(Writing by Richard Cowan and Frances Kerry; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. House approves tighter North Korea sanctions

FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Thursday to tighten sanctions on North Korea by targeting its shipping industry and companies that do business with the reclusive state.

The vote was 419 to 1.

Supporters said the legislation was intended to send a strong message to North Korea, amid international concern over the escalation of its nuclear program.

The measure would have to be approved by the Senate before it could be sent to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Although legislation addressing North Korea has been introduced in the Senate, there was no immediate word on when or if the Senate might take up a bill.

Any new U.S. sanctions against North Korea would likely affect China, the North’s most important trade partner.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, it has signed up for increasingly tough U.N. sanctions against it, and says it is committed to enforcing them.

Asked about the latest U.S. legislation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated that China opposed other countries using their own domestic law to impose unilateral sanctions.

With the situation tense on the Korean Peninsula, all sides need to exercise restraint and not irritate each other to avoid the situation worsening, he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler)

With Obamacare vote, House Republicans free to turn to tax reform

U.S. President Donald Trump (C) celebrates with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives plans to turn to tax reform in earnest, after concluding a lengthy healthcare debate this week with a vote to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But even as Republicans predicted that tax reform would succeed before year-end, lawmakers encountered new uncertainties about what a final tax package might contain, as well as doubts about whether Republicans will be able to enact reforms without Democratic help.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have pledged to complete the biggest tax reform since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan was in office, before the end of 2017. But they face an uphill battle, mainly over policy differences within their own ranks.

Thursday’s 217-213 House vote on healthcare legislation raised confidence in the Republican-controlled chamber’s ability to move major legislation after two earlier pushes ended in failure.

But to move forward on tax reform, the House, Senate and Trump administration must agree on where to set tax rates, how to pay for cuts and whether the final package should add to the deficit or pay for itself, all areas where common ground may be hard to find.

A plan to enact reforms without Democratic support will also require Republicans to pass a 2018 budget authorizing the parliamentary process known as reconciliation. But a new budget agreement poses a daunting task given Republican opposition to Trump demands for deep domestic spending cuts.

“That may prove to be one, if not the most difficult votes of the tax reform process,” Jonathan Traub, a managing principal at the consulting firm Deloitte Tax LLP.

Meanwhile, the need to reach agreement between the House, Senate and White House will likely delay introduction of a tax reform bill, which had been expected in early June.

But Republicans say it will ultimately make it easier to enact reforms before the end of the year.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which will unveil the initial tax bill, is still aiming for a revenue-neutral package that raises $2.4 trillion for tax cuts through a new border adjustment tax and elimination of business deductions for net interest payments, both controversial measures.

Panel chairman Kevin Brady told reporters that revenue neutrality is necessary to ensure bold, permanent changes to tax policy that can drive economic growth.

“That’s the argument and the case we’re going to make to the Senate and the Trump administration,” he said.

But Representative Mark Meadows, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus that helped block Trump’s first healthcare bill,

voiced opposition to a revenue neutral approach.

“If it’s revenue neutral, you’re not really lowering taxes. You’re shifting the burden,” Meadows told reporters.

The Trump tax plan unveiled last week calls for steep tax cuts financed by government revenues that officials say will result from higher growth. Some fear the plan could add trillions of dollars to the deficit if growth does not materialize.

Meadows said tax cuts should be offset by cuts to entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare, which Trump has promised not to touch.

(Editing by Alistair Bell)

New Hampshire legislature blocks bill on transgender rights

File Photo: A man holds a flag as he takes part in an annual Gay Pride Parade in Toronto June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

By Scott Malone

(Reuters) – State legislators in New Hampshire narrowly blocked a bill on Thursday that would have prohibited discrimination against transgender people, including allowing them to use the public bathrooms that match the gender with which they identify.

Transgender rights are a politically charged issue in the United States. Supporters say bills like the one blocked on Thursday protect people who do not conform to their birth gender, while opponents say they could give cover to voyeurs and sexual predators.

The 187-179 vote by the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives to table the bill without debate came one day after Governor Chris Sununu, also a Republican, said he had no position on the matter.

Many Democrats had supported the bill.

“With Sununu’s support, the bill, which was tabled by a slim margin, would be on its way to the corner office,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “His silence and apathy are a tacit endorsement of discrimination, and he will have to live with the fact that he denied many transgender people the freedom that is granted through equality under the law.”

A spokesman for Sununu whose father, John Sununu, was a New Hampshire governor and later White House chief of staff in the first Bush administration, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This was the latest in a string of defeats for transgender rights this week. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after President Donald Trump rescinded a policy put in place last year protecting such youths.

A Texas Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would require people to use public restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.

That measure is similar to one passed last year in North Carolina, which sparked boycotts that are estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Due to economic concerns, analysts do not expect the Texas measure to pass the state House.

Despite their dominance in New Hampshire’s government, Republicans in the state legislature do not unanimously support the party’s national agenda. Last month state legislators blocked a bill that would have allowed employees in union-represented jobs not to pay dues.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

U.S. infrastructure legislation back on Congress’ radar

Senate Majority Leader

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring massive investments in U.S. infrastructure projects showed new signs of life on Friday after lying dormant for weeks, as leading Republican lawmakers said proposals from the administration could be in the offing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters he expects to receive “some kind of recommendation on an infrastructure bill, a subject that we frequently handle on a bipartisan basis,” but gave no details or timing.

He has previously voiced concern over adding to budget deficits with a new injection of federal funds for road, bridge and other construction projects like the ones President Barack Obama secured from Congress in 2009, especially after a major highway funding law was enacted about a year ago.

Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are increasingly criticizing Trump’s administration for being slow to get behind his legislative initiatives during the first month of his presidency.

Trump’s plans to create an infrastructure council led by two New York billionaire friends, developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, have yet to be launched, a spokesman for LeFrak said.

During his presidential campaign, Trump said he would push for a $1 trillion infrastructure program to rebuild roads, bridges, airports and other public works projects. He said he wanted action during the first 100 days of his administration, which now seems unlikely.

The Republican president has talked about creating a tax credit to encourage private sector investment in many of these projects. But Democrats say that would fail to spur enough rebuilding and put taxpayers on the hook for a tax credit to wealthy developers, who they said would build toll roads that taxpayers would then have to pay to use.

Democrats want a more direct federal role in sparking a construction boom.

In an interview on Tuesday, Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said he had “no doubt that it (infrastructure investment) is a priority for the administration.”

Diaz-Balart chairs a House subcommittee that would control the flow of Washington money that might be needed to fund some of the public works projects.

Several lawmakers and aides speculated the initiative could be attached to tax reform legislation that Republicans want to advance this year, but no decisions have been made.

Writing an infrastructure bill involves seven or eight committees, there are complicated tax and spending questions at stake, and lawmakers are divided.

There are also questions over what would qualify as an infrastructure project, with rural areas, for example, clamoring for more broadband internet service.

Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership who chairs the commerce and transportation panel which has a say on any bill, said he had little information on the content or status of legislation.

Asked about McConnell’s comments, Thune said, “Maybe he knows more about it since he’s married to the secretary of transportation,” Elaine Chao.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Herb Lash in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

U.S. Republican senator introduces Obamacare repeal resolution

The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator Mike Enzi introduced on Tuesday a resolution allowing for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program, which provides coverage to millions of Americans, Enzi’s office said in a statement.

The move by the Senate’s budget committee chairman on the first day of the new Congress set in motion the Republican majority’s promise to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as its first major legislative item.

Republicans have said the repeal process could take months and that developing replacement health insurance plans could take years.

More than 20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage through Obamacare. Coverage was extended by expanding the Medicaid program for the poor and through online exchanges where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.

Republicans have launched repeated courtroom and legislative efforts to dismantle the law, criticizing it as government overreach. Democrats have scoffed at Republicans’ plans, accusing them of never having united around a replacement strategy.

The Republicans are using a budget resolution to provide for Obamacare’s repeal, allowing them to act without any Democratic votes. Budget resolutions require a simple majority to pass in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required to clear procedural hurdles. There are 52 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber.

The budget resolution contains so-called reconciliation instructions, directing committees to dismantle Obamacare as part of reconciling taxes and spending with the budget blueprint – and to report back to the budget committee by Jan. 27.

A Senate vote on the resolution could come next week, with action in the House of Representatives expected to follow. But the repeal process won’t be complete until the committees finish the reconciliation procedure and votes are taken on their work.

“These instructions to committees are provided to facilitate immediate action on repeal, with the intent of sending legislation to the new president’s desk as soon as possible,” the statement from Enzi’s office said.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed during last year’s presidential campaign to repeal Obamacare.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao)