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Sunday Politcal Brunch: A Taxing Problem on Capitol Hill - December 3, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – There’s a lot going on in the nation’s capital these days not the least of which is the issue of tax reform. It’s not as clear as some would like to make it, in terms of who it helps and hurts the most. But, there could be tremendous political fallout. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“A Taxing Issue” – The first thing to underscore is that the House and Senate are working on two very different tax reform bills. As always, they must pass the same bill before it can go to the President’s desk, so we’ll see. The goal of passing tax reform before Christmas seems like a “pie in the sky” wish, but there’s an outside chance.

“The Big Differences” – As mentioned, as with any bill in Congress the House and Senate must eventually agree on the exact same language. The Senate bill would completely eliminate deductions for state and local property taxes, while the House phases them out over time. The Senate bill would allow people to deduct all of their medical expenses each year, while the House would eliminate all of that. The Senate would keep seven income tax brackets; the House voted to have just four. There are more differences; these are just some highlights.

“Ask an Expert!” – There is a lot of hyperbole on both sides. Democrats call all these tax cuts that only benefit the rich and corporations (simply not true); and Republicans claim the “trickle-down theory” that a rising economic tide “will lift all boats” (also simply not true). Why do I say both sides are wrong? Well a lot of this depends on the final bill and individual circumstances. First, doubling the standard deduction and child tax credit will help a lot of families keep more of their own money. However, losing property tax and student loan interest deductions and medical deductions may hurt some of the very same families who choose to itemize deductions with a Schedule A. The best advice: consult a tax adviser, since generalized reports from the press are often an inaccurate “cookie cutter” approach that can be misleading. There’s no “one size fits all” analysis here.

“Market Reaction” – Since it has been 31 years since Congress passed major tax reform, the anticipation is palpable. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 24,000 for the first time in history. The market surged by 351 points in anticipation of the Senate vote. Wall Street likes this issue, in terms of what it might mean for national economic growth. But as the ads always say, “past performance is not an indication of future returns.” Clearly, though, the investment markets are optimistic.

“Who Pays Taxes?” – Some of the rhetoric over tax reform is inaccurate and disingenuous. I don’t say this as any kind of endorsement of the current tax bills in the House and Senate. Instead it’s important to assess who is currently paying the U.S. tax bill. According to Pew Research, people who make over $200,000 per year, paid 59 percent of all income taxes collected by the Internal Revenue Service. Families making less than $30,000 per year paid only 1.4 percent of federal tax revenue. And according to the Tax Policy Center, 45 percent of U.S. families paid no income taxes at all in 2015. The notion that the “rich” don’t pay their fair share is simply blown away by these statistics.

“Why All of This Matters?” – We are now less than one year away from the 2018 midterm elections. Unlike other single district races in the past year, 2018 will, in fact, be a national referendum on the Trump administration and the Republican Congressional leadership. The Trump White House has had zero major policy initiatives get through Congress. It needs a win, and tax reform could be the ticket. Let’s face it, politics is a “what have you done for me lately” business. Even though they’ve neither passed (nor repealed) anything else of significance, if they can go home and tell voters they cut their taxes, it could have a big impact on the Republican’s chances in 2018. If they fail, it could be midterm bloodbath.

What are your thoughts on Tax reform? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author and analyst, now based in West Virginia. He is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the Mountain State, with additional viewership in Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: Why Republicans Had to Pivot on Roy Moore -- November 26, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – In a little over two weeks, the special election takes place in Alabama for the U.S. Senate. For the last few weeks Republicans have been trying to figure out what to do with their nominee, former Justice Roy Moore, who’s been accused of sexual improprieties from 40 years ago. At first, many shunned Moore and disavowed themselves from his campaign, but now some are offering an invisible group hug. So why the change? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Trump Won’t Stump” – President Trump was never a Moore backer. Instead he favored Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) who had been appointed to fill the vacant seat, but lost to Moore in the primary. Then, after the allegations were published in the Washington Post, Trump said Moore should step aside if the allegations were true. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made similar measured responses, but later both Congressional leaders said Moore should quit, period! Meantime, Trump now says voters should now choose Moore to keep GOP control of the Senate. That’s quite a pivot!

“Write-In; Wrong Time” – Stuck with a nominee few party leaders wanted, the GOP then explored the idea of a write-in campaign for Senator Luther Strange. They even suggested Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lead the campaign, since she was the last U.S. Senator to successfully wage a write-in vote. But soon, talk of a write-in faded as Moore dug in his heels. My guess is that internal party polling from both campaigns and from leaders in Washington all showed the same thing – that Moore and Strange would simply split the GOP vote, and Democratic candidate Doug Jones would easily walk away with what should be a “gimmie” seat in the U.S. Senate for Republicans.

“The Third Rail” – A third, potentially volatile option was to let Moore run his race with no party interference. If he won, leaders could quickly expel him from the Senate, and Governor Kay Ivey, (R-AL) would appoint a successor. Many in Alabama – on all sides of this race – quickly erupted in anger. How dare the national Republican Party (including the President, Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker) violate the votes and will of the Alabama electorate? It was a terrible idea and here’s why. Alabama – like many states – fiercely guards its state sovereignty. In short, Alabamans will decide what’s best for Alabama, not outsiders.

“The National Mood” – The Senate expulsion idea was bad for another reason, and that is the foul mood of voters in this country. The success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders reflected a very similar phenomenon. The voting public in many parts of this nation are fed up with the elitist, insider nature of Washington Beltway politics. People loved Trump and Sanders because they were outsiders, even though their political philosophies couldn’t be further apart. All politicians, especially incumbents, ought to reflect on this as it could be very instructive to campaigning next year.

“Practical Politics” – Yes, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee and various other party mechanisms are still shunning Moore and cutting off financial support, but there is likely plenty of support going on through back channels. Why? Because Republicans need and want to keep this seat, no matter the candidate. President Trump will likely have another Supreme Court nominee, and perhaps some treaties he wants signed, in addition to tax reform and other items. He needs the GOP to hold its Senate majority in the 2018 midterm elections, or the President’s agenda is in real trouble.

“The Placeholder” – Another factor in the sudden warming up to Roy Moore is the fact that this is a short-term seat. He running to fill the three remaining years of former Senator Jeff Sessions’ term. Moore is now 70, and may not even run again if he wins. That gives the state GOP time to groom a top-notch candidate for 2020, even someone to challenge Moore in a primary if he seeks reelection.

“The Other Accusations” – Please don’t misinterpret what I am about to say. Allegations and admissions of sexual misconduct are serious business, and should not be taken lightly. Those that occur in the workplace are especially troublesome. But the recent avalanche of allegations or admissions involving other people such as Charlie Rose, Sen. Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Rep. John Conyers, former President George H.W. Bush, and some prominent business leaders, probably helps Roy Moore. They have drawn much of the attention away from him, and have probably diluted the degree of public outrage. I’m not giving Moore a “boys will be boys” pass here, but the more recent allegations are grabbing the headlines, and pushing the Moore’s story to the status of old news. Remember the outrage against Donald Trump for the “Access Hollywood” tapes faded, and a month later he was elected President.

“Don’t Underestimate the Democrats” – It’s important to note that Democrats have a legitimate shot at winning the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones has an impressive resume and prosecuted the Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph. Yes, Alabama is among the reddest of red states. But if Democrats can forge a coalition of their own voters, combined with independents and even some Republicans who don’t like Moore, Jones could win. The latest poll from Strategy Research has Moore leading by two points, but the latest Gravis Poll has Jones up by five points. This race is a toss-up!

What are your thoughts on the U.S. Senate race in Alabama? Just leave your insights by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, with outlying viewership in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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