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By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and MARCY GORDON
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jubilant Republican lawmakers laid plans to join President Donald Trump at the White House for a victory celebration Wednesday as Congress moved one roll call away from approving the GOP’s paramount priority, the most thorough reshaping of the country’s tax system since the 1980s.
“Workers benefit. Wages go up. More jobs occur,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today,” describing what Republicans say will flow from a $1.5 trillion measure that affects everyone’s taxes but is dominated by breaks for business and higher earners. Democrats call the legislation a boon to the rich that leaves middle-class and working Americans behind.
“If they think this bill is a good political argument for them, let them think that,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters.
The Senate used a post-midnight vote to approve the measure on a party-line 51-48 tally. Protesters interrupted with chants of, “Kill the bill, don’t kill us” and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly called for order. Upon passage, Republicans cheered, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin among them.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Americans would respond positively to the tax bill.
“If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” he said.
Trump planned a ceremony with GOP lawmakers Wednesday after final congressional approval.
In an eleventh-hour hiccup Tuesday, the Senate parliamentarian found that three minor provisions violated Senate rules, forcing lawmakers to strip them out.
Republicans had rammed the bill through the House 227-203 on Tuesday with all voting Democrats in opposition. Because of the language the Senate removed, the House had to revisit the measure Wednesday because each chamber must approve identical legislation before it can be signed into law.
Ryan, who has worked years toward the goal of revamping the tax code, gleefully pounded the gavel on Tuesday’s House vote. GOP House members roared and applauded as they passed a package that will touch every American taxpayer and every corner of the U.S. economy, providing steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy, and more modest help for middle- and low-income families.
Despite Republican talk of spending discipline, the bill is projected to push the huge national debt ever higher.
Ryan said Wednesday the GOP is willing to risk running up deficits with the aim of getting a higher annual economic growth rate.
Trump is aching for a big political victory after 11 months of legislative failures and nonstarters. The president tweeted his congratulations to GOP leaders and to “all great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!”
Congressional Republicans, who faltered badly in trying to dismantle Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, see passage of the tax bill as crucial to proving to Americans they can govern — and imperative for holding onto House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm elections.
“The proof will be in the paychecks,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said during the Senate’s nighttime debate. “This is real tax relief, and it’s needed.”
Not so, said the top Senate Democrat as the long, late hours led to testy moments Tuesday night.
“We believe you are messing up America,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer told Republicans, chiding them for not listening to his remarks.
The GOP has repeatedly argued the bill will spur economic growth as corporations, flush with cash, increase wages and hire more workers. But many voters in surveys see the legislation as a boost to the wealthy, such as Trump and his family, and a minor gain at best for the middle class.
Democrats mocked the Republicans’ contention that the bill will make taxes so simple that millions can file their returns “on a postcard” — an idea repeated often by the president.
“What happened to the postcard? We’re going to have to carry around a billboard for tax simplification,” declared Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Tax cuts for corporations would be permanent while the cuts for individuals would expire in 2026 to comply with Senate budget rules. The tax cuts would take effect in January, and workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.
The bill would slash the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The top tax rate for well-off individuals would be lowered from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.
The legislation repeals an important part of the 2010 health care law — the requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or face a penalty — as the GOP looks to unravel the law it failed to repeal and replace this past summer. It also allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The $1,000-per-child tax credit doubles to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families that owe little or no taxes.
Disgruntled Republican lawmakers from high-tax New York, New Jersey and California receded into the background as the tax train rolled. They oppose a new $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes.
The bill is projected to add $1.46 trillion to the nation’s debt over a decade. GOP lawmakers say they expect a future Congress to continue the tax cuts so they won’t expire. That would drive up deficits even further.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking and Alan Fram contributed to this report.
Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stephenatap
Judge to weigh suits on program protecting young immigrants
By SUDHIN THANAWALA
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Five lawsuits against the Trump administration’s decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation face a key federal court hearing in San Francisco that could put an early end to the legal challenges or give them a big boost.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup will hear arguments on Wednesday to determine whether to block President Donald Trump from rescinding the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while the lawsuits by California and other plaintiffs play out in court. The judge is also considering a request by the Trump administration to throw the lawsuits out. Alsup is not expected to rule immediately.
DACA has protected about 800,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families who overstayed visas. The program currently includes hundreds of thousands of college-age students commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections for young immigrants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that DACA would be phased out, saying President Barack Obama had exceeded his authority when he implemented it in 2012.
The move sparked a flurry of lawsuits in different federal courts across the country, including one in New York that was filed by 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Alsup is considering five other lawsuits, including one brought by California and three other states and another by the governing board of the University of California school system.
The lawsuits seek a court order blocking the administration from rescinding DACA, saying the decision has not been “reasonably explained” and is causing “catastrophic and irreparable harm to DACA recipients” by forcing them to decide whether to leave schools, jobs and even family members in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in court documents that DACA was facing the possibility of an abrupt end by court order, so the administration’s decision to phase it out was less disruptive.
Under the Trump administration’s policy, DACA recipients will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for the remainder of their two-year authorizations. The administration also gave any recipients whose deferred action was due to expire within six months a month to apply for another two-year term. The DOJ wants Alsup to dismiss the five lawsuits.
Alsup had ordered the Trump administration to turn over all emails, letters and other documents it considered in its decision to end DACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court put that order on hold earlier in December.
Senator expects January vote on fate of young immigrants
By MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Wednesday that party leaders have assured him the Senate will vote in January on bipartisan legislation to protect certain young immigrants from deportation.
Flake, who had pressed for a guarantee during talks for his support on the tax bill, said in a statement he was pleased that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was committed to bringing the immigration bill “we are currently negotiating to the Senate floor in January.”
At issue is President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama-era executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave protected status to about 800,000 young immigrants who are in the United States illegally. Many were brought here as infants or children and have known no other country except the United States.
In scrapping the order, Trump gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative solution.
Republicans leaders don’t want to take on the contentious issue of immigration this year but promise it will be taken care of in 2018. Democrats have pressed for a fix before the end of this year.
Although Flake, R-Ariz., said the Senate will vote, it remains unclear whether the House will back such legislation. In 2013, the Senate supported a bipartisan bill overhauling the immigration system and providing a path to citizenship for some 11 million living here illegally. The measure died in the Republican-led House.
Under the program, the young immigrants get two-year permits that let them work and remain in the country. Trump rescinded the program this year, but he let immigrants renew their documents if those documents were set to expire between September and March.
Immigrants had to reapply by Oct. 5 and pay a $495 fee.
The government says 132,000 of the 154,000 eligible renewals applied in time, leaving more than 20,000 without any protection from deportation.
Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, said Congress needs to act now.
“The lives of nearly 800,000 young people in our country hang in the balance,” she said. “People who have spent the majority of their lives in this country, going to school, starting careers, and settling with families are now at risk of deportation.”
Younger and other advocates say the program was intended as a short-term measure to keep families together and a long-term solution is needed.
US slaps 5 Russians with sanctions over human rights
By JOSH LEDERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is slapping five Russians with sanctions under a law that lets the U.S. target violators of human rights.
The Treasury Department says it’s designating the Russians under the Magnitsky Act. Congress passed it in 2012 in response to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. He died in prison after exposing a tax fraud scheme involving Russian officials.
Three of the five being targeted are accused of involvement in the criminal conspiracy that Magnitsky exposed. The other two are accused of “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” in Chechnya. The Treasury says one allegedly was involved in abusing gay men in Chechnya in 2017.
The sanctions being announced Wednesday are separate from the “Global Magnitsky Act” that lets the U.S. punish human rights violators worldwide.