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Senate panel approves Nikki Haley nomination to U.N.

The Latest on activities in Congress (all times EST):

12:25 p.m.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has overwhelmingly approved South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley‘s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

By voice vote, the panel recommended President Donald Trump‘s selection of Haley to the full Senate. She is expected to be confirmed easily.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, backed Haley’s nomination. Cardin says what Haley lacks in foreign policy experience, “she makes up for in capability, intelligence, and a track record of building coalitions in South Carolina.”

During her confirmation hearing, Haley declared her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The shift may trigger increased violence in the Middle East.

Haley also took a hard line against Russia. She says she doesn’t think Moscow can be trusted right now.

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12:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pick for health secretary is adamant that the new administration will protect people with pre-existing medical problems even as it moves to repeal the Obama-era law prohibiting insurance discrimination.

Georgia Rep. Tom Price told the Senate Finance Committee that “we need to make sure nobody loses their insurance or is unable to gain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.” Price was being questioned by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

But the way Republicans would go about guaranteeing coverage could be very different. They are looking at special “high-risk” insurance pools as a last resort for people who can’t get coverage otherwise. That hasn’t worked well in the past, providing costly coverage to a limited number of people.

Price said “nobody ought to be priced out of the market for having a bad diagnosis.”

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12:15 p.m.

Health care plan? What health care plan?

Laughter erupted during a tense Senate confirmation hearing when Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked President Donald Trump’s health nominee if it’s true that the new administration is close to having a final health care plan — as Trump himself has hinted.

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” responded Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who’s been picked by Trump to run the Health and Human Services department. Trump and congressional Republicans have committed to repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, but they haven’t provided details on how that can be done without harming millions who’ve gained coverage.

Price said he has had conversations with Trump about health care policy. And Brown didn’t press him for more details.

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11:52 a.m.

Health secretary nominee Tom Price says science shows that vaccines do not cause autism. That’s a position that goes against views espoused by President Donald Trump, who has voiced skepticism about vaccine safety.

Price’s comments Tuesday came in response to questions by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., at a Finance Committee hearing on his nomination.

Price also disputed claims that abortion leads to breast cancer. He said the science is relatively clear that it does not.

If confirmed to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Price pledged to make certain that factual information, validated by science, is provided to the public. Under the umbrella of HHS are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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11: 45 a.m.

Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office says Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need significant changes to be preserved for future generations.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney‘s testimony before Congress stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s campaign promises not to cut the programs. Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said he wouldn’t propose to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits for people already receiving them.

But, he said, younger workers should expect to work longer than their parents. He also said Medicare should be means tested, which means benefits would be limited for wealthy retirees. They already pay higher premiums.

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11:25 a.m.

President Donald’s Trump’s pick for budget director says he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a babysitter because he did not consider her a household employee.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney said, “We made a mistake.” The South Carolina Republican said his wife had triplets in 2000 and they hired a babysitter. She worked for the family for four years but, Mulvaney said, she did not live with them.

Mulvaney said he didn’t realize that he should have paid the taxes until he was preparing for the nominating process. He said he has since paid the taxes.

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11:20 a.m.

Rep. Tom Price — President Donald Trump’s nominee for health secretary — is defending his decision to invest in health care companies as a powerful member of Congress.

Price’s nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee quickly turned testy.

Top Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon questioned Price about his investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian drug company trying to develop a treatment for multiple sclerosis. A fellow Republican congressman is a board member and a major stockholder.

Finance committee staffers found that Price undervalued around 400,000 shares of Innate stock he purchased last August. He reported the shares were worth $50,000 to $100,000, but those shares were worth up to $250,000.

Price blamed a “clerical error” and answered “no” when Wyden asked if he’d used poor judgment.

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11:10 a.m.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee has unanimously approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for housing secretary, Ben Carson.

The former Republican presidential candidate and celebrated neurosurgeon would lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a sprawling agency with 8,300 employees and a budget of about $47 billion. His nomination now heads to the full Senate.

Committee Chairman Michael Crapo of Idaho praised Carson and his impressive career, saying HUD “will benefit from having a secretary with a different perspective and a diverse background.”

Ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown said he had some reservations but welcomed Carson’s promises to address lead hazards in public housing.

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11:10 a.m.

Former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon is emphasizing her experience in building a business from scratch as she seeks to become the next administrator of the Small Business Administration.

McMahon says in a confirmation hearing Tuesday that she and her husband started out sharing a desk and went on to build a company with more than 800 employees.

She also notes that she and her husband once declared bankruptcy and lost their home, saying “I know what it’s like to take a hit.”

McMahon resigned from WWE in 2009 before running unsuccessfully on two occasions for the U.S. Senate.

She spent about $100 million of her own money in those races and was a big contributor to political action committees seeking to help Donald Trump in November’s election.

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11:00 a.m.

President Donald Trump has invited the Senate leadership to the White House to discuss the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

That’s the word from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that he, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the leaders of the Judiciary Committee would meet with Trump on Tuesday afternoon.

The court has had one vacancy since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died. McConnell and Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

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10:55 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders says President Donald Trump’s nominee for budget director should be disqualified because he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household worker more than a decade ago.

Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. The committee held a confirmation hearing Tuesday on Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

Sanders noted that Mulvaney voted for a bill in 2015 that would disqualify people with serious tax delinquencies from being federal employees.

Mulvaney said he discovered the unpaid taxes while preparing for the nominating process. He has since paid the taxes.

Unpaid taxes have derailed some previous Cabinet picks, but others were confirmed anyway. Mulvaney’s tax problem is unlikely to derail his nomination if Republicans remain united behind him.

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10:50 a.m.

A Senate panel has easily approved the nomination of Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department.

Chao was labor secretary in President George W. Bush‘s administration and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and was known to many senators before President Donald Trump tapped her for his Cabinet.

Chao told senators during a hearing on her nomination this month that she hopes to “unleash the potential” of private investors to boost infrastructure spending.

She is expected to play a major role in Trump’s effort to fulfill his campaign promise to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The administration is expected to release its infrastructure plan this spring.

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10:45 a.m.

A Senate panel has approved President Donald Trump’s choice of conservative billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department.

Ross has specialized in buying distressed companies that still have a potential for delivering profits. He has known Trump for more than 20 years, was an early supporter of his presidential campaign and an economic policy adviser to Trump’s team.

The Senate commerce committee approved his nomination by a voice vote. The full Senate must still vote on the nomination.

Ross has been a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which he blames for a loss of U.S. jobs. He has also accused China of protectionist policies.

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10:35 a.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has forced a one-week delay in the committee vote on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein says one reason she asked for the delay until Jan. 31 is because of women who marched in Washington and other locations on Saturday. Feinstein said the women want equal rights and pay, rights for workers and protections for the environment.

“It is these principles, these values that the attorney general must defend,” Feinstein said at a committee meeting Tuesday.

She said “we owe it to” those women to be careful in considering the nomination.

Feinstein said the committee received 188 pages of new material Sunday that need to be reviewed. Committee rules allow any member of the committee to delay a vote.

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10:20 a.m.

Breaking with President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan says he has seen no evidence that 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally voted last November and cost the Republican the popular vote.

Ryan told reporters on Tuesday: “I’ve already commented on that I’ve seen no evidence to that effect.”

His comments came hours after Trump incorrectly claimed at a White House reception with congressional leaders, including Ryan, that he lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of the vote by those here illegally.

That’s according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Another Republican, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, said Trump needs to move on. “The election is over,” Dent said, and Trump “won fair and square.” Trump needs to “get to the serious business of governing,” Dent said.

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10:05 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has invited President Donald Trump to address a Joint Session of Congress on Feb. 28.

Ryan announced the invitation on Tuesday, informing reporters after a meeting with House Republicans. Ryan had met with Trump Monday night at the White House. Trump also met with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on Monday.

Trump was sworn in as the 45th president on Friday. It would be his first speech to Congress.

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10 a.m.

Congressional analysts are projecting that President Donald Trump has inherited a stable economy and a government that is on track to run a $559 billion budget deficit for the ongoing budget year.

The new estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also say the economy will hold relatively steady. Economic growth is projected to rise slightly to 2.3 percent this year and unemployment to average less than 5 percent for the duration of Trump’s term.

The latest CBO figures are in line with previous projections. They come as Trump and Republicans controlling Congress are working to repeal much of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, boost the Pentagon budget, and reform the loophole-cluttered tax code.

Balancing the budget would require cuts to domestic agencies and big health programs like Medicare.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump arrives in Washington with a wave and a salute

Ready for his big moment, Donald Trump swept into Washington on a military jet Thursday and quickly set to building better ties to the Republican Congress as he kicked off three days of inaugural festivities. Washington braced for an onslaught of crowds and demonstrators — with all the attendant hoopla and hand-wringing.

Trump was quickly taking on more of the trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off the jet with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

His first stop was a luncheon in a ballroom at his own hotel, where he gave a shout-out to GOP congressional leaders, declaring: “I just want to let the world know we’re doing very well together.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said, will finally have someone to sign legislation into law. Then Trump veered into the territory of the unknowable to declare his Cabinet selections had “the highest IQ.”

Just blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Barack Obama‘s schedule was clear beyond his daily briefing and his final weekly lunch with Vice President Joe Biden.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day,” as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in ceremony and all of the hoopla and hand-wringing that comes with it.

“We are all ready to go to work,” Pence said at a morning news conference. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’d be putting on his “favorite DHS jacket” and taking to the streets to inspect security preparations for the inaugural festivities.

He told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that areas where inaugural crowds will congregate will be “extra fortified this year with dump trucks, heavily armored vehicles to prevent anybody who’s not authorized from being in the area from driving something in there.” He said there was “no specific credible threat” related to the inauguration.

Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration starts with an afternoon wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. Next, a welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial ending with fireworks.

The two-hour concert, open to the public, was to feature country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore, actor Jon Voight and The Piano Guys. Also performing: Lee Greenwood, DJ RaviDrums, 3 Doors Down, and The Frontmen of Country, featuring Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart and Richie McDonald.

It won’t include singer Jennifer Holliday, originally announced as one of the headliners. She backed out after an outcry from Trump critics.

Before departing for Washington, Trump announced his final Cabinet choice: former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president-elect was continuing to make “edits and additions” to the inaugural address he’ll deliver at Friday’s swearing-in.

Never mind about Trump’s gilded private plane: He arrived on a Boeing 757 that is part of the fleet of military planes that become Air Force One whenever the president is aboard. The president-elect, who flew to Washington without any press on his plane, was joined on the trip by a gaggle of his children, grandchildren and other members of his extended family. Also spotted: bags of dresses and formalwear for the coming days’ festivities.

At the luncheon, Trump invited his future first lady to speak, and Melania Trump told the crowd, “Tomorrow we’re starting the work,” adding that “there’s “a lot of possibility and a lot to take care of.”

The president-elect made sure to work in a plug for his hotel, saying, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.” Reporters covering Trump’s remark were removed from the room before the president-elect finished speaking.

Ebullient Trump fans were ready for a three-day party.

Eleanor Haven, 83, of Alexander City, Ala., was among those drawn to Washington for what she said would be a “wonderful” inauguration. She and her son, Scott Haven, 56, said they had never been to an inauguration before, never even been to a political rally before attending a Trump “thank you” event in Alabama.

“He fought hard for the American people,” Scott Haven said, adding “I think he really has an earnest view of trying to help the working people of America and I think that’s the attraction of him.”

New York Republicans kicked off their inauguration festivities with a breakfast Thursday morning at a downtown hotel.

The crowd, smushed into a ballroom to hear former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, roared as New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox boasted that a kid from Queens was going to be the next president of the United States.

“It’s going to be a remarkable couple of days,” Gingrich said. “Certainly this is the inauguration that no one in the news media was ready for.”

He went on to describe Trump as “part P.T. Barnum” and predicted he would be one of the country’s most accomplished presidents.

Keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast for Inauguration Day, the National Park Service announced that it was easing its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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18M more Americans would be uninsured under 2016 GOP repeal

Insurance premiums would soar and some 18 million Americans would lose health coverage if Republicans partially repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law without a replacement, Congress’ nonpartisan budget office estimated Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed a GOP 2016 repeal measure, which Republicans have cited as a starting point for their 2017 drive to dismantle and replace Obama’s health overhaul.

Premiums for policies bought from online marketplaces established by Obama’s law would rise up to 25 percent a year after enactment of repeal. They’d about double by 2026, the report estimated.

There’d also be 18 million more uninsured people a year after enactment and 32 million more by 2026, the report projected.

The numbers served as a flashing yellow light for this year’s effort by President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to annul Obama’s law and — in a more complex challenge — institute their own alternative. While Republicans have produced several outlines for how they’d recraft Obama’s 2010 statute, they’ve never united behind one plan despite years of trying and there are many unknowns about what will happen in insurance markets while the GOP effort is underway.

The report also became immediate political fodder for both sides in what is expected to be one of this year’s premier battles in Congress.

Trump seemed to complicate that fight over the weekend when he told The Washington Post that a forthcoming GOP plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In contrast, some congressional Republicans have used a more modest description, saying the plan will offer “universal access.”

The 2016 bill that CBO analyzed did not replace Obama’s law with a GOP alternative, which Republicans have insisted will be an integral part of their health care drive this year.

Because of that omission, Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the report “assumes a situation that simply doesn’t exist and that no one in Congress advocates.” AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the estimates “meaningless” because they ignored plans for legislation and regulatory actions by the incoming Trump administration aimed at revamping how people could obtain coverage.

Even so, Republicans have cited last year’s bill — which Obama vetoed — as a starting point for their 2017 drive to erase his law. Finding unity among Trump and GOP lawmakers on what a new plan should look like is expected to be a challenging task

Democrats used the report as ammunition to assail the Republican health-care push.

“Nonpartisan statistics don’t lie: it’s crystal clear that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will increase health care costs for millions of Americans and kick millions more off of their health insurance,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement that used the law’s formal name.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Mike Pence looks like he will be Donald Trump’s inside man in Congress

When Mike Pence landed in Congress after the 2000 election, he was a conservative agitator who often bucked President George W. Bush‘s agenda. Seventeen years later, he’s the vice president-elect and Donald Trump‘s inside man on Capitol Hill.

Pence, who spent a dozen years in Congress before becoming Indiana’s governor, is visiting frequently with lawmakers and promising close coordination after Trump’s inauguration Friday. In a sign of his attentiveness, Pence will have an office in the House as well as the traditional honorary office for the vice president in the Senate.

Pence’s role takes on greater importance, given Trump’s ascension to the White House without any experience in elective office.

Trump has few long-standing political alliances in Congress and a strained relationship with the Republican establishment, a hangover from the 2016 campaign. Trump’s agenda doesn’t always align with Republicans’ priorities, and his inflammatory remarks about immigrants, Muslims and women made many in the GOP cringe.

Pence has forged an enduring friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., dating to their early years in Congress, along with other House Republicans crucial to advancing Trump’s agenda. In early meetings with lawmakers, Pence has passed out his personal cellphone number and promised an open line to the administration.

“He’s the trusted intermediary. He’s the person that people on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue know and trust,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

If Trump is known for his brash form of disruptive politics, Pence represents the incoming administration in a more traditional manner, exemplified by his polite, Midwestern demeanor. He joined Trump in New York on Wednesday for the president-elect’s first news conference since the Nov. 8 election. Pence soon returned to Capitol Hill for meetings with several senators, including Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia. The latter was Hillary Clinton‘s running mate and Pence’s adversary in October’s vice president debate.

“Opportunities to work together on issues like infrastructure and child care we think represent a significant chance to bring together leaders in both political parties,” Pence said after meeting with Kaine.

Pence’s early days in Washington were marked more by his role as a conservative purist than deal-maker.

He opposed the Bush administration on issues such as the president’s No Child Left Behind education law and an overhaul of Medicare that provided new prescription drug coverage in 2003. Pence was a leading conservative voice, often arguing that the Republican administration had strayed from conservative principles and had failed to curb federal spending.

After Republicans were swept from power in the 2006 elections, Pence unsuccessfully challenged Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, to become minority leader. Two years later, Boehner backed Pence’s entry into the leadership team, elevating the Indiana congressman to chairman of the House GOP conference, the party’s No. 3 post.

One of the ways Pence built lasting ties with fellow lawmakers was through Bible study.

Pence often joined Ryan, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, for weekly Bible study sessions. House Republicans say those are the types of interactions that will help him in Trump’s administration.

“Mike Pence is a House man. He cares about us and he will make sure that we are in the loop,” said Rep. Jack Carter, R-Texas, who also attended Bible study with Pence.

By having an office in the House along with the ceremonial one in the Senate for his role as the chamber’s president, Pence will follow a path set by Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman who maintained a House office during the Bush presidency.

Pence’s conservative record gives rank-and-file Democrats few reasons to be hopeful that he could be a bipartisan deal-maker on Trump’s behalf.

Planned Parenthood, for example, mobilized after Ryan said he planned to strip federal dollars from their organization as part of repeal of Obama’s health care law. The organization pointed to Pence’s anti-abortion record and history of seeking to block federal dollars from the health care provider as one of the reasons for the quick GOP push.

“Mike Pence’s fingerprints are all over that,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president.

But Pence has tried to build some bridges.

When Manchin, a centrist Democrat facing re-election next year, called incoming Trump White House adviser Katie Walsh in early January to request a meeting with Pence, the senator found himself face to face with Pence only a few hours later. They exchanged cellphone numbers and Manchin again sat down with Pence on Wednesday for a discussion that included the Supreme Court vacancy and federal judicial appointments.

“My job is going to be trying to find pathways forward – how do you find a way to fix things, repair things and make things happen? So you’ve got to build these relationships,” Manchin said.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Advocates call on Marco Rubio to protect immigrant families as Donald Trump era begins

House Speaker Paul Ryan told a national cable television audience Thursday night that federal troops won’t be coming after undocumented immigrants once Donald Trump takes power next week.

But that comment alone isn’t likely to reverse the high anxiety felt in that community.

On Saturday, Latino immigrant rights groups are planning for a national day of protest and activities around immigrant and refugee rights. On Friday, representatives from various organizations expressed their own concerns at a news conference inside the West Tampa offices of Mi Familia Vota.

“We’re here today to call on our elected officials to do their duty and make sure that millions of people in this state stay protected,” said Michelle Prieto, the Tampa Area Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota. “Men, women and children, Latinos, Muslims, families and friends will be gathering together to deliver this message that anyone who has ever wanted to come to the United States of America to start a better life, and have their families live without fear of persecution, are able to do so and have that opportunity.”

Notwithstanding Ryan’s comments Thursday, Trump has been emphatic that he intends to boot out millions of undocumented immigrants from the U.S.

In his first televised interview after his stunning victory in November, Trump told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he planned to immediately deport or jail as many as three million undocumented immigrants.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers … probably two million of them, it could be even three … out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate them,” Trump told correspondent Lesley Stahl.

The activists at Friday’s event specifically called on Florida Senator Marco Rubio to stand up to Trump if attempts to begin proceedings to deport millions of immigrants.

“Senator Rubio, like a lot of politicians, made a lot of promises in this election to be a check on the incoming administration,” said Prieto. “The Trump administration has made it clear that some of their first targets will be immigrant communities. Their aim is to deport millions of immigrants, rip millions of families apart, and drive tens of millions of immigrants and refugees into silence out of fear.”

“He promised he would be a check on the Trump administration,” added Jerry Green, Florida outreach director for VoteVets.org. “Hopefully, he lives up that promise.” But Green didn’t seem convinced that would happen, saying that the Florida GOP Senator has “remained remarkably silent during Election Day.”

That hasn’t exactly been the case. On Wednesday, Rubio was extremely aggressive in questioning Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice to become his Secretary of State. He has yet to announce whether he’ll vote to confirm him.

Green served in Iraq in the Gulf War. He said during Operation Desert Storm he personally served with “many noncitizens residents,” all of whom he said had served the U.S. with courage and honor. He also said that more than 100,000 men and women who have served overseas since 2002 had become citizens through their military service.

“As our military seeks to recruit the best and most able among us, forcing a whole group of people to stand in the shadows, and deny them the right to serve in uniform, hurts our military and security,” Green said.

Amina Spahic immigrated to America from Bosnia in 2001, where she said she and her family were escaping religious persecution. She asked for more Americans to be empathetic to the plight of refugees.

“It’s never anybody’s choice to be a displaced person,” she said solemnly. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s choice to be an immigrant. But we came here because we were told we would be safe and we would have better opportunities. And I still believe that’s the America that we have. And we’re all going to be working to make sure that it is.”

Ed Quinones, director of civil rights with The League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said he hadn’t heard Ryan’s comments that the House of Representatives would not approve sending a deportation force out to detain undocumented immigrants. He called the news a “terrific development.”

But he said he remained troubled, in particular by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general.

Quinones said Sessions was a “racist and an anti-immigration person.”

“If Trump is in the position to comply with his rhetoric and his base, what does that mean? If he’s now putting gin someone like Sessions for attorney general, look out. So I’m expecting the worst.

“I hope Mr. Ryan can talk some reason into him, and it might mitigate that of eleven million (undocumented), they might kick out two million. I don’t know. I hadn’t heard that from Mr. Ryan.

“I’m really encouraged by that.”

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Week 1: Cabinet picks contradict Donald Trump stands on some issues

The lack of fireworks surrounding Senate consideration of President-elect Donald Trump‘s Cabinet picks may reflect a slew of statements his choices have made contradicting the billionaire businessman’s position on key issues.

Trump acknowledged the differences early Friday, posting a message on his Twitter account saying: “All my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

This week’s confirmation hearings produced an odd political chemistry where, for instance, one of the harshest examinations of a Trump Cabinet choice came from one of Trump’s fellow Republicans, presidential campaign rival Sen. Marco Rubio.

Despite Democrats’ dismay over some of Trump’s selections, the hearings were relatively tranquil, with Democrats generally restrained even in quizzing the more contentious picks. The reason, according to a few Democrats: The nominees are proving more palatable than Trump himself.

“As I meet members of the Cabinet I’m puzzled because many of them sound reasonable,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Far more reasonable than their president.”

That could change in weeks to come, because some of the most potentially explosive hearings are still pending, including the scrutiny of former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary.

Several of Trump’s Cabinet selections this week made statements this week contradicting policy stances espoused by their soon-to-be boss on issues ranging from Russia and NATO to climate change and Muslims.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, picked for attorney general, said he’s against any outright ban on immigration by Muslims, in contrast to Trump’s onetime call to suspend admittance of Muslims until U.S. officials could learn more about nature of the threat of extremism.

His secretary of state candidate, Rex Tillerson, took a relatively hard line on Washington’s dealings with Russia, even though Trump has been talking about improving relations between Washington and Moscow and held out for days before saying he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the U.S. election process.

Tillerson demurred, however, when one senator tried to lure him into calling President Vladimir Putin, whom he knows, a “war criminal,” although he emphasized support for NATO commitments that Trump had questioned. The secretary-of-state designate also said the United States should not back away from its efforts against nuclear proliferation, notwithstanding Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that some key U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea provide their own defense.

Some of the toughest questioning of Tillerson came not from Democrats but from Rubio, who grilled the Exxon Mobil executive on human rights issues.

As Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing approaches, Democrats have set up a website to solicit stories from the thousands of people whose homes were foreclosed on by OneWest Bank while he headed a group of investors who owned the bank. They hope to use Mnuchin’s nomination hearing to attack Trump’s populist appeal with working-class voters and cast themselves as defenders of the middle class.

Thus far, though, Republicans are congratulating themselves for generally smooth sailing. And overall, the lack of drama may also be due to the decision by Democrats while in the Senate majority to lower the vote threshold for Cabinet nominees and others from 60 votes to 50, allowing Republicans to ensure approval as long as they can hold their 52-seat majority together.

“The purpose of confirmation hearings is to examine the record and views of potential nominees and I think that’s what these hearings are doing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think it’s likely that all of the Cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed, I think the hearings have gone quite well this week.”

A hearing Thursday for neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development featured some pointed questioning from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but also warm exchanges between Carson and other committee Democrats. Afterward Carson thanked the panel and said that it “was actually kind of fun.”

Sessions was denied confirmation once before by the Senate, but that was three decades ago for a federal judgeship. This time around the Alabaman is a sitting senator and was treated gently, for the most part, by his colleagues, even when Democrats brought up the racial issues that brought him down him last time around. There was potential for drama as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., broke with Senate tradition to testify against his colleague, but it came on the second day of the hearing after Sessions had finished testifying, so he was not even in the room.

Tillerson had the rockiest outing thus far, with Rubio pressing him on Russia and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon confronting him about climate change and other issues. With Rubio and others undecided on supporting Tillerson, his ultimate confirmation is in question. But even with Tillerson, Democrats seemed to pull their punches at times.

“I don’t want to argue with you,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico remarked at one point, seeming to speak for several colleagues.

And it was practically bipartisan lovefests at the hearings for the choices for Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo; retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense; and retired Gen. John Kelly for Homeland Security.

“Pompeo’s very popular, Mattis, Kelly — these are popular selections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The hearings seemed to underscore some emerging dynamics of Trump’s relations with Capitol Hill. Despite his highly unconventional approach, and his lack of Capitol Hill experience, many of his appointees and aides could have been selected by any other Republican, and the Senate is responding accordingly.

And even where Trump’s surprising approach raises the potential for problems, congressional Republicans are working overtime to paper them over, not highlight them.

“We are in complete sync,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., insisted Thursday in a discussion about a different topic, health care.

That could change in weeks to come, as the Senate holds hearings on Mnuchin and other more divisive selections. These include conservative Rep. Tom Price for Health and Human Services; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a vocal denier of climate change science, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department.

Still, given that it’s the Senate, not daytime TV, there may be a limit to the potential for conflict, said Ben Marter, Durbin’s communications director. “You have to adjust your excite-o-meter down a little bit, because it’s a Senate hearing. It’s not Maury Povich.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Kevin Hernandez: Donald Trump’s dream team for economic success

The American public has long been yearning for a drastic change to the status quo.

Sadly, the past eight years have brought onto us sluggish economic growth, a wave of overregulation that drastically hurts the viability of our small businesses and, overall, an out-of-touch administration. It’s no surprise that Americans are fed up, and this year’s election proved that.

What has been needed, now more than ever, is for someone to shake up D.C. and repair an inefficient and inflated federal government.

With Republicans retaining the majority of both chambers of Congress, and a Republican president in the White House, it’s now time though to put rhetoric aside and demonstrate that there’s truly “A Better Way” for Washington to govern.

The burdens inflicted upon our nation’s entrepreneurs by an administration infatuated with bigger government, more taxation and overregulation can no longer be dismissed. After all, it’s those same entrepreneurs who are risking their own capital and, most importantly, creating roughly two-thirds of all U.S. jobs.

Thankfully, President-elect Donald Trump’s business acumen and pro-growth agenda has already translated into the outstanding selection of three key members who will serve on his Cabinet. It’s important to also note that these officials will be critically important in complementing the efforts of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Better Way agenda, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s efforts on tax reform and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s efforts to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act.

Those key players of Donald Trump’s triangle offense for economic growth and small-business success are:

Steven Mnuchin, secretary, Department of the Treasury

With almost 20 years of experience working as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin will bring a wealth of knowledge regarding economic and financial issues. Mnuchin also brings a particularly keen understanding of the importance of lending and access to capital, which entrepreneurs and business groups alike unequivocally prioritize as a key issue.

Working in lockstep with Hensarling and the president-elect’s pick for the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, Mnuchin will play a pivotal role in the rolling back of Dodd-Frank, which has negatively affected small and medium-sized business, along with our vitally important community and regional banks throughout the country. These banks have felt the squeeze caused by the vastly complex web of one-size-fits-all regulations intended for large banks, and have thus been unable to provide the access to capital desperately needed by entrepreneurs.

Addressing Dodd-Frank and reforming our tax code are two of Mnuchin’s immediate priorities that will alleviate some of the burdensome effects of overregulation.

Wilbur Ross, secretary, Department of Commerce

At 79, Ross, a billionaire investor, never imagined he would find himself reporting to someone. That quickly changed when asked to serve his country as the secretary of Commerce under President-elect Trump’s leadership, which he humbly accepted.

Ross will be responsible for working with businesses to promote job creation and economic growth.

His experience and success in turning around failing firms is unparalleled, and so is his approach to addressing these challenging investments. In a 2008 interview with NPR, Ross explained his hands-on approach to reviving a failing steel company by saying, “we got an enormous amount of good ideas from the blue collar workers. That fellow who has been standing behind a machine for 10 years, who knows it better than the people who built it, really knows what to do.”

That very approach that Wilbur Ross has had throughout his career and will soon bring to the Department of Commerce is illustrative of not only the refreshing leadership he will bring to the agency but also of the overall theme and direction of Trump’s wishes as incoming commander in chief.

Ross told CNBC that two of his priorities will be trade reform and increasing U.S. exports abroad.

Small and medium-sized business stand to greatly benefit from trade reform and an increase in exporting as they make up 98 percent of all U.S. companies involved in exporting.

Linda McMahon, administrator, Small Business Administration

McMahon is the underrated Cabinet pick in my opinion. A phenomenal addition to Trump’s team, McMahon will without a doubt bring the necessary experience, mindset and skills to unleash the potential of our country’s small business community, while effectively serving as the leading voice for small business and entrepreneurship.

As the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., McMahon certainly experienced the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Scaling a company of 13 employees to a now public traded global enterprise with over 800 employees worldwide didn’t happen overnight. Rather, she cut her teeth as one of the country’s top female CEOs by resurrecting a once failing business from its ashes and turning into the global brand that it is today.

Already an advocate for female entrepreneurs with Women’s Leadership Live, an organization she co-founded, there is no doubt Linda McMahon will ensure women, along with minority entrepreneurs, are a top priority in the Trump administration.

The agency she will soon be taking over has a budget of over $10 billion and a loan portfolio of roughly $125 billion. In 2015, the SBA approved over 70,000 government-backed private-sector loans to small business throughout the country. McMahon will without a doubt be the champion we need on behalf of the American entrepreneur.

Our sluggish recovery from the 2008 recession and 2.1 percent average growth between 2010 and 2015 should serve as a lesson that big government policies and overregulation of industries don’t work. It’s time we listen to our small business community’s needs if we want them to continue being the driving force of our economic engine, and President-elect Trump has done just that by nominating Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Linda McMahon.

It’s going to be a great four years for economic growth and small businesses.

___

Kevin Hernandez is director of Government Affairs and Policy at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He is also a fellow with the James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank.

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Gus Bilirakis named to key house health-care panel

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has been appointed to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, a key congressional panel with jurisdiction over the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as well as oversight of medical research and public health issues.

“I’m honored to have been selected to serve on this important subcommittee, where I will be working with my colleagues to solve the biggest problems facing our nation’s health care system,” said Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican. “I look forward to gathering input from constituents and stakeholders from Florida’s 12th District every step of the way. After all, we need to focus on empowering patients, not Washington, D.C.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “Gus’s dedication to conservative health care solutions will help put Florida and the nation on the right path toward affordable, patient-centered care. As a member of Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee, Gus will play a critical role in making our plan to repeal and replace Obamacare a reality—I’m glad he’ll be at the front lines.”

In a speech on the House floor, Bilirakis said, “Families across Florida are feeling the burden of Obamacare. Premiums have skyrocketed an average of 19 percent in our state, and insurers are fleeing the market left and right.

“In fact, 73 percent of counties in Florida only have one insurance provider, leaving people with higher costs and less choice when it comes to their health care. House Republicans are offering solid solutions to make our nation’s health care system work for everyone, without pulling the rug out from anybody’s feet. We’re focused on a more affordable, more personalized health care plan that empowers patients, not Washington.”

In the 114th Congress, Bilirakis helped author major legislation on the Health Subcommittee, such as the 21st Century Cures Act, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, and bills to boost research for patients with rare disease, neurological, and congenital heart defects. The panel additionally has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid reform, and Food and Drug Administration policy.

Bilirakis was also appointed to the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.

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Donald Trump denounces ‘disgrace’ of reports of Russian ties to him

A defiant President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday adamantly denied reports that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him, calling it a “tremendous blot” on the record of the intelligence community if such material had been released.

The incoming president, in his first news conference since late July, firmly chided news organizations for publishing the material late Tuesday night. After weeks of scoffing at reports that Russians had interfered in the election, he conceded publicly for the first time that Russia was likely responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said and quickly added that the United States is hacked by other countries as well, including China.

Trump’s extraordinary defense against the unsubstantiated intelligence report, just nine days before his inauguration, dominated a highly anticipated press conference in which he also announced a new Cabinet member, detailed his plans to disentangle himself from his sprawling global business empire, gave his outlook on the future of the “Obamacare” health care law and said he would soon nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting,” he said, a reference to a classified briefing he received from intelligence leaders. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen,” Trump said in a news conference that saw him repeatedly joust with reporters. “It was gotten by opponents of ours.”

Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump boasted that it is an improvement over what he called America’s current “horrible relationship with Russia” and did not criticize the Russian leader for any interference in the election.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset not a liability. I don’t know if I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin — I hope I do — but there’s a good chance I won’t.”

Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer also denounced the report about Russia’s influence on Trump, and the incoming president said it never should have been released. He thanked some news organizations for showing restraint.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings last week, the official said.

Media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday and Trump denounced it on Twitter before his news conference as “fake news,” suggesting he was being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump’s inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.

Only days from his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president, Trump announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.

He promised that a replacement for the health care overhaul would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with the repeal of Obama’s signature health law — something that would be virtually impossible to quickly pass given the complexity of the policy changes. Republicans agree on repealing the law but nearly seven years after its passage have failed to reach agreement on its replacement.

Trump has repeatedly said that repealing and replacing “Obamacare” was a top priority, but has never fully explained how he plans to do it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the House would seek to take both steps “concurrently.”

Turning to his plans to build a border wall along the southern border, Trump said he would immediately begin negotiations with Mexico on funding his promised wall after he takes office. He again vowed that “Mexico will pay for the wall but it will be reimbursed.” Trump recommitted to his plans to impose a border tax on manufacturers who shut plants and move production abroad. While the tax policy could retain jobs, it would also carry the risk of increasing prices for consumers.

Trump also said he would probably name his choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in about two weeks after the inauguration.

And he announced his plans for the future of the Trump Organization, bringing to the podium attorney Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who worked with the Trump Organization on the arrangement.

Dillon said the Trump Organization would continue to pursue deals in the U.S., though Trump will relinquish control of the company to his sons and an executive, put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his business. She said Trump “should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”

The move appears to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Trump vowed to do “no new deals” while in office.

The lawyer said Trump would donate all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the U.S. treasury.

And pushing back against some ethics experts, Dillon said the so-called emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreign payments to Trump’s company. While some ethics officials have said that foreign leaders who pay for rooms and services at his various hotels would run afoul of the constitutional ban on foreign gifts or payments to the president, Dillon referred to it as a “fair-value exchange.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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GOP: Cut taxes, change brackets; but what about deficits

Congressional Republicans are planning a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system, a heavy political lift that could ultimately affect families at every income level and businesses of every size.

Their goal is to simplify a complicated tax code that rewards wealthy people with smart accountants, and corporations that can easily shift profits — and jobs — overseas. It won’t be easy. The last time it was done was 30 years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have vowed to pass a tax package in 2017 that would not add to the budget deficit. The Washington term is “revenue neutral.”

It means that for every tax cut there has to be a tax increase, creating winners and losers. Lawmakers would get some leeway if non-partisan congressional analysts project that a tax cut would increase economic growth, raising revenue without increasing taxes.

Nevertheless, passing a massive tax package will require some tough votes, politically.

Some key Republican senators want to share the political risk with Democrats. They argue that a tax overhaul must be bipartisan to be fully embraced by the public. They cite President Barack Obama‘s health law — which passed in 2010 without any Republican votes — as a major policy initiative that remains divisive.

Congressional Democrats say they are eager to have a say in overhauling the tax code. But McConnell, who faulted Democrats for acting unilaterally on health care, is laying the groundwork to pass a purely partisan bill.

Both McConnell and Ryan said they plan to use a legislative maneuver that would prevent Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block a tax bill.

McConnell says he wants the Senate to tackle a tax plan in the spring, after Congress repeals Obama’s health law. House Republicans are more eager to get started, but haven’t set a timeline.

Some things to know about Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code:

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THE HOUSE PLAN

House Republicans have released the outline of a tax plan that would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The gist of the plan is to lower tax rates for just about everyone, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back exemptions, deductions and credits.

The plan, however, retains some of the most popular tax breaks, including those for paying a mortgage, going to college, making charitable contributions and having children.

The standard deduction would be increased, giving taxpayers less incentive to itemize their deductions.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the plan would reduce revenues by $3 trillion over the first decade, with most of the savings going to the highest-income households.

That’s not revenue neutral.

Small business owners would get a special top tax rate of 25 percent.

Investment income would be taxed like wages, but investors would only have to pay taxes on half of this income.

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SENATE PLAN

Senate Republicans have yet to coalesce around a comprehensive plan, or even an outline.

__

TRUMP’S PLAN

Trump’s plan has fewer details. He promises a tax cut for every income level, with more low-income families paying no income tax at all.

The Tax Policy Center says Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the first decade, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthiest taxpayers. Trump has disputed the analysis.

Like the House plan, Trump would reduce the top income tax rate for individuals to 33 percent, and he would reduce the number of tax brackets to three. He would also increase the standard deduction.

Trump has embraced two ideas championed by Obama but repeatedly rejected by Republicans over the past eight years. Trump’s plan would cap itemized deductions for married couples making more than $200,000 a year. It would also tax carried interest, which are fees charged by investment fund managers, as regular income instead of capital gains.

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CORPORATE TAXES

The top corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. However, the tax is riddled with so many exemptions, deductions and credits that most corporations pay much less.

Both Trump and House Republicans want to lower the rate, and pay for it by scaling back tax breaks.

Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Ryan says 20 percent is more realistic, to avoid increasing the budget deficit.

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BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX

This is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. It is also key to making it work.

Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders.

Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes.

House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Under the system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the U.S. would pay the new 20 percent corporate tax rate on profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S.

There’s more: Foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax, increasing the cost of imports.

Exporters love the idea. But importers, including big retailers and consumer electronics firms, say it could lead to steep price increases on consumer goods. The lobbying has already begun.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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