Doug Sword

Shrinking victims fund signals tough times for appropriators
The program’s finances are drying up, and committees may not be able to depend on it to fill funding gaps elsewhere

It’s been an unspoken rule among appropriators for years: if the annual Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee allocation feels a little light, fear not. There’s always money in the Crime Victims Fund.

However, the good times may be coming to an end. The program’s finances are drying up, and the Appropriations Committees are facing major new obligations in fiscal 2020 that will stretch the means of panel leaders even if there’s a deal to lift austere spending caps for next year.

FBI HQ investigation ‘closer to the beginning than the end’
GSA delivers 2,500 documents near midnight Tuesday in partial response to House Committee request

An investigation into whether President Donald Trump was involved in the decision to keep the FBI on prime Pennsylvania Avenue property is still far from over, lawmakers said Wednesday.

“We’re closer to the beginning than the end of the investigation,” said House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley following a Wednesday hearing.

Trump budget request triggers clash with Congress
CQ Budget Podcast, Episode 102

Budget plan tries to create new fees, revive rejected ones

The Trump administration is proposing to raise about $60 billion over 10 years through new and expanded fees, including repeat proposals for eight fees rejected by appropriators last year.

The biggest of the bunch, by far, is a plan to raise $31.7 billion over 10 years by boosting the fees housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge to guarantee the mortgage market. The duo has been under federal conservatorship since 2008, when they required $187 billion in bailout funds to stay afloat.

Trump’s budget assumes a much rosier economic outlook than other forecasts
The budget assumes the economy will grow at 3.2 percent, far higher than a January CBO forecast of 2.3 percent

The president’s budget assumes a much rosier economic outlook for the country than other government prognosticators do, translating into trillions of dollars in added revenue over the next decade.

The underlying economic assumption of the fiscal 2020 budget request is that the economy will grow this year at a robust 3.2 percent real growth rate, which is growth after subtracting the effects of inflation. That is far higher than a January forecast by the Congressional Budget Office of 2.3 percent, which is the same figure arrived at by the Federal Reserve in its latest forecast in December.

New $1.4 billion Washington ‘money factory’ gets green light
Building new facility expected to save federal government $601 million

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has the newly minted legal authority to go ahead with a roughly $1.4 billion plan to build a new money printing facility in the Washington, D.C., area to replace its existing 105-year-old hulk on 14th Street.

Thanks to one sentence in the 1,165-page fiscal 2019 omnibus spending law covering nine Cabinet departments, including Treasury, the bureau’s existing ability to tap the deep pockets of the Federal Reserve are married with additional authority to buy land for and build the new plant.

Obscure asset seizure fund in limelight as border battle rages
President Trump wants his wall. That’s where all these seized boats, homes and airplanes come in

Pity the poor Treasury Forfeiture Fund, which has been shredded by congressional appropriators using it as a piggy bank for so long that the program’s managers have been crying uncle.

Now, along comes President Donald Trump with his creative use of statutory authorities to top up the nearly $1.4 billion Congress appropriated in fiscal 2019 for his southern border wall project, including an extra $601 million in Treasury asset seizure revenues.

Hunt is on for legislative train as riders get in line
Legislative items are piling up, and some worry it will be September before a budget and debt ceiling deal is reached

Urgent legislative items are piling up in search of a fast-moving vehicle, including food assistance for Puerto Rico residents, aid to crop growers in southeastern states hurt by last year’s hurricanes, and compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The hunt got a little more desperate Tuesday after the Congressional Budget Office estimated lawmakers may have even more time than they thought to tackle the statutory debt ceiling. While the nation’s borrowing cap roars back to life at roughly $22 trillion on Saturday, the CBO says Treasury accounting moves will generate enough “headroom” to remain under the ceiling until late September or early October.

Damn it Jim, I’m a tax collector, not a filmmaker
After years of appropriations cuts, and a disastrous Star Trek-parody, the IRS budget is $600 million short of what it was 6 years ago

Beam me up, Mr. Speaker, as the late former House lawmaker and convicted felon James A. Traficant Jr. used to say. Congress is finally going easier on the IRS after five years of funding restrictions intended to prevent another onscreen voyage to the “planet NoTax.”

After a pricey Star Trek parody filmed by IRS employees came to light in 2013, the GOP House set its phasers to vaporize the prospect of such videos being made in the future, putting funding prohibitions into five consecutive spending bills beginning in fiscal 2014.

The Americans paying more taxes
Podcast, Episode 140

 

Tax season has begun, and upper-middle-income taxpayers earning between $120,000 and $200,000 in states with high local taxes are the most likely to be among the 5 percent who paid more last year because of the 2017 law, says Kyle Pomerleau, director of the Center for Quantitative Analysis at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. Doug Sword, CQ’s tax reporter, explains how congressional Democrats, and those running for president, are attacking the law.

Negotiators unlikely to meet self-imposed Monday shutdown deal deadline
Both sides were discussing a simple stopgap measure as a fallback if appropriations deal isn’t reached

The White House and congressional leaders on Monday were buying themselves a little more time for negotiations that appeared to stall out over the weekend, with both sides discussing a simple stopgap measure as a fallback to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

Top appropriators met late afternoon at the Capitol in hopes of salvaging a full-year DHS spending bill, as well as completing work on six other fiscal 2019 bills that are largely completed. But it wasn’t clear if the meeting of the so-called “four corners” — Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D- N.Y. and ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas — would yield an immediate breakthrough.

Appropriators attempt to revive talks Monday as Friday shutdown deadline looms
A meeting between 4 top appropriations leaders from the House and Senate is expected at 3:30 p.m.

Republican and Democratic appropriators from both chambers plan to meet Monday afternoon in an effort to revive spending talks as the government heads toward its second shutdown in three months.

The so-called “four corners” — Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D- N.Y. and ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, — will attend the meeting, according to a Shelby spokeswoman.

House Democrats months away from demanding Trump tax returns
‘No wiggle room’ to deny request for Trump’s tax returns, expert says

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee said it would be months before they definitively try to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, after a lengthy hearing Thursday to hear from tax and constitutional law experts.

“This is not the end. This is just the beginning,” Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis of Georgia said, making it clear there would be more hearings and examination of the sensitive matter.

House Democrats drop Pence, cabinet pay freeze from federal worker raise bill
The bill’s lead sponsor said continuing the executive-level pay freeze would have jeopardized the broader bill

House Democrats are primed to remove a provision of federal worker pay legislation set for a floor vote Wednesday that would have continued a pay freeze for Vice President Mike Pence and other senior Trump administration officials.

The Rules Committee adopted the changes as part of a self-executing rule for floor debate on the underlying bill, which would give the roughly 2 million federal civilian employees a 2.6 percent pay raise this year. That would put civilian workers on par with military servicemembers, who got the same raise in the fiscal 2019 Defense appropriations bill enacted last year.

Atlanta fears shutdown impact on Super Bowl travelers
About 120,000 partiers are expected to depart on “Mass Exodus Monday”

Worried about “Mass Exodus Monday” when an estimated 120,000 Super Bowl partiers will leave Atlanta en masse, the city is taking matters into its own hands to help keep unpaid airport screeners on the job.

An Atlanta credit union will be offering zero interest loans to Transportation Security Administration employees to try to prevent them from calling in sick after the game, said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat.

New bipartisan Senate group facing uphill climb in bid to end shutdown

A bipartisan Senate group has launched new talks  to end the lingering partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and is now the longest in history, but they are well aware of the uphill climb awaiting them. 

Senators who met Monday haven’t coalesced around a single approach that can gain the approval of President Donald Trump as well as Democratic leaders in both chambers. But the group still appears to be discussing what kind of border security package can pass muster with the principal negotiators.

Assessing the bleak options for ending the shutdown
CQ Budget Podcast, Episode 94

As the longest shutdown in modern history enters its fourth week, CQ’s fiscal policy reporter Doug Sword assesses the options for ending the spending impasse. But none appear promising, as President Donald Trump has rejected the latest proposals.

House GOP Tax Package Still In Limbo as Clock Winds Down
Time remaining in 115th Congress does not bode well for proponents

The House is leaving in limbo an $80 billion package of tax breaks as it leaves for the weekend on Thursday, though in theory there’s still time to take up the measure next week before lawmakers leave town for the holidays.

The second time had been shaping up to be the charm for House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s now refurbished year-end tax bill, as Republicans appeared to be lining up behind it Wednesday. An earlier version expected on the floor two weeks ago never made it due to objections from rank-and-file Republicans.

Senate Narrowly Votes to Reject IRS Donor Disclosure Rule

The Senate voted 50-49 to repeal a rule that shields donors to many nonprofit groups from disclosure to IRS officials.

The dramatic vote was tied at 49-49 with 49 Democrats voting in favor and 49 Republicans against, when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, cast the deciding vote to repeal the rule. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. was absent.

Kevin Brady Drops Extenders, Adds Health Care Tax Rollbacks
House Ways and Means chairman deleted almost $30 billion in tax provisions

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady has refashioned his year-end tax package to try to maximize GOP votes for a stand-alone bill, while dropping provisions the Senate could still pick up and pass this year, possibly as part of a huge wrap-up spending bill.

Brady, R-Texas, deleted $29.9 billion worth of tax provisions, collectively known as “extenders” because they are continually revived for a year or two at a time, that faced GOP opposition in the House. That includes one revenue-raiser disliked by the coal mining industry, which would extend the current tax they pay to support disabled miners with black lung disease; the tax would otherwise be slashed substantially next year.