Monday, December 4, 2017

Senators Call for Increased Missile Defense Technology

Washington, D.C. - December 4, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee today supporting the development of new technologies for missile defense.

“…North Korean ballistic missiles will have the capability of striking the United States by the end of 2018 with a thermonuclear warhead. We greatly appreciate the robust $9.3 billion, which is $1.4 billion above the President’s request, in funding for missile defense to counter the growing threat,” the senators write.

The letter continues: “We support the overall supplemental request, and, in particular, the provision allocating funding for new missile defense technologies and urge the Appropriations Committee to designate $100 million for the rapid development and deployment of new kinetic Boost Phase missile defense technology. This is in line with the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 which included a provision calling for the Department of Defense to develop such a Boost Phase Intercept system ‘as soon as practicable.’”

Read the full letter here.

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Senators Want Investigation of Net Neutrality Comments

Washington, D.C. - December 4, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) led 27 of her colleagues in a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, expressing concern over reports that bots filed hundreds of thousands of comments to the FCC during the net neutrality policymaking process and calling on the Chairman to delay the planned December 14th vote to roll back net neutrality rules until an investigation of the state of the record is conducted.

“A free and open Internet is vital to ensuring a level playing field online, and we believe that your proposed action may be based on an incomplete understanding of the public record in this proceeding,” the Senators wrote. “In fact, there is good reason to believe that the record may be replete with fake or fraudulent comments, suggesting that your proposal is fundamentally flawed.”

“Without additional information about the alleged anomalies surrounding the public record, the FCC cannot conduct a thorough and fair evaluation of the public’s views on this topic, and should not move forward with a vote on December 14, 2017,” the Senators continued.

“The FCC must invest its time and resources into obtaining a more accurate picture of the record as understanding that record is essential to reaching a defensible resolution to this proceeding,” the Senators concluded.

Senator Hassan was joined by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Al Franken (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

To read the letter click here

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Donald Trump pulls US out of UN global compact on migration

Now we will get to decide who and how many comes into our country

Read about it here

Senate Passes Tax Reform

Washington, D.C. - December 4, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- Early on the morning of December 2nd, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1). The tax cut legislation was approved by a 51-49 vote.  The Senate measure will now move to a conference to reconcile differences with a House-passed measure.

“I supported this important legislation because it is the best opportunity in 30 years to improve the federal tax code.  The Senate bill would lower taxes for Mississippians.  Lowering the tax burden and simplifying the law will also help generate economic growth by making businesses in Mississippi and across the country more competitive" said Senator Thad Cochran - (R - MS). He continued with,

“I look forward to the Senate and House negotiating a final package that can be sent to the President for his signature.”

Before the vote Senator Susan M. Collins - (R - ME) stated, “I don’t think there is a single American who thinks that our current tax code is fair, simple, or promotes economic growth.  We need a tax system that will boost the economy, help the middle class, and encourage small businesses to grow and create jobs.  If we stimulate the economy through tax reform, we can significantly increase federal revenues while boosting Americans’ take-home pay. "

National Taxpayers Union (NTU) applauded the "tireless work of the United States Senate for delivering much needed tax relief to Americans by passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act."

“This is a massive milestone on the road to fiscal prosperity and we commend the Senate for approving pro-growth tax reform. There is still a great deal of work Congress must do in order to make our tax system more transparent, simple and competitive with the rest of the world, but today’s vote should leave no doubt that this work is well underway,” said Pete Sepp, President of the National Taxpayers Union.

"Instead of chasing unicorns, Senators took the bull by the horns and did what taxpayers hoped they would do -- they legislated,” added Sepp, “The result is not perfect, but that is not the standard by which it should be measured. It is a phenomenal improvement over the status quo, which guaranteed Americans years of subpar economic growth, billions of hours in additional paperwork burdens, thousands of job opportunities denied, and millions of dreams from families and small businesses deferred.”

NTU has been on the front line of the fight to pass comprehensive tax reform, organizing a press conference with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republican Senators prior to the introduction of the Senate tax reform plan and releasing a unified statement with other conservative groups this week to emphasize the importance of overhauling the tax code. NTU also sponsored a television and radio ad campaign encouraging the Senate to adopt meaningful tax reform to encourage economic growth, create new jobs and allow individuals and families to keep more of their income.

“We have always viewed tax reform as an important opportunity to realign the tax code to better support entrepreneurship and spur new company formation.  While we would have preferred to see a section in tax reform dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship, it does preserve several provisions that are critical to the startup ecosystem,” said Bobby Franklin, President and CEO of National Venture Capital Association.  “We are thankful the Finance Committee removed language that would have disrupted the equity-based compensation system that is so critical to recruiting and retaining a talented startup workforce as well as taking the additional step of including new language that provides a deferral to emerging growth company employees that are forced to pay taxes on their stock options before the gains are realized.  We are also pleased senators heard our message on the importance of supporting patient, long-term investment into entrepreneurial activity.”

The National Retail Federation welcomed Senate passage, saying congressional action on the pro-growth plan is helping boost consumer confidence and that savings from reform could be enough to pay for many families’ holiday shopping.

“This vote couldn’t come at a better time,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Holiday shopping was strong throughout the Thanksgiving weekend, and a good part of the reason was optimism about the work Congress is doing to pass tax reform. Consumers and voters are beginning to realize that tax reform will create jobs, leave more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans and give our nation’s economy the biggest boost it’s seen in decades. In fact, the savings is enough to give the average family a free Christmas. It’s time to get this legislation to President Trump so American consumers will know they can count on extra money in their paychecks come January.”

“We look forward to members of the House and Senate sitting down to reconcile the differences between their versions of the legislation so that a final bill can be signed into law as soon as possible,” Shay said. “There is far more that the two chambers agree on than they disagree on. And both clearly agree that the time for tax reform has come.”

According to the Senate Finance Committee, a typical family of four earning the average annual income of $73,000 would see its taxes cut by nearly $1,500 a year, or $125 a month, and some estimates are higher. The number is enough to completely cover the $967.13 NRF expects the average consumer to spend this year as part of up to $682 billion in holiday season sales.

An NRF survey found that 174 million American adults shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, 10 million more than NRF had projected.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, released the following statement after vote:

“The Tax Cut and Jobs Act cuts taxes for working and middle-income families,” said Dr. Cassidy. “It boosts the economy, repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, preserves the Historic Tax Credit, gives tax relief to victims of the 2016 floods in North and South Louisiana and provides money to rebuild our coastline. This is a good bill for Louisiana and the United States.”

The bill doubles the Child Tax Credit to $2,000, lowers income tax rates across the board, nearly doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for an individual and $24,000 for a couple filing jointly, preserves the Adoption Tax Credit as well as deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

According to the Tax Foundation’s analysis, the bill will boost take-home pay for Louisiana families by more than $1,800 a year and create more than 12,600 new jobs in Louisiana alone. In an open letter to Congress, 137 economists announced their support for the tax reform effort, writing, “Economic growth will accelerate if the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passes, leading to more jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living for the American people.”

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Cassidy crafted or help spearhead several provisions in the Senate’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including those that:

  • Provide victims of last year’s floods in North and South Louisiana with $500 million in disaster tax relief, exempting them from tax penalties on early withdrawals of retirement account funds used for rebuilding and recovery, and allowing income tax deductions for qualifying personal casualty losses.
  • Preserve the Historical Tax Credit, which since 2002 has facilitated over 782 projects in Louisiana, encouraging more than $2.5 billion in private rehabilitation investments and creating more than 38,000 jobs.

  • Restore nearly $100 million in funding for coastal restoration projects in Louisiana, making up for the projected GOMESA revenue shortfall.
  • Keep full business expense deduction for automobile, truck, boat, motorcycle, and farm implement dealers who use floor plan financing. This will ensure small business dealers are treated fairly and are not subject to the risk of paying higher taxes, protecting jobs and economic growth.
  • Reduce potential effects of a new investment excise tax on large private college endowments, helping small institutions such as Centenary College of Louisiana.
  • Preserve Private Activity Bonds (PABs), which are widely used for airport and seaport projects, affordable housing, and nonprofit health and education facilities. In 2016, over $72 billion in PABs were issued for investments in nonprofit hospitals and universities, along with over $12 billion in PABs for airports, housing, and rural public cooperatives.
  • Keep existing business structure commonly referred to as IC-DISC (Interest Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation). This will encourage small and medium businesses to export goods made in Louisiana.
  • Identified deficit reduction mechanisms to help pay for a state and local property tax deduction up to $10,000, and an increased deduction (17.4 to 23 percent) for small business owners’ qualified business income (“pass-throughs”).

    National League of Cities (NLC) President Mark Stodola, mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, released the following statement:

    “Cities have spoken loudly and clearly during the tax reform debate: Congress must not take away the critical tools cities need to balance their budgets, build infrastructure and provide essential services for our residents. While we welcome the Senate’s preservation of tax exemptions for municipal bonds and qualified private activity bonds, we are dismayed that the bill targets other bonds, eliminates key credits and greatly reduces the deductibility of state and local taxes.

    “It is encouraging that amendments were introduced in the eleventh hour to address some problems of the bill, like one to preserve part of the property tax deduction. Congress has heard some of our concerns, and we thank the members who stood with cities. 

    “As this bill heads to conference, Congress must take the time to fix this bill so it actually provides relief for American families. As we turn our efforts toward the reconciliation process for this bill and the appropriations process for the Federal Budget, cities need a federal partner that is willing to invest in the future of our communities. We are eager to work together to reform our tax code so that it benefits everyone, and strengthens America’s cities."

    More than 800 city leaders have already signed onto an action letter outlining NLC’s top-line priorities when it comes to tax reform and the federal budget.

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) issued the following statement today on behalf of President and CEO Juanita Duggan in response to the Senate’s passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

    “We are pleased to see the Senate pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which will provide significant tax relief to small businesses. We are grateful to Majority Leader McConnell, Chairman Hatch, and all of the senators who supported the measure.

    “For small businesses, federal taxes are too high. The tax code is too complicated. Complying with the rules is too costly. According to our research, five of the top 10 problems for small business owners relate to the federal tax code. Tax reform is an economic imperative and it’s one step closer. We urge leaders in the House and Senate to reconcile their respective plans quickly so the President can sign tax reform into law this year.”

    National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement:

    “Hypocrisy is at the heart of the tax bill approved by Senate Republicans. It reveals the ill-conceived and misguided priorities of Republican leaders in Washington. Instead of providing tax cuts to those who need it most—the middle class and working families—their plan hands massive tax giveaways to corporate special interests and the wealthy. Expanding education tax loopholes in order for wealthy families to stash away money for religious school will hurt neighborhood public schools and students.

    “They will eliminate the state and local deductions for working people but keep it for wealthy corporations. Millions of hard working people will see their taxes increase. On top of it all, this bill will take away health care coverage for 13 million Americans and cause premiums to spike for millions more. It could also trigger $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare in 2018 alone. In the end, this disastrous bill will push crushing debt and tax increases onto the middle class while Medicare, Medicaid, and education will take the brunt of the cuts.

    “Public schools have not fully recovered from the Great Recession. Now, by eliminating the state and local tax deduction, the Senate just voted to blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education, potentially risking the jobs of hundreds of thousands of educators, exposing public school students to serious and potentially damaging consequences—ballooning class sizes and overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention.

    “It is outrageous to hand massive tax giveaways for the wealthy and corporate special interests paid for by students and working families. This is a terrible bill for the American people and we need more courage from members of Congress to stop this runaway train.”

    National School Boards Association Executive Director & CEO Thomas J. Gentzel  stated, “NSBA is deeply troubled by the U.S. Senate’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Tax reform should cultivate state and local investments and innovation, not impede them. In rushing to pass legislation, lawmakers are presenting Americans with a potential tax structure that offers tax breaks and benefits for the few at the price of supporting state and local efforts to invest in vital areas including education.

    “While it’s unclear, the full extent of the impact the proposed changes will have on local decision making and resources available for public services, the threat it poses to students, parents and communities is very real. Limiting the current State and Local Tax deduction and providing tax-advantages for private school tuition accounts are misguided efforts and a significant step in the wrong direction.

    “Districts already operate with limited resources to provide students with educational and other necessary support. Too many neighborhood schools struggle to balance diverse, growing populations with recessionary levels of funding. School infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum, transportation, health services, counseling, public and student safety measures and other vital services, which are all funded by state and local taxes, are placed at risk by these proposed changes in federal tax law.

    “NSBA urges Congress to put students, parents, and communities first as the House and Senate bills move to conference. NSBA opposes any tax proposal that negatively impacts local decision makers’ ability to govern and operate in the best interests of our country’s students and the American taxpayer. To do anything less would be irresponsible and a reckless disinvestment in students and their future.”

    Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

    “Today will be remembered as a shameful day in American history. In a cowardly move, Republican senators rushed to pass a tax bill that will cause a tremendous amount of pain for Americans from coast to coast, including many of President Trump’s supporters. Today’s children, workers, and students will be especially hard hit, as will future generations that will be stuck with the consequences of this fiscally irresponsible and morally indefensible measure. The Senate has essentially robbed tens of millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet. For so many, this bill effectively hikes taxes on those who can least afford to lose more money and could make health care unaffordable for these same people.

    “Immigrant families have been especially hard hit: the bill eliminates the Child Tax Credit for immigrant children, a move that is cruel and short-sighted. Republicans in the Senate have voted to harm immigrant children and families to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

    “This bill, loaded with holiday treats for the rich and massive corporations and their insatiable greed, delivers nothing more than economic insecurity and greater income inequality for the rest of us. Our lawmakers should be working to make sure all our communities are healthy and thriving, not just the ultra-rich. The halls of Congress failed their constituents early this morning, and voters should not forget it.”

    Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice had a scathing response:

    “Tonight’s Senate tax vote was a shameful scheme to prioritize the wealthiest in our nation over the needs of the most vulnerable. This legislation is shocking on both substance and process. On substance, the bill violates the moral fiber of our country by lining the pockets of millionaires and billionaires while robbing people in poverty. It is an abomination on process because no one has been able to study or understand this hodgepodge of giveaways drafted behind closed doors.

    “Tonight’s tax vote undermines our democracy and makes a laughing stock of Congress. It bankrupts our nation and calls into question who Congress works for: their constituents or their donors.

    “This is the wrong move for our people, but we know this fight isn’t over. NETWORK is committed to stopping this flawed policy in its tracks.

    “Instead, NETWORK desires a policy that heals our nation and supports our people. We must ensure that the common good is promoted and not the special interests. Tax policy is a moral issue.

    “Shame on the Senate for passing this terrible policy under the cover of darkness.”

    Mayor de Blasio of New York claimed, "Republicans, voting on a bill they didn't even have time to read, once again proved they care more about millionaires and campaign donors than working families." This is simply not true. The Republican version of the bill passed exactly one month to the day that the Senate version did. They had plenty of time.

    As if in agreement with the mayor, Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Policy Director, made the following statement:

    “This is not reform, it’s a heist. Rushed through in the night without time for analysis or debate, the implications for the poorest – here and around the world- are being ignored. The repercussion will be serious and long lasting.”

    "This process isn't finished yet, as the Senate and House bills remain very different, but I am very concerned that we're close to making our already-broken tax code even worse. As always, I remain willing to work across the aisle to pass a real, bipartisan tax reform bill for the middle class, but our opportunity to do that is quickly slipping away," said Senator Christopher A .Coons - (D - DE).

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  • Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act Passes Senate

    Washington, D.C. - December 4, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- With unanimous support, the U.S. Senate has passed the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act. The legislation, which is sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would enable the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make important safety and sanitation improvements at the tribal treaty fishing access sites along the Columbia River, which are on lands held by the United States for the benefit of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes.

    The next step would be for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the legislation, before being sent to the President for his signature.

    “This is a positive step on our long road to properly honor our obligations to the Columbia River Treaty Tribes,” said Senator Murray. “It’s so important that we continue to make progress to provide safe, sanitary housing and infrastructure at these fishing access sites, so tribal members can exercise their protected rights.”

    “These Tribal members’ way of life was washed away when the Bonneville dam went up. Since then, few steps have been taken to right this wrong,” said Senator Cantwell. “By improving housing conditions for these Tribes, we can begin to fulfill long-overdue promises. I encourage our House colleagues to quickly take up this bill so we can begin to improve conditions at existing sites”

    Beginning in the 1930s, the construction of the three lower Columbia River dams displaced members of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes: Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. These tribes have a treaty-protected right to fish along the Columbia River in their usual and accustomed places.

    The Senators have been fighting to address the urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure at tribal fishing access sites constructed by the Army Corps following construction of The Dalles, Bonneville, and John Day dams. The Army Corps designed the sites to be used primarily for daily, in-season fishing access and temporary camping; however, in many cases tribal members now use the areas as longer-term or even permanent residences. In fact, many people at these sites are living in extremely distressed, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not committed the resources necessary to ensure the basic necessities of clean and safe living conditions at these sites.

    While the Senators have been working to move forward with a plan that would fulfill the federal government’s unmet obligation to provide permanent replacement housing for tribal members living at the fishing sites, the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently halted work on that plan. The Senators have pushed OMB to reverse its decision. In the meantime, the delay makes improving conditions at existing sites all the more critical.  

    The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act  would address the urgent need for improved conditions by:

  • Calling on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a much-needed assessment of current safety and sanitation conditions at the sites, in coordination with the affected Columbia River Treaty Tribes; and
  • Authorizing the Bureau to work on improving sanitation and safety conditions in several key areas such as structural improvements (restrooms, washrooms, and other buildings); safety improvements (wells and infrastructure to address fire concerns, and more); electrical infrastructure to ensure safe electrical hookups; and basic sewer and septic infrastructure.

    The legislation is supported by the four Columbia River Treaty tribes—Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation—as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

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