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On Tax Day, Shelby praises GOP tax cuts but calls for a flat tax

Chip Brownlee

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Sen. Richard Shelby speaks at a committee hearing.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, on Tax Day Tuesday praised the GOP’s recent tax cuts as a positive for the average American taxpayer but, at the same time, called for going further to implement a so-called flat tax.

As last-minute filers finished their annual returns, Shelby said the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts benefit American taxpayers by lowering the rates for individuals, doubling the standard deduction, doubling the child tax credit, eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and incentivizing saving for retirements.

“When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we made huge progress in simplifying the tax code and increasing efficiency,” Shelby said. “Today is the last Tax Day that Americans will file their taxes under the old, broken system. Hard-earned money will finally go back into the pockets of the American taxpayer.”

Even as Shelby touted the new tax cuts, they remain unpopular with Americans and the legislation was the most unpopular tax cut in recent American history when it passed last year, according to a polling average compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

Even though the tax cuts were never particularly popular according to public poling, a new poll NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday showed that only 27 percent of Americans believe the cuts were a good idea.

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Republicans were banking on the tax cuts to be a campaign talking point as Congress heads into an election year, and Republicans touted the tax cuts Tuesday. Ivanka Trump, an adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke in New Hampshire, a swing state, about the money they said Americans would save when they file next year.

The event — and pronouncement’s like Shelby’s — are part of a larger effort by GOP lawmakers and the White House to talk up what they say are the benefits of the new tax law.

Trump quoted an administration estimate that a middle-class family of four would see a reduction in their annual income taxes of about $2,000.

Shelby pointed to pay raises, bonuses, 401(k) match increases, cuts to utility rates and other benefits that he said are the result of the tax cuts. He said tax reform is already helping to create an environment that lets employers grow their business and hire new employees while increasing wages.

While he praised the tax cuts, he also called on Congress to push forward with his own legislation that would establish a so-called flat tax on income and simplify filing requirements.

“Every year on Tax Day, I highlight the SMART Act as a straightforward solution that would require taxpayers to file only a simple postcard-size return, saving Americans time and money,” Shelby said. “The SMART Act would also allow businesses to focus on expanding their businesses and creating jobs rather than directing resources toward tax compliance.”

Shelby has introduced similar legislation since his election to the Senate in 1986. The act would establish a flat income tax of 17 percent on all income.

There would be more simplified personal exemptions of $14,590 for a single person; $18,630 for a head of household; $29,190 for a married couple filing jointly; and $6,290 for each dependent.

The allowances would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index in order to track inflation, and the law would exempt all savings from being included in taxable income, which he said would result in an immediate tax cut for all taxpayers.

Shelby is not seeking re-election this year.

 

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Doug Jones says work requirements for SNAP would mean no Farm Bill

Brandon Moseley

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One of the most controversial issues facing the Congress this summer is whether Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries should work to receive their benefits or not. Monday, Senator Doug Jones (D) weighed in on the issue saying that if Republicans insist on the work requirement the farm bill will not pass the Senate.

“The House of Representatives in their Farm Bill wanted to create a lot of burdensome and onerous work requirements,” Sen. Jones said. “The Senate bill did not do that.”

Now the farm bill is in a conference committee where legislators from both Houses will try to iron out the differences between the two bills.  If the committee produces a compromise bill, that conference committee version still has to pass both Houses before it can go to the President’s desk.

“If they try to put those onerous requirements on SNAP it will not pass and we will not get a farm bill passed,” Jones said. “The Senate, even the Republicans, are trying to protect that program.”

The House Republicans have argued that the work requirements for able bodied SNAP benefits (most Americans still call the benefits “food stamps”) will encourage more able-bodied poor people to get jobs and contribute to the booming economy. The work requirements would not apply to the disabled, children, the elderly, or persons enrolled in a federally approved job training program.

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“That is a poison pill that could derail the whole thing,” Sen. Jones said. “And we really need a farm bill for our farmers.”

For decades, federal farm programs and food stamps (SNAP) were combined under the Department of Agriculture. Combining supplemental nutrition assistance with farm programs like crop insurance, the conservation reserve program (CRP), conservation assistance, and commodity price supports meant that Congress members that represented poor urban districts and rural districts where agriculture is vitally important both have reasons to support the combined legislation – the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill sets agricultures and SNAP policy for the next five years.

Sen. Jones said that President Donald J. Trump (R) is trying to move SNAP out of the Department of Agriculture; but Jones doubted that that governmental organization would pass out of the Senate.

Jones’s comments were made in his second town hall event. The town hall was held at the historic Parker High School in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city.

The event was emceed by State Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) who represents the area in the Alabama legislature.

Doug Jones is the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate in 25 years. He was elected on December 12 to finish the remainder of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) term. Blacks, including the families in the Parker High School area, overwhelmingly came out in numbers to elect Jones over former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore. Jones faces re-election in 2020.

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Byrne: Undocumented immigrants won’t be housed in Baldwin County

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) announced that he has received confirmation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that there are no plans to house detained undocumented immigrants at two Navy airfields in south Baldwin County.

Congressman Byrne said in a statement, “Housing illegal immigrants at ill-equipped airfields along the Gulf Coast was always a terrible idea, so I appreciate the confirmation that this plan is no longer being considered. We had a team effort to push back this flawed idea, and I especially want to thank Baldwin County Commissioners Chris Elliott and Tucker Dorsey and Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack for their advocacy on this issue.”

“While I am glad this issue is resolved, we must continue working to secure the border and eliminate the need for additional housing for illegal immigrants altogether,” Rep. Byrne said. “I remain 100% committed to working with President Trump to build a border wall, hire additional border patrol officers, and ensure our border security is as strong as possible.”

ICE Deputy Director Ronald Vitiello said that they can house 4,000 at

Fort Bliss in Texas and that they have two other unspecified location that can each accept 4,000 immigrant families. “At this time, ICE does not have plans to acquire additional bed space in Alabama.”

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Congressman Byrne led an effort in Washington to express opposition to housing up to 10,000 undocumented immigrants at Naval Outlying Field Silverhill and Naval Outlying Field Wolf in south Baldwin County. Byrne was joined by other members of the Alabama and Florida Congressional delegations in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Nielson outlining concerns with the proposal. Byrne also hosted Baldwin County officials in Washington for a series of meetings to convene local concerns with the proposal.

The border has gotten much more dangerous this year. On Friday, a Border Patrol Agent was assaulted by two migrants attempting to cross the border into California. This is the 80th assault this year on Border Patrol agents. There were only 23 attacks last year.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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Kavanaugh decision dominates Doug Jones town hall

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) held his second town hall as a U.S. Senator at Birmingham’s historic Parker High School.

Jones was elected largely due to the enormous turnout among Black voters.

“It was because of the incredible work that you did that I am here as the first Democratic Senator to represent Alabama in 25 years,” Jones told the crowd.

“I want to be able to listen,” Jones said. “Some of you have questions and some of you have comments.”

Many of the comments and questions were about how Jones would vote on the confirmation of Donald J. Trump’s (R) U.S. Supreme Court appointee, Brett Kavanaugh.

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Kavanaugh would fill the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy who retired this summer. Kennedy was often the swing vote between the four strict constructionist Justices and the four liberal Justices.

“I am doing a lot of work on the Supreme Court nominee,” Jones said. “He will be there for life twenty, thirty years, maybe more, we do not know.”

Jones said that it is the job of the Senate to advise and consent on judicial appointments and that he takes that responsibility very seriously.

Jones said that the Judiciary should be independent of politics. “He (the President) is not supposed to have a team on the judiciary.”

Jones asked what was the vote when Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed. 98 to 0.

On Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Jones said that the Senate is looking at all of his opinions, including his dissents as well as his work for the Bush presidency and his work with the Whitewater Investigation. The archives have said that even some of what Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa) has requested won’t be ready until October.

“Candidly I am disappointed that we are moving so quickly on a hearing,” Sen. Jones said. “Unfortunately the Democrats do not control the calendar.”

“I am going to do an independent review,” Jones said. “I thought I could get through 2018 without seeing another Doug Jones commercial.”
Jones said that the people who paid for the TV commercials to influence his vote have wasted their money.

A vocal Kavanaugh opponent holding a large heart shaped pillow interrupted the Senator.

“We love you, but you have enough information. Vote NO,” she screamed. After the woman would not calm down or stop repeating herself she was removed from the venue.

“I am going to look at all of the information so I will be able to justify my opinion,” Sen. Jones said. Jones acknowledged that a lot of people were going to be upset no matter how he decided.

One citizen asked Jones how he could consider confirming Kavanaugh after decisions he made against the Affordable Care Act.

“I will answer that question after I meet with him,” Sen. Jones said. “Everything about his record is fair game.”

“I have read a number of his opinions, not all of them yet,” Jones said. “I am not prepared to say what I am going to do on Kavanaugh or give any indication of what I am going to do. I have reached out to meet with him as soon as those hearings are done.”

One man said that the majority of Alabamians support the confirmation of Kavanaugh. How could you vote different that the majority of Alabamians?

“I am going to exercise an independent view,” Jones said. “Most of those constituent views are based on 30 second TV ads.” “My vote is going to be based on what I believe. I am going to be an independent voice for Alabama and that is what I intend to do come Hell or highwater.”

Doug Jones was elected in a special election on December 12. Jones is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. He has practiced law in Birmingham for 15 years after leaving the Justice Department.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings on Kavanaugh’s confirmation in September.

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Elections

Sewell, Gowdy, others introduce bill to strengthen election infrastructure against cyberattacks

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, four members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) introduced the Secure Elections Act, which would provide local communities and state governments with the resources needed to strengthen election systems against cyberattacks.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Florida), Terri Sewell (D-Selma), Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), and Jim Himes (D-Connecticut). All four of them have played a role in the HPSCI investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“Our democracy is our nation’s greatest asset and it is our job to protect its integrity,” said Rep. Sewell. “We know from our Intelligence Community that Russian entities launched cyberattacks against our election infrastructure in 2016, exploiting at least 21 state election systems. As the 2018 elections approach, action is urgently needed to protect our democracy against another attack. Today’s bipartisan bill takes a huge step forward by providing election officials with the resources and information they need to keep our democracy safe.”

“Although the Russian government didn’t change the outcome of the 2016 election, they certainly interfered with the intention of sowing discord and undermining Americans’ faith in our democratic process,” Rep. Rooney said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they will continue to meddle in our elections this year and in the future.”

The sponsors say that the Secure Elections Act would allow states and local jurisdictions to voluntarily apply for grants to replace outdated voting machines and modernize their elections systems. The bill also streamlines the process the federal government uses to share relevant cybersecurity threat information with state and local governments.

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The Senate version of the Secure Elections Act was introduced in March by Sens. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).

Sen. Lankford addressed the U.S. Senate on the Secure Elections Act.

“We have to be able to have better communication between the federal government and states, a better cybersecurity system, and the ability to be able to audit that,” Lankford said. “That is why Senator Klobuchar and I have worked for months on a piece of legislation called the Secure Elections Act. That piece of legislation has worked its way through every state looking at it and their election authorities. We’ve worked it through multiple committee hearings. In fact, recently just in the last month, two different hearings with the Rules Committee. It is now ready to be marked up and finalized to try to bring to this body.”

“I have zero doubt the Russians tried to destabilize our nation in 2016 by attacking the core of our democracy,” Lankford said. “Anyone who believes they will not do it again has missed the basic information that is how day, after day, after day, in our intelligence briefings. The Russians have done it the first time. They showed the rest of the world the lesson in what could be done. It could be the North Koreans next time. It could be the Iranians next time. It could be a domestic activist group next time. We should learn that lesson, close that vulnerability, and make sure that we protect our systems in the days ahead.”

Rep. Sewell is also the lead sponsor of the SHIELD Act and the E-Fellows Security Act, two bills which would strengthen cybersecurity on federal, state, and local campaigns.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition.

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On Tax Day, Shelby praises GOP tax cuts but calls for a flat tax

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 3 min
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