Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 2, 2015

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

19 Posts

January 27, 2015

Score One for Norquist, GOP on 529 College Savings Accounts

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Norquist got what he wanted Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Somewhere, Grover Norquist is happily tweeting over his latest victory.

The anti-tax president of Americans for Tax Reform had been waging war on President Barack Obama’s latest plan to tax 529 college savings accounts as part of his larger proposal to restructure and increase college aid. Full story

January 20, 2015

Obama Meets With 105-Year-Old Amelia Boynton Before SOTU

Boynton attends the 2011 Trustees Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement dinner and presentation at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on February 25, 2011 in New York City. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images File Photo)

Boynton attends the 2011 Trustees Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement dinner on Feb. 25, 2011, in New York City. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images File Photo)

Shortly before delivering the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama met briefly with 105 year-old civil rights figure Amelia Boynton in a holding room at the Capitol.

Boynton is among those still alive from Bloody Sunday. The 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma, Ala., comes in March, and the White House has said Obama is planning to make the trip for a ceremony recognizing the event, during which Georgia Rep. John Lewis, then a teenager, was among those attacked by authorities. Full story

January 17, 2015

Obama Would End Death Tax Break for Wealthy to Fund Middle Class Tax Breaks, Programs

Obama has a new plan to raise taxes on capital gains for the wealthy as well as on the biggest banks. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Obama has a new plan to eliminate a death tax break that benefits wealthy heirs to fund middle class tax breaks and other programs. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s sweeping new tax proposal, detailed by senior administration officials Saturday, takes aim at the less-well-known death tax break.

The new wrinkle is part of a broader economic plan to be outlined by Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday. He will propose eliminating a big tax break for wealthy heirs to fund new and expanded middle class tax cuts and other proposals such as his free community college initiative. The biggest banks would also face higher taxes.

The proposal is aimed squarely at income inequality but is likely to have a rough road among Republicans fresh off a triumphant midterm election.

“A key part of what he will be presenting on Tuesday night … is how do we make the system more fair by closing loopholes but then take the revenues from that and use that as ways to invest in the middle class,” a senior administration official said Saturday.

The tax provisions to be presented to Congress by Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday would raise roughly $320 billion over the next decade.

Of course, Republicans are sure to criticize using tax increases of any sort to pay for new spending. But it remains to be seen whether some of the proposals could be part of negotiations over a larger tax overhaul Republicans insist must be revenue neutral.

About $210 billion in higher taxes would come from capital gains tax changes and $110 billion from a new 7 basis point fee on borrowing by financial institutions with greater than $50 billion worth of assets.

The money would be used to pay for, among other things, the proposal Obama unveiled in Tennessee to provide two years of community college free of charge to qualified students. That plan would cost the government about $60 billion over a decade.

Under the administration’s plan, the top capital gains tax rate would go back up to 28 percent, which is where it was when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, senior administration officials were quick to point out.

Perhaps the more intriguing change, though, is the proposed end of allowing the cost basis for assets to be “stepped-up” when they’re inherited, meaning potential capital gains tax dollars are never collected. Many mega-billionaires, such as Warren Buffett, for example, haven’t paid taxes on the bulk of their wealth because it is tied up in never-realized capital gains that will disappear — from a tax perspective — when they die.

“By letting very wealthy investors make their capital gains disappear at death, stepped-up basis creates strong ‘lock-in’ incentives to hold assets for generations, even when resources could be reinvested more productively elsewhere,” the White House said. “The proposal would sharply reduce these incentives, making it a pro-growth way to raise revenue.”

A senior administration official said the proposals come with exemptions designed to keep it from hitting the middle class with a new higher tax burden, including allowing a $500,000 exemption per couple for the transfer of a personal residence.

The administration says 99 percent of the revenue raised by raising the capital gains tax rate and ending the capital gains tax exclusion at death — what it dubs the “trust fund loophole” — would come from the top 1 percent wealthiest taxpayers. And 80 percent would come from the richest 0.1 percent. The administration says hundreds of billions of dollars in capital gains are sheltered from taxes each year via death.

Obama will also be asking Congress for new or expanded tax credits, including an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credits for people without children and a new $500 credit for families with two income-earners, which the administration estimates would be a benefit to 24 million couples.

And it would triple the child care tax credit to up to $3,000 per child under 5, which the White House said would benefit about 5.1 million families and 6.7 million children.

There’s also going to be a proposal to provide for automatic enrollment in individual retirement accounts and to require employers let many longer-tenured part-time workers buy into company-sponsored retirement plans. In a fact sheet, the White House said it would propose offsetting the retirement changes and accompanying tax credits for employers by curbing tax-preferred retirement plans that accumulate a sum that works out to roughly $3.4 million.

“Tax-preferred retirement plans are intended to help working families save for retirement. But loopholes in the tax system have let some wealthy individuals convert tax-preferred retirement accounts into tax shelters, including 300 extraordinarily wealthy individuals who have accumulated more than $25 million each in IRAs,” the White House said.

A number of the proposals Obama’s expected to outline Tuesday are said to be modeled on efforts with Republican supporters. The administration has cited, among others, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin — and yes, even the Heritage Foundation.

While much should be clear by the end of the State of the Union, granular details of the president’s plans are likely to appear where they always do: when the Office of Management and Budget releases the budget request for the next fiscal year on Feb. 2.

As for the State of the Union, it’s clear the new proposals and the willingness to talk about new revenues are tied to what Obama sees as progress on the economy.

“He is very optimistic about America’s future, he’s very optimistic about potential for how well our economy has done and potential for the economy to grow, and that will be reflected in the speech, and then he will have the specifics that he thinks  — the choices that we need to make to make sure that extends to the middle class,” the official said.

Obama and others in his administration have been unusually eager to talk about the domestic policy proposals that he will highlight during Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address, as part of an effort that was made public shortly before the president left Hawaii.

A senior administration official called the advance rollout that’s featured some presidential barnstorming “probably a clearer way for the president to present his vision” but cautioned against the idea that the potential for fewer surprises might mean a significantly shorter presentation to assembled members of the House and Senate.

“It’ll be a healthy speech still in terms of breadth and length,” the official said.

And Obama still plans the more traditional post-State of the Union travel, too. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said late Friday that the president would be traveling to Boise State University and the University of Kansas in the days after the Tuesday evening speech at the Capitol.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

 

Related: 

Obama, GOP Clash Ahead of Speech

Joke, Flatter, Dig In: Handling Post-Shellacking SOTUs

The Updated Staffer Guide for SOTU

A Guide to SOTU Watch Parties

D.C. Mayor to Attend SOTU

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 3, 2015

Obama to Tout Economic Policy Ahead of State of the Union Address

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama isn’t waiting for the State of the Union to outline some of the policy proposals in it, seizing on recent good economic news.

The day after Congress convenes Tuesday, Obama’s hitting the road. He is scheduled to travel to Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee over the course of the week, touting progress on the economy and outlining pocketbook issues like the cost of a higher education and home ownership.

“The proposals announced next week will be a mix of executive actions and legislative proposals. The President is eager to get to work, and looks forward to working with the new Congress on policies that will make sure middle class Americans are sharing in the economic recovery,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the President is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained — particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment.” Full story

December 19, 2014

Obama to Give Jan. 20 State of the Union (Updated)

The State of the Union date might be Jan. 20. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Obama’s 2015 State of the Union date: Jan. 20. He’ll address an all GOP Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 10:41 a.m. | President Barack Obama is accepting an invitation to deliver the 2015 State of the Union on Jan. 20, according to a White House official.

The date was suggested in a letter sent Friday by Speaker John A. Boehner. The Ohio Republican previously dismissed the idea of not inviting Obama to deliver the address, as had been floated by some critics in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s executive actions on immigration policy.

“Listen, the more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes,” Boehner said at a Dec. 4 news conference. “Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?”

Full story

December 17, 2014

Obama’s Cuba Deal Splits Congress

Alan Gross' wife Judy Gross spoke at a press conference in 2012 in the Capitol calling for Cuba to release her husband. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo).

Alan Gross’ wife, Judy, spoke at a news conference in 2012 in the Capitol calling for Cuba to release her husband. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s deal with Cuba, which he will announce at noon, drew praise and sharp criticism on Capitol Hill as the details started to leak out.

Lawmakers cheered the news that Alan Gross had been released from Cuban custody, as the American aid worker headed home — but the deal also prompted sharp complaints.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, torched the deal. Full story

By Steven Dennis and Niels Lesniewski Posted at 10:49 a.m.
Cuba

December 15, 2014

New Governing Coalition Emerges

McConnell and Reid teamed up to pass the cromnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell and Reid teamed up to pass the cromnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the wake of the “cromnibus,” a new governing coalition may have emerged in Washington.

For the first time in eight years, it doesn’t necessarily include Nancy Pelosi.

It does include Steny H. Hoyer.

The coalition doesn’t seem to need Sens. Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren or Jeff Sessions.

But it does need the more moderate wing of Democrats personified by Hoyer, the minority whip, who helped pass the compromise forged by Speaker John A. Boehner, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with appropriators Harold Rogers and Barbara A. Mikulski, among others.

Most importantly, the new governing coalition includes President Barack Obama.

The hard right and the hard left ended up out in the cold last week — free to raise their fists and their profiles and make a ruckus, but ultimately powerless to stop the cromnibus.

The deal represents a return — at least for a week — to the fabled establishment Washington dealmaking of yore, warts and all, like it or loathe it. It’s a return that could put the “do nothing” label back on the congressional shelf — with Republicans and the president eyeing deals next year on trade and taxes, in addition to keeping the government open for business after four years of serial shutdown and default dramas. Full story

October 22, 2014

‘Constructive Dialogue’ Continues Over CIA Torture Report, White House Says

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Don’t expect the release of a Senate report on acts of torture committed by the CIA to become an uncomfortable election year October surprise.

Asked Tuesday what was taking time to reach an agreement on redactions with the Senate Intelligence Committee, the White House responded with a statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan that pointed to deliberative discussions, but no time element for their conclusion.

“The President has been clear that he wants this process completed as expeditiously as possible and he’s also been clear that it must be done consistent with our national security. The redactions to date were the result of an extensive and unprecedented interagency process, headed up by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to protect sensitive classified information,” Meehan said. “We are continuing a constructive dialogue with the Committee.”

Full story

October 14, 2014

No Attorney General Pick Until After Elections, White House Says

Eric Holder to Resign Patrick Leahy

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Eric H. Holder Jr. better not pack up his Justice Department office just yet.

President Barack Obama will not be nominating a successor to his long-serving attorney general until after the midterm elections, a White House official confirmed Tuesday. Holder has said he will remain at the Justice Department until a new attorney general is confirmed by the Senate.

Full story

October 3, 2014

Official Transcript of Biden Event Excludes ‘Bitch’ Quip

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you were relying on the White House transcript of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s visit to Harvard, you would have missed the best quote.

Biden’s joke to a student body vice president about the No. 2 job being “a bitch?” It took place during a question-and-answer session following the speech at the John F. Kennedy Forum at the Harvard Institute of Politics that followed the remarks, which ended at 7:20 p.m. Full story

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