White House Touts ‘Historic’ 28 Laws Signed By Trump, But What Are They? Thursday, Apr 27 2017 

Even though President Trump calls the 100-days measure “ridiculous,” the White House is still touting what one press release called the president’s “historic accomplishments” — including 28 laws he has signed since taking office.

But when it comes to legislation, political scientists say it is better to measure significance than to simply add up the number of bills. It is better, they argue, to ask whether a law changes the status quo or introduces a new policy idea.

By that measure, there is not as much to show legislation-wise for Trump’s first 100 days.

Of the 28 new laws signed by Trump, two name Veterans Affairs clinics in honor of people, one adds National Vietnam War Veterans Day to the list of days people and businesses are encouraged to fly American flags, five are related to personnel matters (including the waiver allowing James Mattis to become secretary of defense), and one extends an Obama-era policy allowing veterans in some circumstances to get health care outside of the VA system.

“Congress passes laws all the time, naming post offices after people, doing minor things that they can get through,” said Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary in the Obama administration and as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. Panetta doesn’t see any major legislation in this administration’s first 100 days.

“Presidents throughout history are acknowledged as a success when they get legislation passed through the Congress — major legislation that affects the lives of people. And that ultimately will be the test for this president,” Panetta said.

During the campaign, Trump signed a “Contract With the American Voter,” in which he promised to work with Congress to introduce 10 bills “and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my Administration.”

Of those 10, only one — the American Health Care Act — has made it into legislative form, and it has not yet gotten a vote. The Trump administration did announce broad outlines of a tax system overhaul this week, but it isn’t expected to be written into legislation until later this year.

In a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Trump’s legislative affairs director Marc Short was asked to name the new president’s most significant legislative accomplishment — to name one major new law — but he took issue with the question.

“I would say that confirming a Supreme Court justice of the United States who will probably be there for 30 years is a big legislative achievement,” said Short. “I would say the regulatory impact we’ve had on the economy is a big legislative achievement. And we look forward in the coming days to hopefully continue to make progress on the appropriations process and on health care.”

When he talks about “regulatory impact,” Short is referring to the 13 laws passed under the Congressional Review Act. Before Trump, the 1996 law had been used only once before, by George W Bush. But with GOP in control of both the House and the Senate, the Trump White House had a rare chance to significantly roll back rules written by the previous administration.

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to reverse rules within 60 legislative days of their submission, requiring only a simple majority in the Senate. In the current Congress, that means Democrats are not able to block the rollbacks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan touted the 13 laws as “measures to take excessive regulations off the book so we can grow this economy.”

They included a rule meant to protect streams from pollution, which opponents argued hurt the coal industry; and a rule requiring financial advisers to put consumers’ best interests ahead of their own, which critics said would hurt retirees.

Rounding out the 28 laws, three modify existing programs and two encourage agencies to try something new.

But in the realm of legislation, 100 days is a short period of time. Significant bills take a long time to complete, often measured in years rather than days.

President George W. Bush’s first tax cut and No Child Left Behind initiative didn’t pass in the first 100 days. The Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank financial industry regulations didn’t become law in President Barack Obama’s first 100 days either, though he and Congress did pass a nearly $800 billion stimulus bill. Other than that, Obama signed several program re-authorizations, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (that had been in the works in the previous Congress) and a bill naming a post office.

Time frame aside, Trump learned with the health care bill he hoped to pass and sign weeks ago that having the president’s party control both the House and the Senate doesn’t guarantee the numbers needed for priorities to breeze through.

“President Obama faced a lot of the same problems,” Panetta noted.

Panetta said Trump will be judged on whether he can put together a working coalition, which will most likely require reaching across the aisle. Thus far Trump has tried to do everything with one-party rule — not even attempting to win Democratic votes (not that they would have been forthcoming).

If this year ends and Trump hasn’t found a way to work with Congress and pass significant legislation like the health care bill or his tax plan, he won’t be judged kindly. Presidents succeed or fail based on their ability to work with Congress.

The 28 Bills That Trump Has Signed Into Law

Extending Obama-Era Policy

  • S. 544: “A bill to amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to modify the termination date for the Veterans Choice Program, and for other purposes.”

Modifying Existing Programs

  • H.R. 353: “Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017”
  • S. 442: “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017”
  • H.R. 72: “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017”

Repealing Obama-Era Rules And Regulations

  • H.J.Res. 67: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to savings arrangements established by qualified State political subdivisions for non-governmental employees”
  • H.J.Res. 43: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule submitted by Secretary of Health and Human Services relating to compliance with title X requirements by project recipients in selecting subrecipients”
  • H.J.Res. 69: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule of the Department of the Interior relating to ‘Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska’ “
  • H.J.Res. 83: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to ‘Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness’ “
  • S.J.Res. 34: “A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to ‘Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services’ “
  • H.J.Res. 42: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants”
  • H.J.Res. 57: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Department of Education relating to accountability and State plans under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965”
  • H.J.Res. 58: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Department of Education relating to teacher preparation issues”
  • H.J.Res. 37: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration relating to the Federal Acquisition Regulation”
  • H.J.Res. 44: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior relating to Bureau of Land Management regulations that establish the procedures used to prepare, revise, or amend land use plans pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976”
  • H.J.Res. 40: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Social Security Administration relating to Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007”
  • H.J.Res. 38: “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule”
  • H.J.Res. 41: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to ‘Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers’ “

Naming Something/Siting A Memorial/Encouraging Flag Flying

  • S.J.Res. 1: “A joint resolution approving the location of a memorial to commemorate and honor the members of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield”
  • H.R. 1362: “To name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic”
  • H.R. 609: “To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center in Center Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, as the ‘Abie Abraham VA Clinic’ “
  • S. 305: “Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017”

Encouraging An Agency To Try Something New

  • H.R. 321: “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act”
  • H.R. 255: “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act”


  • S.J.Res. 30: “A joint resolution providing for the reappointment of Steve Case as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution”
  • S.J.Res. 36: “A joint resolution providing for the appointment of Roger W. Ferguson as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution”
  • S.J.Res. 35: “A joint resolution providing for the appointment of Michael Govan as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution”
  • H.R. 1228: “To provide for the appointment of members of the Board of Directors of the Office of Compliance to replace members whose terms expire during 2017, and for other purposes”
  • S. 84: “A bill to provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as Secretary of Defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the Armed Forces”

Legislative links and text via GovTrack.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Amid Transparency Efforts, Louisville Mayor’s Meetings Stay Secret Thursday, Apr 27 2017 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer touts transparency and access as part of his governing philosophy and strategic plan for the city.

In his Citizen’s Bill of Rights, which promises that every citizen has the right to be involved in government, Fischer aspires “to create a culture of inclusiveness and maintain open communications with the community.”

But when it comes to his own daily happenings, Fischer isn’t as open.

There is no public record of guests or visitors to the mayor’s office, according to a WFPL News investigation that sought to find who might have private influence over the administration during a time of city budget planning. The mayor’s office also denied a request for any other documents that show the name of anyone visiting Metro Hall to meet with Fischer, when they visited and for how long.

This means there’s no way for the public to know who is getting face time with Fischer as the administration preps the annual budget — which he is scheduled to unveil later today — or formulates policy positions and initiatives.

In their denial of WFPL’s request, Fischer’s office leaned on a 22-year-old ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that states any schedule or calendar is considered a preliminary draft and not open for public inspection.

“It is not an accurate record of what actually occurred and is subject to many changes and is never corrected,” Fischer’s office wrote in their denial.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer’s office, said full disclosure of the mayor’s daily schedule could have negative ramifications for economic development interests.

The administration pulled primary economic developments functions away from Greater Louisville Inc., a public-private partnership, and under its own umbrella in 2013. That move raised concerns in the business community that some records related to economic development pursuits would be subject to open records laws and dissuade interest.

Mayor Greg Fischer at WFPL’s studios last year.

Poynter also said keeping visitor logs or sign-in sheets is not a priority in the administration.

“This mayor is one of the most transparent,” he said. “All you have to do is follow his Twitter feed and social media, and you can see what he’s up to every day.”

Fischer’s efforts to make government data more available to the public have drawn recognition and meant more information on the inner workings of city government is available than perhaps ever before. Anyone with an internet connection can look up city employees’ salaries, restaurant inspections and sidewalk repairs. Residents can see how many guns were seized by police, the location of construction permits, city park boundaries and more.

But the lack of transparency about who is meeting with the mayor day to day concerns advocates for accountability and transparency.

“The work of the city is the work of the taxpayers,” said Michael Bekesha, an attorney with Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit focused on accountability, transparency and integrity in government.

The group sued President Barack Obama in 2009 for access to White House visitor logs.

“The public has a right to know who the mayor is meeting with, what’s on his calendar, what work he’s doing on behalf of the taxpayers,” Bekesha said.

Without such knowledge, he said, residents don’t know who has a say in how policy is shaped and whether those people are experts, lobbyists or may have a financial stake in a given project.

Public Entry Point

President Donald Trump came under fire earlier this month when White House officials announced they would end public access to visitor logs. Disclosing such information, they said, could present a risk to national security.

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called the move “a massive step away from transparency.” The American Civil Liberties Union said “the only reasonable conclusion is to believe the Trump administration has many things it is trying to hide.”

Visitor logs can reveal who top officials in any government — from Washington to Louisville — are meeting with and provide a window into the influences that drive political processes and budgetary allocations.

File photo

Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker

Fischer is set to present his proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year to the council today. Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, vice-chair of the council’s minority Republican caucus, said the budget process is one that’s often cloaked in secrecy, as is the mayor’s process for selecting appointments to city boards and commissions.

“We don’t really know how he gets from point A to point B,” she said.

Louisville Metro government’s current annual budget is about $822 million. Some 60 percent is dedicated to public safety, while roughly $9 million is allocated for an array of external agencies, including nonprofits and community groups.

Parker said residents have a right to know who Fischer meets with, and refusing to disclose such information sends a message that the administration lacks transparency.

Moreover, she said not keeping a visitor log is troublesome “for security reasons.” Without such logs, she questioned how Metro Hall staffers keep track of who is in the building and when.

Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s Democratic caucus, said he has no opinion on the matter. Hollander was endorsed by Fischer in his campaign to replace longtime council member Tina Ward-Pugh for the hotly contested District 9 seat.

“I’d have to look into it,” Hollander said when asked if the public has a right to know with whom the mayor is meeting.

‘Open by Default’

Mayor Fischer is routinely in the public eye.

His office holds press conferences throughout the year, during which Fischer is often present. He joins other city officials and community leaders to cut ribbons, announce events and discuss issues like gun violence or the arts.

In fact, in 2015 Fischer’s office issued some 160 media releases, according to a previous review by WFPL News.

Fischer said then that his public appearances are guided by a “specific strategy” pinned to themes, like economic development and community engagement.

In 2013, Fischer signed an executive order making all public information “open by default.” This means any information not exempted from disclosure by state open records law is to be made available on the city’s open data portal.

Alex Howard, deputy director of The Sunlight Foundation, a group that has praised Fischer’s efforts to open local government to the public, said as technology advances so do opportunities to represent the governing process in structured data form.

Memoranda, agenda items and calendars can all be structured and eventually disclosed, Howard said.

“Any administration that is putting its shoulder toward being more open and accountable to the public will embrace voluntary disclosures of influence as part of making sure that transparency and accountability don’t just end with a policy, but are actually borne out in spirit,” he said.

Still, public officials worldwide shy away from disclosing information related to meetings on policy, Howard said.

Certain reasonable exemptions to such disclosures are acceptable when “genuine harm” is associated with disclosure, he said. For instance, that includes avoiding risk associated with presenting the location of a human rights activist or releasing intimate personal information, like Social Security numbers.

But in general, Howard said there is clear public interest in disclosing who gets a say in the shaping of public policy, including a city budget.

“It’s to everyone’s benefit to make sure as many people as possible are informed about what the government is doing in their name,” he said, “which includes meetings with all kinds of different people.”

Senators: Deal Near On Miners’ Health Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Congressional leaders are cautiously optimistic that a budget deal could protect health benefits for retired miners.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said the Senate will back permanently extending health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

Manchin said he spoke Wednesday with President Trump who said he supports the miners. Without Congressional action, miners benefits will expire at the end of the month.

At a press event in Washington, West Virginia’s Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also called for a permanent fix, but she’s not declaring victory yet.

“Until it’s signed, sealed, delivered it’s not going to be ours, so we want to make sure we don’t jinx ourselves,” Capito said.

The funding for health benefits would likely be included in a spending bill required to fund the federal government. A vote is expected Friday.

Courtesy office of Sen. Manchin

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin with miners on Capitol Hill.

Manchin said guaranteed funding for pensions, which retired union miners were also seeking, will not be included.

“We’re kicking the can down down the street on the pensions, we’ll come back and fight another day. But we must have a permanent fix for miners’ health care and that’s all we’re asking for.”

Manchin said miners’ health benefits will cost $1.3 billion. The money will likely come from a fund established to use fees from the mining industry to pay for reclamation of abandoned mine lands. 

Retired union miners say the pension and health benefits were guaranteed for life, dating back to an agreement with the federal government first struck in the 1940s and renewed several times by Congress.

Kentucky Judge Thapar: Trump’s Criticism Of Judges ‘Doesn’t Matter’ Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Judge Amul Thapar of Covington breezed through his confirmation hearing for a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, a federal court that hears cases originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.

Thapar is President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the lower federal courts and was reportedly a finalist to be Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the 90-minute hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Thapar about Trump’s recent disparagement of federal judges that ruled against the new president’s executive orders.

Thapar said judges’ lifelong terms and reasoning protect them from influence.

“What I will say about me and my colleagues is we don’t pay…it doesn’t matter to us,” Thapar said.

Blumenthal then interrupted Thapar:

“It doesn’t matter to you, judge, but it does matter to the powers of the federal courts that the American public respect and trust the federal judiciary,” Blumenthal said.

Thapar responded that federal judges have operated independently throughout American history.

“They’ve never backed down, they do the right thing,” Thapar said. “They follow the rule of law irrespective of what anyone thinks about us.”

In February, Trump called a federal judge from Washington a “so-called judge” after the court blocked Trump’s refugee ban and travel restrictions from several countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Thapar is currently a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky and he previously served as a U.S. attorney — he was appointed to both positions by President George W. Bush.

Thapar is a friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has played a major role in Trump’s two nominations to the judiciary so far.

“I want to commend President Trump on this nomination,” McConnell said in his introduction of Thapar on Wednesday. “Through his hearing I think you’ll come to see the bright, fair and dedicated man who will make an incredible addition to the Sixth Circuit.”

Last year, McConnell blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Sixth Circuit, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes. He also blocked Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, and prominently lobbied for Trump’s ultimate pick for the high court, Neil Gorsuch.6th

During the hearing, lawmakers questioned Thapar’s past membership with the Federalist Society, a conservative institution that helped compile a shortlist of potential Supreme Court picks that Trump touted during his presidential campaign.

Thapar was included on that list, but on Wednesday said his judicial decisions have been independent from the organizations.

“I’m my own judge and I hope my track record speaks to that,” Thapar said.

Trump Administration Proposes ‘Massive’ Tax Overhaul And Tax Cut Plan Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Updated at 4:12 p.m. ET

The Trump administration Wednesday put forth a proposal that it labeled a “massive” tax overhaul, which would give big tax cuts to individuals and corporations and reduce the number of tax brackets and deductions.

Outlined at a White House press briefing by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, director of the president’s National Economic Council, it would reduce the number of individual tax brackets to three, as well as eliminate most tax deductions other than for home mortgages, charitable contributions and retirement savings.

It would double the standard deduction individuals can take and proposes cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.

The plan would exempt the first $24,000 of income from taxation. It would also repeal the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, which could benefit wealthy taxpayers, including President Trump himself.

The plan would also eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, a step that could hurt taxpayers in places with high state taxes such as California and New York.

Administration officials acknowledge the plan is a broad brush outline, with specific details yet to be determined.

Among the details that remain to be revealed, or worked out, is the overall cost of the plan and whether it would be revenue-neutral or add to the deficit. Mnuchin said the plan “will pay for itself with growth” and with the reduction of deductions and loopholes.

It’s also unclear at what income levels the new proposed tax rates would kick in.

The plan was released as the Trump administration scrambles to show its accomplishments as it nears the 100-day mark on April 29, but the plan is far from complete — and far from becoming law.

Republicans responded favorably to the proposal. A statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan, along with the chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees, said, “The principles outlined by the Trump Administration today will serve as critical guideposts for Congress and the Administration as we work together to overhaul the American tax system and ensure middle-class families and job creators are better positioned for the 21st century economy.”

Democrats see it differently. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the outline “short on details and long on giveaways to big corporations and billionaires.” And top Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee labeled it “a rerun of the same failed tax policy that led to the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, which cost us trillions of dollars, did nothing to help working families, and, in part, contributed to the Great Recession.”

Speaking Wednesday, Mnuchin also addressed the issue of the president’s personal tax returns. The Treasury secretary said Trump “has no intention” of releasing his own tax returns and asserted that the president has “given more financial disclosure than anyone else.”

Democrats have said they want to see how any tax overhaul would affect the president’s taxes before agreeing to sign on to any tax cuts. It is unclear how serious a demand that is, but at the very least, cutting taxes and overhauling the system to the extent the Trump administration wants is going to require lengthy negotiations and compromise, and the final outcome is far from assured.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Trump Administration Vows ‘Biggest Tax Cut,’ ‘Largest’ Overhaul In History Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Updated 9:45 a.m. ET

The White House is banging the drums that President Trump is doing something big again ahead of his 100th day in office — unveiling a tax “plan.”

“This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country,” Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at a panel Wednesday morning.

But what’s coming out later Wednesday afternoon are guidelines, not legislation, akin to what would be revealed in a campaign. Though there’s no sign Congress is ready to take this up immediately, Mnuchin made it sound urgent, saying the administration wants to move “as fast as we can.”

The guidelines do set out the president’s priorities, so let’s take a peek:

1. First, what’s in it?

A few things:

15 percent business rate: The headline is a 15 percent business tax rate. That cuts the corporate tax rate down from 35 percent.

Small businesses would benefit: It would include companies that don’t pay through the corporate tax code, but for private businesses that pay through the income tax code (39.6 percent at the top). So that means small businesses would see a big cut.

Trump himself stands to gain tens of millions: This plan would be a windfall for Trump. He pays taxes for his businesses through the income tax code, so his plan would slash his own tax liability potentially in half, saving himself tens of millions of dollars.

Modest middle-class cuts: There would also be tax cuts across the board, including a modest one for those considered middle class.

Fit on a postcard? Trump’s Treasury secretary said this plan would seek to simplify the tax code by allowing people to fill out their taxes on a “large postcard.” While people always like the idea of making it easier to fill out their taxes, they might not like what benefits they’d potentially lose. It could mean doing away with popular deductions like the home mortgage deduction, something that back in December Mnuchin said Trump’s plan would scale back.

2. How is this paid for?

In one ambiguous word: growth.

“We fundamentally believe we can get to 3 percent sustained economic growth,” Mnuchin said Wednesday morning.

(Trump actually promised 4 percent during the campaign.)

Experts predicted during the campaign that Trump’s various iterations of his tax plan would blow a hole of trillions of dollars in the budget, even bigger than the Bush tax cuts.

That was true even using dynamic scoring, which takes growth into account.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent would cost more than $2 trillion over a decade, for example.

No BAT, man: Part of how House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to pay for this (and it would still only be part) was through what’s formally called a border-adjustment tax, or BAT. It’s basically an import tax. But the Trump administration’s early embrace of the BAT landed them in political hot water. Why? An import tax would mean a lot of things Americans buy at grocery and retail stores would go up.

That why it’s being left out, because it’s seen as too controversial right now. The last thing Trump wants is to have the narrative hijacked and turned into how he’s proposing to increase the cost of everyone’s avocados.

But, once again, it’s another revenue source shut off.

3. If the BAT was Ryan’s idea, what kind of buy-in does President Trump have from Republican leadership in Congress?

After the failed health care bill, the White House has been trying hard to show it is taking the lead on this one.

Trump wouldn’t own Trumpcare (or was it Ryancare?), but this tax overhaul is all him. For now, Republican leaders are saying they’re OK with that (at least publicly).

“We all agree on the benefits of tax reform and the place we want to land, and the question is how you reach that place,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. “We continue to have productive discussions with the administration about all ideas on the table.”

In other words, that’s a nice way of saying this is at the infant stages. Congress still has to write and pass a bill. A tax overhaul hasn’t been done in 30 years, and there are plenty of people on Capitol Hill who will want their hands on this.

4. Is there anything in this plan for Democrats?

There aren’t a lot of details, but Politico and the Wall Street Journal report that what’s unveiled Wednesday will include infrastructure and child-care tax credits that have been pushed by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Those were priorities during the campaign, but they weren’t attached to a tax plan. It’s an attempt to paint Trump as bipartisan in trying to get Democrats on board since those are measures they’d likely have some measure of support for — although the details are always what matter.

But a tax overhaul, which again hasn’t been done in 30 years, is hard enough without attaching a $1 trillion infrastructure plan and a $500 billion child-care tax credit.

Democrats certainly don’t want to couple those programs with tax cuts they feel overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. “You didn’t hear much of anything about working families,” Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden told Politico. “I’m certainly not going to support a tax proposal that gives crumbs to working families and cakes to the fortunate few.”

Even Republicans are skeptical they can put them together. “It’s probably going to end up being, in the end … a Republican-only exercise,” John Thune said in the same story.

So at this point, all of this appears to be another show for Trump’s public relations ahead of the 100-day marker, one he’s calling a “ridiculous standard,” while at the same time launching a website touting all of his accomplishments.

There are many, many questions about the feasibility of this plan, and you can be almost guaranteed it will change quite a bit before there’s any vote to make any of it law.

There’s a long way to go.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Energy Star Program For Homes And Appliances Is On Trump’s Chopping Block Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Appliance manufacturers and home builders are in Washington, D.C., today to celebrate a popular energy efficiency program, even as it’s slated for elimination in President Trump’s proposed budget.

You probably know the program’s little blue label with the star — the Environmental Protection Agency says 90 percent of U.S. households do.

“The Energy Star brand has brand recognition on par with, like, Coke and Pepsi,” says Steve Byers, CEO of EnergyLogic. His company, which is among those receiving an Energy Star award at this year’s event, inspects buildings to make sure they qualify for the program’s seal of approval. “This is a very successful program,” he says. “I don’t know what more one could want out of a government program.”

In fact, the 25-year-old Energy Star program appears to be targeted simply because it’s run by the federal government. It’s one of 50 EPA programs that would be axed under Trump’s budget plan, which would shrink the agency’s funding by more than 30 percent. (The U.S. Department of Energy also helps administer Energy Star, and would see a 5.6 percent budget cut.)

Critics of Energy Star say the government should get involved in the marketplace only when absolutely necessary. But that argument doesn’t hold sway for the program’s legions of supporters, which span nonprofits, companies and trade groups.

“These cuts make no sense,” says Lowell Ungar, senior policy adviser with the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. His group, along with about 80 other nonprofits and companies, has written to Congress urging it to keep the program. More than 1,000 companies have called for strengthening the program in another letter, organized by the Alliance to Save Energy.

“The bottom line is proposed cuts to Energy Star would harm American consumers, they would destroy jobs, and they would make air pollution worse,” Ungar says.

The federal government launched Energy Star in 1992 to rate the efficiency of computer monitors. Now it covers dozens of product categories, from washers to electronics and homes.

Here’s how it works: The government sets criteria for efficient products. A third party inspects goods or housing, and if they meet the criteria, manufacturers can use the familiar blue sticker to market the product as energy efficient.

In a North Denver development called Midtown, Steve Eagleburger of EnergyLogic was recently inspecting a home while construction workers put on finishing touches. This part of the Energy Star program has existed since 1995.

“What we’re doing here is checking to make sure this attic is insulated,” Eagleburger said as he stood on a ladder and peered through a raised attic hatch. “This one is not insulated at all.”

He makes a note on a tablet, then he’s off to the next thing — a checklist of dozens of items such as fans and air-duct seals. This house won’t get the Energy Star label unless it fulfills all the requirements.

Energy Star is a voluntary program. It costs about $50 million a year to run but punches above its weight in impact. In 2014, the EPA estimates the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion dollars, and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

A study published last month in the journal Nature Energy found that Energy Star-rated buildings in Los Angeles used nearly 20 percent less energy compared with other buildings.

The little blue label also has an audience in countries such as Mexico and Canada.

“We do see that actually as a distinguishing factor,” says Mike Gazzano of Delta Products, which makes fans for bathroom ventilation and other uses. He says customers consider Energy Star the mark of “a premium product” in terms of engineering and technology.

The idea for eliminating Energy Star might have come from conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, which targets a range of efficiency programs in its own budget blueprint.

“This is something that the private sector can market and sell as a great quality for their product. So why is the government trying to nudge people in one direction when they simply shouldn’t need to,” says Nick Loris, an energy and environment policy fellow at the foundation.

Another critic is Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and head of Trump’s EPA transition team. “It’s good that Energy Star is a voluntary program,” he says in a statement, “but it’s not clear why taxpayer dollars should be used to promote some products over other products.”

Energy Star has also weathered a scandal. In 2010, workers at the Government Accountability Office posed as product developers and got the Energy Star label for fictitious products. That launched the third-party certification that exists now.

Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy with the trade group Consumer Technology Association, says that process can take time out of the already crunched product development cycle.

“It’s a part of the program that we think should be reexamined,” he says. “In fact we’ve been advocates for improving that part of the Energy Star program.”

Johnson says there are also other successful federal programs such as EnergyGuide that measure efficiency. Still, he doesn’t think the entire Energy Star program should go away.

Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to decide whether shoppers continue to see the familiar blue sticker on goods in the showroom.

Grace Hood is an energy and environment reporter with Colorado Public Radio. You can follow her @gracehood.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Advocates: Kentucky Schools Would Feel The Pinch If GOP Revives Health Plan Wednesday, Apr 26 2017 

Public schools would be in a financial pinch if Congressional Republicans are successful in changing the way Medicaid is funded.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Act requires public schools pay for health care services for students with disabilities — including services like school nurses, speech and mental health therapists. Kentucky schools received $34 million in 2015 toward those costs. Over half of the funds came from Medicaid — the rest came from the state.

That money could be in jeopardy if the American Health Care Act – also referred to as Trumpcare – is revived. The GOP plan proposes cutting $839 billion in Medicaid spending to states over 10 years.

Other changes include funding Medicaid through block grants, which would give states a chunk of money each year to pay for the program. Critics say block grants wouldn’t take into account unexpected public health crises — like a hepatitis C breakout, for example — and it would be up to states to fill in gaps or not.

Brad Hughes with the Kentucky School Boards Association said if federal funding goes away, schools would still be required to pay for health care services for students. He said that could be done by raising taxes or tapping into school general funds that provide other services.

“It could be a devastating unfunded mandate on public schools,” Hughes said. “Then they have to figure out how to pay for it.”

Public schools receive money from the federal government to help pay for health care for children with disabilities but the money also benefits children without disabilities. That’s because if a school nurse is hired, all students at that school likely have access to that nurse.

Having school nurses and other health care professionals in schools also saves money. That’s because when children seek health care at school, parents don’t have to pay co-pays for a doctor’s visit. For parents of children in Massachusetts schools in 2009, those medical costs were valued at $20 million. That’s according to a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Terry Brooks with Kentucky Youth Advocates said the potential cuts would come to a state that already doesn’t allocate many resources to children’s health care in schools, even though there is a link between education success and health.

“In Kentucky, a real focus on school-based health is very rare,” Brooks said. “It usually boils down to a superintendent who’s thoughtful about the intersection of health and education, and they go to work on making it happen. If we know it’s an idea that’s delivering good services for kids and it’s a win-win, to threaten that is bad economics and bad for kids.”

The cuts could also come as Gov. Matt Bevin makes changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program. Bevin has proposed monthly payments for all Medicaid recipients, no matter their income, excluding pregnant women and people with disabilities.

That’s concerning to Brooks. He said when parents are insured, they are more likely to also have their children insured. Over 400,000 people gained access to Medicaid through the state’s expansion in 2014.

Kentucky could make up the difference for schools and help them pay for health care for students but Brooks said advocates won’t know what Bevin’s budget priorities are until he unveils his next budget in 2018.

Kentucky’s Thapar, Trump Appeals Court Nominee, Will Get Hearing Wednesday Tuesday, Apr 25 2017 

A Kentuckian nominated by President Donald Trump to a federal appeals court will be questioned during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the confirmation of Judge Amul Thapar to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers appeals from federal cases originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.

Thapar serves in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Kentucky and previously as a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District; both appointments were made by President George W. Bush.

Trump included Thapar on a shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees released during the presidential campaign. He was one of four candidates interviewed for the position.

There are 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts and 100 more in federal district courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has had a vacancy since 2013, when Judge Boyce Martin retired.

Courtesy Vanderbilt

Amul Thapar

President Barack Obama nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes to the seat in 2016, but the move was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Carl Tobias, a law professor from the University of Richmond, said McConnell’s rejection of Obama’s nominee to the appeals court “has some of the same flavor” of his block of Merrick Garland, the president’s Supreme Court nominee.

“The Republicans were saying ‘well, it’s a presidential election year, we should let the people decide and just wait in the hopes that a Republican will be elected president,’” Tobias said. “They were prescient, and that’s what happened.”

After winning the election, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge from Colorado.

Senate Democrats attempted to block Gorsuch’s confirmation, leading McConnell and Senate Republicans to deploy the “nuclear option” — lowering the number of votes required to stop debate on a judicial confirmation from 60 to a simple majority of 50.

It’s unclear whether Senate Democrats will attempt to slow down Thapar’s confirmation. Tobias said he expects “Democrats will ask some hard questions.”

The Civil and Human Rights Coalition sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing concerns about Thapar’s record ruling against “plaintiffs, prisoners, criminal defendants, or campaign finance restrictions.”

Paul Salamanca, a University of Kentucky law professor, published a letter of support for Thapar in the Lexington Herald-Leader, saying the judge would “take the law set forth by the framers of the Constitution or by Congress and apply it with fidelity.”

Thapar’s confirmation hearing will start Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Mexico Worries That A New Border Wall Will Worsen Flooding Tuesday, Apr 25 2017 

As the White House pushes Congress to fund President Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, a new wrinkle has emerged that could stymie parts of the massive project.

Mexican engineers believe construction of the border barrier may violate a 47-year-old treaty governing the shared waters of the Rio Grande. If Mexico protests, the fate of the wall could end up in an international court.

Antonio Rascón, chief Mexican engineer on the International Boundary and Water Commission, said in an interview with NPR that some border wall proposals he has seen would violate the treaty, and that Mexico would not stand for that.

“A concrete wall that blocks trans-border water movement is a total obstruction. If they plan that type of project, we will oppose it,” he said in his first public comments on the border wall.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not finalized what the new wall would look like, or precisely where it would go. But some of the initial schematics show it could be as high as 30 feet and made of solid concrete.

Mexico is watching with growing alarm as Homeland Security moves ahead with its plan to dramatically extend a border barrier that already has caused serious flooding.

While Congress debates whether to include funding in a stopgap spending plan, the department has solicited bids for prototypes. Trump also said he would continue to ask Mexico to pay for the wall, but Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said repeatedly that he has no plans to foot the bill.

The 1970 Boundary Treaty lays out the precise border between the U.S. and Mexico and sets rules for the riverside regions. The treaty states both U.S. and Mexican officials on the International Boundary and Water Commission, or IBWC, must agree if one side wants to build any structure that would affect the flow of the Rio Grande or its floodwaters.

The U.S. already has built nearly 700 miles of security fence, and Mexico has consistently opposed it. After Mexico protested the earlier fence construction, the U.S. made some design modifications, but the project went ahead over Mexico’s objections.

“For us, we are not in agreement with construction of a wall in the floodplain that affects the trans-border flow of water,” Rascón said.In general, we have been complaining about the fence since 1992. We’re talking 25 years. That’s when they installed the first fence in San Diego, and it’s been advancing and advancing.”

The International Boundary and Water Commission, located in Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, has tried to resolve differences quietly with professionalism and diplomacy in its 128 years of existence. But the bold plan for Trump’s wall is straining that cross-border collegiality.

Stephen Mumme, a political science professor at Colorado State University who has studied U.S.-Mexico water diplomacy for nearly 40 years, predicts a showdown is coming.

“This is supposed to go forward on a binational, cooperative basis, and that is not happening,” Mumme said. “Mexico asserting a treaty right under the 1970 Boundary Treaty is more likely than ever because of the heightened nationalism and the indignation about the United States fence/wall project.”

To protest the border wall, Mexican officials on the Boundary and Water Commission would first lodge a formal complaint with their counterpart across the river in El Paso. If they don’t resolve the dispute, the matter goes to the State Department and its Mexican equivalent, and finally, to arbitration before a world court.

Mumme says concerns over floods on the border are well-founded. He and other river hydraulics experts point out that a wall built in a floodplain acts like a dam. During torrential rains, these obstructions deflect water and worsen flooding.

“It can occur, and probably will occur, if you create, in effect, a series of little dams along one side of the river,” Mumme said. “We have a history. We know they occur.”

Over the past nine years, steel fencing has clogged with debris along the Arizona border during the summer rainy season. Floodwaters damaged Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2008 and coursed through the Lukeville, Ariz., port of entry.

In the twin cities of Nogales in the U.S. and Mexico, raging floodwaters killed two people, washed cars away, collapsed a section of the fence, and caused millions in damages in separate events in 2008 and 2014.

“It just walled up the water,” Mumme said, “dammed up the water.”

Even worse flooding is expected if the wall is built in the floodplain of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Homeland Security has long wanted to put a fence along the river in Starr County, Texas — a favorite crossing spot for smugglers of drugs and people.

“I know from my experience that was a place where we thought a barrier made sense,” Border Patrol Chief Ron Vitiello said recently in a speech in San Antonio. He was station chief of the Border Patrol in Rio Grande City when the first fence project was considered.

Two things blocked completion of the border fence in Starr County: Congressional funding ran out, and the Mexican side of the Boundary and Water Commission resisted a fence in the floodplain.

Today, Starr County is one of the first places on the 2,000-mile border where Trump’s wall is expected to resume. Everything is ready to go: The government has been seizing land along the river by eminent domain, and there are already blueprints for where to build about 10 miles of fence.

Vitiello insists the U.S. will not strong-arm its Mexican neighbors.

“If we go forward inside of the floodplain, then it will comply with our responsibility under the treaty,” he said.

Locals are not comforted by the government’s assurances. Rio Grande City — the county seat of Starr County — is one of three planned sites for the border wall. Two city officials said the earlier planned fence would have been located within 100 yards of the sluggish Rio Grande.

NPR | wfpl.org

Alberto Perez, Rio Grande City manager (left), and Gilbert Millan, the city’s planning director, walk along the riverbank to show how close the earlier planned fence would be located next to the water.

They’re afraid a wall would prevent the city from properly draining during a hurricane blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, less than a hundred miles away.

“The drainage system would obviously be impacted due to the dragging of debris from water coming back to the riverbanks,” Planning Director Gilbert Millan said.

City Manager Alberto Perez added: “Or it might end up knocking down the wall because the water’s gotta get out of here somehow. And there’s nowhere for that water to go when we have those floods.”

At one point, the U.S. section of the Boundary and Water Commission sided with worried city officials. Back in 2007, when the Starr County border fence was first proposed, U.S. river engineers joined their Mexican counterparts in vigorously opposing it.

Then the U.S. officials flipped 180 degrees.

“And in early 2012, the U.S. section of IBWC said we respectfully disagree with our Mexican counterparts and we approve these walls going up,” says Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

Nicol obtained, through open records requests, thousands of federal documents that he shared with NPR. What they show is that the U.S. section of the commission changed its position after being presented with a new plan for the Starr County barrier commissioned by Homeland Security.

In an email to NPR, U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina wrote: “After careful consideration of the state-of-the-art hydraulic model … I concluded there was no significant reason to object to Homeland Security proceeding with the construction of the fence.”

Others, including Mexico’s chief river engineer Rascón, still aren’t convinced.

“We’ve seen lots of pressure by Homeland Security so that this project moves forward,” Rascón said. “But the kind of wall they’re planning would have drastic effects on trans-border water flows.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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