Congress week ahead: Tax time crunch, Russia investigation march forward

With just 24 legislative days left in 2017, House Republicans will embark on their last chance for a big legislative victory when they release their plan to overhaul the tax code.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady plans to unveil the House’s tax legislation Wednesday. Only a few Republican lawmakers are crafting the details of the tax overhaul, but rank-and-file House GOP members will finally get briefed on the legislative text Wednesday morning at a closed-door meeting.

The release of the bill will mark the official start of the race to tax reform and Republicans have unveiled an ambitious timeline. The House Republicans plan to mark up their bill the week of November 6 and pass it out of the House the week of November 13, leaving little room for any error.

But it’s a heavy lift. Members from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California are already balking at a proposal to eliminate deductions for state and local taxes, known as SALT. Eliminating the deduction would help pay for the across-the-board tax cuts, but Brady has said he knows he needs pro-SALT members on board if he wants to keep tax reform alive.

Brady said in a statement over the weekend that the plan would restore itemized property tax deduction in hopes of winning over some Republicans. Rep. Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican and one of the lead negotiators in the SALT debate, called the move a “step in the right direction” but added, “There is more work to be done on the SALT issue.”

And that’s just one sticking point. When the tax bill is revealed next week, expect Republicans from both chambers to voice concerns over any number of deduction roll backs. Already, President Donald Trump came out publicly against any changes to 401(k) retirement plans and some Republicans fear Trump could torpedo controversial provisions in the tax bill with a single Tweet.

Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s role in the roll out, House Speaker Paul Ryan joked last week that “He’s going to be in Asia,” a reference to a 12-day visit Trump is planning, which will include stops in China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

“That was kind of a joke,” Ryan said. “I was sort of joking on that one.”

Congress’ Russia investigations

Representatives for Twitter, Facebook and Google will appear before both the Senate and House intelligence committees Wednesday, in open hearings as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election.

Colin Stretch, vice president and general counsel for Facebook, Sean Edgett, general counsel for Twitter and Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel for Google will all be testifying on behalf of their companies on the social media influence in the 2016 election and steps they are taking to mitigate further interference.

But not before the Judiciary committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism gets a bite at the social media apple, announcing late Friday that they will be a hearing Tuesday to “determine ways to combat and reduce the amount of Russian propaganda and extremist content online.”

The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, will also be hearing from Stretch and Edgett, as well as Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google.

Thursday, the House intelligence committee will hear from former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page as they continue to investigate Russian Interference in the 2016 election. The committee issued a subpoena to Page, after he told them earlier this month he would plead the Fifth Amendment to keep from turning over a “vast array” of documents the panel requested, which he argued was “beyond the charter” of its probe.

Mattis, Tillerson head to the Hill

In a rare Monday evening hearing, the Senate foreign relations will hear from Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the administration’s perspective on the need for a new authorization for military force that would potentially replace the existing AUMF, which has been in effect since 2001.

Some lawmakers have been briefed by the Pentagon on the US military operation that left four servicemen dead in Niger, and many continue to say they have more questions and want the Defense Department to release more information from its own review.

Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the committee, has tangled in recent weeks with the President, telling CNN’s Manu Raju last week that Trump’s legacy would be the “debasement of our nation.”

On Wednesday, The House foreign affairs committee will get a firsthand person’s account of life in North Korea when they hear from Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who served as the reclusive country’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom before his defection last year.

Judicial gridlock

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be pushing this week to confirm some of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including four nominees to the influential and powerful circuit courts.

The President criticized the slow pace of the confirmation process at a Cabinet meeting last week, putting McConnell under pressure to push through judges at a faster pace. The four circuit court nominees — Allison Eid for the tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals, Stephanos Bibas for the third Circuit, Joan Larsen for the sixth Circuit and Amy Coney Barrett for the seventh Circuit — face Democratic filibusters and McConnell may keep the Senate in session Friday and Saturday to get it done.

Forest fires

In the wake of the deadly fires that have ravaged California, the House will take up legislation this week to address the federal response to forest fires, and change how forest management programs are funded.

The bill would allow the Forest Service to tap emergency funds for firefighting, just as FEMA can do when it comes to natural disaster responses, rather than having to raid funding from other programs — like fire prevention — if it runs out of firefighting funds. But, the bill also adds a controversial change to forest management programs, which would allow the Forest Service to thin trees on certain lands without going through EPA environmental reviews.

Also on Wednesday, the House homeland security committee will hear from FEMA Administrator Brock Long, who will make his first appearance before the House of Representatives. He is expected to update the committee on FEMA’s response to Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria and to the wildfires that have decimated California’s wine country.

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