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VOL. 132 | NO. 153 | Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kustoff: Window for Congressional Tax Reform Narrow

By Bill Dries

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When the House and Senate return to Washington from the August recess, the clock will be ticking on a tax-reform proposal that is a Republican priority.

And U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown says time is of the essence with 53 legislative days left in the year, as midterm election considerations in 2018 will make a tax-cut bill he and other Republicans favor more unlikely.

“I’d like to see tax reform done this year in 2017 because next year 2018 being an election year, it’s going to be difficult to get those big things done,” Kustoff said Tuesday, Aug. 1, before a speech to the Memphis Rotary Club. “If we can get tax reform done this year – think about it, we have not had the type of tax reform we are talking about done since (President) Ronald Reagan 31 years ago. We’re talking about at the individual level.”

Kustoff talked of a simpler tax code that would also reduce corporate taxes that he believes would, in turn, fuel economic development.

In terms of revenue flow to the federal government, those cuts would be revenue neutral with a “border adjustment tax” – the tax President Donald Trump proposed on goods imported to the U.S. from other countries.

But the border adjustment tax is dead, by agreement among the White House and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. That’s not to mention vocal opposition from big business.

“Frankly, the border adjustment tax presented too many unknowns,” Kustoff said. “I think that could have been stifling for our nation’s economy.”

Kustoff also didn’t rule out a post-recess push for some kind of further work on a proposed replacement for the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act that Senate Republicans didn’t have the votes to repeal outright just before the August recess.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Tuesday the Senate Health Committee he chairs will hold hearings next month on the other end of the congressional recess on “the actions Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market.”

Alexander issued a joint written statement with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Murray and Alexander said their goal is “insurance at affordable prices” in 2018, with testimony expected from state health insurance commissioners, patients, health care experts, governors and insurance companies.

Kustoff is among those who believe the existing health care insurance system will collapse – by his estimate in 24 to 36 months – if there are not changes.

Kustoff says he favors keeping the ability for parents to carry adult children on their health insurance to the age of 26 and continued coverage of pre-existing conditions. But continued coverage for some would cost more.

“What the House plan contemplated was that if somebody did not have health insurance and they developed a condition and went out and tried to get health insurance that there would be a penalty for that calendar year,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session with Rotarians, Kustoff said there is a “media bias” against Trump and that he doesn’t hear a lot from constituents about possible Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election or beyond the election.

“I don’t hear one person talking about Russia,” Kustoff said, responding to questions about the level of political discourse in Congress and Trump’s remarks on the Russian investigation. Kustoff faulted cable television coverage focused on alleged Russian influence.

“You would think that in Congress all we hear about, all we deal with is Russia,” he said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I pay very little attention to Russia because, frankly, if anything is going wrong or has gone wrong it is being investigated. It’s being investigated by the House. It’s being investigated by the Senate.”

Kustoff’s speech at the luncheon at The Bluff on Highland was picketed by a group of about a dozen protesters pushing for a town hall meeting with him during the August congressional recess.

As Kustoff was in Memphis, a new book by Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona excerpted in Politico accused fellow Republicans in Congress of having “tremendous powers of denial” about the level of dysfunction in Trump’s White House, which Flake refers to as a government “dysfunctional at the highest levels.”

Flake includes himself in the observation, saying he has been sympathetic to the reaction.

“But it was also a monumental dodge,” Flake added. “It would be like Noah saying, ‘If I spent all my time obsessing about the coming flood, there would be little time for anything else.’ At a certain point, if one is being honest, the flood becomes the thing that is most worthy of attention. At a certain point, it might be time to build an ark.”

Asked about the observation, Kustoff said, “I think generally, the president has done a good job these past seven months.”

He focused on Trump’s nominations.

“In the House we are focused on getting things accomplished,” Kustoff added, saying he had not had a chance to read the book excerpts.

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