THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - November 17, 2017

Nov 17, 2017

In this issue: 

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Tax bill harms veterans

The Republican tax bill that passed the House Thursday hurts veterans, active duty service members, and their families in a number of ways. The bill gets rid of the Work Opportunity Tax credit now available to employers, when they hire a veteran who has a service-connected disability, is unemployed, or receives food stamps. Also repealed is the Disabled Access Credit, which helps small businesses provide access to veterans and others with disabilities. The bill eliminates the education loan deduction, making schooling more expensive for those who have to take out a student loan to supplement GI Bill benefits. And active duty service members stand to lose from the change to the capital gains tax exemption, requiring residence in a home for five years to be eligible. Military families that relocate more frequently would no longer qualify for this tax break. Because the Commonwealth tax code mirrors the federal Internal Revenue Code these changes apply to tax filers in the Marianas. H.R. 1, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed the House on a party line vote, 227-205.

Governor asked for tax data

To understand the impact of tax legislation now being debated in Congress, I have asked Governor Ralph Torres for data on how many Marianas tax filers use ten tax deductions or credits proposed to be cut, and the dollar value of each. House Republicans passed their bill, H.R. 1, on Thursday. The Senate is expected to act on its alternative later this month. Here is the complete list of credits and deductions I asked the Governor to help me with:

  • Deduction for teachers, allows them to reduce their taxable income by up to $250 for professional training or classroom supplies. 1040CM, line 23.
  • Deduction for moving expenses, important to encourage former residents and other U.S. workers to come to the Marianas for work. 1040CM, line 26.
  • Student loan interest deduction, which helps reduce the cost of higher education.  1040CM, line 33.
  • Dependent care cost credit, for families paying for daycare for children or who are caring for aging parents.  1040CM, line 49.
  • Personal exemption, allows for $4,050 to be deducted from income for the individual taxpayer, their spouse, and each dependent. 1040CM, line 42.
  • Senior exemption, increases the personal exemption by $1,550 for single filers and $2,500 for married couples.  1040CM, line 39.
  • Adoption tax credit, allows taxpayers to claim a credit of $13,570 per eligible child they adopt.  1040CM, line 54.
  • Medical expense deduction, used by taxpayers with high costs due to a disability, long-term care, or dental expenses.  Schedule A, line 2.
  • A $500,000 limit on homes eligible for the mortgage interest deduction. Schedule A, line 10.
  • Elimination of the casualty loss deduction for damage, destruction, or loss of property as a result of a typhoon or other disaster.  Schedule A, line 20.

Losing these credits and deductions could harm Marianas taxpayers; and the loss of government revenue, another result of the bill, could hurt the Commonwealth government. Other Members of Congress can assess the tax bill’s impact using data from the U.S. Treasury. Because the Commonwealth Division of Revenue and Taxation, not the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, collects taxes in the Marianas, I have to ask the Governor for this information.

A step ahead on anti-harassment

Even before Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) made her dramatic testimony about sexual harassment in Congress on Tuesday, I had already required everyone in the Marianas congressional office—including myself—to take anti-sexual harassment training. Rep. Speier said that two sitting Members of the House, a Republican and a Democrat, have engaged in sexual harassment and that the House has paid out some $15 million to victims. She said that she, too, had been a victim, when working here as a staff person in the 1970s. No one should have to face that kind of threat in the workplace or anywhere else. Our office Employee Handbook explicitly prohibits any form of sexual harassment and explains what to do if harassed. But I decided more active measures were needed and required that we all take the online training offered by the Chief Administrative Officer of the House. I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 4155, which requires each congressional office to inform employees of their rights and protections against harassment under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

Lowering the cost of college

Applying for federal financial aid for college is so time-consuming and complicated that thousands of families do not even bother—yet most post-secondary students are eligible for some federal aid. In fact, $2.7 billion in Pell Grants goes unclaimed every year because students don’t complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. So I am helping lead the effort to make it easier by introducing H.R. 4416, the Simple FAFSA Act of 2017, along with Rep. Blunt Rochester (D-Delaware), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), and other Democratic members of the Education and the Workforce Committee. Our bill reduces the number of questions on the FAFSA; requires only a one-time application for a multi-year Pell Grant, and allows very low income students and families - like many in the Marianas - to qualify for a full Pell Grant automatically. We want to make college more accessible and affordable for all Americans.

Opportunities

Grants

Public Comment

Legislative Highlights

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 1 – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Passed, 227-205)
  • Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 2810 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Passed, 356-70)
  • H.R. 2874 – 21st Century Flood Reform Act (Passed, 237-189)
  • H.R. 4174 – Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3973 – Market Data Protection Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2331 – Connected Government Act (Passed, 423-0)
  • H.R. 3071 – Federal Acquisition Savings Act of 2017 (Passed, 396-0)
  • H.R. 3739 – Presidential Allowance Modernization Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.Res. 599 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to United States policy towards Yemen, and for other purposes (Passed, 366-30)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 203 – Summer Meals Act of 2017
  • H.R. 4049 – Equal Access to Quality Education Act of 2017
  • H.R. 4155 – Congressional Sexual Harassment Training Act
  • H.R. 4416 – Simple FAFSA Act of 2017

NEXT WEEK

The House is on recess for the District Work Period.