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Senate moves tax cut legislation to brink of final passage

WASHINGTON — Jubilant Republicans pushed on early todayto the verge of the most sweeping rewrite of the nation's tax laws in more than three decades, a deeply unpopular bill they insist Americans will learn to love when they see their paychecks in the new year. President Donald Trump cheered the lawmakers on, eager to claim his first major legislative victory.

After midnight, the Senate narrowly passed the legislation on a party-line 51-48 vote. Protesters interrupted with chants of "kill the bill, don't kill us" and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly called for order. Upon passage, Republicans cheered, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin among them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Americans would respond positively to the tax bill.

"If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work," he said. Trump hailed the vote in an early morning tweet and promised a White House news conference today after the House completes legislative action on the measure.

The early morning vote came hours after the GOP rammed the bill through the House, 227-203. But it wasn't the final word in Congress because of one last hiccup.

Three provisions in the bill, including its title, violated Senate rules, forcing the Senate to vote to strip them out. So the massive bill was hauled back across the Capitol for the House to vote again today, and Republicans have a chance to celebrate again.

Hours earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has worked years toward the goal of revamping the tax code, gleefully pounded the gavel on the House vote. GOP House members roared and applauded as they passed the $1.5 trillion package that will touch every American taxpayer and every corner of the U.S. economy, providing steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy, and more modest help for middle- and low-income families.

Despite Republican talk of spending discipline, the bill will push the huge national debt ever higher.

"This was a promise made. This is a promise kept," Ryan and other GOP leaders said at a victory news conference.

After the delay for a second House vote, the measure then heads to Trump, who is aching for a big political victory after 11 months of legislative failures and nonstarters. The president tweeted his congratulations to GOP leaders and to "all great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!"

Congressional Republicans, who faltered badly in trying to dismantle Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, see passage of the tax bill as crucial to proving to Americans they can govern — and imperative for holding onto House and Senate majorities in next year's midterm elections.

"The proof will be in the paychecks," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said during the Senate's nighttime debate. "This is real tax relief, and it's needed."

Not so, said the top Senate Democrat as the long, late hours led to testy moments.

"This is serious stuff. We believe you are messing up America," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer told Republicans, chiding them for not listening to his remarks.

The GOP has repeatedly argued the bill will spur economic growth as corporations, flush with cash, increase wages and hire more workers. But they acknowledge they have work to do in convincing everyday Americans. Many voters in surveys see the legislation as a boost to the wealthy, such as Trump and his family, and a minor gain at best for the middle class.

"I don't think we've done a good job messaging," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "Now, you're able to look at the final product."

Ryan was positive, even insistent. He declared, "Results are what's going to make this popular."

Democrats called the bill a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy, with no likelihood that business owners will use their gains to hire more workers or raise wages. And they mocked the Republicans' contention that the bill will make taxes so simple that millions can file their returns "on a postcard" — an idea repeated often by the president.

"What happened to the postcard? We're going to have to carry around a billboard for tax simplification," declared Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.

Tax cuts for corporations would be permanent while the cuts for individuals would expire in 2026 to comply with Senate budget rules. The tax cuts would take effect in January, and workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

For now, Democrats are planning to use the bill in their campaigns next year. Senate Democrats posted poll numbers on the bill on a video screen at their Tuesday luncheon.

"This bill will come back to haunt them, as Frankenstein did," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

The bill would slash the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The top tax rate for individuals would be lowered from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.

The legislation repeals an important part of the 2010 health care law — the requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or face a penalty — as the GOP looks to unravel the law it failed to repeal and replace this past summer. It also allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The $1,000-per-child tax credit doubles to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families that owe little or no taxes.

Disgruntled Republican lawmakers from high-tax New York, New Jersey and California receded into the background as the tax train rolled. They oppose a new $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes.

GOP Rep. Peter King of New York conveyed what people in his Long Island district were telling him about the tax bill: "Nothing good, especially from Republicans. ... It's certainly unpopular in my district."

The bill is projected to add $1.46 trillion to the nation's debt over a decade. GOP lawmakers say they expect a future Congress to continue the tax cuts so they won't expire. That would drive up deficits even further.

The bill would initially provide tax cuts for Americans of all incomes. But if the cuts for individuals expire, most Americans — those making less than $75,000 — would see tax increases in 2027, according to congressional estimates.

12th District Congressional Race
SIUC philosophy professor seeks Green Party nomination in 12th District representative race


MURPHYSBORO — Philosophy professor Randy Auxier is throwing his hat in the ring for next year’s 12th Congressional District race — he will be representing the Green Party, which he says has a unique advantage this cycle.

The party is more than Greenpeace and environmental issues, Auxier said, and he thinks after the politically divisive election last year — one of the most polarizing elections Auxier thinks America has had in recent history — he said his party has an opportunity to win over voters. 

“I believe that we have really frightened ourselves in regard to how low the bar has gone with civic discourse and just our willingness to talk across the lines of the two parties,” Auxier said. He believes that while many in the district, and in the country, have very established ideas of what red and blue candidates are, green may not be as firmly cemented in their minds.

Auxier said he has a “fair shot” of having an open-minded conversation because they haven’t made their minds up about his party affiliation.

Auxier said the Green Party straddles a line between conservative values — he sees merit in increasing local control of schools — as well as classically liberal ideas — he is a strong supporter of unions and labor issues — and also espouses progressive views including equal rights for those in LGBTQ and minority communities.

Auxier said in his eyes, there are three particular issues facing the 12th District — healthcare, transportation and education — and he said in his first six to 12 months in office he would do his best to lay the groundwork for big projects to give Southern Illinois a boost.

“We’ve got infrastructure problems in the 12th District that must be addressed,” Auxier said.

One way he would do this, he said, is by championing a light rail line between Alton and Marion, though he would like to see that extended into Benton and Mount Vernon, as well. He said he knows this is a big project, but he sees the region as ready for it, and would at least like to help build the foundation for the project during his term in office.

Auxier said he sees very little debate on the healthcare issue. It comes down to economics.

“I don’t see how that can be a partisan issue. It’s not a matter of entitlements. It’s not a matter of social programs. It’s a matter of having a competitive workforce,” Auxier said.

He said the U.S. is “badly outnumbered” by the workforces it competes with that offer better healthcare options for their citizens. Auxier said while the U.S. may not have the workforce numbers to compete, it certainly has production to stay in the fight — so long as the workers aren’t too sick to work.

“An unhealthy workforce is simply not competitive,” he said.

Auxier said he wants more decentralized control of education for the region and added that he is “a strong believer in localism.” He said it is difficult for a large federal body to understand how regions need to customize education.

“They will find me opposed to these one-sized programs and standards,” Auxier said of voters. He said giving teachers and schools the tools to adapt to their students’ needs is crucial.

“What helps is empowering local school districts,” he said.

Auxier’s run is not about his opponents — though he admits incumbent Mike Bost’s efforts to serve the district could be improved. Instead, he said it’s about establishing a brighter future for those in the region.

“It’s not just about partisan politics, it’s about having a future especially in the long term for our region and our country,” he said.

Voters will head to the polls in the general primary on March 20. The 12th District includes the counties of Alexander, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Union and Williamson, and part of Madison County.

Carbondale council approves rezoning request for old fire house

CARBONDALE — At Tuesday night's regular meeting, the city council approved an ordinance to rezone the former Fire Station #2 property on South Oakland Avenue from low-density residential to neighborhood business, paving the way for the establishment of a wood shop, tasting room and social space for artists at the site.

In September, the city’s sale of the property for $50,000 to John Deas and Alison Smith provoked an outcry from members of the Arbor District neighborhood, who objected to the selling price and the fact that the council settled on the proposal in executive session.

In addition to the rezoning, the council also adopted a resolution to approve a special-use permit to allow a “drinking place with alcoholic beverages” at the property. (Deas and Smith still must come before the Liquor Control Commission for approval of a liquor license.)

As dictated by the standards for neighborhood business district zoning, hours of operation at the property will be limited to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Mayor John “Mike” Henry asked the applicants whether they planned to have any live music or amplified sound in the beer garden. Deas and Smith said they had no interest in either and that the beer garden would simply be a space for conversation. 

Councilman Jeff Doherty asked what the applicants planned to do with the three large garage doors on the Oakland Street side of the building.

“We have entertained the idea of having maybe one of the doors open to have an open-air feel coming through, but we haven’t really decided exactly what to do with that wall. We’re really eager to just get in there and start planning,” Deas said.

Councilman Navreet Kang noted that the application does not satisfy all the criteria of the special use permit; the staff report says the use of the structure “may not be in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Development Services Director Chris Wallace said the criteria are merely recommendations for the council.

“Being that this is a neighborhood business district, this district is designed exactly for this purpose … to accommodate commercial buildings that are located in residential districts,” Wallace said.

“We’re trying to create something very different, something that hasn’t existed here before, so it’s difficult to hear little bits, like to hear there’s going to be a bar there — the connotation that most people get is something that already exists,” Deas said. “ … This being a neighborhood business, it’s a term that we really like, because we really want this to be a core unit of that neighborhood. We want it to increase the sense of community.”

He said they intend to create an environment where the focus is on the enjoyment and appreciation of alcohol, rather than simply on intoxication.

Kang said that when the liquor license application comes before the commission, he'll be opposed to placing the beer garden in the front of the property, where the firetrucks previously entered and exited the site. He said he had no problem with the interior use for the consumption of alcohol.

Councilman Adam Loos said he was in favor of the beer garden.

“We’re known for being very persnickety, and I wonder if that might be to our detriment,” Loos said. “When we have very strict and rigid rules, often rules that are hard to justify on any type of rational basis, that makes it difficult for people to do creative things, like these applicants are trying to do, so maybe we should try not to be so controlling, and just let people experiment, and sometimes fail.”

The ordinance and resolution were approved unanimously.