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Big House victory for GOP tax plan; Senate fate unclear

WASHINGTON — Republicans rammed a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House on Thursday, edging toward the code's biggest rewrite in three decades and the first major legislative triumph for President Donald Trump and the GOP after 10 bumpy months of controlling government.

The mostly party-line 227-205 vote masked more ominous problems in the Senate. There, a similar package received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act's requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for other tax cuts.

The Senate panel's vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats' accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

"I come from the poor people. And I've been working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance," Hatch insisted.

After the panel's approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, "For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way."

The analysts' problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first GOP senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn't cut levies enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill's fate is far from certain in a chamber the GOP controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

"Now the ball is in the Senate's court," Vice President Mike Pence urged after the House vote.

Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, "The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they're going to be a challenge." But he added, "we're going to get it done" before the end of the year.

With this summer's crash of the GOP effort to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law, Republicans see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year's congressional elections. House Republicans conceded they are watching the Senate warily.

"Political survival depends on us doing this," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, GOP lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

Democrats said the measure would disproportionately help the wealthy and mean tax increases for millions. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

Thirteen House Republicans — all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey — voted "no" because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would "hurt New Jersey families."

Trump traveled to the Capitol before the vote to give House Republicans a pep talk.

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions.

One would end the measure's personal tax cuts starting in 2026. The other would abolish the "Obamacare" requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Eliminating those fines is expected to mean fewer people would obtain federally subsidized policies, and the tax analysts count a reduction in those subsidies as a tax increase. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making the provision a political risk for some lawmakers.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill's long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.


Falcons Fly

West Sioux set a 13-game scoring mark with over 700 points this season while finishing off an unbeaten season with a 35-14 Class A state title victory over Hudson to capture the school's first state football championship. Meanwhile, Remsen St. Mary's fell in the eight-man state title game to Don Bosco. See complete coverage in Sports B1.

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Sergeant Bluff City Council revisiting pit bull ban

SERGEANT BLUFF |  Sergeant Bluff officials are exploring a handful of changes to the city's dangerous and vicious animals ordinance that may lift the city's ban on pit bulls.

Changes under discussion also may require all dogs, regardless of breed, to undergo registration and micro-chipping. 

The City Council on Tuesday discussed the changes en route to tabling an agenda item for the first reading of an ordinance that would amend Chapter 56 of the city's code, which deals with dangerous and vicious animals. 

Over the next few weeks, potential ordinance changes will undergo staff and committee review. Councilwoman Carol Clark, a member of the review committee, said several options proposed by council members Tuesday are under preliminary consideration. 

"We're looking at all of our options and looking all the way from special licensing to special education to micro-chipping to training certificates," she told the Journal Wedne/day. 

The city code currently prohibits residents from housing pit bulls within city limits. Pit Bulls are banned in several other cities because the breed is believed to be predisposed to vicious behavior and to account for a large percentage of fatal dog bites.

A decision to revisit the city's ban started last month, when resident Sam Vice requested a hearing after his American Staffordshire Terrier, Nikko, was found by police. American Staffordshire Terriers are among a handful of dog breeds considered to be pit bulls. 

Vice told council members his dog is well-behaved, has taken training classes and has bite insurance coverage. 

"No one's ever said anything," Vice said during the Oct. 31 hearing. 

Council members expressed sympathy during the hearing but also stressed their responsibility is to keep the entire community safe. They deferred taking action in order to research their options in changing the code to allow well-trained pit bulls to reside in safe, well-meaning households.

During their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, council members resumed the discussion, consulting local experts about what processes the city could put in place to ensure the safety of residents if pit bulls become allowed. City staff had researched regulations in Omaha that allow pit bulls within city limits, provided the owners have liability insurance and the dogs are either fenced in or kept on a leash and muzzled while outdoors.

Among the council members' suggestions were making registration and micro-chipping necessary for all dogs within city limits, something not currently required. Registering a pit bull would then require further steps, such as certification the dog had passed good behavior training, a clean criminal background check of the owners and proof of bite insurance.

Mayor Jon Winkel told the Journal Wednesday he could be in favor of a change in the ordinance if he sees adequate safeguards for residents. 

"I would support some change as long as there’s plenty of protections for the citizens," he said. "That’s the key thing we have to build in, and I’m pretty sure the whole council is similar. We’ve got to make sure we protect everybody.”

Clark, who also stressed safety, said she is receptive but will need more time to consider all the angles. 

"I do go back and forth," she said. 

Clark said committee representatives include herself and fellow council member Ron Hanson, along with members of the Sergeant Bluff Police Department, the city manager, city clerk and Amie Hanson, a longtime volunteer with Noah's Hope Animal Rescue who is serving as an outside adviser. 

The committee will meet Monday morning to begin working toward more concrete recommendations. Winkel said he believes the changes could be discussed again at the council's next meeting, currently scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 28.