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Welcome to a high-anxiety Tax Christmas Eve for corporate interests, waking up primed to find out how many lumps of coal they'll be unwrapping along with newly slashed overall rates.
We now know the top lines of the tax agreement House and Senate Republicans have hashed out. Chief among them for big companies, the top corporate rate will drop from 35 percent to 21 percent — a tick higher than the 20 percent proposed by the versions of the bill that passed both chambers — and it will take effect next year. That cut forms the core of the bill, and it amounts to a major win for business.
But details critical to the fates of certain industries remain unknown to them. As tax negotiators have twisted the dials on various provisions to ensure the cost of the package doesn't top $1.5 trillion, the fine print threaten to eat into the benefit of the rate reduction many are by now all but taking for granted.
At least two of the outstanding provisions could leave Wall Street interests on the hook for more. A piece of the Senate bill aimed at curbing international tax dodging ensnared transfers that big banks regularly make with foreign subsidiaries. The Wall Street Journal’s Telis Demos explains:
“These include transactions in the $2 trillion repurchase obligation, or “repo,” market, as well as the business of lending out stock that banks and other firms hold on behalf of customers. Foreign banks, too, say the tax provision will make their U.S. operations more expensive and reduce their ability to lend in the U.S…
All companies are potentially affected, but banks are especially concerned because many of their businesses involve moving money back and forth between their U.S. and foreign arms to secure funding and facilitate transactions … The revenues generated from taxing these payments could be substantial. The Joint Committee on Taxation reported that the foreign affiliate base-erosion provisions in the Senate bill would generate some $140 billion in revenue over 10 years, versus $94.5 billion in the House version for the same period.”
Banking lobbyists succeeded in inserting a carve-out from the tax for derivatives just before the Senate bill came to a vote this month, as detailed here. But it didn’t capture this broader category of payments that industry sources say could prove to be a bigger headache.
And those that lean on the write-off for interest on business debt — a cohort that includes financial services firms, private equity investors, manufacturers and others — remain on alert to find out how dramatically the package will roll back that deduction. Both the House and Senate versions limit the break to 30 percent of their taxable earnings, but calculate that number differently. The Senate version is stingier. The word circulating Wednesday night among those with a stake in the outcome had it that congressional negotiators landed on a compromise, imposing the House approach for five years and then switching to the Senate’s.
Then there’s the alluring pot of money that companies have stashed abroad. Both bills net a onetime windfall by forcing companies to bring their foreign earnings home, with the Senate taxing those liquid assets at 14.5 percent and the illiquid ones at 7.5 percent, slightly higher than the 14 percent and 7 percent respectively the House version applies. The Journal’s Richard Rubin notes lawmakers could simply boost the federal government’s take from that haul, since there’s not much those companies can do about it at this point — and the rate likely won’t approach the 35 percent rate those firms would face if they brought that money home under the current regime.
Whatever the outcome, there isn’t much for corporate heavies to do at this point but await the final reveal. Senate Republicans aim to vote on it as soon as Monday, with their House counterparts following suit to get the measure to President Trump’s desk next week (though there are some reports the House could go first in order to dispatch with the year-end spending bill more expeditiously).
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YELLEN'S SWAN SONG:
— Leaving on a high note. The Post's Heather Long: " The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it expects faster growth and lower unemployment next year as the U.S. economy strengthens and Congress is likely to enact sweeping tax cuts for businesses and most families. Given how healthy the economy looks, the central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate a quarter point to a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent, a widely expected move.
'At the moment, the U.S. economy is performing well,' Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen said during her final Fed news conference Wednesday afternoon. 'There’s less to lose sleep about now than has been true for quite some time.' The Fed cast the decision as a positive sign of how much momentum the U.S. and global economies have right now as employers keep hiring and families and businesses continue to open their wallets and spend. This is the third rate hike this year and the fifth since the bank cut the rate to nearly zero during the financial crisis."
— Three rate hikes still likely next year. WSJ's Ben Eisen: "Federal Reserve officials expect to lift rates three times in 2018, largely sticking to a path of rate increases laid out earlier this year. That shows up in the so-called dot plot in the quarterly summary of economic conditions, where the interest-rate expectations of Federal Open Market Committee members are designated by dots on a chart.
The dots show six of the 16 participants expect rates to be between 2% and 2.25% next year, which would mean three one-quarter point increases from the current rate level of between 1.25% and 1.5%. That includes the median dot. But it’s not unanimous: four members see at least four rate increases and six members see fewer than three. The dots also show the Fed has penciled in two increases in 2019 and and two more in 2020. That far out into the future, the outliers drift away from the pack. In 2020, one participant sees the policy rate below 2% while two others see the rate above 4%."
(Click here to see five years of dot plots in one interactive chart, via CNBC.)
From the NYT's Binyamin Appelbaum:
Janet Yellen's final answer at her final press conference:— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) December 13, 2017
"Let me emphasize that correlation is not causation.”
That's how an economist goes out in style, folks.
— Fears deficit danger. CNN Money's Donna Borak: "Yellen raised concerns Wednesday that deficits, which are expected to be driven higher by the tax plan now in Congress, may give policy makers little room to respond to a future recession. At her final press conference as Fed chair, Yellen reiterated her persistent fears over the national debt. 'This is something I've been saying for a long time,' Yellen said, responding to a question by CNNMoney about the potential fiscal impact of the tax proposals. 'I am personally concerned about the U.S. debt situation. Taking what is already a significant problem and making it worse, it is a concern to me,' she said...
And when a recession hits, the government's borrowing costs may not be as absurdly cheap as they are now. 'It does suggest that in some future downturn, which could occur just for whatever reason, the amount of fiscal space that would exist for fiscal policy to play an active role will be limited,' said Yellen."
Janet Yellen on how Fed could handle future recessions— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) December 13, 2017
"I wouldn’t say we’re out of ammunition."
But the US government's fiscal stimulus "may well be limited" given the "debt-to-GDP ratio at the moment is extraordinarily or worrisomely high."#economy
— Expects regs to remain. WSJ's Ryan Tracy: "Yellen doesn’t expect the Fed will dramatically depart from its current course on bank rules after she leaves early next year.'All of my colleagues on the board have expressed a strong commitment to keep in place the core reforms that have produced a stronger financial system,' Ms. Yellen said Wednesday in what was likely her final press conference as head of the central bank. 'I have not seen anything emerge at this point that I would describe as a significant difference.'
Current Fed governor Jerome Powell is awaiting Senate confirmation as the next Fed chief. Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, a Trump appointee, recently joined the Fed as the point person on financial regulation. Ms. Yellen sees “broad-based commitment” to those 'core reforms,' such as stress testing and higher banks capital requirements. 'I think all of us agree that it is appropriate to tailor regulatory requirements' and the Fed could do better in alleviating regulatory burden on community banks, she added."
— Eyes on Rubio, Collins. Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur: "Two Republican senators have criticized tax cuts for the highest earners: Susan Collins of Maine and Marco Rubio of Florida. Together, their opposition could kill the bill -- though it’s by no means clear that either would withhold support over the latest plan for high-end rate relief. Still, as GOP leaders hustle to fashion compromise legislation for votes next week, Collins and Rubio may provide some drama...
Collins said in an interview with Bloomberg News in October that she doesn’t favor a rate cut at the top end of the income scale. “I do not believe the top rate should be lowered for individuals who are making more than $1 million a year,” she said. This week, she said she will wait to decide her vote until after a final bill is made public. That may happen as soon as Friday."
— Rubio's dilemma. The Post's Jeff Stein: "Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hinted he could create 'problems' for the Republicans’ tax plan if party leaders reject his plan to add more benefits for the working poor while increasing the corporate tax rate. Now, with his demand reportedly rejected in a particularly stinging fashion, Rubio has to decide how big he wants those “problems” to be. In the final stages of crafting the Senate bill, Rubio pitched a plan to slightly shrink the size of the measure's proposed corporate tax cut and use that revenue to bump benefits for about 9 million low-income American families through the Child Tax Credit. But the proposal failed amid opposition from top GOP leaders, who argued the proposed change to the corporate tax rate would hurt U.S. companies' ability to compete.
As party leaders work to reconcile the House and Senate tax bills, however, they appear to have agreed on a change to the corporate rate very similar to the one Rubio proposed. But instead of using that money for tax credits for the poor, the new plan would further cut income taxes for millionaires... 'This isn’t a guy who wants to be off the reservation. [Rubio] wants to be a team player, and wants to be supportive of tax relief in general,' said April Ponnuru, a senior adviser at the Conservative Reform Network and a Jeb Bush adviser who has worked closely with Rubio's office on trying to expand the credit."
— Democrats push a pause. The Post's Mike DeBonis, Ed O'Keefe and Bob Costa: "Democrats warned Wednesday that Republican plans to speed ahead with revamping the nation’s tax code could spell more electoral trouble for President Trump and his party next year, especially with young people and suburban families. Just hours after Republicans suffered a humiliating defeat in a special U.S. Senate election in the GOP stronghold of Alabama, party leaders unveiled a compromise on a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax plan that will significantly lower corporate rates and slash taxes for upper-income households.
But Democrats — now able to tout recent electoral victories in deep-blue New Jersey, swing state Virginia and Republican Alabama, all of which showed signs of voter discontent with GOP policies — called on Republicans to wait to vote on their tax plan until Democrat Doug Jones, the winner of the Alabama race, arrives in Washington... Republicans, however, ignored the Democrats and said they did not expect any slowdown in the tax push, citing a Christmas deadline for action that had been set months in advance."
— Individual mandate scrapped. Bloomberg's Zachary Tracer and Natasha Rausch: "Republican lawmakers will overturn a key piece of the Affordable Care Act in their tax overhaul, a victory in a long GOP campaign against the health law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the compromise tax bill from House and Senate negotiators will end the health law’s requirement that all individuals buy insurance or pay a fine. Doing so could jeopardize Obamacare’s already-shaky marketplaces, by reducing the number of healthier people who sign up for insurance...The bill will 'repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate tax, delivering relief to low- and middle-income Americans who have struggled under an unpopular and unworkable law,' the Kentucky Republican said in an emailed statement."
— Jamie Dimon okay with buybacks. CNBC's Tae Kim: "JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon is a big proponent of corporate tax reform. 'You need a competitive tax system ... companies will retain more capital and start to use it over time,' Dimon said Wednesday in response to a moderator question at the Axios Smarter Faster Revolution event in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 'Some will raise wages. Some will buy companies. Some may do dividends and buybacks. Don't act like that is a bad thing. That is their money. Think of it as a QE4. That money gets recirculated in the American system.' ...
Dimon said tax reform 'simply needs to be done' and should have happened 15 years ago. After the bill passes 'probably a trillion dollars will come back from overseas,' he added. 'Cumulatively over time that will accelerate growth in the American economy.' But he did say the 'benefit is not going to be immediate.'"
— Rich already preparing. CNBC's Robert Frank: "The Republican tax plan may still be in flux. But the wealthy are already taking steps to avoid some of the most costly parts of the plan and reduce their taxes. Wealth management firms and accountants to the rich are scrambling to prepare their clients for the biggest set of tax changes since 1986. While Democrats call the plan a boon to the rich, some aspects of the plan — mainly the elimination of state and local tax deductions – will mean a tax hike for certain high-income earners. Tax planners are already devising ways to limit those hikes and take advantage of the myriad of other loopholes."
— Trump plays salesman-in-chief. Politico's Nancy Cook: "As the White House tries to fend off criticism that the Republican tax bill overwhelmingly benefits wealthy individuals and businesses, the president invited five American families into the West Wing to highlight the way the legislation would help them. Many of the families, with children in tow, personally thanked the president for their tax savings. Trump, fresh from a shock Republican defeat in Alabama, glowed. In his freewheeling, upbeat, roughly 20-minute speech, he promised to give 'the American people a giant tax cut for Christmas. And when I say giant, I mean giant,' he said with his trademark hyperbole...
Trump has personally reached out to congressional leaders by phone several times a week to check in on the status of the negotiations, or simply for an update, according congressional aides and sources close to the White House. He speaks to House Speaker Paul Ryan as often as three to four times a day and spoke to House Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady every other day this week... 'As a country we're being respected again,' the president said. 'I’m here today to tell you that we will never let bad things happen, with respect to the economy of our country.'"
— Another abysmal poll. The Hill's Jonathan Easley: "The latest Harvard CAPS-Harris survey found that 64 percent of respondents oppose the bill. While 72 percent of Republicans support the GOP’s tax reform efforts, 89 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents oppose it. Many respondents — 34 percent — believe the bill will raise their taxes, while 23 percent said they don’t believe it would impact them, and 21 percent said they believed it would result in a lower personal tax bill."
— Wind, electric car credits preserved? Bloomberg's Ari Natter: "House and Senate negotiators have agreed to spare the electric-vehicle tax credit and wind production tax credit in their compromise package, according to a Republican familiar with the process. As part of the $1.5 trillion House tax bill, the $7,500 electric-vehicle tax credit would have been eliminated and a the wind production tax credit would have been curtailed. The Senate bill didn’t do either, and that is part of the package set for release, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the details before the bill is unveiled."
— Yellen skeptical of tax cut miracle. Bloomberg's Rich Miller: "The Federal Reserve isn’t buying President Donald Trump’s argument that his tax cut package will lead to a significantly stronger, sustainable expansion of the economy.While the central bank would welcome such a development, outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested on Wednesday that policy makers generally see the plan as having a modest and mostly short-term impact. 'It’s not a gigantic increase in growth,' she told a press conference after the Fed raised its target for short-term interest rates for the third time this year...
Even as Yellen was sounding cautious about the tax cut’s impact, Trump was across town at the White House trumpeting its benefits to the point of seemingly suggesting that growth could hit 4 percent or even more. 'We stand on the verge of a new economic miracle,' he said. Asked about the president’s remarks, Yellen twice said that it would be a 'challenge' to achieve such a rate."
— Ireland isn't sweating it. The Post's Shawn Pogatchnik and Heather Long: "Trump has singled out Ireland for its extraordinarily low corporate tax rate, making the case that the United States must overhaul its own tax code to win back American investment and jobs... But Irish government officials, accountants and highly skilled workers say the U.S. tax overhaul poses little threat to Ireland, a preferred European home for the United States’ top tech and pharmaceutical companies for a generation. They expect American companies to keep investing unabated in Ireland, with little incentive to move back to the United States.
The Emerald Isle’s collective shrug when faced with the prospect of a lower U.S. corporate rate underscores why many experts are forecasting that the GOP tax plan will do little to alter the forces that drive American industry overseas. If anything, some argue, U.S. moves could make Ireland an even more attractive landing spot for members of the Fortune 500 in Europe."
— Shutdown could turn on military funding. Bloomberg's Erik Wasson: "House Republicans moved forward with a plan that would dare Senate Democrats to shut down the government next week if they don’t accept a military spending bill paired with a measure to keep the rest of the government open after Dec. 22.The plan, which has been pushed by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, jettisons for now attempts to forge a bipartisan budget deal with Democrats.
The measure, known as a continuing resolution, was introduced Wednesday and is set to be voted on next week. It would keep most parts of the government open until Jan. 19 while providing full-year funding for the Defense Department, $4 billion in extra money for missile defense requested by Trump Administration in the wake of North Korean threats, and an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program... Senate Democrats, including leader Charles Schumer of New York, have warned that attempting to push through a defense funding bill with a $73 billion increase for the Pentagon without similar increases for non-defense programs risks forcing a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown."
— Disaster funding could wait. Politico's Sarah Ferris: "Lawmakers from Texas and Florida are exceedingly anxious that hurricane recovery aid will be sidelined in next week’s government funding scramble amid internal disputes over who should get how much cash. Congress was widely expected to approve its next multibillion-dollar disaster request as part of the year-end spending bill. But with just days to go until the Dec. 22 deadline when government funding expires, lawmakers are still haggling over the fine points of the next round of disaster aid.
House GOP leaders are now preparing to take up a stopgap spending bill next week that would not include any money for hurricane relief, potentially causing problems for passage if members from affected states rebel... The biggest holdup is over how much money should be spent on rebuilding in the Lone Star state, according to lawmakers briefed on the talks. Appropriators are still sifting through a massive binder of requests, worth over $61 billion, from Texans alone."
— How long will Ryan last? HuffPost's Matt Fuller: "As Republicans finish their long-sought rewrite of the tax code, some lawmakers are beginning to wonder just how much longer Rep. Paul Ryan intends to remain speaker. 'There’s a whole lot of rumors and speculation that the speaker may step aside,' one GOP member told HuffPost this week, a sentiment that was expressed by a number of Republicans who, perhaps tellingly, wouldn’t go on the record to speak about Ryan’s future.
The Wisconsin Republican has made no indication he’s quitting any time soon, but the possibility that Ryan finishes the tax bill and decides he no longer wants to continue in Congress has begun to loom over internal Republican conversations. When the House Freedom Caucus gathered Monday night, members spent part of their meeting discussing a theory circulating on Capitol Hill and among the downtown Christmas parties that Ryan may believe he’s harpooned his personal white whale of tax reform and decide he’s finished. 'Is it a Boehner-meeting-the-pope moment?' one Freedom Caucus member rhetorically asked HuffPost, referring to Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner (R-Ohio), who hosted Pope Francis for a joint address to Congress in September 2015 and then announced his retirement the next morning."
-- Resentment politics: Post reporters Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker talked to over 50 current and former U.S. officials for their exclusive report that just landed this morning: "Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russia threat unchecked." The story is replete with fascinating details about why Trump has behaved the way he has on Russia, and it all comes down to the fact he feels the assertion the Kremlin played a big role in the 2016 election undermines his feelings about why he won: Presented with evidence of Russian meddling before his inauguration, the president-elect "railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma."
— Rosenstein defends Mueller. The Post's Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett: "Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein defended special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in the face of critical questioning Wednesday from the House Judiciary Committee about whether bias might have infected Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Rosenstein said that he had not seen good cause to fire Mueller, and that although some members of the special counsel team had political views, that did not necessarily taint their work. He disputed that the probe is a 'witch hunt,' as President Trump has alleged.
'We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions,'’ Rosenstein said. 'I believe that Director Mueller understands that, and he is running his office appropriately.' Rosenstein also said he and Mueller talked about what his office was allowed to investigate and what it was not, though he declined to answer directly whether he had granted Mueller permission to expand his mandate."
— Don Jr. testifies again. Newsweek: "Donald Trump Jr., President Donald Trump’s eldest son, spent nine hours answering questions about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia on Wednesday. Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was Trump Jr.’s second interview on Capitol Hill in as many weeks amid a probe into Russian influence over the 2016 election. The session was held behind closed doors, although the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner, has said President Donald Trump’s son should give testimony in a public hearing."
From the New York Post:
BREAKING: Disney to buy Fox assets for $52.4 billion. The top lines, via the WSJ's Ben Fritz, Dana Mattioli and Joe Flint:
- 21st Century Fox to spin off Fox Broadcasting Network and stations, Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network
- Acquisition Includes 21st Century Fox’s film and television studios, cable entertainment networks and international TV businesses
- Robert Iger to remain chairman, CEO through 2021
- Disney to issue 0.2745 shares for each 21st Century Fox share
More: "Most of the assets Disney is buying would be put to use in Chief Executive Robert Iger’s quest to transform his company into a streaming-video giant that can go head-to-head with rivals such as Netflix Inc. He wants Disney to have its own relationships with consumers and a broad array of content to offer them online. Mr. Iger also wants to strengthen Disney’s largest business, television, which has taken a hit as consumers cut back on traditional cable packages and spend more time with digital providers.
The deal would mark a significant turn for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire after decades of expansion that created a titan in the entertainment industry. The remaining Fox assets, which would be spun off as part of the transaction, would include the Fox News cable channel, the Fox broadcast network and the Fox Sports 1 sports channel. Fox also will retain real estate including its studio lot in Los Angeles, people familiar with the situation say."
— Futures halted after plunging 10 percent. Via CNBC: "The futures had triggered trading halts twice in their Sunday night debut as the futures surged...The launch of bitcoin futures theoretically allows traders to short, or bet against bitcoin, by selling contracts. CME is set to launch its own bitcoin futures this coming Sunday. Bitcoin itself fell 9.1 percent to session lows of $15,799.87, according to CoinDesk's bitcoin price index. The digital currency was last trading near $16,654."
— Initial coin offerings exceed $4 billion. Bloomberg's Olga Kharif: "Proceeds from initial coin offerings have topped $4 billion this year despite escalating warnings from U.S. officials of rising risks and fraud. About a quarter of that investment went into startups developing core technology, such as new kinds of distributed ledgers, according data from Autonomous Research LLP. Companies focused on revolutionizing finance and on letting machines exchange information garnered large shares of the total as well."
— Yellen pans. Bloomberg's Christopher Condon and Craig Torres: "Yellen called the cryptocurrency, which has surged about 17 times in value this year, a 'highly speculative asset' and 'not a stable store of value.' ... Yellen was equally unconcerned over how a crash in the price of bitcoin might affect wider markets or institutions, largely because big banks didn’t appear to be exposed significantly to its value. Trading of bitcoins took to the mainstream this week as futures began trading on a regulated exchange -- the Cboe Global Markets Inc. -- and its CME Group Inc. rival plans to follow suit.
'Undoubtedly there are individuals who could lose a lot of money if bitcoin were to fall in price, but I really don’t see that as creating a full blow financial stability risk,' she said. 'I really don’t see any significant exposure of our core financial institutions to threats from bitcoin if its value were to fluctuate.' That didn’t prevent her from throwing cold water on bitcoin as an investment, saying it 'doesn’t constitute legal tender.'"
— "Electrying investment, lousy currency." WSJ's Greg Ip: "If you own bitcoin, congratulations. Its explosive rise this year has earned you the right to gloat. Unfortunately, if you also thought bitcoin, or any cryptocurrency, would one day displace regular money, those prospects have never looked worse. Ever since an anonymous creator launched bitcoin in 2009, advocates have hoped that cryptocurrencies could do the job of dollars, euros and yen but more efficiently, cheaply and anonymously. To do so, a cryptocurrency would have to fulfill at least two of the basic functions of money: a stable store of value and a widely used medium of exchange. Bitcoin’s wild ride shows it can’t fulfill either.
Whether bitcoin is a bubble is beside the point. That the question is being asked shows bitcoin can no longer be thought of as a currency. A stock, bond or property deed confers ownership of a stream of future income. From that you can judge the asset’s intrinsic value and thus whether its current price represents a bubble. Currencies aren’t supposed to have any intrinsic value other than the goods or services they can buy some time in the future."
How Democrat Doug Jones lost in nearly every congressional district in Alabama but still won the state, via The Post's Christopher Ingraham:
- The House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing on “"Examining the Operations of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.”
From the New Yorker:
Alabamians react to Doug Jones’s win:
Samantha Bee reacts to the results of the Alabama Senate special election:
Watch Former Vice President Joe Biden's heartfelt moment with Meghan McCain about his son's battle with cancer and his friendship with her father, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
Watch CNN Political Analyst Angela Rye's response to Omarosa's exit from the White House: