Tax plan offers uncertain returns for both parties

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On the roster: Tax plan offers uncertain returns for both parties - Alexander says ObamaCare fix in fiscal cliff package - Judicial nominee drops out post roasting - Manchin and other Dems urge Franken to renege - Wilmington: The pick of the litter  

TAX PLAN OFFERS UNCERTAIN RETURNS FOR BOTH PARTIES
As Republicans appear poised to pass their long-promised tax cut, Democrats are consoling themselves with the idea that polls show the measure to be unpopular. 

And that’s true. Quinnipiac University found just 26 percent approved of the plan with similarly dreary numbers from other institutions

Former Democratic House campaign boss Steve Israel crowed to NBC that “House Republicans were caught between probably losing their majority by passing no bill, and possibly losing their majority by passing a bad bill.” 

This argument depends on the notion that the legislation targets affluent suburbanites with expensive homes – a key part of the GOP coalition – to finance a big cut to corporate taxes while providing insufficient relief to blue-collar households, the votes from which Republicans rely in key Midwestern states.

If this moment seems familiar to Democrats, that’s because they have been on the other side of such a gambit. 

Around the end of Barack Obama’s first year in office, Democrats did pretty much exactly what Republicans are doing now, but they did it with health insurance, not taxes. 

And, yes, ObamaCare was every bit as unpopular then as this tax legislation is now. But, much as their Republican counterparts today, Democrats determined that having disappointed voters on the initial legislative effort (in their case, a lackluster stimulus package), they all had to hold hands and jump off the cliff together. 

They would be proven right in their belief that ObamaCare would become much more popular, but only after the legislation had helped grind down the party at the state and federal levels for eight years. It would only be when Republicans tried to repeal the law, that ObamaCare finally became popular. 

Republicans now would not dare make the same mistake with their legislation that soon-to-be-former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made when she famously declared in 2010, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” But they’re making essentially the same argument – we’re passing something complicated and scary, but you’ll see how much you like it. 

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell believe that this tax package will, in general, do what they say: Spur big economic growth. The belief is that as the economy heats up, Americans will come to conclude that a long-awaited economic boom is upon us and credit Republicans for unleashing it. 

It’s a nervy moment. Republicans believe as a matter of doctrine that tax cuts mean growth and that voters reward parties that preside over expanding economies. Democrats, meanwhile, believe that tax cuts disproportionally help the wealthy, affording the minority party the chance to ramp up attacks on income inequality. 

To a degree, they can both be right. A go-go economy would help Republicans in suburban precincts where their party has been thus far listless in the Trump era. Conversely there’s not any tax package that is going to quickly improve the fortunes of what President Trump calls “the forgotten men and women of our country.”

Israel was right in his estimation that without something to shore up its suburban base, the Republican Party is headed for unavoidable midterm disaster. What remains to be seen, though, is whether Democrats can pick up the slack on the other side and start to make an appeal among white voters in less-affluent quarters. 

One of the key advantages Republicans had in hanging ObamaCare around the necks of Democrats (except for its namesake) from 2010-2016 is that most Americans were pleased or at least content with their health insurance and health care when the law passed. That allowed the GOP to get by on “repeal” and then “repeal and replace” for quite a while – all the way up to the moment they couldn’t do either. 

There’s no doubt that Republicans are taking a substantial risk with this legislation. If the economy tanks, deficits skyrocket and incomes don’t rise, the GOP will have complete ownership of any recession. We’ve never seen a tax cut like this undertaken during a period of sustained economic growth, but one can assume that judgment will fall hard on the party if it is seen as screwing up a good thing. 

What remains unclear is whether Democrats can make the most of anything short of catastrophe. If the economy stays steady or continues to improve, do Democrats really have a message to carry to voters in Luzerne County, Pa. or Racine County, Wisc.? 

So far, Democrats are struggling with outreach to these voters, in part because the party is so driven by social issues that don’t play well in flyover country. 

But also because Democrats are divided between a moderation model that allows the party to back candidates like Ralph Northam in Virginia or Doug Jones in Alabama or a plan for purification, in which Bernie Sanders backers are pushing the party to take a hard line. 

One other consideration for both parties: While ObamaCare was implemented politically calculated tranches, the Trump tax cuts will hit all at once next year just as voters are making up their minds.  

Get ready for a good old-fashioned goat roping…

Final pieces of tax bill fall into place with Collins’ support - Bloomberg: “Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she’ll back the GOP tax bill -- putting to rest any questions about her support. With Collins’s backing, the GOP has all but clinched the votes necessary to pass the legislation. Collins had said previously she wanted to review the final legislation before deciding. This week marks the last leg of Republicans’ push to revamp the U.S. tax code, with both the House and Senate planning to vote by Wednesday on final legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump. The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the tax bill following a floor debate that morning. The House Rules Committee will meet Monday evening to set the terms for the floor vote, according to a statement from the Committee. The legislation will then be sent to the Senate, where GOP leaders intend to bring it up as soon as they get it…”

McCain home in Arizona, will miss scheduled vote - CBS News: “Republican Sen. John McCain returned home to Arizona after spending several days in a Maryland hospital recovering from side effects from chemotherapy treatment for brain cancer, CBS News has learned. He will spend the holidays with his family and will not be on hand for the final vote on the GOP tax passage expected this week. He’s expected to return to Washington in January. Late Sunday, a dual statement from McCain’s doctor and his office described the senator’s current health situation. In a statement citing Dr. Mark Gilbert … McCain ‘has responded well to treatment he received at Walter Reed Medical Center for a viral infection and continues to improve. An evaluation of his underlying cancer shows he is responding positively to ongoing treatment.’”

Corker says favorable financial shift in bill not cause of his reversal -
Tennessean: “Sen. Bob Corker asked a top Senate Republican on Sunday to explain how a provision that will provide a tax break to people with large commercial real estate holdings ended up in the final version of the tax reform package that Congress is expected to approve this week. … Corker’s office said he is not a member of the tax-writing committee and had no involvement in crafting the legislation. He requested no specific tax provisions throughout the months-long debate and had no knowledge of the provision in question, his office said. According to a report by the International Business Times, Republican leaders added a last-minute provision to the bill that would reduce taxes on income from real-estate LLCs. Corker, who owns a large amount of commercial real estate, made up to $7 million last year in such income, according to the paper.”

Passage would set up decade of future fights - WSJ: “Republicans are on the cusp this week of passing a historic overhaul of the U.S. tax system but might also be ushering in a new period of instability in the tax code, because the plan is advancing without bipartisan support and with expiration dates that guarantee it will be revisited for years. … The party-line vote echoes the Democrats’ passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and the bill’s expiring provisions echo the Republicans’ passage of tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Both provide a roadmap for the political and fiscal path that looms for the tax bill. Like the tax cuts championed by President George W. Bush, large pieces of the tax legislation are scheduled to lapse under a future president. That means every campaign until Dec. 31, 2025, can be fought over the tax legislation, and Democrats will look for lessons from victories in 2006, 2008 and 2012.”

THE RULEBOOK: PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES 
“…where the several parts [of the Constitution] cannot be made to coincide, the less important should give way to the more important part; the means should be sacrificed to the end, rather than the end to the means.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 40

TIME OUT: MORE PERFECT 
History: “Following its ratification by the requisite three-quarters of the states earlier in the month, the 13th Amendment is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution, ensuring that ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.’ ... On December 2, 1865, Alabama became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment, thus giving it the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval necessary to make it the law of the land. Alabama, a former Confederate state, was forced to ratify the amendment as a condition for re-admission into the Union. On December 18, the 13th Amendment was officially adopted into the Constitution–246 years after the first shipload of captive Africans landed at Jamestown, Virginia, and were bought as slaves.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -20.4 points
Change from one week ago: up 3.2 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

ALEXANDER SAYS OBAMACARE FIX IN FISCAL CLIFF PACKAGE
The Hill: “Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says that his bipartisan ObamaCare insurer fix will be added to a government funding bill this week, potentially setting up a showdown with House conservatives who oppose the measure. Alexander told local reporters on Friday that the bill aimed at stabilizing insurer markets – from him and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) – would be added to a stop-gap government funding bill that must pass before this Friday's funding deadline, according to a pledge from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). ‘Senator McConnell has pledged to put Alexander-Murray on the spending bill that will also pass next week,’ Alexander told reporters Friday, according to audio posted by Nashville Public Radio.”

No consensus - Politico: “Republican leaders in both houses of Congress face a sticky situation this week as they try to avert a government shutdown: Each side has promised its members things that will not fly in the other chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) he’d support passage of legislation by the end of the year to prop up Obamacare insurance markets — so long as she votes for tax reform. That addition, however, puts Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a pickle: His members are loath to be seen as bailing out a health care law they hate. … They’re eager to delay internal spending fights until the tax package — which Republicans view as critical to maintaining their congressional majorities in the 2018 midterm elections — reaches the Oval Office for President Donald Trump’s signature sometime this week.”

POLL: COLLEGE-EDUCATED WOMEN DRIVE DEMS’ 2018 HOPES
WSJ: “Voters increasingly want Democrats to control Congress after the 2018 elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that offers several warning signs for the Republican Party. Asked which party they prefer to lead Congress after next year’s midterms, 50% said the Democrats and 39% said Republicans. That 11-point lead is wider than the 7-point advantage Democrats held in October, and it is the first double-digit advantage for the party since late 2008, ahead of the Democrats’ win in the presidential election that year. … Women with a four-year college degree skew heavily away from the GOP, favoring a Democratic Congress by 62% to 30%, the new survey found. Republicans also trail among men – a group that rarely favors Democrats – by 46% to 44%, though the party retains a double-digit lead among white men.”

Current, former House GOP campaign chiefs warn members - NYT: “Congressional Republicans are scrambling to fortify their defenses. On Wednesday, the last five leaders of the House Republican campaign arm privately addressed Republican lawmakers, outlining the sort of suburban districts most at risk and imploring members to contribute to their colleagues. Former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York said it had been aimed at dozens of lawmakers elected since 2010 who had never faced a Democratic wave. ‘The general tenor was: This is not a year like most of you have seen, because you’ve not seen wind in your face,’ said Mr. Reynolds, who led the House campaign committee in 2006.”

After Alabama bummer, Bannon shifts focus to Mississippi - WashEx: “Chris McDaniel, a state legislator, is leaning toward challenging Sen. Roger Wicker next year in Mississippi in the Republican primary, saying the GOP’s stunning loss of a Senate seat this week in a special election in neighboring Alabama hasn’t discouraged him from running. McDaniel lost narrowly to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in the 2014 primary, and is being urged to run again by Steve Bannon. President Trump’s former adviser is trying to foment a midterm insurrection against the Republican establishment, and views McDaniel as a prized recruit. McDaniel, who had said earlier this fall that he would announce his 2018 plans in December, told the Washington Examiner in a telephone interview on Thursday that he would now do so in January.”

MANCHIN AND OTHER DEMS URGE FRANKEN TO RENEGE 
Politico: “At least four senators are urging Al Franken to reconsider resigning, including two who issued statements calling for the resignation two weeks ago and said they now feel remorse over what they feel was a rush to judgment. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who urged Franken not to step down to begin with — at least not before he went through an Ethics Committee investigation — said the Minnesota senator was railroaded by fellow Democrats. ‘What they did to Al was atrocious, the Democrats,’ said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast to post on Tuesday. Franken’s unusual timeline — in his departure announcement he said he’d go ‘in the coming weeks,’ without setting a date — has fed the fleeting hopes that there’s still time to reverse course. … People familiar with Franken's plans said he has not changed his mind and intends to formally resign in early January.”

But it’s probably too late now - [Minneapolis] Star Tribune: “Lt. Gov. Tina Smith’s political connections and savvy quickly united Minnesota’s ideologically and geographically diverse DFL Party behind her as Al Franken’s replacement in the U.S. Senate. Those same attributes will become a main emphasis of attack by Republicans next year. … It was a situation that required a steady hand and a deep well of relationships across the spectrum, from business allies to labor leaders to progressive activists. … Moments before [Gov. Mark Dayton] named Smith as his choice on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison made his own quiet announcement: He would not run for Franken’s seat next year. It sent a powerful message to DFL activists, particularly backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who see Ellison as an ally: The party’s top leaders are behind Smith. … Other DFL candidates could still emerge to challenge her, but much of the DFL’s power structure has already united behind Smith.”

Sexual harassment claims reshaping 2018 elections - Politico: “The wave of sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill is already beginning to reshape the 2018 election landscape… Sexual harassment-related scandals have already claimed four House members… [including] Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), who announced Saturday he would not seek reelection after his own party leadership called for his resignation. … Yet the nation’s moment of reckoning on sexual harassment isn’t simply shaking up the upcoming midterm election by forcing candidates and incumbents out of races — it’s also altering the traditional terms of debate. … A Monmouth University poll released this week found that 37 percent of Republicans believe such reports about GOP legislators are accurate, while 63 percent of Democrats trust those reports about Democratic lawmakers. ”

TRUMP SAYS HE’S NOT THINKING OF FIRING MUELLER 
AP: “President Donald Trump says he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, but that didn’t stop him from adding to the growing conservative criticism of Mueller’s acquisition of thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration. The disclosure came in a letter sent to two congressional committees by Kory Langhofer, general counsel of Trump’s still-existing transition group, Trump for America. … While conservatives have been critical of Mueller’s probe of Russian activities during the 2016 campaign, Trump said Sunday afternoon that he has no plans to fire Mueller. The president did criticize the fact that Mueller had gained access the emails, however. Trump said it was ‘not looking good’ and again stressed that there was ‘no collusion’ with Russia — an important question the probe is examining.”

Report: House Intel was to interview Wasserman Schultz, Goldstone - The Hill: “The House Intelligence Committee is set to interview Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and British publicist Rob Goldstone on Monday as part of its ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN reported. Wasserman Schultz resigned as head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in July 2016 after leaked emails showed party officials appeared to favor Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Wasserman Schultz has also denied knowing about an arrangement for the DNC to help fund an unverified dossier containing salacious allegations about President Trump.”

JUDICIAL NOMINEE DROPS OUT POST ROASTING
The Hill: “Matthew Petersen, whom President Trump had tapped to be a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has withdrawn his name after a cringeworthy clip from his confirmation hearing went viral. A White House official told The Hill, ‘Mr. Petersen has withdrawn his nomination and the President has accepted.’ Petersen struggled to answer questions from GOP Sen. John Kennedy (La.) about basic principles of law during a wince-inducing appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. In an interview with WWL-TV Monday morning, Kennedy said Trump called him after seeing the exchange. ‘The president and I get along fine, and he has told me, ‘Kennedy, when some of my guys send somebody over who’s not qualified, you do your job,’ he said. … In his withdrawal letter, obtained by Daily Beast reporter Sam Stein, Peterson touted his two decades of experience in administrative and constitutional law, but told Trump his nomination has become a ‘distraction.’” 

A LITTLE HELP, PLEASE…
As we reach the end of 2017, we are preparing our annual recognition of some of the best American journalism of the year. Please share your nominations for digital, print, television, radio, podcast or carrier pigeon – whatever moved you, made you think, caused you to see the world a different way or spoke with courage and honesty in the face of real risks. Breaking news, commentary, investigative and all manner of pieces are welcome. We will be accepting your submissions until Thursday evening, so don’t delay. Please send your recommendations (along with a link, if possible) to halftimereport@foxnews.com

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump national security speech to pushes tax cuts, immigrations curbs, new spending - Fox News 

Fate of America’s only nuclear plant under construction to be decided Thursday WashEx

AUDIBLE: CAUCUS OF ONE 

“I'm going to be a Doug Jones Democrat.” – Sen.-elect Doug Jones, D-Ala., on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” when asked what kind of Democrat he would be in the Senate.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I just love that man [Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.]. He is so smart and practical but down to earth. I just have had to remark on your article about his questioning an appointee for judge.” – Jean Farrell, Fleming Island, Fla.

[Ed. note: He was very interesting to talk to, and, I thought, admirably sympathetic toward his quarry. Having covered state government for many years, I tend to appreciate the insights of those who had to hone their skills at the statehouse before they come to Washington. And if you can survive in a place like Baton Rouge, you’ve probably got some chops.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

WILMINGTON: THE PICK OF THE LITTER  
Charlotte Observer: “Complaints have circulated for years that Wilmington [N.C.] smells a lot like cat urine, and the state of North Carolina is finally ready to confirm it’s not imaginary. The N.C. Division of Air Quality has received ‘several complaints about a cat urine-like odor’ around Wilmington and it is investigating the cause...or causes. Brad Newland, a supervisor with the N.C. Division of Air Quality, issued a memo on Dec. 5 admitting even he has detected a ‘faint cat odor’ in downtown Wilmington. … State officials thought they found the source a few weeks ago, but not anymore: ‘Initially, Fortron Industries was the sole suspect of the odors as its emissions are associated with the ‘male cat pee’ odor. However, based on observations made in the community and inquiries with several industries, it is now believed that the odors could have come from a combination of sources.’ In other words, they’re stumped.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.