News Brief: Senate And House Republicans Agree On Tax Bill, FCC To Repeal Net Neutrality

Dec 14, 2017
Originally published on December 14, 2017 2:46 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump, near the end of his first year in office, is finally close to a big win in Congress.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, Trump is urging lawmakers to move quickly now that House and Senate Republicans have agreed on a tax plan.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If Congress sends me a bill before Christmas, the IRS - this is just out; this is breaking news - has just confirmed that Americans will see lower taxes and bigger paychecks beginning in February.

GREENE: Now, we should remember, the president promised a big tax cut when he campaigned. Trump is getting closer now to a legislative victory, but there is a bit of a rush. Republicans' narrow Senate majority is about to get smaller after a big election loss in Alabama on Tuesday. Despite Democratic demands to slow this down, the vote is planned for next week.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been covering this story. She's in our studios.

Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Simple question - I know it's a big answer. What's in the bill?

SNELL: Well, we don't have a final bill text yet, and we may not have that for another couple of days. It's in part because they wrote a lot of this behind closed doors, as is common when they're trying to knit two different bills together. But what we do know is, first, they're going to stick with the plan to double the standard deduction. So that's what most people take. It's...

INSKEEP: If I don't itemize...

SNELL: Right.

INSKEEP: This means I can deduct more this - through this deduction. OK.

SNELL: Yeah, so if you're an individual, you get $12,000 right off the bat. And married couples would get $24,000. The biggest change that we've been looking at is the top rate for individuals. So the highest-earning people wouldn't pay 39.6 like they do now. They would pay 37 percent. That's a pretty big tax cut. We're also looking at a lot of other smaller changes. One of them is the grad students who get their tuition paid for by schools would not see that taxed, as it would've been under the House plan.

INSKEEP: This caused a lot of debate earlier.

SNELL: It did. It did. And the Senate didn't include that, and they don't include that in the final version of the bill that we're seeing being developed.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask, though - we mentioned that standard deduction goes up. If you're somebody who itemizes your various deductions, don't some of those deductions get smaller or go away?

SNELL: Sure. They don't necessarily get smaller. Some of them get smaller as part of the bill. But what happens is, people are less likely to take deductions because if it's already being written in that you're writing off, you know, $24,000 as a married couple, you're less likely to have the room to go and, say, take a mortgage interest deduction or deduct your state and local taxes. And that's something that they're also changing in this final negotiation. So state and local taxes would be capped at $10,000. And they seem to be working out the finer details of this, but so far, it sounds like they want to allow you to mix and match - so income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, whatever works for you.

INSKEEP: This was a matter of some controversy because it affects people in different states differently, right? If you are in a state with state income taxes, which tend to be bluer kind of states, you might face higher tax bills here.

SNELL: Yeah, so we usually say it's these high-tax states. High-tax areas also happen to be bluer - so California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.

INSKEEP: So do they have the votes to pass this bill by Christmas, as the president wants?

SNELL: I am told by many Republicans that they believe they do. There is just one little bit of trouble. They need to - they've got a narrow Senate majority.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Susan Collins - is she going to be for this bill? She was - she was kind of a swing vote in this sense.

SNELL: You know, she says that she is trying to get to yes. I think we're more concerned about people like Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

INSKEEP: He was a no vote before.

SNELL: He was, and he says that he still doesn't like the individual provisions in the tax bill. He would much - be much happier if this was just a corporate tax bill.

INSKEEP: OK, we'll see what happens. Kelsey, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell.

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INSKEEP: All right, let's talk about so-called net neutrality rules.

GREENE: OK, if you say so. So net neutrality rules - these are...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I do say so, David.

GREENE: You do say so.

INSKEEP: It's important. Come on.

GREENE: Well, let's remind people what these are, if you haven't been following all this. These are regulations on Internet service providers. They were passed under President Obama. And these are rules that say that the company connecting you to the Internet has to provide a level playing field. Your Internet service provider can't give you faster service to some websites, slower service to others. Today, the FCC is expected to repeal those regulations. And we should remind people, Steve, and just disclose this - that NPR's legal counsel has filed comments with the FCC on behalf of the public radio system against deregulation.

INSKEEP: NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to help us understand what's at stake.

Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so just on the most basic level, we're talking about the company that I might call to get Internet service in my home, right?

SELYUKH: Exactly. And the rules we have now restrict how much those companies that connect you to the Internet get to influence what you do once you're on the Internet. For example, the current rules say your phone carrier or your Internet provider at home cannot block or slow down any of your websites or apps. And on the flip side, the Internet service providers cannot make some traffic load a little faster - of, say, their own content or some website that pays a little more. And these are the restrictions that are about to disappear.

INSKEEP: I think I'm beginning to understand what's at stake here because the Internet service provider is bringing you stuff from other companies, right?

SELYUKH: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And the ISP might start charging those companies for premium access to me, in effect, or to you.

SELYUKH: That is one of the possibilities that the advocates for net neutrality are saying is a very distinct possibility if these rules go away.

INSKEEP: So what is the argument for doing this?

SELYUKH: Well, so the guy who now runs the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai - he's a longtime critic, and he is a free-market kind of Republican. So he makes an argument, and it is the same argument that the Internet service providers would make, which is that those sweeping regulations passed under Obama are burdensome, and they're stifling investments in new products and better broadband networks.

INSKEEP: Let's hear him. All right - oh, we don't have him right now. We'll get him in a little bit. That's good. That's OK. But in any case...

SELYUKH: Maybe - yeah, maybe next time.

INSKEEP: That's OK. That's OK.

SELYUKH: But I want to tell you that the repeal is facing major pushback from consumer advocates and the tech industry. You might've seen some protests. Activists have been rallying some celebrities. And the advocates say that without these protections, as I was saying, people will essentially have to trust their Internet provider to protect the little startups or play fair with their own competitors.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they could stifle little startups if bigger competitors are paying them to do that.

SELYUKH: That is the argument that the advocates will make.

INSKEEP: Trusting big companies is not something that a lot of people naturally want to do. But has this issue really penetrated the public? Do people get this issue one way or another?

SELYUKH: I definitely - so I've been covering this since 2013, and I can tell you that this is the first year that people are telling me they're having Thanksgiving-dinner conversations about net neutrality. But the thing to know is that after the vote today, the companies say they have no plans to aggravate their users by messing with their Internet traffic. Pai says there will still be process to hurt - to - excuse me - punish bad behavior. And the advocates will continue to fight this. They will take this to Congress to try to stop this vote from going into effect.

INSKEEP: NPR's Alina Selyukh - thank you very much.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: In Tanzania today, there was a solemn ceremony.

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GREENE: The bodies of 14 U.N. peacekeepers from Tanzania were welcomed home with full military honors. They were killed last week in an attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

INSKEEP: NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta joins us now from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

What was the ceremony like, Eyder?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: You know, it was a sad homecoming. There were 14 caskets, and they were lined up right next to each other. All of them were draped with a Tanzanian flag. And they got a heroes' welcome. As a military band played, dozens of service members marched alongside the caskets, and each one saluted the caskets. The U.N. is, you know, calling this the deadliest attack in recent memory. And Tanzania has really had a tough go of it recently.

Three Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed in attacks in September and October. And last week, it was 14 of them who were killed. And to give you an idea of just how bad this attack was, since this peacekeeping mission was established - and actually, they call it a stabilization mission - was established in 2010, less than 100 peacekeepers had been killed. So this attack - it's major. It's a big deal.

INSKEEP: Eyder, there's so much going on in the world. I don't think that that many Americans are really following the Democratic Republic of Congo that closely. So this is an opportunity to bring us up to date. What is going on or going wrong in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, it's a really long story and - because there's just a ton going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But one thing you have to keep in mind is that this is - it's a huge country. It spans Africa from, you know, east to west. And this attack happened in the Eastern part of Congo. And, you know, what's going back there goes back years. There's a number of rebel groups there who are fighting for minerals, essentially.

And, you know, this is an area of Congo that has also always been plagued by proxy wars between African countries. In fact, one that just ended in 2008 was called the first world - Africa's first world war, and it involved just a lot of the countries here in the region, and it left millions dead. But right now, what you might have heard about is that the country's going through a constitutional and electoral crisis because the president, Joseph Kabila, has overstayed his term. And there are now elections scheduled to happen at the end of next year.

INSKEEP: And peacekeepers pay the price, ultimately, for the ongoing conflict there.

PERALTA: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Eyder, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting today from Tanzania.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEST PESSIMIST'S "MY LONG GOODBYE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.