WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed a nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill through the Senate early today after a burst of eleventh-hour horse trading, as a party starved all year for a major legislative triumph took a giant step toward giving President Donald Trump one of his top priorities by Christmas.
"Big bills are rarely popular. You remember how unpopular 'Obamacare' was when it passed?" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview, shrugging off polls showing scant public enthusiasm for the measure. He said the legislation would prove to be "just what the country needs to get growing again."
Presiding over the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence announced the 51-49 vote to applause from Republicans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only lawmaker to cross party lines, joining the Democrats in opposition. The measure focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, gives more modest breaks to others and offers the boldest rewrite of the nation's tax system since 1986.
Republicans touted the package as one that would benefit people of all incomes and ignite the economy. Even an official projection of a $1 trillion, 10-year flood of deeper budget deficits couldn't dissuade GOP senators from rallying behind the bill.
"Obviously I'm kind of a dinosaur on the fiscal issues," said Corker, who battled to keep the bill from worsening the government's accumulated $20 trillion in IOUs.
The Republican-led House approved a similar bill last month in what has been a stunningly swift trip through Congress for complex legislation that impacts the breadth of American society. The two chambers will now try crafting a final compromise to send to Trump.
After spending the year's first nine months futilely trying to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, GOP leaders were determined to move the measure rapidly before opposition Democrats and lobbying groups could blow it up. The party views passage as crucial to retaining its House and Senate majorities in next year's elections.
Democrats derided the bill as a GOP gift to its wealthy and business backers at the expense of lower-earning people. They contrasted the bill's permanent reduction in corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent to smaller individual tax breaks that would end in 2026.
Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the bill's reductions for many families would be modest and said by 2027, families earning under $75,000 would on average face higher, not lower, taxes.
The bill is "removed from the reality of what the American people need," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He criticized Republicans for releasing a revised, 479-page bill that no one can absorb shortly before the final vote, saying, "The Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery."
"You really don't read this kind of legislation," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told home-state reporters, asked why the Senate was approving a bill some senators hadn't read. He said lawmakers needed to study it and get feedback from affected groups.
Democrats took to the Senate floor and social media to mock one page that included changes scrawled in barely legible handwriting. Later, they won enough GOP support to kill a provision by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have bestowed a tax break on conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.
The bill hit rough waters after the Joint Taxation panel concluded it would worsen federal shortfalls by $1 trillion over a decade, even when factoring in economic growth that lower taxes would stimulate. Trump administration officials and many Republicans have insisted the bill would pay for itself by stimulating the economy. But the sour projections stiffened resistance from some deficit-averse Republicans.
But after bargaining that stretched into Friday, GOP leaders nailed down the support they needed in a chamber they control 52-48. Facing unyielding Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose no more than two GOP senators and prevail with a tie-breaking vote from Pence, but ended up not needing it.
Leaders' changes included helping millions of companies whose owners pay individual, not corporate, taxes on their profits by allowing deductions of 23 percent, up from 17.4 percent. That helped win over Wisconsin's Johnson and Steve Daines of Montana.
People would be allowed to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, a demand of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
The changes added nearly $300 billion to the tax bill's costs. To pay for that, leaders reduced the number of high-earners who must pay the alternative minimum tax, rather than completely erasing it. They also increased a one-time tax on profits U.S.-based corporations are holding overseas and would require firms to keep paying the business version of the alternative minimum tax.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — who like Corker had been a holdout and has sharply attacked Trump's capabilities as president — voted for the bill. He said he'd received commitments from party leaders and the administration "to work with me" to restore protections, dismantled by Trump, for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That seemed short of a pledge to actually revive the safeguards.
The Senate bill would drop the highest personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent. The estate tax levied on a few thousand of the nation's largest inheritances would be narrowed to affect even fewer.
Deductions for state and local income taxes, moving expenses and other items would vanish, the standard deduction — used by most Americans — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples, and the per-child tax credit would grow.
The Flagstaff Pulliam Airport will begin offering a nonstop flight to and from Los Angeles International Airport on May 5, 2018.
The route will only fly Saturdays and will be a seasonal addition for American Airlines to determine if the Flagstaff market can support the additional flight, city spokeswoman Jessica Drum said in a press release.
The flight will utilize American Airlines’ 70-seat plane, which includes a first-class section.
The flight will depart from LAX on Saturday at 2 p.m. and arrive in Flagstaff at 3:30 p.m. It will then depart Flagstaff at 4 p.m. and arrive in Los Angeles at 5:43 p.m., Drum said.
Airport Director Barney Helmick said he and the city have been working to add a flight to L.A. for the past seven years. Horizon Air previously offered a flight to Los Angeles from Flagstaff, but it had a stop in Prescott, which made the flight less popular for travelers and more costly for the airline, Helmick said.
“L.A. is a great connection for some of our international visitors,” Helmick said. “This gives them another option instead of having to connect through Phoenix or take a bus. It’s time and money for tourists and our industry people.”
The airport has nearly doubled in users in the last 10 years, Helmick said. In 2007, about 38,000 passengers departed from the airport. This year, Helmick estimates more than 70,000 people will depart from Flagstaff.
So far, American Airlines has scheduled the test service to run from May through September 2018, Helmick said. The airline needs to fill 75 percent of the seats to consider making the flight a permanent addition, he said.
“It is critical for us to prove that we are a market that deserves more,” Helmick said.
Economic Vitality Director Heidi Hansen said the city has been working to market the airport locally by encouraging people to “fly Flagstaff first.”
“It started to instill confidence in the community that the service in Flagstaff is reliable and time-saving,” she said.
Since the marketing campaign began, Hansen said the airport has seen a 6 percent increase in enplanements.
Growth in the city, university and the business community make Flagstaff a prime city for more flights, Hansen said. California is Flagstaff’s second-biggest target audience for tourism, following cities within Arizona.
Hansen said the Los Angeles flight is just the beginning of some service expansions at the airport, which have included discussions with various airlines about adding service to other major cities in nearby states.
WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, the retired general who vigorously campaigned at Donald Trump's side and then served as his first national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about reaching out to the Russians on Trump's behalf and said members of the president's inner circle were intimately involved with — and at times directing — his contacts.
His plea to a single felony count of false statements made him the first official of the Trump White House to be charged so far in the criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. And his action could be an ominous sign for a White House shadowed for the past year by investigations, turning Flynn into a potentially key government cooperator as prosecutors examine whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor.
Friday's developments don't resolve the paramount question of possible Trump-Russia coordination in the campaign, but they do show that Flynn lied to the FBI about multiple conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Court papers make clear that senior Trump transition officials were fully aware of Flynn's outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration.
The officials were not named in court papers, but people familiar with the case identified two of them to The Associated Press as Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and former Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland, now up for an ambassadorship.
That revelation moves the Russia investigation deeper into the White House. And, given the direct involvement of the transition team in Flynn's calls with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the plea also raises questions about the accuracy of repeated assertions by the administration that Flynn had misled Mike Pence and other officials when he denied having discussed sanctions with the diplomat.
Flynn, the longtime soldier, stood quietly during his plea hearing except to answer brief questions from the judge. He accepted responsibility for his actions in a written statement, though he said he had also been subjected to false accusations. He said, "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."
A former Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Flynn was a considerably more vocal Trump surrogate during the campaign, known for leading rally crowds in "Lock her up" chants regarding Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
Though prosecutors also had investigated Flynn lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government, the fact that he was permitted to plead guilty to just one count, and faces a guideline range of zero to 6 months in prison, suggest that prosecutors see him as a valuable tool in their investigation and are granting a degree of leniency in exchange for cooperation.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb sought to distance the plea from Trump himself, saying: "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."
Nonetheless, the Russia investigation has persistently followed Trump the first year of his presidency, angering the president and repeatedly distracting from his agenda. Flynn's plea came as Republican senators labored to pass a far-reaching tax bill, which would be a significant victory for Trump.
On Friday, the president ignored reporters' shouted questions as he welcomed the Libyan prime minister to the White House, and aides canceled media access to a later meeting between the two. He did appear briefly at an afternoon White House holiday reception for the media, where he offered season's greetings and departed without addressing the Mueller investigation.
Early on in his administration, Trump had taken a particular interest in the status of the Flynn investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing in May precipitated the appointment of Mueller as special counsel, has said Trump asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to consider ending the investigation into Flynn. Comey has said he found the encounter so shocking that he prepared an internal memo about it.
Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI days after Trump's inauguration, was forced to resign on Feb. 13 following news reports indicating that the Trump White House had been warned by Obama administration officials that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak and was therefore compromised and potentially vulnerable to blackmail.
White House officials including Pence, who had declared publicly that Flynn never discussed sanctions, said they had been misled.
The court case Friday concerns a series of conversations that Flynn had with Kislyak during the transition period between the November election and the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Prosecutors say Flynn on Dec. 29 spoke with an unnamed senior transition team official about what, if anything, to say about sanctions that had been imposed on Russia one day earlier by the Obama administration in retaliation for election interference. Flynn then requested the Russian ambassador "not escalate the situation" and respond "in a reciprocal manner," a conversation that prosecutors say he then reported to transition team members.
Two former transition officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter, identified McFarland as the unnamed official.
The court papers do not allege that there was anything illegal about Flynn's conversations with the Russians — but his lies about the talks amounted to a felony.
Still, if the Trump transition made secret back-door assurances to Russian diplomats, that could potentially run afoul of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that bars private American citizens from attempting to intervene in "disputes or controversies" between the United States and foreign powers without government approval.
Flagstaff employers have one month left to prepare for the minimum wage to increase to $11 per hour.
To get ready for the jump, which will be the third minimum wage increase in the city since January 2017, the city is hosting a series of information sessions with the Labor Standards Manager, Cliff Bryson.
Along with the increase, employers will be required to display updated posters and provide employees with current information upon hiring or when the wage goes into effect for current employees. Even employees who earn above $11 per hour are required to be notified of the change.
Bryson said he and his assistant will spend the next few weeks doing outreach to businesses to make sure those within the city and those that employ people in the city are aware of the increasing wage. The office will send out a letter that will go to every employer in Flagstaff, and Bryson said the city is working on launching a new website with all the information employers and employees should know about minimum wage and other facets in the law, like penalties for failing to pay the proper wage.
The minimum fine per violation is $250, which can include failing to post the proper signage or failing to notify workers of the proper wage. The wage applies to any person who performs 25 hours of work or more within the city limits in a year.
Bryson’s office is also tasked with investigating violations, which includes employers failing to pay the proper wage or retaliating against an employee who reports a violation. Bryson’s office does not accept anonymous reports of a violation, and complaint declarations are submitted under the penalty of perjury if a complaint is found to be falsified.
If an employer is found to not be paying the required minimum wage, affected employees are entitled to back pay, interest and liquidated damages, which is equal to double the amount owed to the employee, Bryson said.
Flagstaff’s tipped minimum wage will also increase to $8 per hour, Bryson told the group of six attendees at the forum Thursday night. Employers must be able to prove tipped employees make at least $11 per hour with tips in order to pay the tipped wage.
However, by 2026, the city will become the first city in the country to completely eliminate the “tip credit,” Bryson said. The lower minimum wage for tipped employees, called the tip credit, will begin to be phased out in 2022, decreasing by 50 cents annually until reaching $1 in 2025 and being eliminated completely in 2026.
Bryson will be hosting two more community forums this month to discuss the increasing wage and answer questions. The forums are open to the public and will be held at Mount Elden Middle School, 2332 N Fourth St., at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Flagstaff High School, 400 W. Elm Ave., at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14.