Rep. Don Young is clear about what he wants from the Republican tax legislation being debated in Congress.
“ANWR’s the No. 1 thing,” he told reporters during a press call last week.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she wants to see good legislation.
“I want a good tax bill. I want a tax bill that really does provide for a level of equity and fairness and simplicity,” she said Monday.
Murkowski and Young are both members of the House-Senate conference committee that will meet Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Because the House has passed one version of the bill and the Senate has passed another — and because neither body has approved the other’s version — the House and Senate must come up with a compromise that can pass both bodies. Few lawmakers are chosen for the conference committee, which gives Murkowski and Young significant political power, but also puts them under significant pressure.
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill by only two votes, but if lawmakers favor the Senate too much, the bill might have trouble passing the House.
Murkowski said she worked all weekend with other conferees to try to find a compromise.
Young said Alaskans have fought for 40 years to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration and development.
“This time, we hope to get it done,” he said. “People that elect me expect me to try to get this thing done. It’s right for the nation.”
Murkowski, whose position as a Senate committee chairwoman allowed her to advance the drilling provision to the brink of passage, said she sees ANWR drilling as an economic boon to the state and nation.
“When we talk about tax reform and what we’re seeking to do here, at the base of it, at the core of it, this is about economic growth. … We want to stimulate growth,” she said. “There are very few things … that can create $1 billion-plus of new wealth. That’s what ANWR does for us.”
Arctic drilling is only one component of a measure that promises the biggest changes to America’s tax code since 1986. If approved by the House, Senate and president Donald Trump, the proposal would lower federal taxes for millions of Americans and increase the national debt by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
According to the CBO breakdown, wealthier Americans will benefit the most from the cuts. Those making between $100,000 and $200,000 per year receive the most benefit, while those making between $0 and $30,000 per year may see their expenses go up in 2019. By 2027, after some cuts are phased out, Americans making less than $75,000 will be paying more.
Young said it’s “political bull-poop” to call the bill a giveaway to the rich, pointing out that the cut works out to about $3,000 per person.
Young and Murkowski each said they support a provision in the tax cut bill that would end the individual mandate for health insurance. Americans would no longer be required to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
Murkowski said she thinks some Alaskans don’t understand that isn’t an end to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. She added that healthcare subsidies to Alaskans would continue, even if that individual mandate goes away.
Young said he’s interested in seeing some changes to the tax code with regard to Puerto Rico, which as a territory isn’t treated the same as a state.
Murkowski said she believes a tax deduction for teachers who buy their own supplies will stay in the bill and even be increased (the House bill eliminated that deduction). She added that she also believes other education-specific tax benefits, including a tax exemption for graduate student stipends, will remain. The House had sought to eliminate that exemption as well.
Neither Murkowski nor Young were willing to prognosticate on the likelihood of success or failure for the conference committee.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned around here in my 15 years … it’s that nothing is done until it’s done,” Murkowski said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.