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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calls for minimum global corporate income tax

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday urged the adoption of a minimum global corporate income tax, an effort to offset any disadvantages that might arise from the Biden administration’s proposed increase in the US corporate tax rate.

Citing a “thirty-year race to the bottom” in which countries have slashed corporate tax rates in an effort to attract multinational businesses, Yellen said the Biden administration would work with other advanced economies in the Group of 20 to set a minimum.

“Competitiveness is about more than how U.S.-headquartered companies fare against other companies in global merger and acquisition bids,” Yellen said in a virtual speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “It is about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods.”

The speech was Yellen’s highest-profile so far on international affairs, and came just as the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began in a virtual format.

“It is important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition and corporate tax base erosion,” Yellen said.

President Joe Biden has proposed hiking the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent, partially undoing the Trump administration’s cut from 35 per cent in its 2017 tax legislation.

Biden also wants to set a minimum U.S. tax on overseas corporate income, and to make it harder for companies to shift earnings offshore. The increase would help pay for the White House’s ambitious USD 2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.

Also on Monday, Biden said he was “not at all” concerned that a higher corporate tax rate would cause some U.S. companies to relocate overseas, though Yellen’s proposed global minimum corporate tax is intended to prevent that from happening.

“There’s no evidence to that … that’s bizarre,” Biden said in response to a question from reporters.

According to the Tax Foundation, the Trump administration’s corporate tax reduction lowered the U.S. rate from the highest among the 37 advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to the 13th highest. Many analysts have argued, however, that few large U.S. multinationals paid the full tax.

“We have 51 or 52 corporations from the Fortune 500 who haven’t paid a single penny a day for 3 years?” Biden said. “Come on.”

Yellen, meanwhile, downplayed the potential for the Biden administration’s domestic agenda, which also includes a USD 1.9 trillion COVID relief package approved last month, to spur higher inflation. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, among others, has raised such concerns since the relief bill passed.

“I strongly doubt that it’s going to cause inflationary pressures,” Yellen said, referring to the administration’s infrastructure proposal. “The problem for a very long time has been inflation that’s too low, not inflation that’s too high.”

Yellen also said the United States will step up its efforts at home and overseas to fight climate change, “after sitting on the sidelines for four years.”

Treasury will work to “promote the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from carbon-intensive investments,” Yellen said. That approach has raised the ire of GOP members of Congress, who say it threatens the ability of the U.S. oil and gas industry to access needed lending.

Yellen also noted that many developing nations are lagging in vaccinating their populations, and have also experienced harsh economic consequences from the pandemic. As many as 150 million people worldwide will fall into extreme poverty this year, Yellen said.

“The result will likely be a deeper and longer-lasting crisis, with mounting problems of indebtedness, more entrenched poverty, and growing inequality,” Yellen said.

The Biden administration supports the creation of USD 650 billion in new lending capacity at the IMF to address such issues, she said. Many Republicans in Congress oppose the new allotment, arguing that much of the funding would flow to relatively better-off developing countries, such as China.

Yellen acknowledged that the additional credit would be distributed to each IMF member, but argued that “significant resources will go to the poorest countries most in need.” Nations can also donate some of their funds to the hardest-hit countries, which she expects many will do, she added.

GOP needs new health care target; ‘Obamacare’ survives again

The Supreme Court’s latest rejection of a Republican effort to dismantle “Obamacare” signals anew that the GOP must look beyond repealing the law if it wants to hone the nation’s health care problems into a winning political issue.

Thursday’s 7-2 ruling was the third time the court has rebuffed major GOP challenges to former President Barack Obama’s prized health care overhaul. Stingingly for Republicans, the decision emerged from a bench dominated 6-3 by conservative-leaning justices, including three appointed by President Donald Trump.

Those high court setbacks have been atop dozens of failed Republican repeal attempts in Congress. Most spectacularly, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flashed a thumbs-down that doomed Trump‘s drive to erase the law in 2017.

Along with the public’s gradual but decisive acceptance of the statute, the court rulings and legislative defeats underscore that the law, passed in 2010 despite overwhelming GOP opposition, is probably safe. And it spotlights a remarkable progression of the measure from a political liability that cost Democrats House control just months after enactment to a widely accepted bedrock of the medical system, delivering care to what the government says is more than 30 million people.

“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land,” President Joe Biden said, using the statute’s more formal name, after the court ruled that Texas and other GOP-led states had no right to bring their lawsuit to federal court.

“It’s not as sacred or popular as Medicare or Medicaid, but it’s here to stay,” said Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “And it’s moved from an ideological whipping boy to a set of popular benefits that the public values.”

Highlighting the GOP’s shifting health care focus, in interviews and written statements Thursday, more than a dozen Republican lawmakers called for controlling medical costs and other changes, but none suggested another run at repeal. Congressional Republicans hadn’t even filed a legal brief supporting the latest Supreme Court challenge.

“Just practically speaking, you need 60 votes in a Republican Senate, a Republican president, right? And we’ve tried that and were unable to accomplish it,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a leading voice on health care in the GOP.

Polling shows the risks in trying to demolish Obama’s law. A Kaiser poll showed Americans about evenly pided on the law in December 2016, just after Trump was elected on a pledge to kill it. By February 2020, 54% had a favorable view while 39% disapproved.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other top Republicans issued a statement illustrating one line of attack the party is preparing – trying to handcuff all Democrats to “Medicare for All,” a costly plan for government-provided health care backed by progressives that goes beyond what Biden and many in the party have proposed.

Congress should “not double down on a failed health care law or, worse, move towards a one-size-fits-all, socialist system that takes away choice entirely,” the Republicans said.

The GOP should focus on health issues people care about, like personalized care and promoting medical innovation, not repealing the health care law, said David Winston, a pollster and political adviser to congressional GOP leaders.

“Republicans need to lay out a clear direction of where the health care system should go,” Winston said. “Don’t look backward, look forward.”

Most people have gained coverage from either Obama’s expansion of the government-funded Medicaid program for lower-income people or from private health plans, for which federal subsidies help offset costs for many.

The law’s most popular provisions also include its protections for people with preexisting medical conditions from higher insurance rates, allowing people up to age 26 to remain covered under their parents’ plans and requiring insurers to cover services like pregnancy and mental health.

Key requirements like that are “locked in concrete,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The political opening for Republicans would be if Democrats push hard for things like lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 60 because for many conservative-leaning voters, he said, “that’s a sign of government pushing too far” into private marketplace decisions.

Yet serious problems remain.

Nearly 29 million Americans remained uninsured in 2019, and millions more likely lost coverage at least temporarily when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to Kaiser. In addition, medical costs continue rising and even many covered by the law find their premiums and deductibles difficult to afford.

In response, Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package enacted in March expanded federal subsidies for health insurance premiums for those buying coverage. His infrastructure and jobs proposal being negotiated in Congress includes $200 billion toward making that permanent, instead of expiring in two years.

But his plan includes none of his more controversial campaign trail proposals to expand health care access, like creating a federally funded public health care option or letting Medicare directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. While those proposals are popular with Democratic voters, they face tough odds in a closely pided Congress.

Still, Republicans gearing up for 2022 elections that will decide congressional control must decide where their next focus will be.

One GOP strategist involved in House races, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal thinking, said the party should focus on issues like the economy and border security that register as higher voter concerns. A Gallup poll showed that in May, 21% of the public ranked the economy as the country’s top problem, with health care registering at just 3%.

Other Republicans say the Supreme Court’s rejection of the latest repeal attempt will clear the political field for them to refocus their health care attacks on Democrats.

“Now it’s Medicare for All that will be a top health care issue playing a role in campaigns,” said Chris Hartline, spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.

Anthony Fauci: Too soon to say if Americans may need vaccine booster

The government’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that Americans will need a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months, but it is too soon for the government to recommend another shot.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration did the right thing last week by pushing back against drugmaker

Pfizer

‘s assertion about a booster within 12 months.

Hours after Pfizer’s statement Thursday that it would seek authorization for a third dose, the two agencies said they did not view the booster shots as necessary “at this time.”

Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen.

“Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we stop there. … There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”

He said it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci said.

Currently only about 48 per cent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” – highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

On Sunday, Fauci said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and he was dismayed by efforts to block making vaccinations more accessible, such as Biden’s suggestion of door-to-door outreach.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., agreed Sunday that there is a vaccine resistance in Southern and rural states like his because “you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government.”

Describing his efforts to boost vaccinations in his state, which is seeing rising infections, Hutchinson said “no one wants an agent knocking on a door,” but “we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it.”

The grassroots component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the USD 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private sector workers and volunteers.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., blasted opposition to vaccination efforts from some GOP lawmakers as “absolute insanity.” He said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California and others in the party need to speak out against “these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.”

Fauci appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation”; Hutchinson spoke on ABC, and Kinzinger was on CNN.