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Congress Races To Avert Shutdown

Congress rushes to avert shutdown amid hopeful signs from Trump. Politico: “Congressional negotiators finalized a massive funding package just before midnight Wednesday, confident they’ll have enough support to deliver it to President Trump’s desk in time to avert a shutdown. The Senate plans to move quickly to approve the funding accord Thursday, sending it to the House, where it’s also expected to have large bipartisan backing. The bill will then be sent to Trump, where even top lawmakers are still holding their breath that he’ll sign it and avert a second shutdown. The 1,100-page funding deal would fund one-quarter of the government, including the contentious homeland security budget. Notably, though, Republican and Democratic leaders failed to reach a deal to reauthorize a landmark set of protections for domestic violence survivors, the Violence Against Women Act. That program is now set to expire Friday, though some lawmakers and aides say funding likely won’t be affected until March.”

Parkland Survivors Urge End To Gun Violence

A year after the school shooting that was supposed to change everything. NYT: “The name “Parkland” has become a shorthand for the tragedy that many hoped would mark the beginning of the end of school massacres. But ask the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in more quiet moments about the awful year since last Feb. 14, and they tell you a different, more personal story. About innocence lost. Dreams undone. Grief delayed. And there are the famous faces, the students everyone thinks they know, who on a recent morning stood at a nearby elementary school where a local charity quietly unveiled a mural, the last of 17 community service projects created to honor each of the victims. David Hogg, the one who went on CNN and dared adults to act like one, lay on a basketball court and painted in a hibiscus flower. Emma González, the one who “called B.S.” on politicians who weren’t serious about gun control, crouched barefoot before the wall, cut out a paper stencil and sang along to the Beatles’ song, ‘Here Comes The Sun.’ To think of them, and of this upscale suburban high school, as mere symbols of tragedy ignores the complicated tapestry of sadness, fear and defiance that is now forever part of it — and will be long after the last of these students graduate.”

Congress Rebukes Trump On Yemen War

Dems force Trump to show his hand on Saudi policy. Salon: “bill that would end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen could force President Donald Trump to exercise the first veto of his presidency — and, in the process, raise questions about his willingness to place American interests over those of a foreign government. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday before moving on to the Senate, where it is also likely to pass, according to Politico. The bill’s success was largely due to the efforts of Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has long been an outspoken opponent of America’s support for Saudi Arabia in its bloody and controversial campaign against Yemen. ‘No one was willing to do it because they don’t want to be Dennis Kucinich, introducing these things that are not going anywhere,’ Khanna told Politico, referring to the famously anti-war Ohio congressman and former presidential candidate. One big unanswered question is whether Trump is willing to sign will the bill. The president has continued to support the Saudi government even after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner is reported to have a close relationship with the prince. ‘I also am hopeful the president may sign it. I know it’s uphill still,’ Khanna told The Hill. ‘You can’t be for withdrawal in Afghanistan and withdrawal in Syria and then say we need to escalate the war in Yemen. It just doesn’t make sense.'”

Omar Grills Abrams Over Central America Crimes

Rep. Ilhan Omar applauded for grilling Elliott Abrams over Role in US-backed massacres in Central America. Common Dreams: “During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) fiercely grilled President Donald Trump’s Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams over his support for U.S.-backed massacres and genocide in Latin America throughout the 1980s, as well as his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. ‘I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.’ ‘In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush,’ Omar stated at the beginning of her remarks. ‘I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.’ When Abrams attempted to respond to what he called an ‘attack,’ Omar stated simply, ‘It wasn’t a question.’ The Minnesota congresswoman went on to recount the horrific details of the El Mozote massacre, in which U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers raped and murdered more than 800 civilians, including many women and young children. ‘You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement,” Omar said. ‘Yes or no: Do you still think so?’ After Abrams claimed that El Salvador became a “democracy” after the U.S. intervened, Omar pressed on, asking, ‘Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a ‘fabulous achievement’?'”

Millionaires Avoid Paying Into Social Security

A late Valentine? Millionaires stop paying into Social Security on February 18th. Common Dreams: “By February 18th, someone making $1,000,000 in 2019 will have stopped paying into Social Security for the year. Social Security, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to countless Americans every year, only taxes the first $132,900 of a salary (up from $128,400 in 2018). If you make more than this cap, that income is not subject to the tax. Most people in the United States make less than $132,900 per year, so they will pay the 6.2 percent payroll tax every time they get a paycheck in 2019. Those who make over $132,900 get a break on any income above that amount. If a person made $50,000 in 2019, for example, they’d pay taxes until December 31st — and have an effective tax rate of 6.2 percent. But someone making $1,000,000 in 2019 would stop paying Social Security taxes on February 18th and see a bump in their pay afterwards. This person’s effective tax rate would be just 0.8 percent. The burden of Social Security taxes falls more heavily on those who make less. Social Security’s finances also depend on the tax cap. Social Security is projected to have a shortfall in the medium term and many argue that the program, despite its importance, needs to be cut today. Part of this shortfall is because more money has been shifted above the $132,900 cap over the last few decades: in 1983, 10 percent of wage income was over the cap; in 2016, over 17 percent was. This change represents a large share of the shortfall. Scrapping the payroll tax cap entirely and making everyone pay the same tax rate, together with modest changes to the program (or a shift in perspective from deficit politics), could eliminate the shortfall entirely and allow for expanding benefits, which are as necessary as ever.”

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