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Vox Sentences: The mysterious case of the missing prime minister

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Senate Republicans release a tax plan that may clash with the House's tax reform vision; Obamacare has a very good week; tensions between Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iran reach a boiling point.


The clock is ticking on taxes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
  • Senate Republicans released their long-awaited tax reform plan late Thursday night, a week after the Republicans in the House released their plan. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • The two plans are divergent in a number of ways, most notably with the Senate proposing to delay a steep corporate tax cut wanted by the House for one year. The Senate plan would also keep the current number of tax brackets and wouldn’t get rid of the estate tax (although that tax would get cut). [WSJ / Richard Rubin]
  • Those are significant differences, but there are plenty of similarities between the two plans as well. Both will provide steep tax cuts for corporations and let America’s wealthy keep more of their own money. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • The proposed one-year delay for corporate tax cuts likely won’t be welcomed by House leadership or President Trump, who is partial to the proposal. The delay could also mar the math that lawmakers have proposed to make up for the cost in tax cuts. [NYT / Jim Tankersley, Alan Rappeport, and Thomas Kaplan]
  • Senate leadership says they are confident they can pass something by the end of the year, but a tax reform bill has a bunch of obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest ones is that the bill would currently add to the national deficit, and Republican senators including Bob Corker, Rand Paul, and Jeff Flake have indicated they won’t vote for a bill that adds to the deficit. [CNBC / Jacob Pramuk]
  • This is being compounded by an extremely tight deadline: Republicans are committed to getting a bill onto Trump’s desk by the end of the year, and the clock is ticking. [NPR / Susan Davis]
  • Democrats winning big in Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and other states could also have an impact on what makes it into a final tax bill; Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch told reporters the results of election night could make passing a bill more difficult. [Washington Post / Mike DeBonis and Ed O’Keefe]
  • The main reason: Both the House and Senate plans propose getting rid of popular deductions that many upper-middle-class families rely on; it would be a very bad look politically to shift the tax burden onto these families to give big corporations and the ultrarich a big tax cut. [Washington Post / Todd Frankel]

Obamacare has 9 lives

Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images
  • Despite so many attempts from President Trump and congressional Republicans to kill Obamacare, the program apparently just keeps getting stronger. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • With open enrollment starting recently, the Obamacare exchanges just had one of their best weeks on record, with 600,000 signing up in the first week (more than 137,000 of those were first-time enrollees). This outpaces the number of people who signed last year. [CNN Money / Tami Luhby]
  • This comes as the odds are noticeably stacked against the federal health care program, which is now being managed by an administration that would like to see it gone and is trying everything in its power to make that goal a reality. [Huffington Post]
  • For instance, the Obamacare enrollment period has been halved from 90 days to 45 this year, and the Trump administration also slashed the outreach program for it. [NBC News / Benjy Sarlin]
  • So overall, the sign-up numbers may be lower because there’s not as much time to sign up. But the quick rate at which people are signing up is surprising, and it’s not the only good news for the program this week. [Washington Post / Paige Winfield Cunningham]
  • On Election Day Tuesday, voters in Maine voted to expand Medicaid in a referendum, pushing back on their Republican governor, who has been refusing to expand the program. Even after that vote, Gov. Paul LePage is still saying the program can’t move forward unless the legislature comes up with the money to pay for it. [Portland Press Herald / Scott Thistle]
  • Still, the vote in Maine shows Medicaid is politically popular. The vote there is inspiring similar upcoming votes in Utah and Idaho. At the same time, Trump’s Medicaid director, Seema Verma, wants to pare down the program significantly. [Vox / Dylan Scott]
  • This is sure to continue to be a big fight between Republicans and Democrats, but one thing is certain: Obamacare and Medicaid are resilient programs, and they’re not going away quietly. [Vox / Dylan Scott]

Lebanon’s prime minister is missing

Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP/Getty Images
  • Things in the Middle East are very tense after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia last week to meet with officials there, and then unexpectedly announced his resignation; he has yet to return. [NYT / Anne Barnard]
  • Sources in Lebanon recently told the Washington Post they believe Hariri is under house arrest in Saudi Arabia and is being detained against his will, potentially as leverage in a larger conflict between the Saudis and Iran (and by extension Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon). [Washington Post / David Ignatius]
  • Hariri, like the Saudis, is a Sunni Muslim, and he has had a good relationship with the monarchy in the past, but things seem to be deteriorating rapidly. [NPR / Colin Dwyer]
  • Hariri’s possible detention has now inspired the leader of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to say that by holding Hariri, Saudi Arabia is declaring war on Lebanon. [Reuters / Tom Perry, Ellen Francis, and John Irish]
  • There are a lot of moving parts in this saga, but people in the Middle East fear it could potentially bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to war, because Iran is allied with Hezbollah and tensions are already high from an incident with a ballistic missile intercepted in Saudi Arabia last week that the Saudis insist Iran and Hezbollah are behind. [CNN / Tamara Qiblawi and Sarah Sirgany]
  • So while war has not been formally declared, tensions in the region are incredibly high and have not yet deescalated. [Haaretz / Zvi Bar'el]

Miscellaneous

  • If you think otters are cute, just picture this ancient otter that was the size of a wolf and chomped mollusk shells like they were tasty snacks. [National Geographic / Jason Goldman]
  • Here’s an article that confirms all my worst fears about Honey Nut Cheerios, which contain nine times the sugar of plain Cheerios per serving. [NYT / Danny Hakim]
  • Taylor Swift is normally pretty silent about her politics, save for an Instagram post urging people to vote last election. Since then, she’s been inserted into the middle of a very intense debate about her politics, or lack thereof. [The Ringer / Alyssa Bereznak]
  • Clouds of thousands of ladybugs have descended on southern Manitoba, Canada, to the extreme annoyance and slight horror of local residents. [Maclean’s / Zoe McKnight]
  • This week, we got our first glimpse at the Russian-linked political ads on Facebook, and they are … super weird. One featured a cartoon Bernie Sanders sporting washboard abs and a Speedo; another showed Hillary Clinton arm-wrestling Jesus. [The Verge / Russell Brandom]

Verbatim


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