The House Republicans' border adjustment tax (BAT) is, finally, as good as dead. The Republican leaders in charge of tax reform have, for the first time, admitted in a joint statement that a centerpiece of the House GOP tax plan — the idea to raise some $1 trillion over 10 years by hiking taxes of imports and cutting them on exports — is politically unfeasible.

Here's the key sentence, from a statement released today by the "Big Six" lawmakers leading the tax reform process: "While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform."

Why this matters: Conservative lawmakers and outside groups like the Koch network needed to hear that BAT was dead before they agree to put their full political and financial weight behind tax reform over the summer.

But, as for the rest of the joint statement, it's a total letdown and reveals the scope of disagreements still remaining between House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady.

The tax "statement" is a series of platitudes, extremely light on specifics. It commits to lower taxes, but, unlike the plan Trump released in April, it doesn't offer specific tax rates. The statement is also silent on how to pay for the tax cuts, though it does suggest that the group wants the tax reform not to add to the deficit, by saying it places a "priority on permanence." (Many conservatives argue the President should just cut taxes without worrying about blowing out the budget deficit in the short term.)

The most substantive paragraph: "The goal is a plan that reduces tax rates as much as possible, allows unprecedented capital expensing, places a priority on permanence, and creates a system that encourages American companies to bring back jobs and profits trapped overseas. And we are now confident that, without transitioning to a new domestic consumption-based tax system, there is a viable approach for ensuring a level playing field between American and foreign companies and workers, while protecting American jobs and the U.S. tax base."

A source close to leadership texts his reaction to the joint statement (summing up the sentiment I've heard from several prominent tax lobbyists in Washington): "That tax statement is amazing. Other than BAT funeral, it has less substance than the April document...This town spent literally 24 hours get[ting] lathered up over this s---."

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Over 73 million people watched the first debate on TV

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 73.1 million people watched the first presidential debate on television on Tuesday night, according to Nielsen ratings.

Why it matters: While that's a sizable audience for any American TV program, it's down more than 13% from the record number of TV viewers who tuned in for the first debate of the 2016 election. The chaotic nature of the debate and the overall uncertainty around this year's election may have pushed some viewers away.

Senate passes bill funding government through December

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 84-10.

Where it stands: The legislation will avert a government shutdown before funding expires Wednesday night and before the Nov. 3 election. The House passed the same measure last week by a vote of 359-57 after House Democrats and the Trump administration agreed on the resolution.

  • Both sides agreed early in negotiations that the bill should be a "clean" continuing resolution — meaning each party would only make small changes to existing funding levels so the measure would pass through both chambers quickly, Axios' Alayna Treene reported last week. The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
1 hour ago - Technology

The age of engineering life begins

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Synthetic biology startups raised some $3 billion through the first half of 2020, up from $1.9 billion for all of 2019, as the field brings the science of engineering to the art of life.

The big picture: Synthetic biologists are gradually learning how to program the code of life the way that computer experts have learned to program machines. If they can succeed — and if the public accepts their work — synthetic biology stands to fundamentally transform how we live.