TIME Football

Why the NFL Suddenly Wants to Pay Taxes

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Rob Carr—Getty Images Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass by Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks intended for Ricardo Lockette #83 late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.

America's richest sports league relinquishes its non-profit status. How much will Uncle Sam benefit?

The NFL announced Tuesday that it’s voluntarily relinquishing its tax-exempt status. Here’s what you need to know about the move.

Why in the world would the NFL volunteer to pay taxes?

Basically, the economic value of the exemption wasn’t worth the political and PR headaches that it created. In a memo to the league’s teams and members of Congress, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the tax-exemption a “distraction,” and said it has “been mischaracterized repeatedly in recent years.”

Is there truth to this?

Yes. Political threats to revoke the tax-exemption of pro sports organizations hold populist appeal. After all, how can commercial outfits that sell expensive tickets and generate millions of dollars for owners and players be considered non-profit organizations – and thus exempt from paying taxes? The NFL is no charity.

In 2013, Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma introduced legislation that would prohibit the NFL and other pro sports organizations with over $10 million in revenue from filing as non-profits. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal last fall, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, proposed similar legislation – and argued that taxes on these leagues could fund domestic violence programs. Last month, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, House Oversight Committee Chairman, told Reuters that “the National Football League should have to pay taxes like everybody else.”

Politicians, however, largely fail to explain the scope of these tax-exemptions – which are much more limited than they may appear. The NFL’s teams, who see a bulk of the league’s $11 billion in revenue, are taxable entities. So the NFL does pay taxes. The league office is tax-exempt, but it generated just $9 million in income during the 2012 tax year.

So repealing the NFL’s tax exemption wouldn’t create the windfall politicians want you to expect. If it saved the NFL a ton of money, today’s voluntary relinquishing never would have happened. Recent political posturing exaggerated its value.

Why was the NFL office tax-exempt in the first place?

The NFL has historically filed as a 501 (c)(6) non-profit, which provides tax-exemptions for “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues.” Er, how did football get written into the tax code?

This legislative quirk dates back to the 1966 NFL-AFL merger. “Professional football leagues” were added to the code that year to ensure that the merger could go forward “without fear of an anti-trust challenge under either the Clayton Antitrust Act or the Federal Trade Commissions Act,” and to ensure that “a professional football league’s exemption would not be jeopardized because it administered a players’ pension fund,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. In return for this favorable treatment of the merger by two Democratic lawmakers — Louisiana Senator Russell Long, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Louisiana representative Hale Boggs, House majority whip — New Orleans was awarded the NFL’s next expansion franchise.

Who’s the big winner here?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Remember him calling the exemption a distraction? Well, the largest distraction has been the required public disclosure of his enormous compensation — $44 million in 2012, and $35 million in 2013. When Goodell mishandles an issue like Ray Rice, his paycheck is inevitably thrown in his face. How can a guy making that much money screw up so badly? The commissioner’s pay is also a sore point during collective bargaining negotiations.

Without the tax exemption, the NFL is under no legal obligation to release its commissioner’s salary. Major League Baseball made a similar move in 2007, when it relinquished its tax exemption – and no longer had to disclose the pay of commissioner Bud Selig, which had exceeded $18 million.

Fundamentally, does this news change anything about the NFL?

Not really. Go ahead and return to obsessing over the draft – which starts Thursday night.

TIME trade

Meet the Critics of President Obama’s Trade Deal

Barack Obama speaks at a ceremony at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. on April 24, 2015.
Kevin Dietsch—dpa/Corbis Barack Obama speaks at a ceremony at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. on April 24, 2015.

Republicans in Congress are poised to give President Obama broad powers to cement a legacy-defining free trade deal with Pacific countries.

Backed by major conservative and business groups, bills to grant the president fast-track authority passed through Republican-led House and Senate committees last week with enough Senate Democratic support for eventual passage, unless the bill changes dramatically on its way to a final vote or Republican support crumbles.

Not every member of the GOP on Capitol Hill is gung ho about the idea. It’s unclear exactly how many, but estimates of GOP opponents range from as few as a dozen to two dozen to as many as 60, according to various news reports. The lower estimates are likely not enough, but the higher ones could sink the bill, which is designed to allow Obama to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that would affect about a third of the world’s trade.

Critics fear that fast-track authority would further exacerbate income inequality and cut deeper into a manufacturing sector that bled millions of jobs last decade. Ohio Rep. David Joyce said he doesn’t understand why his fellow Republicans support trade promotion authority (or TPA) — which would limit debate in Congress by allowing the president to negotiate deals that could only be voted up or down without amendment — when they oppose Obama’s negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“I find it sort of humorous that they don’t trust the president on Iran or anything else but they’ll trust him with TPA, which I think could really do severe damage to our country and to manufacturing as a whole,” says Joyce, who counts himself among about a dozen GOP opponents.

Tucked in between Cleveland and Akron and spread into the northeast tip of the state, Joyce’s district boasts a manufacturing economy composed of 1,500 companies responsible for around 65,400 jobs and $930 million in wages, according to his office. “I never believed the president had this authority to begin with,” says Joyce. “So you start with that premise. And then in the last 28 months as I’ve worked the district, I’ve learned more and more manufacturers say this just hasn’t worked for us.”

Some pro-trade economists criticize opponents like Joyce for listening to politically active but less important sectors of their state. Two of the top five industries that gave the most money to Joyce’s reelection campaign last year were manufacturing companies and transportation unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And while the manufacturing sector employs about 13 percent of his state’s workforce, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a fierce TPA opponent, tells TIME that the industry “matters to us as much or more than other state in the country.”

“I’m sure Ohio thinks of itself as a manufacturing state,” says Gary Clyde Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s not. Nobody is today. Manufacturing is down to about 11% of employment in the U.S.”

“There are many strong service industries in the US which will export abroad who are totally underrepresented in the political debate,” he adds. “The political debate is all centered on manufacturing and agriculture. And services, which is two thirds of our economy, is pretty well forgotten.”

The TPP deal the Administration has been negotiating for nearly five years would affect a broad swath of international law concerning a host of issues including those concerning labor, the environment, intellectual property, agriculture, data exclusivity and investor-state arbitration among others. Peter Petri, a Brandeis University professor of international finance whose models have been used by the Chamber of Commerce, says that the Trans Pacific Partnership will set the “benchmark” for global trade rules in relatively new areas in the services, investment and internet industries in which America has a competitive advantage.

“Global rules are becoming steadily less relevant in these areas because they were negotiated 20 years ago,” Petri tells TIME. “So we are heading for anarchy of sorts, with big countries deciding on an ad hoc basis on how to deal with each new technology, transaction and company, based on their narrow, short-term advantage. For the US, this may mean keeping a few more jobs in low-wage industries, but it will frustrate our most important global industries, and probably weaken the world economy for everyone.”

But even by Petri’s calculations the macroeconomic effect for the trade deal would be modest, adding about $77 billion per year to U.S. real incomes by 2025. And there will be winners — sophisticated equipment manufacturers for everything from turbines to medical equipment to heavy earth-moving machines — and losers, including producers of furniture and basic consumer electronics, according to Hufbauer. A Peterson Institute study says the U.S. manufacturing sector will contract by $44 billion, while companies in the services industry will expand by $79 billion.

Brown, who wears a canary in a cage pin to display his solidarity with workers’ rights, argues that TPP will be a disaster, with broad, long-lasting negative consequences for both his state and country.

“Fundamentally what these trade agreements have done is encouraged companies to follow business plans, which were sort of unknown until 20 years ago, where you shut down production in Steubenville or Toledo and move it to Wuhan or Mexico City and sell the products back into the United States,” says Brown.

“They talk about increased exports, but that’s a lot like saying well the Tigers got 5 runs, but the Indians got 7,” adds Brown of the United States Trade Representative office, which has been lobbying Democrats. “So you’ve got to talk exports-imports and every trade agreement we pass, we end up losing more jobs — good-paying manufacturing jobs, often union jobs, sometimes not.”

The debate will only heat up in next several weeks when TPA heads to the floor of the Senate and House. While Boehner and other Republicans in leadership continue to push the bill, Brown will headline an AFL-CIO event in Cleveland on May 4 in protest. Meanwhile Joyce will lay low — he doesn’t plan on attending any trade-specific events back home next week.

TIME Iran

Ignore the Noise in Washington and Tehran. An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still Likely

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,

Despite the criticisms around the Iran negotiations, a deal is still more likely than not. But the real challenge will be implementation

In his first public comments after the U.S. and Iran settled on a nuclear framework agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pulled no punches: “The whole problem comes now that the details should be discussed, because the other side is stubborn, difficult to deal with, breaks promises and is a backstabber.”

Critics quickly pointed to the statement as proof that hopes for a final deal are evaporating. But the Ayatollah’s combative words don’t move the needle on whether we’ll get a final deal by the June 30 deadline.

Khamenei is posturing for two separate audiences. His hardline supporters in Iran could undermine his political authority if they believe he is capitulating to the West. The Ayatollah needs to placate this group while his negotiators, led by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, hammer out a deal behind closed doors. His second audience is the Western negotiators with whom he is trying to drive a hard bargain. Khamenei’s comments put more pressure on them, and sends a signal to his own negotiators not to cede ground.

But Khamenei authorized Iran’s president to appoint negotiators to work out a deal. The Supreme Leader has praised those negotiators via Twitter. The talks couldn’t have progressed this far if Khamenei wasn’t serious about getting a deal done to escape Western sanctions.

In fact, American detractors of the potential deal are engaging in a very similar form of theater. U.S. politicians want to score political points as much as their Iranian counterparts do: congressional Republicans and GOP presidential hopefuls are badmouthing the deal to ding President Obama and gain traction on the biggest global issue of the day. But the reality is that it will be impossible for Republicans to peel off enough Democrats to reach a veto-proof majority and overturn a final deal. The international community favors an Iran deal, and the American public is wary of undertaking military actions that could lead to another Middle East war.

A final deal between the U.S. and Iran remains more likely than not, but it’s not vitriolic tweets that threaten it most—it’s the remaining sticking points between the two sides. How much enriched uranium would Iran be allowed to stockpile? How much will a deal limit nuclear research using advanced machines? At what pace and in what sequence will the West lift sanctions while Iran carries out its end of the bargain?

These are critical and complex questions, but both sides know that they exist, and nothing that has been said from the sidelines in Tehran or Washington has changed that.

Yet even if the U.S. and Iran manage to agree on a final deal, the negotiations won’t end. The devil lies in the details of implementation. What happens if the U.S. discovers in four or five years that Iran is cheating, hiding nuclear weapons work from inspectors? How feasible will it be to punish Iran for undermining a deal, especially once sanctions are peeled back and Iran emerges from international isolation?

Reaching a deal is one thing. Making sure it doesn’t unravel is something else—and something that may be even tougher.

TIME Congress

Congressman Proposes Putting a Woman’s Face on the $20 Bill

"It is time to put our money where our mouths are, literally"

The push to put a woman’s face on American currency got a bump Tuesday from a Congressman in Illinois.

Representative Luis Gutiérrez, a Democrat, introduced a bill calling for a woman’s portrait to appear on the $20 bill. The “Put a Woman on the Twenty Act” would direct the Treasury Secretary to convene a special commission that would ask the American public for their suggestions and then make recommendations on who would replace former President Andrew Jackson on the note.

“If this is a country that truly believes in equality,” Gutiérrez said in a statement, “it is time to put our money where our mouths are, literally, and express that sense of justice and fairness on the most widely used bill in circulation.”

The move comes in the wake of the viral Women on 20s campaign, which hosted an online poll of 15 potential faces to appear on the bills. Voters can now pick one of four women finalists: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief.

And it follows a comment on the matter from President Barack Obama, who, after a little girl asked in a letter to him why there weren’t any women on U.S. currency, said having female faces on American bills sounded like a “pretty good idea.”

“I’ll keep working to make sure you grow up in a country where women have the same opportunities as men, and I hope you’ll stay involved in issues that matter to you,” he said in a reply to her.

Read next: Read a 9-Year-Old’s Letter to Obama About Putting a Woman on U.S. Currency—and His Response

TIME Innovation

The Epic Scale of Lobbying Cash

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Corporations now spend more lobbying Congress than taxpayers spend funding Congress.

By Ezra Klein in Vox

2. Customer satisfaction and quality health care aren’t the same.

By Alexandra Robbins in the Atlantic

3. Here’s how manufacturers can cut costs and carbon emissions.

By Ken Silverstein in Forbes

4. Why is the U.S. condemned to have second-rate train service?

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood in National Journal

5. Scientists want to use lasers to shoot down space junk.

By Marissa Fessenden at Smithsonian magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Medicare

Congress Just Passed a Medicare ‘Doc Fix.’ Here’s What That Means to You

doctor with money in his lab coat pocket
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Both houses have approved an overhaul to how Medicare reimburses doctors. Will that mean higher costs for seniors?

Medicare’s troubled physician payment formula will soon be history.

As expected, the Senate Tuesday night easily passed legislation to scrap the formula, accepting a bipartisan plan muscled through the House last month by Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The Senate vote came just hours before doctors faced a 21% Medicare pay cut.

Under the bill, the current reimbursement schedule would be replaced with payment increases for doctors for the next five years as Medicare transitions to a new system focused “on quality, value and accountability.” Existing payment incentive programs would be combined into a new “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System” while other alternative payment models would also be created.

“Passage of this historic legislation finally brings an end to an era of uncertainty for Medicare beneficiaries and their physicians—facilitating the implementation of innovative care models that will improve care quality and lower costs,” said Dr. James L. Madara, chief executive officer of the American Medical Association. “Patients will be able to get the care they need and deserve.”

The Senate voted 92 to 8 to approve the legislation, which the House passed 392-37.

It now moves to President Barack Obama, who—shortly after the Senate vote—said he would sign the bill, calling it “a milestone for physicians, and for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare for their health care needs.”

There’s enough in the wide-ranging measure for both sides to love or hate. “Like any large bill it’s a mixed bag in some respects, but I think on the whole it’s a bill well worth supporting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday.

The bill includes two years of funding for an unrelated program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. GOP conservatives and Democrats are unhappy that the package isn’t fully paid for, with policy changes governing Medicare beneficiaries and providers paying for only about $70 billion of the approximately $210 billion package. The Congressional Budget Office has said the bill would add $141 billion to the federal deficit.

Consumer and aging organizations also have expressed concerns that beneficiaries will face greater out-of-pocket expenses on top of higher Part B premiums to help finance the way Medicare pays physicians.

But lawmakers said they had struck a good balance in their quest to get rid of the old system. “I think tonight is a milestone for the Medicare program, a lifeline for millions of older people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “That’s because tonight the Senate is voting to retire the outdated, inefficiency rewarding, common sense-defying Medicare reimbursement system.”

For doctors, the passage is an end to a familiar but frustrating rite. Lawmakers have invariably deferred the cuts prescribed by a 1997 reimbursement formula, which everyone agreed was broken beyond repair. But the deferrals have always been temporary because Congress has not agreed to offsetting cuts to pay for a permanent fix. In 2010, Congress delayed scheduled cuts five times.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the legislation and the congressional ritual known as the doc fix.

Q: How would the bill change the way Medicare pays doctors?

The House package would scrap the old Medicare physician payment rates, which were set through a formula based on economic growth, known as the “sustainable growth rate” (SGR). Instead, it would give doctors an 0.5% bump in each of the next five years as Medicare transitions to a payment system designed to reward physicians based on the quality of care provided, rather than the quantity of procedures performed, as the current payment formula does. That transition follows similar efforts in the federal health law to link Medicare reimbursements to quality metrics.

The measure, which builds upon last year’s legislation from the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees and the Senate Finance Committee, would encourage better care coordination and chronic care management, ideas that experts have said are needed in the Medicare program. It would reward providers who receive a “significant portion” of their revenue from an “alternative payment model” or patient-centered medical home with a 5% payment bonus. It would also allow broader use of Medicare data for “transparency and quality improvement” purposes.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., one of the bill’s drafters, has called it a “historic opportunity to finally move to a system that promotes quality over quantity and begins the important work of addressing Medicare’s structural issues.”

A “technical advisory committee” will review and recommend how to develop alternative payment models. Measures will be developed to judge the quality of care provided and how physicians will be rewarded or penalized based on their performance. While the law lays out a structure on how to move to these new payment models, much of their development will be left to future administrations and federal regulators. Expect heavy lobbying from the physician community on every element of implementation.

Q. Will seniors have to help pay for the plan?

Starting in 2018, wealthier Medicare beneficiaries (individuals with incomes above $133,500, with thresholds higher for couples), would pay more for their Medicare coverage, a provision expected to impact 2% of beneficiaries.

In addition, starting in 2020, “first-dollar” supplemental Medicare insurance known as “Medigap” policies would not be able to cover the Part B deductible for new beneficiaries, which is currently $147 per year but has increased in past years. If the policy had been implemented in 2010, it would have affected Medigap coverage for roughly 10% of all 65-year-olds on Medicare, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Based on declining Medigap enrollment trends among 65-year-olds, expect this policy to impact a smaller share of new Medicare beneficiaries in the future, according to the study. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Experts contend that the “first-dollar” plans, which cover nearly all deductibles and co-payments, keep beneficiaries from being judicious when making medical decisions because they are not paying anything out-of-pocket and those decisions can help drive up costs for Medicare.

The bill also includes other health measures — known as extenders — that Congress has renewed each year during the SGR debate. The list includes funding for therapy services, ambulance services and rural hospitals, as well as continuing a program that allows low-income people to keep their Medicaid coverage as they transition into employment and earn more money. The deal also would permanently extend the Qualifying Individual, or QI program, which helps low-income seniors pay their Medicare premiums.

AARP, a seniors’ lobby group, sought to repeal a cap on the amount of therapy services Medicare beneficiaries could receive, telling senators that it would be a “key vote” for the organization.

“Similar to the SGR debate, an extension of the therapy cap — rather than full repeal — is short-sighted and puts beneficiaries in a dire situation when the extension expires,” AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond wrote in a letter to senators. “This amendment is important to the overall success of the Medicare program and the health and well-being of Medicare’s beneficiaries.” The amendment failed.

Q. What about other facilities that provide care to Medicare beneficiaries?

Post-acute providers, such as long-term care and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health and hospice organizations, would help finance the repeal, receiving base pay increases of 1% in 2018, about half of what was previously expected.

Other changes include phasing in a one-time 3.2 percentage-point boost in the base payment rate for hospitals currently scheduled to take effect in fiscal 2018.

Scheduled reductions in Medicaid “disproportionate share” payments to hospitals that care for large numbers of people who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid would be delayed by one year to fiscal 2018, but extended for an additional year to fiscal 2025.

Q. What is the plan for CHIP?

The bill adds two years of funding for CHIP, a federal-state program that provides insurance for low-income children whose families earned too much money to qualify for Medicaid. While the health law continues CHIP authorization through 2019, funding for the program had not been extended beyond the end of September.

The length of the proposed extension was problematic for Democrats, especially in the Senate. In February, the Senate Democratic caucus signed on to legislation from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, calling for a four-year extension of the current CHIP program. A Senate amendment to extend CHIP funding for four years failed.

Q. What else is in the SGR deal?

The package, which Boehner, R-Ohio, and Pelosi, D-Calif., began negotiating in March, also includes an additional $7.2 billion for community health centers over the next two years. NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have criticized the provision because the health center funding would be subject to the Hyde Amendment, a common legislative provision that says federal money can be used for abortions only when a pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues before the House vote, Pelosi has said that the funding would occur “under the same terms that Members have previously supported and voted on almost every year since 1979.” In a statement, the National Association of Community Health Centers said the proposal “represents no change in current policy for Health Centers, and would not change anything about how Health Centers operate today.”

Q. How did the doctor payment formula become an issue?

Today’s problem is a result of efforts years ago to control federal spending — a 1997 deficit reduction law that set the SGR formula. For the first few years, Medicare expenditures did not exceed the target and doctors received modest pay increases. But in 2002, doctors were furious when their payments were reduced by 4.8%. Every year since, Congress has staved off the scheduled cuts. But each deferral just increased the size of the fix needed the next time.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which advises Congress, says the SGR is “fundamentally flawed” and has called for its repeal. The SGR provides “no incentive for providers to restrain volume,” the agency said.

Q. Why haven’t lawmakers simply eliminated the formula before?

Money was the biggest problem. An earlier bipartisan, bicameral SGR overhaul plan produced jointly by three key congressional committees would cost $175 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and lawmakers could not agree on how to pay for the plan.

This time Congress took a different path. The measure both chambers approved is not fully paid for. That is a major departure from the GOP’s mantra that all legislation must be financed. Tired of the yearly SGR battle, veteran members in both chambers appeared willing to repeal the SGR on the basis that it’s a budget gimmick – the cuts are never made – and therefore financing is unnecessary.

But some senators objected. In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said any repeal of the SGR “should be done in a way that should be financially sound.”

Most lawmakers felt full financing for the Medicare extenders, the CHIP extension and any increase in physician payments over the current pay schedule was needed. Those items account for about $70 billion of financing in the approximately $210 billion package.

Conservative groups urged Republicans to fully finance any SGR repeal and said they would be watching senators’ actions closely. For example, the group Heritage Action for America promised to “key vote” an amendment that the measure be fully financed. That amendment failed.

Some members of Congress seemed pleased to have this recurring debate behind them. “Stick a fork in it,” said Rep. Upton. “It’s finally done.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

TIME Congress

Former Donors Sue Disgraced Congressman Aaron Schock

Congressman Expenses
Ron Johnson—AP U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., gives a news conference regarding his recent spending controversies outside his office in Peoria, Ill. March 6, 2015.

Some of former Rep. Aaron Schock’s donors are suing him, arguing that he misrepresented himself as an honest and ethical politician during his campaign.

The class-action lawsuit seeks refunds for thousands of the Illinois Republican’s donors who were allegedly swindled by a “campaign full of corruption and lies about his integrity,” according to a statement by the plaintiffs’ law firm, Hagens Berman.

Schock was accused of improperly using taxpayer money to take a private jet to a Chicago Bears game, using campaign money for a duty-free shopping spree in Buenos Aires and a number of other colorful scandals. The Justice Department has already launched a criminal investigation.

Filed on April 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the lawsuit is based on racketeering and common-law fraud, among other things. But political lawyers are skeptical about the legal reasoning, noting that campaign donations are not guarantees.

“By definition, campaign contributions must be ‘donations’ unaccompanied by any expectation of a ‘quid pro quo’ return,” said Stefan Passantino, head of McKenna Long & Aldridge’s political law team.

Craig Engle, founder of the Arent Fox political law group, said that donors can ask for a refund if they gave money for a race the candidate never ended up running or if they accidentally gave too much (for example, a donor who gave $2,800 in a race where donations are legally capped at $2,600 is entitled to a $200 refund).

“I think what you have here is a moral obligation that the congressman has a lot of explaining to do, but certifying a class action of donors and giving them a right to a refund under the racketeering statutes, I don’t see that going forward,” he said.

Passantino agreed. “My impression is that this document reads more as a political document for public consumption than anything,” he said. “The investigation and enforcement of these allegations belongs with the (Federal Election Commission) and the Justice Department Public Integrity Section.”

Read next: Meghan McCain: Aaron Schock Embarrassed and Betrayed Millennial Republicans

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

The Republican Senator Who Is Key to the Iran Deal

Sen. Bob Corker
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, arrives for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew in the Capitol on April 14, 2015.

Over the next 10 weeks or so, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker can’t afford a mulligan. Lucky for him, according to occasional golfing buddy and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, he “doesn’t need ‘em.”

In that time, Corker will be “one of the most important people in the world,” as my colleague Massimo Calabresi writes in a magazine profile this week, as he attempts to ensure congressional oversight into a global debate on Iran’s nuclear program the Obama Administration would rather wage on its own.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has the delicate task of crafting a 67-vote supermajority to beat back a veto threat on his bill, which the Administration has worried could imperil the chances of reaching a final deal by a June deadline. Corker struck a major agreement Tuesday, when the committee will take up his bill and introduce a series of amendments that could endanger consensus. But senators on both sides of the aisle are confident that Corker is well suited to the challenges ahead.

“There’s not a better horse to bet on in the United States Senate than Bob Corker,” says Isakson, a Republican member of the committee.

At first glance, Corker is an unlikely player in international affairs. A successful construction company owner, former Chattanooga mayor and head of Tennessee’s finances, Corker had no foreign policy experience before coming to the Senate in 2007. While a student at the University of Tennessee, Corker wasn’t even interested in politics, according to his roommate, Jimmy Haslam, who used to call Corker “Thor” because he “looked like a little Viking.” But his interests eventually evolved and after an introduction from Haslam, Corker met with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander in 1993. The pair talked for an hour and a half as they walked down the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina, discussing whether Corker should run for Senate or governor.

“He’s never been afraid of big jumps,” says Alexander, who thinks the two-term senator would be “terrific” as Secretary of either the State or Treasury departments. “In a way he’s perfectly named—Corker.”

Corker popped to the ranking Republican position on the committee in 2013 and became chairman when Republicans took the Senate this year. To overcome his initial lack of expertise, Corker has engaged in policy discussions with numerous foreign policy experts, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has breakfast with him every two or three months. Corker also travels extensively; he told TIME in February that he had traveled to over 63 countries. Haslam, now the owner of the Cleveland Browns, says his longtime friend flies commercial on his trips to the Middle East with usually one staff member. “Bob’s not a hot dog,” says Haslam. “He gets the job done.”

Corker’s temperament may serve him well as debate over U.S. foreign policy no longer ends at the water’s edge. Democrats are still smarting from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s direct letter to Iranian leaders and House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress. One of seven Republicans who didn’t sign Cotton’s letter, Corker has garnered praise from Democrats. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on Corker’s committee, calls Corker a “serious legislator” and an “ideal fit” for the panel’s chairmanship.

“I think that he is trying to use that position in the best tradition of the U.S. Senate to bring as much unity on behalf of foreign policy as possible,” Cardin told TIME last week. “And recognizing that’s challenging today, I think he’s done a really good job on his bill on the congressional oversight of the nuclear agreement. It’s one in which I hope we can find common ground. I think we’re very close to that.”

Introduced with Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as cosponsors, Corker’s bipartisan bill threads the needle by establishing an order of review, preventing the president from waiving Congress’ economic sanctions against Iran for 30 days, according to a Corker aide, and up to 52 days if Congress passes a bill and the president vetoes it. If the deal is submitted late, after July 9, the review period reverts to 60 days, according to the aide. If President Obama accepts it, the Administration would be required to tell Congress every 90 days if Iran is still keeping up its end.

“We have reached a bipartisan agreement that keeps the congressional review process absolutely intact and full of integrity,” said Corker on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday. “On behalf of the American people we want to make sure that if a final deal is reached it lays before Congress, so we have the opportunity to go through every detail.”

Corker has worked for months to bring Democrats on board. The bill originally had called for a vote to approve or disapprove of the deal—now there is the option to not act, Menendez told TIME. Another priority—pushed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, according to the New York Times—was ensuring a 60-vote rather than a 51-vote threshold for any resolution of disapproval or agreement, ensuring that Congress spoke in a bipartisan manner. Kaine claims credit for limiting the bill to only sanctions imposed by Congress, rather than the Administration or international bodies. Still, just last week Cardin said he had three major areas of concern: “the time for review, the limitation of presidential powers during the review, and to the statute issues that are not directly related to the nuclear agreement.”

So over the past few days and up through Monday night, Corker has worked to close the gaps with Democrats, reportedly softening requirements that Iran isn’t directly sponsoring terrorism against the United States and loosening restrictions on the original timetable for a 60 day congressional review period.

The negotiations have appeared to assuage Democratic concerns. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama’s veto threat would be revoked—a stunning turnaround—if some of the changes the White House has proposed, including the timetable and terrorism language, make it through committee.

“We have to see what comes through the committee process,” said Earnest. “What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans is that the President would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is making its way through the committee today.”

Corker’s immediate challenge now is to navigate a series of controversial amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike. One from Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy would allow President Obama to waive sanctions during the 60 days if a “failure to do so would be a breach of the final comprehensive agreement,” according to Murphy spokesman Chris Harris. Another by Isakson would make a condition of sanctions relief “fair and appropriate compensation” to Americans who were terrorized in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. And Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce an amendment making approval of the deal dependent on Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, according to the New York Times.

Some of those amendments are nonstarters with the Administration, which has launched a full-scale lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Moniz briefed House members in a classified session Monday and are expected to hold another for senators on Tuesday, according to the Times. They are trying to convince lawmakers to agree to a framework agreement that couldn’t be subject to a wider divergence of opinion. Critics like Cotton, a foreign policy hawk and Iraq combat veteran, believe the deal could eventually lead to a nuclear confrontation. The Administration argues it could lead to a safer world, lengthening the time it would take for Iran to produce such a bomb over the next decade from three months to a year, giving America’s allies more time to forcefully respond.

Corker’s knack for jumping into the hairiest policy debates hasn’t always been a success, including in his early efforts to negotiate the auto company bailout and Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform. “He’s a guy who views things without the partisan lens and from a very practical approach,” says Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff. “I think in some ways early on it made him a target for Democrats to try to wedge the best deal out of.”

“I will say that Corker is amongst the most intelligent senators on the Hill,” adds Holmes. “He learns a great deal from each one of these interactions.”

Corker did seal a deal during the 2013 immigration reform debate, helping craft border security legislation that the Senate incorporated and passed before it died in the House. Menendez told TIME he “swallowed” Corker’s “odorous” amendment because he agreed with his colleague that it would “guarantee us a big vote and that the greater good was better served by accepting what he could bring along with him.”

Corker’s goal is essentially the same now: to convince a wide swath of Congress to get to “yes” despite their reservations. Menendez, who has “tag teamed” members on the bill on the Senate floor, says Corker is a dogged negotiator.

“He’s tenacious going to anyone on either side of the aisle making his case,” says Menendez. “And he won’t stop. If you say no to him, he’ll ask you why and then try to argue away the concern. If you say I’m thinking about he’ll probably come back to you another 10 times.”

With reporting by Maya Rhodan and Massimo Calabresi/Washington, D.C.

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Get Michael Bolton to Sing an Ode to the IRS

Spare the IRS your ire

Tax day is nigh and John Oliver used his Last Week Tonight platform to urge taxpayers not to blame the IRS for their tax day woes — and instead save that ire for Congress.

“The fact is, blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is like slapping the checkout clerk because the price of eggs has gone up,” said Oliver. He noted that if people are angry about the amount of tax they pay, they should blame Congress, who are also responsible for setting the tax rate and for making frequent, confusing changes in the tax code.

Oliver believes that the IRS is unfairly vilified by taxpayers, and their status as the universal scapegoat, gives Congress leeway to cut the agency’s budget, which results in fewer services and longer lines. To encourage people to spare the IRS, Oliver conscripted Michael Bolton to sing a stirring ode to the most maligned agency in the U.S. government.

Read next: Here’s What to Do If You Can’t Finish Your Taxes On Time

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