POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress

Gavel Down Closing out the Week in Congress: Aug. 15-19, 2016

Trans-Pacific Partnership is on the move…

President Obama submitted notice to Congress, kicking off series of Congressional hearings and negotiations with the White House. Historic flooding in Louisiana caused multibillion-dollar disaster, spurring federal response. House Ways and Means set to mark up bill providing Olympic tax exemption. Members of Congress continued work back home — hosting job fairs, touring dairy farms, and writing op eds.

President Obama submitted notice to Congress,
Now's the time to weigh in on TPP

Last Friday, the Obama administration issued formal notice to Congress of intent to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), by submitting a draft statement of administrative action [SAA]. The SAA lays out how the President would implement the TPP if Congress approves the 12-nation trade agreement. This notice kicks off a process of Congressional hearings and negotiations with the White House.

After 30 days has passed, the White House can submit a final SAA along with a bill to approve the agreement, which Congress will give expedited consideration and an up or down vote.

Here's a timeline to catch you up, as well as a brief overview. Learn more from the Congressional Research Service.

Tell your Members of Congress what you think about TPP!

House Ways and Means set to mark up Olympic tax exemption bill

The House Ways and Means Committee will mark up a bill in September to provide tax exemption for Olympic athletes returning home with medals and prizes. Under current law, Olympic prizes are subject to taxes.

Tax Exemptions for American Medalists (TEAM) Act of 2015 (H.R. 2628

Sponsor: Rep. Blake Farenthold [R, TX-27]

Senate passed companion bill last month by unanimous consent. Previous Congresses have taken up similar measures.

Historic flooding caused multibillion-dollar disaster in southern Louisiana 

Louisiana experienced historic flooding, with some areas receiving three times as much rain as Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of people needed to be rescued and cost estimates put damages at $30M, making this the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy.

President Obama approved disaster declarations for Louisiana, providing federal assistance for areas damaged by the floods. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson travelled to the area to review the federal response. Aides say DHS may ask Congress to approve additional disaster funds.

What does Congress do on recess POPVOX








Rep. Charles Boustany [R, LA-3] sent a letter to President Obama calling for disaster declaration for additional south Louisiana parishes. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D, CT] urged the National Hockey League to fund research on concussions and brain trauma.

Reps. David Jolly [R, FL-13] and Kathy Castor [D, FL-14] observed Zika research.

Sen. Cory Booker [D, NJ] wrapped up #JerseyRoadTrip, visiting 21 counties in 7 days.

Sen. Tom Cotton [R, AR] penned an op-ed about the Iran payment.

Delaware's Congressional Delegation hosted job fair for veterans.

Rep. Elise Stefanik [R, NY-21] toured dairy farms, learning about new technology.

Sen. Joe Donnelly [D, IN] delivered packages alongside UPS driver.

Sens. Steve Daines [R, MT] and Jon Tester [D, MT] exchanged very Montana gifts.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp [D, ND] penned an op ed on opioid abuse. 

Legislative Lowdown: States Edition


Congress is back home working, and we're sending a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major legislation. Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress

Gavel Down Closing out the Week in Congress

Zika funding's running out…

Several lawmakers called for new funding bill. A federal judge questioned new gag-order rules, as mandated by USA Freedom Act. Pentagon announced arms deal with Saudi Arabia, giving Congress 30 days to block sale. Federal health regulators called for new nursing home privacy policies. Members of Congress continued work back home — meeting with constituents, touring facilities, and receiving local briefings. 


Zika funding running out,
Lawmakers discuss new funding bill

Funding to combat the Zika virus is running out, with several lawmakers calling for action. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Zika funding will be depleted by the end of September. This week HHS reallocated $81 million from other health funds to combat the virus. Democratic leaders from the House and Senate returned to the Hill and called for Congress to return from recess to pass a Zika funding bill.

REFRESHER: Presidential request and Congressional action
On February 22, 2016, President Obama sent a request to Congress for $1.9 billion to combat the virus. Before leaving for recess, the House passed a conference report that contained $1.1 billion in Zika funding. However, H.R. 2577 (appropriations for Military Construction and the Veterans’ Administration) contained several provisions that Democrats consider “poison pills,” including prohibitions on funding for Planned Parenthood and loosening of environmental restrictions on pesticides. Democrats blocked the bill twice in the Senate. A new cloture vote is scheduled for September 6, the day Congress returns from recess.

Check your state for documented Zika cases.

Federal judge finds loopholes in gag-order rules mandated by USA Freedom Act

A federal judge found "several large loopholes" in new rules regarding how long the FBI can impose a gag order on companies ordered to provide data in national security investigations.

New gag-order rules were mandated by the USA Freedom Act (H.R. 2048), which became law last year. The legislation restored modified provisions of the expired Patriot Act, including authorization for roving wiretaps and tracking lone wolf terrorists. USA Freedom Act ended the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of phone data.

Pentagon announces arms deal
with Saudi Arabia, Congress has 30 days to block

The Pentagon announced it will provide military weapons, equipment, and advisory support to Saudi Arabia worth $1.15 billion as airstrikes resume in Yemen. The State Department approved the sale and notified Congress on Monday. Congress has 30 days to block the sale.

Read up on arms sales and the Congressional Review Process.

Federal health regulators call for new nursing home privacy policies

Federal health regulators called on state officials to investigate and report on nursing home employees who take demeaning photographs and videos of residents and post on social media

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulates nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Nursing homes that fail to protect residents' privacy now face citations, fines, and termination from the Medicare program. 

Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley sent letters to the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and social media companies calling for actions to prevent and punish these types of abuses.

What does Congress do on recess POPVOX







Sen. Tom Carper [D, DE] visited a public health lab, seeing how the lab uses CDC funding to combat the spread of Zika. 

Rep. Bill Johnson [R, OH-6] held a town hall, listening to seniors' concerns.

Sen. Bob Casey [D, PA] received a briefing on gun violence in Reading, Pennsylvania.  

Rep. Adrian Smith [R, NE-3] toured National Forests and Grasslands, learning about restoration efforts.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp [D, ND] discussed the opioid crisis and how it's affecting North Dakotans. 

Rep. Rodney Davis [R, IL-13] read House Mouse, Senate Mouse to children, teaching them about government.

Sen. Joe Donnelly [D, IN] participated in fire rescue training.

Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT] visited early care health center, learning about early childcare research, education, and training.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren [D, CA-19] discussed government programs with folks back home.

Sen. Mike Crapo [R, ID] met fellow Idahoans to discuss issues facing Idaho.


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition


Congress is back home working, and we're sending a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major legislation. Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX Gavel Down Aug. 1-5

Gavel Down Closing out the Week in Congress

We're bidding our summer interns adieu…

…as they share their biggest takeaways from covering and studying Congress. Major opioid legislation recently became law, and we answer the age old question: What does Congress do on recess?

You've probably heard about CARA and may be scratching your head. CARA refers to major opioid legislation Congress passed before adjourning for recess. President Obama recently signed the bill into law, marking the most expansive federal legislation to date for addiction support services.

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (S. 524)

Sponsor: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D, RI]

CARA expands opioid addiction intervention, prevention, and education efforts and includes provisions that would support parents and caretakers, as well as increasing the ability of law enforcement agencies and first responders to counter overdoses. The legislation expands resources available to incarcerated individuals afflicted with addiction disorders and strengthens states’ ability to monitor drug prescriptions.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 94-1 in March, and the House passed the bill in May by a vote of 407-5. The two chambers met in conference in July, working to resolve differences in their versions of passed legislation. On July 22, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Read up on all the major legislation this Congress has passed and why you're probably not hearing about it.

POPVOX S.524 CARA Timeline.001

Farewell to our summer interns!

HUGE thank you to our summer interns for all their hard work this summer. Check out their biggest takeaways from a summer spent working on the Hill.

"There’s a lot of good happening in the American political system — yes, even in Washington and even in Congress. I’m walking away from this summer with a brand new Twitter, a farmer’s tan on my feet from the sandals I wear on my walk to work, and a newly rediscovered love for our government." 
Read more from Maddie Burton, Government, New Media Intern

"As my internship draws to an end, I am filled with a greater appreciation for the work that goes into informing and empowering citizens – along with the work that Congress does to understand and represent their constituents."
Read more from Holly Stokes, Government Relations Interns
"It wasn’t the Congress you normally see in a soundbite on the nightly news. Rather, it was a constructive, collaborative atmosphere that was refreshing to see.”
Read more from Hannah Gourdie, Legislative Affairs Intern

What does Congress do on recess?

Congress is back home working right now, away on a seven-week recess. A lot of people assume that recess is vacation for Members of Congress, but that’s not true. Part of the problem is the name: recess conjures up images of kids playing tag, a break from school. The official term is “District Work Week,” and recess is just used because in parliamentary procedure, a session of Congress is adjourned and said to stand in recess. 

Most Members of Congress use their time away from Washington to interact directly with their constituents. They host town halls, visit small businesses in their districts, and meet with constituents. While they do take time to spend with their families, lawmakers stay busy back home, working to understand constituents, which informs the work they do when they return to Washington.



Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit employers from asking about applicants' salaries before extending job offers.
  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner [R] signed legislation that would change the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from the possibility of jail time to a citation similar to a traffic ticket. 
  • New York announced it will bar registered sex offenders on parole from playing Pokémon Go. New bill would go further and prevent augmented reality game developers from placing incentives (such as Pokéstops) within 100 feet of a registered sex offender.
  • To fill $1.3 billion gap in the state’s budget, Pennsylvania residents will be charged a tax on digital download services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. The tax was enacted as part of a sales tax extension.
  • New California bill would overturn law barring researchers from paying women to donate their eggs to science.
  • Federal court dismissed Alabama’s lawsuit against the U.S. government contesting the possible relocation of Syrian refugees to the state.
  • Delaware Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional, holding that the General Assembly should revise it for it to be upheld. The court opined that the law violates the U.S. Constitution by giving judges, not juries, the final say to impose a death sentence.
  • These states have passed legislation on police bodycams.
  • Texas worked out a deal with the Department of Justice that will loosen its voter ID law in time for the November general election. The law will now allow those without an ID to sign an affidavit certifying they are a U.S. citizen and present proof of residence.
  • Supreme Court blocked Virginia transgender student from using bathroom of his choice. 
  • Several courts have been scrutinizing voter ID laws. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked NC law that limited types of acceptable photo IDs, restricted early voting, and eliminated same-day registration. In Kansas, a county judge ruled that votes cast from people who did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship when registering must still be counted in state and local elections. A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down several provisions included in state's voter ID law.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [D] has directed the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to prohibit the state’s 3,000 sex offenders on parole from playing Pokémon Go and other similar games. The state will be working with Niantic, the creator of Pokémon Go, to cross-reference the game’s players with the state’s database of sex offenders.


Congress is back home working, and we're sending a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major legislation. Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX Capitol Maddie Burton

I’ll Miss Rayburn Most of All: Internship Wrap-Up

I arrived to this internship surprisingly out of touch with politics, probably the least I’ve been since I first took civics in 2008. Like many Americans, I was more familiar with the rhetoric surrounding Congress than the actual work being done in the House and Senate. I was excited to work for a neutral, nonpartisan organization that would not be consumed by the polarization that seems to define politics.  

I was expecting to learn more about Congress. I was expecting to become more familiar with the legislative process and important legislation being considered right now. I was absolutely expecting to complain endlessly about DC’s heat and humidity. (For the record, I’ve always had hot and humid summers, I just have yet to adapt in these 21 years). But I didn’t realize I would walk away from this summer with the a crazy passion for government — something I hadn’t experienced since I was a college freshman casting my very first vote.


So many hearings — so little time

Most people do not have the time to watch C-SPAN constantly and even fewer can come to the Hill to attend hearings in person. But for most of my summer, I spent at least half my workday in hearings, markups, and briefings. I attended a roundtable on combatting drug addiction hosted by the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee. Senators from both parties met with experts with diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and ideologies to hear suggestions on how best to fight the opioid epidemic. Lawmakers asked a few questions, but for the most part, they just sat back and listened. It sounds simple, but as someone who has studied the drug crisis and often been frustrated by the government’s response to it, I was impressed that they were willing to consider so many different opinions and that it wasn’t being treated like an attempt to score political points.  


I attended a hearing where silver-haired fox and noteworthy mad man John Slattery testified about Spotlight. Helen Mirren spoke before Senate Judiciary about Nazi art theft. Those experiences were fabulous and definitely featured heavily on my snap story, but y’all should have seen me the time I walked past Elizabeth Warren in Hart or when Paul Ryan spoke at a event I attended. The politics nerd in me could hardly believe it. I once saw the back of Cory Booker’s head (it was ridiculous) as he walked into Dirksen and almost cried. It was also unbelievably cool to see so many politicians in person.

I was rushing through security one day, and as I gathered my belongings, I looked up and made eye contact with Sen. Ted Cruz [R]. I did a doubletake — and I’m both proud and ashamed to say then followed him down the hall hoping to feature him on my Snapchat story. He ran into press, so I didn’t get my picture, but when I looked around to collect myself and find my scheduled hearing, I realized he had unknowingly escorted me to where I needed to be. I had arrived at the correct room and proceeded to attend a Senate Judiciary hearing.

I’ve also been able to witness some incredible events. I was on the Hill the day of the House sit-in and during Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved twelve spending bills (which doesn’t always happen) at the earliest point since the 1980s. I’ve already mentioned my interest in the drug crisis, and I got to attend the first opioid conference committee, a bipartisan meeting that led to the most comprehensive drug reform bill in nearly two decades. I was at the conference committee hearing for The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, and for a Congress known for gridlock and partisanship, I can tell you there was an incredible amount of bipartisan support. While some members advocated for additional provisions that they knew would not be approved, everyone was humble and appreciative of the amount of work lawmakers from both sides put in to get this historic legislation passed. Congress may have gained a reputation for gridlock, but legislators from both parties have worked diligently to overcome it.

These are highlights from the summer, but everywhere I turned, there was government happening. For a politics nerd like me, it’s just amazing to be surrounded by so many interesting people doing interesting things. I stumbled onto multiple press conferences on the Capitol Plaza. I attended lunch briefings on topics I had never considered. I even scored free sandwiches from time to time!

This summer was monstrously hot. (I have historically spent my summers poolside, so even dresses and skirts were too much for me.) As a college student who refuses to register for any classes that start before 10 AM, getting up for work was not easy. Despite these issues, this summer is the first time I have been really excited about politics since that Tuesday in November 2013. There’s a lot of good happening in the American political system — yes, even in Washington and even in Congress. I’m walking away from this summer with a brand new Twitter, a farmer’s tan on my feet from the sandals I wear on my walk to work, and a newly rediscovered love for our government.  

I’m excited for November when I get to vote in my very first presidential election, but I’m also looking forward to the gubernatorial election next year and to the midterms in 2018. Congress is not without its problems, but my biggest takeaway from this summer has been putting my fears to rest that the naysayers are correct. If they were right, if Congress were irrevocably broken, then that meant that my representative democracy did not work for me. It meant that the men and women who govern in my name did not truly serve me, and to the kid who was once so hopped up on the power of civic engagement, that would be unbearable. But fear not, younger Maddie. Even when everyone else is hating on Congress, there’s still some good in Washington.


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: Internship Wrap-Up

Way back in late May, I started interning here at POPVOX. It’s hard to believe it, but a whirlwind of 10 weeks has passed, and I’ll be heading home soon. To commemorate a fantastic summer, I’ve put together a list of the top ten things I learned.

1. Navigating the Capitol got easier.

Throwback to my very first blogpost when I had no idea how the tunnels or room numbers worked. After spending the last two months running—literally—all over the Hill, I think I have the layout of the area down pat. Yes, there was that one time where I accidentally snuck into the actual Capitol building through an exit when I was looking for the Capitol Visitor’s Center, but other than that, I’d like to call myself a quasi-expert.

Hannah Gourdie Chandelier POPVOX

A chandelier in the Kennedy Caucus Room.


2. Comfortable shoes are always a good idea.

Shoutout to every staffer, intern, and lobbyist I saw wearing heels and working the halls of the Hill like a runway. I admire you. However, I haven’t worn heels since my senior prom three years ago, and knowing the amount of walking I would be doing this summer, I opted for a pair of Birks and some comfortable brown flats. It was a smart decision — it made my life a lot easier when I was attempting to speed-walk from Rayburn to Dirksen. I now have a very defined Birkenstock tan, but hey, it’s better than sore feet.

Hannah Gourdie Speaker's Balcony POPVOX

Peep the brown flats (I’m on the far right). And, if you look hard enough, the Birk tan.


3. Being part of a women-led tech team is awesome.

The CEO, CMO, and Digital Strategy Manager (and my supervisor!) of POPVOX, as well as two software engineers and my fellow interns, are all wonderful, intelligent, and vibrant ladies. It has been so exciting to spend a summer with an organization with such incredible gender representation, especially in a male-dominated field like technology. After watching and learning from all of them, I’ll be returning to school with more confidence in my own voice and determination to assert myself without worrying about what others think.

Hannah Gourdie Gibbs POPVOX

This is my supervisor's dog, Gibbs. She is a strong, independent woman.

4. People-watching is a fun pastime.

Because POPVOX doesn’t have a physical office in DC, the home base for the DC team is the Rayburn cafeteria. Sure, it was difficult to find a seat during lunch rush hours during the week, but the location made it easy to be a fly on the wall during staffers’ and lobbyists’ informational interviews and meetings. It was especially interesting to watch lobbyists and advocates chat with each other, as their passion for their cause is often what sets legislators’ agendas and drives lawmaking on the Hill. It’s easy to think of the Hill as a monolith, but watching the ebb and flow of people in our makeshift office in Rayburn dispelled that myth. In reality, it’s a machine with lots of little moving parts.

5. It helps to learn about technology.

The first week I worked at POPVOX, I hopped on the group call with the entire POPVOX team and listened to them talk about the POPVOX widget that advocacy organizations can use on their own websites. I smiled and nodded, but silently thought to myself, “What on earth is a widget?” Now that I’ve taught myself a bit of CSS and HTML, figured out how to format my blog posts using code, and listened in on tech calls, I’d like to think of myself as a bit more tech-savvy.

Hannah Gourdie LDTC POPVOX

Speaker Paul Ryan gives his remarks at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference in June.


6. Strange stuff goes down on the Hill.

One of the most bizarre (and honestly, one of my favorite) experiences I had this summer was witnessing a guy dressed up as a mosquito hand out bottles of bug spray to people waiting in line for a Senate Foreign Affairs hearing on the Zika epidemic. 

“I’m a mosquito, and I care about your health!” He exclaimed as he handed me a bottle of bug spray.

Although the security guards outside the room seemed confused and a bit annoyed at the disruption, it was a creative way to draw attention to the issue. Plus, it was the last hearing I went to before Congress adjourned for recess — what a way to end my congressional experience.

POPVOX View From the Hill Hannah Gourdie


7. Far more preparation and compromise goes into legislation than we realize.

Another interesting experience I got in one of the last hearings I went to was watching the House Energy and Commerce Committee go over a discussion draft of the Advancing Care for Exceptional Kids Act. The hearing was congenial and cooperative, with members from both sides of the aisle sharing ideas, questions, and jokes. It wasn’t the Congress you normally see in a soundbite on the nightly news. Rather, it was a constructive, collaborative atmosphere that was refreshing to see, especially as the election season heats up.

Hannah Gourdie ACE Kids POPVOX

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the ACE Kids Act.


8. C-SPAN is your best friend.

I watched more C-SPAN this summer than I’ve ever watched before. Ironically, one of my favorite C-SPAN experiences happened when C-SPAN couldn’t actually film inside the Capitol: the House Democrats’ 25-hour sit-in to protest current federal gun control laws. Because House rules dictate that C-SPAN can’t film when the chambers aren’t in session, members took to Periscope to broadcast speeches. C-SPAN picked up this feed and began broadcasting it, allowing people across the country to see the event unfold. The video buffered and sometimes cut off altogether, but it was a major improvement to being in the dark. It’s been a staple in Congress for 30 years now, but C-SPAN continues to change and innovate new ways to make the legislature more accessible, which is great for a government nerd like me.

Hannah Gourdie House FA POPVOX

C-SPAN is great, but you wouldn't see this on there.

9. You discover a lot by watching members interact.

One pastime I found enjoyable was arriving at committee rooms early to watch members chat before their hearings or markups began. In a similar way to watching the members discuss the ACE Kids Act, I liked seeing members wander over to each other, shaking hands and cracking jokes before the work started. It reminded me of the awkward four or five minutes before class starts when friends shoot the breeze and mentally prepare to focus for the next hour or so. Further, seeing members at work was also an intriguing experience. While I did bear witness to some passionate outbursts this summer, for the most part, members were cordial with each other. It was also amusing to watch bored or distracted legislators scroll through their phones throughout an entire hearing or markup, only looking up to mumble a “Yea” or “Nay” when necessary. If anything, spending so much time watching and listening to lawmakers humanized them for me. Even though congressional gridlock is higher than it has ever been, the vitriol and partisan grandstanding we see so often on the news were far less common than I expected.

Hannah Gourdie Rand Paul POPVOX

Sen. Rand Paul chats with a witness after a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing.


  1. Staying positive makes everything better.

Of course there were frustrating moments during my time here. Getting to a hearing a little late and being unable to snag a seat or finding a congressional website difficult to navigate definitely tested my nerves. Still, it’s important to remember that most people my age don’t have the privilege or opportunity to take a two-month long, unpaid internship in an expensive city like D.C. My advice for D.C. interns? Focus on the things that make you happy. Talk to your fellow interns and your supervisor. Take advantage of the happenings around town. Go to breakfasts, lunch briefings, and receptions. Breathe in the city around you. Go exploring.

Hannah Gourdie Fire Alarm POPVOX

That time when the fire alarm went off in Rayburn and we got kicked out. That was a good time.


Gavel 25-29

Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress

Congress is back home working…

And we're sending a summer version of Gavel Down —
full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings,
as well as updates on major legislation.

Follow us on Twitter as we tweet the conventions
with related legislation!

Five Things Mentioned at the DNC that Relate to the 114th Congress

Equal pay was also mentioned several times at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC), with a focus on providing equal compensation for men and women doing the same work. DNC speakers mentioned the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law. The bipartisan bill extended the time period to bring pay discrimination claims. There are several bills this Congress that focus on closing the gender wage gap. Learn more.

Many DNC speakers called for student debt reform. Last year, Congress passed a two-year extension of the Perkins loan program, which allows undergraduate students to obtain student loans on per need basis. Free college tuition was mentioned by several speakers, a policy promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] who introduced the College for All Act.

3. TPP
Many in the DNC this week held signs referencing the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between twelve Pacific Rim countries that was finalized earlier this year. Presidential advisors are encouraging Congress to approve the deal during the lame-duck session after the November election. Several Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid have said it is unlikely. What do you think?

Many speakers mentioned gun-related legislation. Following the Orlando shooting, there have been several bipartisan efforts to introduce, debate, and vote on gun-related legislation, such as increasing background checks, denying firearms to those on the terrorist watchlist, and closing the “gun show loophole.” To draw attention to the issue, Democratic Senators held the floor for 15 hours in a filibuster in mid-June, and House Democrats held a 25-hour sit-in on the chamber floor a week later. Catch up on what’s been happening.

The hacking and release of 19,000+ DNC emails was mentioned several times at the convention. In response, bipartisan Senate Judiciary leaders asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey for more details surrounding the hack. Meanwhile, top Democrats on House and Senate Intelligence called for the release of classified reports on the DNC hack.

What's happening with the energy bill?

Before adjourning for seven week recess, the House and Senate agreed to convene a conference committee on major energy legislation introduced last September. The last time the two chambers convened a formal conference to negotiate major energy bill was 2005.

Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012
Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK]

Senate version covers five main areas: efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and conservation reauthorization. The Obama administration praised parts of the bill but has voiced concerns over how to implement some of the provisions. Senate passed bill in April by vote of 85-12. See how your Senators voted.

North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 8
Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6]

House version is narrower and received a veto threat from the White House. The "engrossed House amendment" includes several passed bills put up by House Natural Resources, House Energy and Commerce, House Transportation and Infrastructure, and House Agriculture. This means House replaced Senate version with its own version. House passed bill largely along party lines, by vote of 241-148. See how your Representative voted.

HR 8 timeline

So now, Members head to conference to reconcile differences between their respective versions of legislation. Going to conference is one of the final steps of "regular order" in the legislative process — when House and Senate appoint conferees to meet and work out differences in different versions of similar bills that passed both chambers. According to U.S. Constitution, chambers must pass identical legislation for the bill to leave Congress and be signed by the President.


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Missouri Supreme Court overturned law that capped unemployment benefits for laid-off workers at 13 weeks. The law was approved by the legislature and vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon [D]. Although the House overrode the veto in spring, the Senate did not act on the veto override until September. The Court held that the Senate waited too long to act and allowing the veto override to stand would violate the state’s constitution.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory [R] signed several bills into law this week. One bill creates a statewide district of five underperforming schools, to be turned over to charter school management companies.
  • Arizona became the last state to ensure that all low-income children receive health insurance. Under the new program, children whose parents make too much to receive Medicaid but still do not have health insurance will be covered.
  • Pennsylvania legislature adjourned this week without voting on several high-profile bills regarding pension reform, updates to statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases, abortion restrictions, and anti-discrimination protections. When lawmakers return in September, they will have until November 30 to vote on these bills.  
  • Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that a man who recorded videos up a woman’s skirt did not violate the state’s privacy laws
  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner [R] signed the Citizen Privacy Protection Act into law this week. The legislation would require law enforcement officers to gain court approval for using cell-site simulators (aka stingrays) which can locate and track a person’s cell phone without their knowledge. 
  • Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 felons exceeded his clemency powers and violated the state constitution. Court held that the governor could only restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis. In response, Gov. McAuliffe [D] said he will sign 200,000 individual restoration orders.
  • US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down North Carolina's voter ID law. The three-judge panel remarked that upholding the law would overlook the "inextricable link between race and politics" in the state.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [R] said he would not sign a Democratic proposal to increase the state’s gas tax in exchange for tax reforms, such as eliminating the estate tax, reducing taxes on retirement funds, increasing the Earned Income Tax, and providing new tax breaks for veterans and commuters.
  • Alaska Supreme Court invalidated a state law requiring pregnant minors to obtain parental consent before receiving an abortion. 


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.


What’s going on with gun control legislation this year?

The nation was struck by tragedy in the early morning hours of June 12, when a gunman in Orlando opened fire in a gay nightclub, killing 49 people and then committing suicide. Almost unimaginably, that was only the beginning of shocking events, as the days that followed brought the killing of Philando Castile and Alton Stirling by police officers and the July 7 ambush in Dallas that left five officers dead and injured nine others. The violent events sparked debates among lawmakers about how to respond and prvent future tragedies. 

Senate Filibuster

On June 15, Sen. Christopher Murphy [D, CT] stood to speak and proceeded to hold the floor for the next 14 hours and 50 minutes, now the ninth-longest Senate floor speech since 1900. The filibuster ended the next morning at 2:11 am, as lawmakers reached an agreement to hold votes on gun-related measures. 

The next Monday (June 20), Senate considered four gun control measures, two Democratic proposals and two Republican proposals, as amendments to Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill. ​Proposal from Sens. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] and Ted Cruz [R, TX] was similar to previously introduced gun control bill. All four measures failed.

  • S.AMDT.4720 (No Fly/No Buy) from Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] to authorize the Attorney General to deny requests to transfer a firearm to known or suspected terrorists. Amendment failed 47-53

  • S.AMDT.4749 "To Secure our Homeland from radical Islamists by Enhancing Law enforcement Detection (SHIELD)" from Sen. John Cornyn, [R, TX] requiring that law enforcement be alerted when anyone on the terror watch list attempts to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer. Amendment failed 53-47

  • S.AMDT.4750 (Closing the Gun Show Loophole): "To ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the national instant criminal background check system and require a background check for every firearm sale." from Sen. Chris Murphy [D, CT] requiring every gun purchaser to undergo a background check, and to expand the background check database. Amendment failed 44-56

  • S.AMDT.4751 "To address gun violence and improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System." from Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] to make it more difficult to add mentally ill people to the background check database, giving people suspected of serious mental illness a process to challenge that determination. Amendment failed 53-47

Later in the week, Sens. Susan Collins [R-ME] and Heidi Heitkamp [D-ND] unveiled bipartisan Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act, which would prevent people on the No-Fly List and the Selectee List from purchasing firearms. The legislation was more narrow than the Democratic amendments put forward earlier in the week, but more sweeping than the Republican proposals. The Collins/Heitkamp compromise survived a procedural vote on June 23, receiving 52 votes in support and 46 in opposition, meaning the proposal mustered enough support to keep it from being tabled indefinitely but not enough to ensure that it would achieve cloture in the future.

Prominent Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte [R-NH] and Jeff Flake [R-AZ] lobbied fellow senators to build support for the bill. On June 23 by Majority Whip John Cornyn and Sen. Ron Johnson [R-WI] introduced a more limited measure, placing burden on government to prevent gun sale, rather than requiring the potential buyer to appeal a denied sale. The Johnson measure also received a roll call vote on whether to table the legislation: 31 senators supported advancing the measure, 67 senators voted to table.

House Sit-in

On June 23, House Democrats held a 25-hour sit-in on the House Floor, pressing for a vote on several gun-related billsSenate Democrats joined in, sending care packages and sitting on the House floor alongside Democratic colleagues.

The House was adjourned so the official House cameras, which feed CSPAN broadcasts, were off, as House rules require that the cameras be turned off when the House is not formally in session. With no official coverage, members on the floor began streaming the protest via Periscope and Facebook Live. CSPAN followed suit and began broadcasting the Persicope feeds, as more Members joined in. (Here’s how it went down.)

On July 11, House Republican leaders decided to postpone vote on gun-related legislation, and gaveled out for summer recess.

The 114th Congress by the Numbers (so far)

The 114th Congress has passed a significant number of major policies into law. With six months left until it officially adjourns at the end of 2016, here's an overview of what this Congress has been up to since it convened in January 2015.

Major* Bills that Became Law in the 114th Congress (so far)

The 114th Congress has passed a significant number of major policies into law: from ending a Medicare physician payment system that required a temporary “doc fix” every year for seventeen years, to repeal of No Child Left Behind; repeal of the NSA bulk data surveillance program with reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, the first long-term transportation bill in a decade, a new version of toxic chemicals bill, and an update to the Freedom of Information Act.

In the 114th, there have been many bipartisan moments, with procedural gymnastics that push parliamentary limits (usually designed to shield vulnerable members from tough votes). We saw this with passage of the controversial “Fast-Track” —Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — authority for the President to negotiate trade agreements. The approval was packaged with customs reform and assistance for workers (Trade Adjustment Assistance or TAA) as it passed the Senate. The House then “split the question,” allowing for a separate vote on each piece and used a “self-executing rule” to deem the bill passed and send back to the Senate. (See: TPA amendment and House vote).

The policy motherlode came at the end of 2015 with departing Speaker John Boehner’s commitment to “clean the barn” before leaving his post. Boehner negotiated a 2-year bipartisan budget deal with Congressional leaders and the White House to raise sequestration limits for two years, raise the debt ceiling through March and 2017, and forestall a 20% cut to Social Security Disability Insurance. Notably, the deal put the kibosh on brinksmanship around the debt limit through the Presidential election cycle. 

With a budget deal in place, incoming Speaker Paul Ryan’s first act was to shepherd a colossal Omnibus appropriations resolution through the legislative gamut (to spend the money that the budget deal authorized.) The 2,009-page bill contained new spending levels and requirements for all federal agencies, with few “policy riders” — unrelated provisions that are frequently inserted into spending bills to allow a controversial policy to “hitch a ride” with must-pass legislation. But, some of the bills that did ride in the Omni included reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, tightening restrictions on use of the visa waiver program for people who have traveled to certain countries, and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), codifying an information-sharing framework between private industry and government.

A separate bill, still part of the Omnibus negotiations, made permanent many of the annual “tax extenders" that had been repeatedly authorized for one to two years, creating what many described as a lobbying bonanza. The 2015 Tax Extenders deal made many of these permanent (including the R&D credit), removing uncertainty and providing a more accurate baseline for federal budget projections.

The pace has continued in 2016, with several major bills passing just before the August recess, and several more teed up for action when Congress returns.


Major Bills that Became Law (so far) in the 114th Congress

Conference Committees and Reports in the 114th Congress (so far)

The "regular order" process for resolving differences between bills that pass the House and Senate in different forms is for House and Senate leaders to appoint "conferees" to represent each in a conference. The result is a "conference report," a combined bill that then gets a vote in both chambers.

While the conference process is well established, it fell out of practice for a few Congressional sessions, as members opted for more informal negotiating processes. However, holding legitimate conferences is still regarded as a sign of a functioning legislative process. The conference is seeing a comeback in the 114th Congress, with seven completed conference reports and two conference committees appointed just before Congress dismissed for recess. 

POPVOX Conference Reports During Last Five U.S. Congresses

Those numbers only tell part of the story. The 110th and 111th Congresses engaged less in formal conferences than in informal “ping-ponging” and dealmaking. As a staffer for the newly appointed Energy conference committee, described to an industry publication:

In 2007, the last time Congress passed a bipartisan energy deal, there was an informal deal-making version of reconciliation. That means legislators have not conferenced on an energy bill since 2005… “A lot of the staff and some of the members have never been through the process. It will be really interesting to see how it unfolds because it won’t be familiar to a lot of the people in the room.”

But staffers (and Members) are getting used to it, with formal conferences now registered in the 114th on Education, Transportation, Trade, and a bill to combat the Opioid crisis — and Energy and the Defense bill ahead after the break.

Conference Committees in the 114th Congress





Passed House

Passed Senate

Became Law



S. Con. Res. 11: Concurrent Resolution on the Budget, FY2016

226 – 197

51 – 48



H.R.1735: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016

270 – 156

70 – 27



S.1177: Every Student Succeeds Act

359 – 64

85 – 12



H.R.22: Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act

359 – 65

83 – 16



H.R.644: Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015

256 – 158

75 – 20



H.R. 2577: Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 and Zika Response and Preparedness Act

239 – 171



S.524: Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016

407 – 5

92 – 2



S. 2012: North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act



H.R. 4909: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017



*We understand that "major" is in the eye of the beholder. We worked to narrow the list to make it easier to digest. If we missed something that you think should be here, please let us know!

Highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.


Gavel Down Header July 18-22

GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

As Congress heads home for seven weeks…

We bring you a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major bills.

Follow us on Twitter as we tweet the conventions with related legislation!

Five Things Mentioned at the RNC
that Relate to the 114th Congress

Many RNC speakers mentioned “sanctuary cities” — cities that bar local law enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status. There have been several attempts this Congress to call up legislation related to sanctuary cities. Three bills have failed to pass procedural hurdles in the Senate. Learn more.

You couldn't watch the RNC and not hear trade agreements mentioned. Trade agreements are broad tax, tariff, or trade pacts made between countries, often including investment guarantee. The most talked about trade agreement this Congress is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, finalized proposal between twelve Pacific Rim countries. Presidential advisors expect Congress to approve the deal during the lame-duck session, following the November election, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this is unlikely. What do you think?

Several RNC speakers called for major education reform, referencing wide-ranging proposals from vouchers to tuition tax credits. Last year, Congress passed bipartisan education reform, overhauling No Child Left Behind. House and Senate lawmakers reconciled differences in their versions of the legislation in conference and passed compromise legislation. President Obama signed the bill into law — marking a significant transfer of power and authority over public schools from the federal government to state and local governments. Catch up now.

One similarity between the RNC and DNC platforms is a call for to “reinstate Glass-Steagall,” referring to the post-Depression law that separated commercial and consumer banking activity. In 1999, Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which rolled back many of the original provisions, allowing commercial banks, investment banks and non-bank financial entities to consolidate. Some policymakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that 1999 changes created greater consolidation of risk in the banking sector, and led to the 2008 financial crisis. Several pending bills would reinstate provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act: The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (S. 1709) and (H.R. 3054) and the draft Financial CHOICE Act from Rep. Jeb Hensarling [R, TX-5].  Read more on proposed financial reforms.

5. CONSCIENCE PROTECTION"Conscience protection" was specifically mentioned in this year's RNC platform. These policies usually refer to provisions allowing health care providers to refuse to provide certain treatments or assistance that violate the provider's religious beliefs. Last week Congress passed a bill that would shield health care providers that decline to be involved in abortions as a matter of conscienceSee how your representative voted.

What's happening with the defense bill?

Congress is "going to conference" on the on annual defense authorization bill:

That means House Democrats and Republicans will appoint a few members as "conferee;" Senate Democrats and Republicans will do the same. The conferees will meet to hammer out differences between what passed the House and what passed the Senate, to reach one combined version that will go back to both chambers for a vote. According to U.S. Constitution, chambers must pass identical legislation for the bill to become law.

Conferees will begin their work on a combined bill after they return from recess in September. President Obama has threatened to veto both the House and Senate versions. Read more about both versions.




Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • Following police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott [R] asked state lawmakers to enact a “Police Protection Act” that would increase penalties for crimes against officers.

  • Federal judge in Missouri ruled Obama administration cannot force Missouri lawmaker and his family to carry health insurance that includes contraception coverage, despite Affordable Care Act's requirement that insurers cover birth control.

  • After 25 years of taxation, California newspapers may soon score a tax break. New interpretation of rule would acknowledge digital content which is nontaxable.
  • Six states legalized and began regulating fantasy sports leagues this month. 
  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon [D] signed a measure into law that would make it easier for state residents with criminal convictions to seal their criminal records. People who have committed dangerous felonies, sex offenses, domestic assault and other violent crimes would not be eligible.
  • Alaska Senate ended its eight-day special legislative session called by Gov. Bill Walker [R] Monday without voting on any of the deficit-reduction bills that Walker proposed. Alaska House adjourned from its special session last Friday. Lawmakers passed only one of the eight deficit-reduction bills proposed by the governor this year.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory [R] restored employees’ right to claim in state court that they were fired for discriminatory reasons. Lawmakers unintentionally suspended this right in March, when they passed controversial bathroom bill.
  • In response to concerns about safety at the Republican National Convention, Ohio Gov. John Kasich [R] stated that he lacked the ability to suspend a state law allowing citizens to openly carry guns.
  • Federal appeals court ruled Texas voter identification law (largely viewed as nation's strictest voter ID law) violates Voting Rights Act. Court did not strike down the law in full, instead  lower court to devise a fix for the law in time for November elections.