Gavel Down: Nov. 30 – Dec. 4

6 min read

It was a HUGE week — the long-term Highway Bill finally passed (in time to avoid a midnight Friday deadline). The Senate voted to repeal Obamacare, the House passed its Energy bill and the Education Reform conference report. Speaker Ryan gave a “major speech” to a DC audience. US Special Forces were deployed to combat ISIS, the UK Parliament voted to join the fight, and US military combat roles were opened to women. And gun access questions were again in the spotlight after the tragedy in San Bernardino.


Top Search on POPVOX this week: “gun”

Most active bill on POPVOX this week:

Congress has struck deals on major highway and education bills. And there’s a push on the budget and taxes…  Don’t look now, but Congress is actually about to get a lot done.

– Steven T. Dennis, writing in Fortune



Congress passed long-term highway bill just in time — the Highway Trust Fund was to expire at midnight on Friday (after several short-term extensions.) Obama will sign. Reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank was included in the bill. (How’d that happen?)  Experts say we still need to talk about transportation policy.

#Reconciliation: Obamacare Repeal & Defunding Planned Parenthood

For the first time ever, the Senate passed a bill to repeal parts of Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood (through the budget reconciliation procedure that is not subject to the 60-vote cloture requirement). President Obama will veto the bill. Nevertheless, Senate GOP leadership says that the bill gets senators on the record and establishes a precedent with Senate Parliamentarians for a similar vote in the future, (if the next president were to be Republican and would sign it into law).

Gun Amendments Rejected

The Reconciliation process included a “vote-a-rama” of amendments, including several in response to the tragedy in San Bernardino. Each gun measure failed.

S. 551: The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act
Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA]
“To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists. ”
— The measure failed, 45-54 — (Vote to waive point of order) How did your Senator vote?

Manchin-Toomey Amendment (introduced in previous Congress)
Sponsors: Sen. Joe Manchin [D, WV], Sen. Pat Toomey [R, PA], Sen. Mark Kirk [R, IL]
“To protect Second Amendment rights, ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and provide a responsible and consistent background check process.”
— The measure failed, 48-50 — (Vote to waive point of order) How did your Senator vote?

S. 2359: A bill to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia (concealed-carry reciprocity)
Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY]
“To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists. ”
— The measure failed, 54-45 — (needed 60) How did your Senator vote?


The end-of-year “Omnibus” Spending Bill is by now a Congressional holiday tradition — as is the “will they or won’t they?” nail-biter finish that comes within hours of a stated deadline and sometimes pushes through multiple short-term extensions…and delayed holiday plans.

Technically, the Omnibus is one big bill that “carries” lots of smaller bills.

And it really does work like a “bus,” with some very important cargo of several smaller spending bills that did not make it out of the appropriations process on their own. These bills end up riding together in one big bill at the end of the year. But they may not be the only ones on board.

Policy Riders (or, “poison pills” if you don’t like them): The big debate occurring now is whether additional non-appropriations measures will “ride” along with the spending bills. And the standby list is long. Some of those reported to have been in a first draft (which was rejected by House Democrats) include:

  • Provisions to disapprove Obama’s EPA regulations — would garner Republican votes but lose some Democrats and bring a veto threat, so it might be negotiated away in order to get another priority, like:
  • Repealing the ban on exports of crude oil — a bill passed earlier in the year to this effect, with bipartisan support.
  • Limiting entry for Syrian refugees — would lose some Democrats, who instead favor:
  • Bipartisan proposal to limit the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of some countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. (President Obama supports some form of this provision and has already begun tightening restrictions on the visa waiver program.)
  • A McConnell proposal to eliminate caps campaign spending by political parties in coordination with candidates (opposed by the Freedom Caucus)

And those are just some of the ones that have made it to the press. CNN reports: “Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, was upbeat on Tuesday about progress in the talks, noting that the number of riders in the bill had shrunk from 250 to 100. But he also warned that any one of those riders could cause the bill to fail.”

The ‘bus is supposed to arrive by December 11, when current spending expires, but Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might not have a deal by then. If not, we would likely see a short-term extension to allow time for negotiations to continue. GOP leaders are showing no desire for another shutdown fight, while President Obama is not ruling it out, if he is sent a bill with policy riders he opposes.

#ESSA — the End of No Child Left Behind

This week the House passed the conference report on an education reform bill that “restores local education control” according to the New York Times. The bill heads to the Senate and is expected to pass and be signed into law next week.

Basically we’re back to an era that encourages local and state innovation rather than Washington telling you what to do,” – Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, TN] (Sponsor)



Energy Reform

In what’s been called “the first major energy legislation in nearly a decade,” the House passed a sweeping energy bill that would lift the ban on U.S. crude oil exports, update the electric grid, and increase production.

What next? The bill goes to the Senate. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill (H.R. 8).

Meanwhile in the energy world, clean-energy patents continue to increase and are headed for a new record. According to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index, most patents this year have been for solar technologies — followed by fuel cells, electric vehicles, and wind power.

 Source: Bloomberg Business


Several notable hearings occurred on the Hill this week, including but not limited to:

House Judiciary: Long-awaited hearing on e-mail privacy bill. Chairman Bob Goodlatte [R, VA-6] proposed an exemption that would require Internet companies to turn over customer data during an emergency.

Senate Judiciary: Puerto Rico Governor said to let the commonwealth go bankrupt.

House Armed Services: Joint Chiefs Chairman says “We have not contained ISIL” when asked point blank by Rep. Randy Forbes [R, VA-4].

Senate Finance: Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT] and Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] both spoke about the need for comprehensive tax reform. Big topic of discussion: tax inversions, specifically recent Pfizer/Allergan merger.

#ViewFromTheHill – December 1, 2015

The Senate Finance Committee held its third hearing in 18 months to examine the need for international tax overhaul. Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] said Pfizer/Allergan’s planned inversion wouldn’t be the last. Download testimony here.

Check out our POPVOX View From the Hill on Tumblr

Mental Health Reform

Speaker Paul Ryan called on Congress to pass mental health legislation — following recent shootings in both Colorado and California.

When asked about the mental health bill, Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Rep. Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6] said there’s been no progress since the markup last month. He said Rep. Tim Murphy “doesn’t seem to want to incorporate or address any of the concerns we have.” Rep. Eliot Engel [D, NY-16] said Murphy spoke with him this week and that Murphy would like to come up with a compromise.

Combatting ISIS

British Parliament voted to approve airstrikes against ISIS in Syria — joining the U.S. and other nations in the bombing campaign. Speech from Hilary Benn brought British MPs to tears. Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] introduced Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter sent additional Special Operations forces to Iraq.


  • Most Americans feel that “their side” loses more than it wins in politics, according to a new study from Pew.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned several banks and individuals for assisting the government of Syria and facilitating Syrian oil purchases from ISIL.
  • The Pentagon opened all combat roles in the military to women.
  • Capitol Hill staffer was arrested for bringing loaded gun to work.
  • Texas officials sued the Obama administration and a refugee resettlement nonprofit, after a Syrian refugee family was due to arrive in the state.
  • Florida Supreme Court approved a new congressional map for the sunshine state.
  • Physicians from around the country petitioned Congress to lift a restriction that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence.
  • Speaker Paul Ryan delivered his first “major speech” at the Library of Congress.



The Washington Post and 1776 hosted a summit devoted to the entrepreneurial spirit of the millennial generation and how it is changing business, politics and culture. Our very own Whitney Wyszynski joined entrepreneurs and policy influencers for a day of informational panels and peer-to-peer learning. POPVOX guest snapped for the Post. Watch the full sessions here.

Weekend Reads

Who Gets to Be Represented in Congress? by Garrett Epps, The Atlantic

How Washington is holding Puerto Rico back by Anne O. Krueger, POLITICO

Today’s Washington Press Corps More Digital, Specialized, Pew Research Center

ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes, The George Washington University Program on Extremism

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!


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