Gavel Down: Dec. 7 – Dec. 11
It was a “to be continued” sort of week in Congress. Negotiations continue on an end-of-year Omnibus spending bill and tax extenders, while a short-term extension passed to give the “glacial” process more time. A trade enforcement bill passed the House, marking the third conference report in ten days, and several Members introduced bills to authorize military force against ISIS.
Top Search on POPVOX this week:
#Omnibus – delayed departure
According to reports, things are moving slowly: “glacier-like” and “snail’s pace” were how several Members described it.
A deal is expected Monday, with negotiators working over the weekend to bridge remaining impasses on controversial “policy riders.” While there is no public list of riders under consideration some rumored provisions include:
- Lifting the ban on federally-funded gun violence research
- California drought relief
- Regulations for e-cigarettes
- Narrowing bankruptcy procedures in a way that would help certain casinos
- Several agriculture-related provisions
- Repealing the NLRB “joint employer” standard that impacts companies with franchisees
- The Zadroga Act to provide care for 9/11 responders
House and Senate tax writers are still working on a possible deal for large tax changes and extension of expired provisions. On Friday, House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, said that House Democrats would not support the package:
“It’s too big, it’s unfair and does not have the support of House Democrats… but it could have the support of others. I’m not speaking for anyone except House Democrats.”
Given the Democratic opposition, the house may fall back to a bill introduced by Ways and Means Chairman, Kevin Brady, this week:
#TradeEnforcement Bill to Senate
On Friday, the House sent a third conference report to the Senate (following recent passage of the Highway and Education conference reports.) The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (H.R. 644)”would update trade policies at U.S. borders and authorize the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
Speaker Paul D. Ryan noted the milestone in his weekly press briefing as a return to “regular order”:
“I’ve talked about how conference committees have been an endangered species here in Washington. Well, with the customs conference report passing tomorrow, that will be the third conference report passing in Congress in 10 days.
“Let me put that in perspective. In the entire last Congress, only three conference reports became law in total. Only three conference reports became law all last Congress. We’ve done three conference reports in 10 days.
“So we are getting real, concrete results. And we’re getting the House of Representatives back to functioning as the people’s House.”
Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)
Several versions of authorization exist but none have been approved. President Obama urged Congress “to vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists” in his Sunday address to the nation. This week Rep. Scott Rigell [R, VA-2] and Rep. Peter Welch [D, VT-0] introduced companion legislation to a proposal by Sen. Tim Kaine [D, VA] and Sen. Jeff Flake [R, AZ] to authorize war against the Islamic State.
The New York Times published an interactive tool to compare the various authorization plans. For example, the Graham bill authorizes “all necessary and appropriate force,” with no restrictions on ground troops, whereas the president’s draft expressly does not authorize use of forces in “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The drafts by the president, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kaine-Flake all limit authorization to three years — the Graham bill has no time limits.
Should Congress authorize the use of force against ISIS?
Paris Climate Talks
International negotiators continue to hash out major climate pact, working past original deadline. Text for the new climate change accord was released but there’s still one major hole to address — how to monitor follow through on promises to cut emissions growth.
Will the new agreement make a difference?
Source: Morning Consult
Several notable hearings occurred on the Hill this week, including but not limited to:
Senate Special Committee on Aging: Senate’s first hearing on drug pricing this year — examined sudden huge increases in prices of older drugs, such as Turing Pharmaceuticals’ overnight increase to $750 a pill from $13.50. Sen. Claire McCaskill [D, MO]: “My biggest challenge today is not to lose my temper. The facts underlying this hearing are so egregious…”
Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness: Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX] held a nearly three-hour hearing to question “the objectivity of climate research.” The main focus of the hearing was examining satellite records that showed global temperatures have barely budged since 1998. Many Democrats refuted this evidence, saying it involved isolated data points taken out of context.
House Financial Services: Reauthorized its task force to study how money flows to militants and supports acts of violence. Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling [R, TX-5] said the committee is in “fact-finding mode” to determine financial links to terrorism. Legislation on terrorism financing is expected in the first months of 2016.
Senate Armed Services: Defense Secretary Ash Carter requested funds for the “Syria equipping program” during hearing on U.S. Strategy to counter ISIL and U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria. Panel chair Rep. John McCain [R, AZ-0] said “We don’t want to approve of something like that again” — referencing previous funding that produced only a handful of fighters, falling short of intended goal of 5,000+ fighters.
- The Pentagon proposed building military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East to help carry out strikes against ISIL.
- Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would provide Puerto Rico up to $3 billion in federal assistance.
- Jon Stewart returned to “The Daily Show” to push for 9/11 first responders bill (S. 928 / H.R. 1786).
- Opposition to wind subsidies gained traction on Capitol Hill. Legislation from Rep. Kenny Marchant [R, TX-24] would eliminate the main federal handout for wind energy, the production tax credit (PTC).
- Speaker Ryan told “hope yes, vote no” caucus to change their ways — group of lawmakers who privately fear the repercussions of a federal shutdown or default but have been compelled against compromise bills because of political pressure from the right.
- Millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest share of the U.S. voting-age population.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress should not vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership until after the 2016 elections. President Obama aims to complete the 12-nation trade pact before he leaves office.
- Should the entire population count when drawing electoral districts — or only the population eligible to vote? That’s the question that has Supreme Court Justices stumped as they examine Texas’s redistricting plan.
- New study from PEW Research found that women hold just under 25% of state legislative seats — women are more hesitant to seek political office and less likely to be recruited as political candidates.
- SCOTUS declined to review whether cities and states can prohibit semiautomatic, high-capacity assault weapons.
- The New York Times posted a front page editorial “End the Gun Epidemic in America” — first time an editorial has appeared on the front page in nearly a century.
- 19 nominations are still waiting to be approved by the Senate.
- Be careful what you read. Anecdote from Rep. Devin Nunes [R, CA-22] highlighted the shift in constituent mail from informed views based on actual legislation to far-out ideas based on untrue things.
- Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy issued an executive order that bans individuals listed on no-fly list from purchasing firearms. Hold up? Cannot go into effect until the White House grants the state access to some of the federal government’s watch lists.