Gavel Down: Closing out the week in Congress

5 min read

President Obama delivered his final SOTU. Congress passed a soon-to-be-vetoed resolution disapproving a new water regulation, the Senate failed to advance a bill to audit the federal reserve, the House took steps to tighten sanctions on North Korea, and Speaker Ryan showed House Members what "gavel down" really means.

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Most active bill on POPVOX this week:
Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015 (S. 2232)






Audit the Fed bill did not advance in the Senate

The Senate considered a bill from Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY} to require an audit of the Federal Reserve. By a vote of 53-44, the bill did not reach "cloture" to end debate and proceed to a vote, which requires 60. Read more from The Hill.

President Obama delivers final State of the Union address

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. Read the full text on Medium. (Follow POPVOX for annotations and links to bills.) Watch the speech on CSPAN.




For the fourth year in a POPVOX tweeted along, with links to bills that got a mention. (Walk down memory lane with the tweets from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.)



POTUS will veto WOTUS CRA resolution

This week, the House passed a resolution (253 YAYS – 166 NAYS) leveraging the "Congressional Review Act" to "disapprove" a new EPA and Army Corps regulation that expands the definition of the "Waters of the United States," protected by the Clean Water Act. The President is expected to veto the resolution.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) gives Congress sixty “session days” to overturn a rule issued by the Executive branch. Read more from the Congressional Research Service.  While forty-seven CRA resolutions have been introduced since 1996, only two have passed both houses and only one rule has been disapproved by Congress — the Department of Labor rule on ergonomics. It’s pretty tough for a CRA resolution to  succeed in its attempt to invalidate an administrative rule, because it is usually subject to a veto by the very executive whose administration issued the rule in the first place (i.e. the President.) The special circumstance in the successful case was that incoming President George W. Bush opposed the rule and signed the CRA resolution that was waiting for him upon his inauguration.

Speaker Ryan wrote an op-ed for the Omaha World-Herald, detailing his opposition to the rule.

Congress moves on North Korea

On the heels of last week's nuclear test by North KoreaHouse passed bill that would impose harsher sanctions. The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 757) passed 418-2 — with Reps. Amash [R, MI-3] and Massie [R, KY-4] in opposition.

If you normally think of sanctions coming from the executive branch, you're not wrong. It's a somewhat unusual step by Congress but within congressional authority. The legislation is aimed at reducing financial assets that are used to develop nuclear weapons. It would target foreign companies doing business with North Korea, reduce North Korea's access to U.S. financial markets, and authorize the U.S. to sanction any entities transferring assets to North Korea.

In the past, Senate bills that would impose sanctions on North Korea have not moved as quickly. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were briefed in a closed hearing on Monday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] said the Senate will take up similar legislation soon.

137 House Members pull tardy card

Tardiness when voting continues to be a problem in the House. Speaker Ryan lectured Members last week — saying Members should attempt to make it to the House floor within the prescribed 15-minute voting period.

This week Speaker Ryan sent a clear message that he means business. The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act (H.R. 3662) hit the House Floor on Wednesday. There's been lots of talk surrounding the bill that would give Congress increased oversight over the Iran nuclear deal. Reps. Royce [R, CA-39] and Engel [D, NY-16] wrapped up arguments and a 15 minute vote began.

15 minutes came and went, and 137 members had not voted. "They closed it," said Rep. Steve Stivers [R, OH-15]. "They need to learn."

Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy [R, CA-23], and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5] huddled together to devise a solution. The vote was vacated, and the House will re-vote on Jan. 26 — when sanctions on Iran will have begun being lifted already.

Addressing Puerto Rico's debt crisis

One of the three House committees with jurisdiction over legislation affecting Puerto Rico's debt held a hearing this week. The House Committee on Natural Resources examined the circumstances that led to Puerto Rico's $73 billion debt crisis — specifically the state-owned and self-regulated monopoly Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) that serves as Puerto Rico's public utility.

Several legislative proposals exist, including declaring bankruptcy, creating a "superbond" to restructure debt into a single bond, and imposing austerity measures and cutting the size of Puerto Rico's government.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] wants to create a task force of six to eight senators who would devise a legislation solution by the end of February.

Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

Data Drop

  • Pentagon posted latest costs for #ISIL operations: averaging $11.2M per day since Aug. 2014.
  • New Gallup poll finds that Americans who identify as "Independents" tend to lean toward one party and vote with that party — suggesting independent voters aren't much different than partisans when it comes to voting.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education unveiled new project tracking colleges and universities and possible Title IX violations involving sexual assault complaints.
  • Pew reported that 21 states lack a local newspaper with a dedicated D.C. reporter covering Congress


Weekend Reads

"Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis and the 1975 Law Complicating Matters" by Mary Williams Walsh, The New York Times

"A Modest Proposal to Restore Bipartisanship to SOTU" by former senators, POLITICO

"Iran Commercial Activities: Update on Foreign Firms Reported to Have Engaged in Iran's Energy or Communications Sectors" U.S. Government Accountability Office

EPA and the Army Corps’ “Waters of the United States” Rule: Congressional Response and Options Congressional Research Service 


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