Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress
Relations with Iran warmed but "thaw" was not a word anyone was using in snowy Washington. The Senate was in but both major votes this week did not advance — an attempt to override the President's veto of a "disapproval" resolution on expanded water rules and the House-passed bill to tighten security procedures for refugees from Syria and Iraq. Filibuster reform got a new look and the House GOP emerged from their retreat with a new agenda (Democrats will retreat and plan soon.) And, on Friday, Washington got its snow day.
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The Post-Implementation Era Begins with Iran
The week began still in the light of significant developments in relations with Iran. With last Saturday's announcement that Iran had met obligations necessary for the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, President Obama signed an executive order lifting U.S. sanctions. That was quickly followed by the announcement of new, limited sanctions on five Iranian citizens and 11 companies for violating United Nations resolutions against ballistic missile tests.
The U.S. celebrated the release of five American prisoners who had been held in Iran:
- Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post
- Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan
- Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor from Idaho
- Businessman Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and American student, Matthew Trevithick, about both of whom little is known.
The House had previously teed up a vote on restricting the President's ability to lift the sanctions, but the vote was vacated because Members didn't make it to the Floor in time to vote. While the vote was rescheduled for next week, conditions have changed significantly.
Senate Narrowly Avoids Drama on Refugee Vote
[inlinetweet]The Senate did not advance the House-passed bill that would step up security screening for refugees entering the country from Syria and Iraq. [/inlinetweet]Senate Democrats floated a proposal that would have allowed the bill to proceed if Republicans allowed a politically difficult vote on a proposal from the Presidential campaign trail to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States. The cloture vote on the bill was 55-43 (60 were needed) and did not proceed. A proposal to tighten restrictions on the visa waiver program is expected in the coming weeks.
Senate Fails to Override Veto of Water Rule Rollback
This week the Senate took its last swing at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Rule that expands federal authority over all ‘waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.
On Oct. 9, 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, temporarily suspended implementation of the final WOTUS rule, questioning “… specific scientific support substantiating the reasonableness” of certain parts of this rule.
Congress passed a resolution invoking the "Congressional Review Act" to invalidate the rule. As expected, however, President Obama vetoed the measure of disapproval, and this week, the Senate failed to get the votes required to override the veto.
Flint Water Crisis
The lead-contaminated water crisis sparked news and commentary everywhere this week. Bipartisan House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting an urgent briefing. Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to testify on Feb. 3. President Obama signed an emergency declaration, providing federal aid for emergency conditions.
How did tap water become toxic in Flint, Michigan?
Filibuster Might Get a Facelift
[inlinetweet]Filibusters are an American tradition used to delay or block disagreeable legislation.[/inlinetweet] Lawmakers wear sneakers, hold their bladders, and sing Gene Autry songs. The filibuster’s purpose is to ensure minority opinions are expressed before the Senate votes on an issue. To keep a filibuster afloat, a senator cannot sit, leave the Senate Floor (lawmakers get creative), eat (better make friends with the keeper of the candy desk), or drink anything besides water or milk (although sometimes milk can’t be trusted). The senator can talk about whatever he or she chooses and holds the Floor until cloture is invoked, the filibuster wins an accommodation, or the filibustering senators throws in the towel.
[inlinetweet]There’s been a lot of talk about filibusters the last few years, and now some Republicans are looking to revise the legislative tool.[/inlinetweet]
Senate Republicans held a special meeting this week to discuss proposed changes such as:
- Eliminating the minority party’s ability to filibuster motions to begin debate on spending bills
- Changing the rule through regular order (requiring 67 votes and bipartisan support)
- Using the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules with a simple majority vote (what was used in 2013 to eliminate filibusters of executive branch and judicial nominees)
So what is cloture and why do you hear about it when talking about filibusters?
President Woodrow Wilson urged the Senate to create the procedure known as “cloture.” Senators can force an end to debate and bring the question to an up or down vote. Cloture is effective at limiting filibusters but requires a three-fifths vote.
The World Economic Forum is underway in Davos. The annual meeting of political and business leaders includes plenty of familiar faces. Videos from the past two days are posted online and prime for binging this weekend.
- Recap: day 1, day 2, day 3
- Vice President Joe Biden delivered evening remarks and discussed moonshot to cure cancer.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed geo-security.
- Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on the top three challenges the world faces.
- Key talks: Affordable Care Act, Alzheimer's research, Paris climate talks, digital privacy, gender gap, Iran sanctions, energy, global financial priorities, artificial intelligence, Russia, securing the Middle East and Northern Africa.
GOP Annual Legislative Retreat
[inlinetweet]The GOP annual legislative retreat is typically marked by arguing and anger — this year’s retreat was much different.[/inlinetweet] Speaker Paul Ryan received a standing ovation and Rep. Louie Gohmert [R, TX-1] said “I don’t feel like I was vilified as much this year for speaking truth as I have in the past.” Republicans pushed for party unity and differences emerged between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan for the Senate and Speaker Paul Ryan’s vision for the House.
After three days in Baltimore, Republicans emerged with policy goals in five main areas:
- National security
- Jobs and economic growth
- Health care
- Poverty and opportunity
- Restoring the constitutional balance of powers
Democrats’ annual retreat kicks off next Wednesday in Baltimore — with addresses from President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Trevor Noah from The Daily Show.
- 171 House Democrats sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calling for stronger disclosures from groups running political ads.
- House Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed Martin Shkreli (former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, famous for raising the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim by 5,556 percent) for next week's hearing.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell surprised everyone and fast-tracked Authorization for Use of Military Force for Floor consideration. Compare and contrast AUMF proposals.
- Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] set record for longest stretch of time without missing a vote: 22 years, 6 months, 6 days.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs responded to last week's op-ed re: misconduct in the agency.
- Senate Democrats rolled out legislation to ease the burden of student debt, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D, MA] provision to allow people to refinance their loans to prevailing interest rates, Sen. Mazie Hirono [D, HI] provision to index future Pell Grant awards to inflation, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin [D, WI] provision to provide federal funding incentives for programs waiving community college tuition and fees.
- Defense Secretary Ash Carter said number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq will likely increase.
- House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX-10]and Senate Intelligence member Sen. Mark Warner [D, VA] proposed a commission to determine how law enforcement can access encrypted communications related to terrorism.
- U.S. will begin using facial recognition technology after successful pilot at Dulles Airport.
- Senate Energy and Natural Resources voted to approve its first broad energy policy reform bill in 8 years.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said most of the conference is not interested in criminal justice reform.
- Republicans are questioning the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission selection process. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6] and health subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Pitts [R, PA-16] sent letters to MACPAC leadership and GAO Comptroller General regarding the conflict of interest policy and how commissioners are selected.
- New Brookings study says Boston is No. 1 city in U.S. for income inequality. See how your city compares.
- New CBO report says the federal deficit will grow larger than the economy this year for the first time since 2009. Abrupt shift from last year's CBO estimates — $130 billion larger than 2015 projections.
- New from PEW: Number of eligible Hispanic voters expanded by more than 4 million voters — reaching an all time high.
- China, the world's second-largest economy, is growing at slowest pace in 25 years.
- Look at the emptiness of America — enormous chunk of land where only 1 percent of the population lives.
- New report analyzed former House members and Senators who later become lobbyists. Republican former Senators are more likely to become lobbyists than Democratic former Senators. This distinction is "virtually absent" among former House members.
- Released: Global Gender Gap Report 2015
- It's official: 2015 was the hottest year on record.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- Tech privacy bills were introduced in 16 states.
- Fresno, California became the first city in the country to authorize tiny homes in its development code.
- Bill to reform structured-settlement industry advanced in the Virginia House of Delegates.
- Democrats in the Kansas Senate introduced government reform bills, includes shortened legislative session and amends provision that allows lawmakers to become lobbyists as soon as they leave public office.
- Bill that would expand Georgia's medical marijuana program to include an in-state harvest and production system will receive its first hearing next week.
"Millennials Make Up Almost Half of Latino Eligible Voters in 2016" by Jens Manuel Krogstad et. al, Pew Research Center
"Summary of The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026" Congressional Budget Office
"Entry/Exit Overstay Report" U.S. Department of Homeland Security
"Actually, Things Are Getting Better" by Barney Frank, POLITICO
"Deregulating Corporate America" by the Editorial Board, The New York Time