The Senate made it back into DC after snowstorm Jonas and began work on a major bipartisan energy bill. The House was out for a second week of snow days, postponing votes on limits to the President's ability to lift sanctions on Iran and a vote to override the veto of the reconciliation bill to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act.
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Senate debates major energy bill
The last time major energy reform made it across the finish line it was 2007. Gas was $2.81 per gallon, Britney Spears kicked off historic breakdown, and the iPhone was released. Since that time, U.S. energy production has changed dramatically. Wind and solar electricity now compose 15% of non-fossil electricity generation. Coal is still the largest share of U.S. electricity generation, but last year coal production declined by 11% — the largest decline ever recorded. U.S. electricity sales continue to decline each year as homes become more energy efficient and solar power becomes more popular.
These significant energy changes have not gone unnoticed by Congress. This week the Senate debated the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bipartisan act is spearheaded by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell [D, WA]. The comprehensive legislation is aimed at updating the nation's power grid and oil and gas transportation systems. Provisions are divided into five main areas: efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and conservation reauthorization.
- Agreed to Crapo Amendment (87-4 vote) Requires the Department of Energy to work with private partnerships to test and demonstrate new reactor concepts
- Agreed to Markey Amendment (62-29 vote) Requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review on energy production and the effects of crude oil exports and submit a report to Congress
- Agreed to Schatz Amendment (55-37 vote) Designates funding for advanced research projects
Tell your lawmakers what you think of the Energy Policy Modernization Act!
We're all hearing a lot about the Zika virus, which, according to the World Health Organization, is "spreading explosively" in the Americas and could reach four million cases this year. As of Friday, there were 31 reported cases in the U.S.
The virus is spread to people through mosquito bites and most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. – Source: Centers on Disease Control
The White House has called for "more research on diagnostic testing, vaccines and therapeutics," while emphasizing that it "poses a far different — and less severe — threat than the recent Ebola epidemic." The virus is most dangerous to women who are pregnant. The World Health Organization will convene a committee of experts Monday to "decide whether the outbreak of the virus should constitute a public health emergency of international concern."
Members of Congress responded with requests for additional information and research, including:
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] sent a letter asking the NIAID Director to "prioritize research" for potential vaccine to Zika virus. Sen. Ron Johnson [R, WI] and Sen. Tom Carper [D, DE], sent letters to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and CDC Director Thomas Frieden asking about the risk posed by the virus and current preparedness measures. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH] wrote to the secretaries of State, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, urging them to quickly notify Congress of what resources they need to mount a defense.
House Democrats Convene for Annual Legislative Retreat
House Democrats gathered in Baltimore for their annual retreat this week, themed “United for Opportunity.” Members heard from comedian Trevor Noah, who spoke about his childhood in South Africa, and from environmentalist, Tom Steyer, who discussed climate change.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the caucus with an optimistic view of Democratic prospects for retaking the House, and pitched TPP, which Democrats say they “are reviewing” though many remain noncommittal on the President’s signature trade agreement. Vice President Biden shared an emotional moment with Congressman Mark Takai in the context of their family struggles with cancer. President Obama has enlisted Biden in a "moonshot" effort to treat and cure cancer.
President Obama delivered an upbeat message to the caucus, and reportedly took questions from Members about White House policies on refugees and immigration, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the recent release of hostages held in Iran.
- Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson [R, WI] sent a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to explain the legal rationale for visa carve-outs.
- President Obama announced ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. He outlined series of executive actions in op-ed, including prohibition on punishing "low-level infraction" prisoners with solitary confinement and reducing the maximum amount of time a prisoner can be punished with solitary confinement.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] announced he will co-sponsor a bill that would repeal a 2005 bill that gives broad legal immunity to gun makers and dealers.
- White House and Congress are butting heads on how to address corporate tax inversions.
- Democratic Presidential candidates debated at town hall event in Iowa. We live tweeted related bills.
- Senate Judiciary approved amended version of the Judicial Redress Act.
- Sen. Mazie Hirono [D, HI] sported a lei on the Senate Floor.
- Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing for bankruptcy protections for Puerto Rico.
- Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK] said the Paris Climate Agreement is as insignificant as the Kyoto Protocol in new op-ed.
- FCC voted — Cable TV, satellite and radio stations will soon be required to post information about the political campaigns and outside groups buying advertising.
- Senate Democrats pushed for CDC research on gun violence.
- Police recovered Sen. Chris Coons' family SUV. It was stolen from their Delaware home after his wife left the car running to warm up. The car appears to be in good shape, only damage was removal of the "Chris Coons for Senate" sticker.
- GOP Presidential Candidates debated. We live tweeted related bills.
- Obama administration announced new regulations designed to expand commerce with Cuba, such as financing of exports (minus food/ag commodities), shooting movies and TV shows, and working on public infrastructure projects.
- In what may be a first, the Senate held unplanned all-women session.
- Sen. Claire McCaskill [D, MO] live tweeted jury duty.
- Members of Congress shoveled snow.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced new health recommendations, including annual depression screenings for all adults and depression screenings for women during pregnancy and after childbirth — first recommendation addressing maternal mental illness.
- Washington Post named Rep. Derek Kilmer [D, WA-6] Congress's biggest Star Wars fan. See who else made the list.
- New from PEW: Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities, reflecting both their politics and demographics. Huge generation gap regarding partisan differences.
- Number of homicides in 50 largest cities increased nearly 17% last year — highest increase in lethal violence in the last 25 years.
- Latest PEW survey: Budget deficit slipped as public priority.
- New federal data: per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools dropped in 2013 for the third consecutive year.
- Wonkblog ranked states by residents' well-being. Spoiler Alert Hawaii, you win.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- Alabama legislature is considering proposal to increase state's gas tax.
- Kansas appeals court held that state Constitution protects abortion rights — affirmed lower court decision to block enforcement of 2015 law.
- Several states including Alaska, Maryland, and Rhode Island are considering criminal justice reform legislation, including eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reclassifying some felonies as misdemeanors, and sending people into treatment for drug addiction or mental illness rather than incarceration.
- Carbon tax bill introduced in Rhode Island General Assembly.
- California Public Utilities Commission voted to extend incentives for rooftop solar power.
- South Carolina residents set record for gun purchases.
- Bloomberg examined Nevada Solar Wars.
"Rigged Justice: 2016 — How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy" Report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D, MA]
"Short-Term Energy Outlook" U.S. Energy Information Administration