Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress

5 min read

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. 


On Thursday, the Senate adopted three amendments to the energy bill(130+ amendments have been proposed — including one amendment that would provide $600 million in federal aid to Flint, Michigan)

  • Agreed to Crapo Amendment (87-4 voteRequires the Department of Energy to work with private partnerships to test and demonstrate new reactor concepts
  • Agreed to Markey Amendment (62-29 voteRequires 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 voteDesignates funding for advanced research projects

The Senate will convene on Monday and resume consideration of the bill. The White House expressed concerns but did not issue a veto threat. 

Tell your lawmakers what you think of the Energy Policy Modernization Act!

Zika virus

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.




  • 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

Weekend Reads

"The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2015 to 2025" Congressional Budget Office
"Restoring Congress as the First Branch" by Kevin Kosar and various authors, R Street Institute

"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