The President announced a Supreme Court nominee and found common ground with the House in calling actions by ISIS "genocide." The House Budget Committee approved a proposal. The Senate failed to advance an GMO labeling bill.
Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HUMAN TRAFFICKING"
President Obama nominated Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court
This week, President Obama announced that the Honorable Merrick Brian Garland is his pick to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment requiring confirmation by the Senate. The President noted Judge Garland's career as a federal prosecutor, in which he notably led the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing. President Obama also reference the bipartisan praise Judge Garland received during the confirmation process for his current position on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (often called the nation's "second highest court") where Judge Garland is Chief Judge.
On Thursday, Judge Garland visited Capitol Hill to talk with Senators, despite the fact that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley have indicated that there would be no hearings or votes on the President's choice. Senate Leadership also sought to tamp down rumors that a confirmation vote could come in a post-election "lame duck" session of Congress. Several Senate Republicans broke with GOP leadership and said they'd be willing to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and take a confirmation vote.
House, President agree: ISIS actions "genocide."
House calls for U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for atrocities in Syria
This week the House and the Obama Administration both officially determined that actions by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh are "genocide." The determination by the State Department was prompted by a Congressionally-set deadline in last year's Omnibus bill. The House resolution (H.Con.Res. 75) passed unanimously.
In addition, the House passed a resolution (H.Con.Res.121) calling the actions of the government of Syria and other parties to the Syrian conflict "gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity," and calling on the Administration to encourage the United Nations to set up an international tribunal to prosecute these crimes.
A "war crime" is an act that violates the international law of war, for which and individual can be held criminally responsible. These crimes are defined in the statute that established the International Criminal Court, such as: willful killing, or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, torture or inhumane treatment.
The United States is not a participant in the International Criminal Court (ICC), limited by the 2002 American Service-Members’ Protection Act President Bill Clinton signed the Treaty of Rome establishing the ICC, but the treaty has not been ratified by Congress.
The Senate voted 48-49, deciding not to take up a bill that would establish nationwide labeling standards for genetically modified foods. The procedural vote required 60 votes in order to proceed with the bill. The bill was in response to states recently passing their own GMO labeling laws, in particular that of Vermont. If passed, this bill would have supplanted state and local GMO labeling standards.
Lawmakers laid out two separate reasons for voting to see the bill pass or fail:
1. Whether genetically modified foods should be labeled
2. Whether states should be able to make those decisions
Catch up: Legislation related to GMOs has surfaced at the state and federal level. House passed its own GMO labeling bill last July in 275-150 vote. The bill would create voluntary federal labeling standards, pre-empting states from passing their own mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified foods. In 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law that would make Vermont the first state to require the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The state has spent two years implementing the law, and it's set to go into effect on July 1. Connecticut and Maine have passed similar labeling laws, but the provisions do not go into effect unless bordering states adopt similar labeling requirements. Last year lawmakers in 27 states introduced 101 bills related to genetically modified organisms.
House Budget Committee released and approved fiscal year 2017 budget proposal. The plan aims to balance the budget within 10 years without raising taxes. It provides $1.07T in discretionary spending and proposes cuts to non-discretionary spending and entitlement programs — cutting $7T from the national deficit over the next decade, the sharpest cuts ever proposed by the committee. The resolution also includes provisions related to defense, healthcare, and taxes.
House Budget Committee held 9 hour markup, with several lawmakers going hoarse and one losing her voice. Democrats offered up 29 amendments, involving immigration reform, prescription drug prices, and equal pay. Every amendment failed, including one proposed by Rep. Debbie Dingell [D, MI-12] that would have designated $457.5M in emergency funding for Flint and required Michigan to match the federal funds. The budget advanced 20-16, with Democrats voting against and all but one Republican voting for the measure.
The budget could see the floor next week, but passage is difficult. Members of the House Freedom Caucus oppose the budget, and some Republicans voted to advance the budget but said they would oppose it on the floor.
House passed bill to extend FAA funding
The House passed a short-term bill to extend funding for the FAA until July 15 (with some provisions extended until March 2017). With FAA funding set to expire on March 31, the bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
The short-term extension will allow the House and Senate to work on a larger compromise. The Senate Commerce Committee passed its FAA reauthorization bill unanimously, with provision for enhanced screening of pilots with possible mental health issues. The committee moved through dozens of proposed amendments and passed more than 50 en bloc at the beginning of the markup.
#ViewFromTheHill – March 17, 2016
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley [R, IA] and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy [D, VT] chat before their scheduled business meeting concerning four bills and four nominations. However, the committee’s conversations mainly focused on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. (Photo/Melinda Heim)
- Senate voted 96-0 to move forward with civil contempt proceedings — first time in over 20 years. The resolution holds Backpage.com in civil contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena in sex trafficking probe.
- House unanimously passed bill that would exempt small broadband service providers from FCC transparency rules regarding net neutrality.
- House Ways and Means advanced bill that would require people who improperly receive insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act to repay overpayments.
Senate HELP approved broad mental health bill, as well as four substance abuse bills:
- Markey bill that would increase the number of patients from 30 to 100 that a qualifying practitioner can dispense narcotic drugs for maintenance or detoxification treatment
- Kaine bill to establish federal co-prescribing guidelines and naloxone grant program
- Shaheen bill would revise and reauthorize through FY2020 the controlled substance monitoring program
- Casey bill would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to improve plans for infants affected by illegal substance abuse or withdrawal symptoms
- House passed bill that would require public utilities to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and public 60 days' notice before making changes to rates, charges, or classification structure.
- House passed resolution that authorizes Speaker Paul Ryan to appear as amicus curiae ("friend of the court") on behalf of the House of Representatives in US vs. Texas, a case challenging elements of the Obama administration's immigration actions, namely DACA and DAPA which you have heard mentioned in the presidential candidate debates.
New Bills on the Block
- House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced bill that would gradually cut federal funding for unauthorized programs.
- Senate Democrats plan to introduce two bills that would give Puerto Rico the power to restructure all of its bond debt.
- House Republicans introduced a resolution to recognize magic as "a rare and magical art form and national treasure."
- Sens. Baldwin and Merkley introduced a bill that would tighten transparency requirements on hedge funds.
- Several lawmakers are skeptical of Pentagon's plan to restart program to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.
- Several lawmakers say visa program that allows foreigners to write a check and enter the country is national security risk. The program was created by Congress in 1990 and is designed for entrepreneurs who invest in commercial enterprises and create at least 10 full-time jobs.
- Obama administration unveiled executive measures to ease restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, including provision that effectively lifts the the long-standing ban on American tourists traveling to Cuba.
- North Korea launched ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, and President Obama imposed new sanctions.
- U.S. mail service to Cuba resumed, with first mail traveling directly between the two countries in more than 50 years.
- Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said he wants Congress to act on debt restructuring bill that provides Puerto Rico with reprieve from debt litigation before a financial control board begins overseeing the island's finances.
- Vice President Joe Biden met with bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss House medical innovation bill that could be path to funding for cancer "moonshot."
- Russia announced it will begin withdrawing forces from Syria.
- 11 states failed to submit plans to the Environment Protection Agency involving how to reduce sulfur dioxide air pollution.
- Office of Management and Budget's new data center policy would force agencies to get permission before building a new data center. Federal government currently has 11,000+ data centers.
- 20% likelihood of a recession in the next year, down from last month but twice as much as 6 months ago.
- New report from World Health Organization: 23% of all deaths globally are tied to preventable environmental factors like air and water pollution. (infographic)
- New from PEW: Most Americans think robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans — but few Americans think their jobs will be replaced.
- Inequality between states is widening, with most successful cities and states reporting big GDP gains.
"Budgetary and Economic Outcomes Under Paths for Federal Revenues and Noninterest Spending Specified by Chairman Price" from Congressional Budget Office
"State Legislation Addressing Genetically Modified Organisms" from National Conference of State Legislatures
"FAA Should Implement Additional Risk-Management Practices in Forecasting Aviation Activity" from U.S. Government Accountability Office
Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.