In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, many policy proposals being discussed in Congress. Senator Chris Murphy led a 15-hour filibuster to call for votes on gun control legislation, which will happen on Monday in the Senate. Mental health legislation advanced through committee in the House. Separate House and Senate Defense Authorization (NDAA) bills passed, both under veto threats from the White House. And, changes to the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) now heads to the President’s desk.
Senate Filibuster Forces Votes on Gun Related Legislation
The Senate began the week voting on annual defense policy bill, then shifted to Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill. On Wednesday, Sen. Christopher Murphy [D, CT] stood to speak and proceeded to hold the floor for the next 14 hours and 50 minutes, now the ninth-longest Senate floor speech since 1900. At one point, he apologized to his son for missing pizza night, saying "I hope that you'll understand someday why we're doing this."
As the filibuster reached its 12th hour, demonstrators gathered outside the Capitol, showing support for the effort. Democrats ended the filibuster Thursday morning at 2:11 am, as lawmakers reached agreement to hold votes on gun-related measures. Monday at 5:30 pm, there will be up to four cloture votes on gun-related amendments to CJS appropriations bill. Exact language is still emerging for some amendments, but the measures will focus on boosting background checks and barring suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms.
The following bills are being referenced in the news. Read our expanded post for other bills related to this issue.
Bill would provide DOJ authority to prevent a known or suspected terrorist from purchasing firearms or explosives.
Bill would prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and importation of new military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
House approved Defense Appropriations Bill
The House approved a $575.8 billion FY2017 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5293) by a vote of 282-138. The bill includes $58.6 billion for “overseas contingency operations” (OCO). “OCO” refers to the operations that were previously referred to as the Global War on Terror. (Read more from the Committee.)
The White House issued a veto threat for the bill, citing many points of disagreement, including what it deems “reduction and misuse of OCO Funds.” The White House takes issue with the reallocation of $16 billion in OCO funds to the base Defense budget to get around spending limits set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. (Read more from CRS on the OCO).
Catch up on this year's appropriations process.
FOIA Reform Heads to White House
Congress passed reforms to the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the Sunlight Foundation, one of the organizations pushing for the change: “The bill codifies a “presumption of openness,” strengthens the proactive disclosure of information in digital formats and the Office of Government Information Services, directs the White House to create software for creating requests, and requires all federal agencies to update their regulations.”
President Obama is expected to sign the bill, which a spokesperson said, makes “important upgrades to the FOIA system established nearly 50 years ago." The Administration also suggested that "extending FOIA to Congress would serve as another important step in increasing government transparency." (FOIA is currently only applicable to the Executive Branch of government.)
Senate passed Defense Bill
Despite a veto threat from the White House, the Senate passed 85-13 the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (S.2943), sponsored by Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] with bipartisan support.
The Senate’s 2017 NDAA contains several policy reforms, including:
- Large-scale procurement and contracting overhaul.
- 25% reduction in general and flag officers and DOD Senior Executive Service civilian employees
- Reforms to the military health system
- Requiring women to register for Selective Service
- Implementing the recommendations of the Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group
Read a summary of the bill here.
One of S.2943’s most controversial amendments was Sec. 591, which would require that women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018 would be obligated to register for Selective Service in the same way men register now. The amendment was introduced in the Armed Services Committee, and consequently, was not debated on the Senate floor. Still, it remained a point of contention even after the bill passed.
The consequences for not registering would be the same men currently face, such as the possible loss of financial aid like Pell grants. However, this provision would not apply to women who turned 18 before January 2018. The amendment received support from military leaders and Republicans and Democrats alike in the Senate, but some more conservative members opposed it.
“The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little sense at all,” said Senator Ted Cruz [R-TX]. However, neither Selective Service nor this amendment require that those conscripted into the armed services enter combat roles.
Last month, the House version of the NDAA, H.R. 4909, passed 277-147 despite a veto threat from the White House. However, chaos erupted on the House floor when several Republicans switched their vote on an amendment that would have prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, causing the amendment to fail.
Read a Congressional Research Service summary of both the House and Senate versions here.
House Energy and Commerce Advanced Mental Health Bill
The House Energy and Commerce unanimously approved the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646). During the markup, committee members shared stories of constituents they had met who suffered from or lost loved ones to mental illness and thanked Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18] for his years of work on various versions of this bill.
Among other provisions, H.R. 2646 would create an Assistant Secretary of Mental Health in the Department of Health and Human Services and provide grants to track beds in psychiatric facilities. The bill aims to reduce gaps in the mental health system and strengthen its ability to respond to crises, particularly when concerning young people.
- It's been one year since Office of Personnel Management breach where 22M federal employees were victims of cybertheft. Here's a look at provisions OPM has taken to strengthen cybersecurity.
- Light pollution masks the sky for one-third of the world's population. Check out interactive world atlas.
- Senate is on pace to work the fewest days in 60 years.
- Affordable Care Act premiums will rise by about 10% in major markets next year, according to new analysis by nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
- Army celebrated 241 years, the oldest branch of the U.S. Armed Services. Take this quiz to see how well you know the U.S. Army, as well as workout to #EarnYourCake with 241 exercises.
- New from Gallup: Americans' confidence in banks is unchanged from a year ago and remains below 30% for eighth straight year.
- Democratic senators issued report saying none of U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 108 board members openly support group's positions on tobacco use and climate change. Roughly half have adopted anti-tobacco and pro-climate positions at their companies.
- Released: new state-by-state Gross Domestic Product gains and losses. Oregon and California experienced some of the nation's biggest gains, while North Dakota and Alaska saw declines.
- New from Gallup: Americans' confidence in institutions remains near historical lows.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- As debates over the state’s budget are coming to a close, California Governor Jerry Brown [D] agreed to repeal a “maximum family grant” law prohibiting mothers from increasing the welfare income they receive if they have more children, making California the seventh state to repeal this kind of welfare cap. Legislators also approved a provision in the state budget that would allocate $5 million for a new research center on firearm violence.
- Using a $34 million federal grant allocated by the Affordable Care Act, the Delaware Center for Health Innovation, a public-private partnership, has created a plan for health care reform and is planning to roll it out over the next five years.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott [R] penned a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden requesting that federal health officials review the state’s plan to fight the disease.
- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf [D] proposed tax on natural gas production, would be highest rate in the country.
- Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed a circuit court ruling and ruled in favor of Gov. Matt Bevin [R], whose administration called for the temporary closure of a Lexington abortion clinic that had been operating as an unlicensed doctor’s office. Gov. Bevin maintains that abortion clinics should operate only with full state licensing.
- Bipartisan former Members of Congress penned column on importance of working with one another and reviving civility in politics.
- House Democrats sent a letter to Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf, calling for an end to ban on blood donations from gay men. Rep. Jared Polis [D, CO-2] said ban doesn't require legislation, only action by FDA.
- White House released fact sheets for each state regarding prescription opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic.
- Exxon and Democratic attorneys general from 13 states are facing each other in court over potential company coverup of its scientists' research showing risks posed by climate change.
- 51 U.S. Diplomats urged strikes against Assad in Syria.
- Supreme Court rejected Puerto Rico's bid to revive debt restructuring law.
- House Oversight analyzed purpose of 18F and US Digital Service.
- Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, renewing call to bring acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert's nomination to vote.
- House adopted two resolutions disapproving actions targeting fossil fuels.
- Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer announced House Democrats’ New “Make It In America” plan. Live speech on Facebook.
- House voted 233-175 to pass legislative spending bill, maintains pay freeze for lawmakers and provides $3.5B for congressional operations in Fiscal Year 2017.
- People are starting to cover up their laptop cameras, even the FBI Director. Here's why.
- Members of Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky regarding recent reports of racial discrimination.
- House Oversight & Government Reform voted along party lines to censure IRS head John Koskinen. Resolution calls on Koskinen to resign or be removed from office.
- Latest installment in six-part House GOP policy agenda focuses on the Constitution and provisions to provide Congress more ways to curb federal agencies.
- Fed held off on another interest rate increase, citing slowdown on jobs front and concerns about global economy.
- CNN announced primetime town hall with Libertarian nominees for president and vice president.
- The latest in Office Space — Rep. Tom Cole [R, OK-4] shows off Native American memorabilia.
- IRS announced release of searchable charity data, making electronically filed Form 990s available in bulk and in machine-friendly format.
- National Park Service asked for more firing authority during House Oversight & Government Reform hearing.
- New report from Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] says American Red Cross misled Congress about charity's finances and sent significantly less money to Haiti than claimed. Confirming previous investigations from ProPublica and NPR.
- John Oliver talked about retirement, Department of Labor's fiduciary rule and resolution to block rule (vetoed last week by President Obama).
- Per new Government Accountability Office report, when it comes to federal workforce, everyone's performance gets rave reviews.
- One Pentagon agency must write federal contract to promote some of its Facebook posts, including recipes and food-related jokes.
- Federal appeals court upheld White House-supported net neutrality rules.
- Check out Q&A with House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop. Learn about Puerto Rico legislation and where he scores those dapper three-piece suits. For him, it's suit or shorts and flips. There is no in between.
- House began publishing its spending reports online as data. Statements reveal a lot about health and activities of Congress, detailing expenses from office equipment to travel.
- Leaders of House Oversight & Government Reform sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, asking for past due Census cybersecurity report, as mandated by Quarterly Financial Report Reauthorization Act, Lieu bill which became law last year.
- Last year's spending omnibus mandated the Obama administration inventory unclassified IT systems from which attackers could access classified material and provide a report to Congress within 180 days…still no progress report.
- Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley introduced bill to overhaul civil asset forfeiture, system that allows government to seize personal property linked to crime.
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.