GAVEL DOWN: Closing Out the Week in Congress

9 min read

POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress

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.

Two Democratic proposals and two Republican proposals will be up for vote. Grassley and Cruz proposal will be similar to previously introduced gun control bill

The following bills are being referenced in the news. Read our expanded post for other bills related to this issue.

Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act (H.R. 2732 / S. 1751
Sponsor: Rep. Chris Van Hollen [D, MD-8] / Sen. Christopher Murphy [D, CT] 

Bill would authorize DOJ grant program to encourage states to establish permit-to-purchase requirements for all handguns, including at gun shows with private sellers. 


Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act (H.R. 1076 / S. 551
Sponsor: Rep. Peter King [R, NY-2] / Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA]

Bill would provide DOJ authority to prevent a known or suspected terrorist from purchasing firearms or explosives. 


Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (S. 2002
Sponsor: Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX]

Bill would increase treatment for mentally ill people facing incarceration and strengthen requirements for full judicial hearing before person can be banned from purchasing guns.

Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 (H.R. 4269)
Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline [D, RI-1]

Bill would prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and importation of new military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act (H.R. 1076 / S. 551
Sponsor: Rep. Peter King [R, NY-2] / Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA]


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.”

A bipartisan House bill (H.R. 653) passed in January, while a bipartisan Senate bill (S. 337) passed in March. The House passed the Senate bill this week by voice vote.

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.

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY17 (S. 2943)
Sponsor: Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]

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.

Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646)
Sponsor: Rep. Tim Murphy [R, PA-18]

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.

There was bipartisan support in committee, and Rep. Murphy is hoping to see a full House vote before August recess. E&C Chairman Fred Upton said the bill is likely to reach the House floor this fall.




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.


House Foreign Affairs /POPVOX by Holly Stokes


View From the Hill: Rayburn 2172

House Foreign Affairs marked up three pieces of legislation related to North Korea and terrorism, women in conflict resolution, and state sponsors of terrorism.

(Photo/Holly Stokes)



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.