GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

14 min read

This week on Capitol Hill was busy as busy can be…

House Democrats held 25-hour sit-in on House floor, calling for votes on gun-related legislation, delaying financial services spending bill. Senate considered several gun measures, one survived procedural vote. House failed to override Presidential veto. President Obama signed major toxic chemicals reform bill into law, highlighting importance of bipartisanship in getting the bill to the finish line. House approved MilCon/VA appropriations bill, including funding to combat Zika virus. Proposal to expand FBI surveillance sans warrants failed in Senate. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen addressed House and Senate committees in semiannual monetary report. In historic referendum, Britons voted to leave the European Union. Republicans won annual Congressional Baseball Game, ending 7-year losing streak.

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House split screen Democratic Sit-In POPVOX

House Democrats held Sit-in on House Floor, calling for votes on gun-related legislation

House Democrats held 25-hour sit-in on the House Floor, pressing for a vote on several gun-related bills in response to the Orlando shooting. Senate Democrats joined in, sending care packages andsitting on the House floor alongside Democratic colleagues.

The House was adjourned so the official House cameras, which feed CSPAN broadcasts, were off. (CSPAN continued to explain that it does not control the cameras in the legislative chambers.) With no official coverage, Members on the Floor began streaming the protestvia Periscope and Facebook Live. CSPAN followed suit and began broadcasting the Persicope feeds, as more Members joined in. (Here’show it went down.)


House approved MilCon/VA and Zika Spending Bill amid Democratic Sit-In

In a rare late night session, the House voted 239-171 around 3 A.M. Thursday to approve an $82.5 billion annual appropriations bill that would allocate $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus.

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (H.R. 2577

Sponsor: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart [R, FL-25]

The vote came in the 15th hour of a Democrat-led “sit-in” on the House floor to demand a vote on gun control measures. Republicans praised the bill as effective, timely, and fiscally responsible. 

“Mosquito season is upon us; these dollars must get out the door now to help control the spread of the Zika virus and continue longer-term efforts to stop this disease, such as vaccine and treatment development and deployment,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers [R, KY-5].

However, House and Senate Democrats criticized the measure for its restrictions on funding to Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups, as the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted and cause birth defects. Democrats also took issue with the bill’s provisions to redirect $500 million from an ObamaCare fund for state health exchanges and $100 million from the fight against Ebola.

The Obama administration threatened to veto the plan Thursday. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the bill “falls far short” of the level of funds recommended by health officials and the $1.9 billion requested by President Obama in February. To force a floor vote on President Obama’s request for Zika funding, House Democrats introduced a discharge petition this week. This kind of procedural maneuver would bring the bill to the floor without a committee report and requires 218 signatures from House members. To reach this threshold, Democrats need more than two dozen Republicans to sign on.

The measure goes to a vote in the Senate next week, and it is unclear whether it will pass. Senate Democrats staunchly oppose the bill in its current form, and Republicans lack the 60-vote majority needed to invoke cloture. Given these obstacles, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote on bill before its July Fourth recess. Consequently, it could be mid-July before Congress passes a federal response measure to the virus.

POPVOX House approved onference report zika


Read the approved conference report.

POPVOX President Obama chemical safety overhaul

Source: Naples Herald, Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivals/Associated Press

President Obama signed major toxic chemicals reform bill into law

President Obama signed chemical safety bill into law, updating 40-year-old toxic chemicals law. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is main law regulating chemicals in everyday products, from cleaning supplies to pesticides to laundry detergents. Despite the name, TSCA does not separate chemicals into toxic v. non-toxic, but rather existing chemicals v. new chemicals. When TSCA became law, all existing chemicals were considered safe for use and grandfathered in without examination. Out of roughly 85,000 chemicals in use today, the EPA has been able to ban or restrict production or use of five chemicals.

President Obama highlighted the bipartisan compromise that pushed this bill to the finish line.

"I want the American people to know that this is proof that even in the current polarized political climate here in Washington, things can work. It’s possible…If we can get this bill done, it means that somewhere out there on the horizon, we can make our politics less toxic as well."
President Obama, Bill Signing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act 

The bipartisan compromise is the first major update to environmental legislation in two decades. Learn more about how Sens. Vitter [R, LA] and Udall [D, NM] got the bill to the finish line.

Watch full bill signing.

Amendment to expand FBI surveillance failed in Senate

Senate failed to advance amendment to CJS spending bill that would give FBI authority to access a person's internet browsing history, email account data, and other electronic communications without a warrant.

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R. 2578

Sponsor: Rep. John Culberson [R, TX-7]

Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain [R-AZ] and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr [R-NC] proposed the amendment. Measure would have expanded the Patriot Act to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to national security letters to investigate electronic communications records, such as timestamps of emails and emails’ senders and recipients. These letters are similar to subpoenas in that they do not require the FBI to obtain a warrant. It would also permanently allow the FBI to monitor suspected terrorists, including those without known connections to terrorist groups. This measure is already in place, but it is set expire in 2019.

The amendment and other similar provisions have proven controversial in recent years. While privacy advocates opposed this expansion of surveillance power, FBI Director James Comey called for similar measures earlier this year. Sens. McCain and Burr argued that the extra protections were necessary in the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Orlando, where a gunman who claimed to be affiliated with the Islamic State killed 49 clubgoers at a gay nightclub. Still, votes fell largely along party lines: with 11 Democrats and 1 Independent voting yea, and 6 Republicans voting nay. During the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell switched his vote to oppose the measure, creating the opportunity to call up the measure again soon.

Financial Services Appropriations delayed by House Democratic Sit-in

House was scheduled to take up financial services spending bill this Wednesday, but House Democratic sit-in delayed the bill. The bill provides annual funding for the Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, Judiciary, and other federal agencies. It would reduce funding by $1.5B from last year and cuts $236M from the IRS in particular.

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017  (H.R. 5485

Sponsor: Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R, FL-4]

Attached to the bill are 70 amendments, including:

  • Rep. Scott Garret’s [R, NJ-5] amendment to prohibit the use of funds to designate any nonbank financial company as “systemically important” or “too big to fail”

  • Rep. Ken Buck [R, CO-4] and Rep. Mark Sanford’s [R, SC-1] amendment to reduce the salary of the IRS Commissioner to $0 until January 20, 2017.

The 70 amendments are those that remain from the original 139 submitted to the House Rules Committee.

The Rules Committee determines under what “rule” a bill will come to the floor for a vote, giving it the power to progress or stop a bill from ever coming to the floor. Amendments that did not advance House Rules included Rep. Steve King’s [R, IA-4] amendment to defund any changes to Federal Reserve notes and coins, which would have prevented Harriet Tubman from appearing on the front of the $20 bill.

Federal Reserve Janet Yellen Congress

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
Addressed House and Senate Committees in seminannual monetary report

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivered a two-day semiannual monetary report to Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee. Yellen discussed the state of the economy and mentioned reasoning behind last week’s decision not to raise interest rates. She explained that due to a mixed economic outlook (of high consumer spending but low investment coupled with a dipping labor market), the Fed was justified to proceed with caution. However, she emphasized that the economy was not in danger of a recession, and that inflation was expected to reach its 2% goal in the medium term.

At the hearings, Chairwoman Yellen also addressed Rep. Hensarling’s [R, TX-5] Financial Choice Act, which would lessen regulations on the banking industry and dismantle portions of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Chairwoman Yellen argued that the provision to lower capital-requirements would only be suitable for small community banks, and not large banks that posed systemic risk. She also disagreed that regulations created after the financial crisis were responsible for slow economic recovery.

House failed to override presidential veto of resolution disapproving of DOL's fiduciary rule

House failed to override President Obama’s veto of resolution disapproving of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule in 239-180 vote. Vote was the first in late night session during Democratic sit-in. Speaker Paul Ryan held the vote over the shouts of Democrats chanting “No bill, no break!” 

Refresher: Obama administration unveiled Department of Labor rule in early April. This rule requires brokers to act in the “best interest” of their clients when handling retirement accounts instead of their own. That’s to say, brokers would be allowed to earn sales commission and other income only if they disclose all “suitable” financial products, as well as any incentive agreements or conflicts of interest they have with products they recommend.

Later that month, the House passed resolution to disapprove the rule by 234-183 vote. While disapproval resolutions are “rarely used and almost always veto-ed,” they have become more common in the current Congress.


Disapproving the rule submitted by the Dept. of Labor relating to the definition of the term "Fiduciary" (H.J. RES. 88

Sponsor: Rep. Phil Roe [R, TN-1] 

The resolution aimed to invalidate the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress sixty session days to overturn a rule issued by the Executive branch. (Source: CRS)

Similar developments occurred in the Senate. A disapproval resolution was introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] and approved 56-41 in late May. 

This concludes the legislative cycle for the House disapproval resolution. Bills and joint resolutions in the House and Senate vetoed by the President require a two-thirds majority to override the veto. The order in which the chambers act on the vetoed legislation depends on where the bill or resolution in question began. If it was initiated in the House, the House acts first, and if was initiated in the Senate, the Senate acts first. Should the first-acting chamber fail to override the veto, the second-acting chamber cannot consider the legislation. 

Read more about the veto override procedure in both chambers.

Senate considered several gun measures —
Five measures failed,
One measure survived procedural vote

On Monday, Senate considered four gun control measures, two Democratic proposals and two Republican proposals, as amendments to Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill. All four measures failed.

  • S.AMDT.4720 (No Fly/No Buy) from Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] to authorize the Attorney General to deny requests to transfer a firearm to known or suspected terrorists. Amendment failed 47-53
  • S.AMDT.4749 "To Secure our Homeland from radical Islamists by Enhancing Law enforcement Detection (SHIELD)" from Sen. John Cornyn, [R, TX] requiring that law enforcement be alerted when anyone on the terror watch list attempts to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer. Amendment failed 53-47
  • S.AMDT.4750 (Closing the Gun Show Loophole): "To ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the national instant criminal background check system and require a background check for every firearm sale." from Sen. Chris Murphy [D, CT] requiring every gun purchaser to undergo a background check, and to expand the background check database. Amendment failed 44-56
  • S.AMDT.4751 "To address gun violence and improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System." from Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] to make it more difficult to add mentally ill people to the background check database, giving people suspected of serious mental illness a process to challenge that determination. Amendment failed 53-47

Later in the week, Sens. Susan Collins [R-ME] and Heidi Heitkamp [D-ND] unveiled bipartisan Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act, which would prevent people on the No-Fly List and the Selectee List from purchasing firearms. This act is narrower than the Democratic amendments put forward earlier in the week, but more sweeping than the Republican proposals.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote to table the legislation, rather than a procedural vote to allow Collins amendment opportunity to be added to underlying appropriations bill currently on the floor.

Collins/Heitkamp compromise gun proposal survived procedural vote on Thursday, receiving 52 votes in support and 46 in opposition, meaning the proposal mustered enough support to keep it from being tabled indefinitely but not enough to ensure that it will pass.

Prominent Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte [R-NH] and Jeff Flake [R-AZ] lobbied fellow senators to build support for the bill, but their efforts were undercut by competing amendment introduced Thursday by Majority Whip John Cornyn and Sen. Ron Johnson [R-WI]. Cornyn/Johnson proposal is more limited measure, placing burden on government to prevent gun sale, rather than requiring the potential buyer to appeal a denied sale. Johnson measure also received roll call vote on whether to table the legislation. 31 senators supported advancing the measure, 67 senators voted to table the measure.


Britons voted to leave the European Union

In historic referendum, Britons voted to leave the European Union — 52% leave, 48% remain). View breakdowns by age, geography, participation, ideologies. Younger Brits largely supported remaining in the European Union.

A few things the “Brexit” — short for “British exit” — has already affected (via Shortlist):

What happens now? Technically, the UK will invokeArticle 50” of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets a two-year timetable for departure negotiations. The Financial Times is already calling it “the world’s most complex divorce.” As Politico described it: “A Brexit represents nothing less than the partial splintering of the world’s largest political union and trading bloc — an $18 trillion economy.”

Responses from lawmakers:

“I respect the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom. The UK is an indispensable ally of the United States, and that special relationship is unaffected by this vote." 
— House Speaker Paul Ryan

"It is clear that this act of self-inflicted instability was fueled, in no small part, by the anti-immigrant, isolationist populism we're seeing on the rise throughout the world and even here at home…This morning, millions of Britons and tens of millions more across Europe and America awoke to the shocking and unsettling real-world consequences of ignoring the dangers that movement presents."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer

"The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision. The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship.”
— President Obama

“Today’s referendum will not change our special relationship with the United Kingdom. That close partnership will endure, and we will continue to work together to strengthen a robust trade relationship and to address our common security interests.”
— Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker

Republicans won annual Congressional Baseball Game, ending 7-year losing streak

It’s been a big week for sports: LeBron and the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s championship drought. Lionel Messi became Argentina’s all-time leading scorer with skillful free kick against the U.S. in Tuesday’s Copa America semifinal. And after a 7-year losing streak, Republicans won the 55th Annual Congressional Baseball Game, beating Democrats 8-7.  

Democrats have dominated for so long in large part due to Rep. Cedric Richmond [D, LA-2] who began playing baseball at age five and eventually went on to become the starting pitcher for Morehouse College. The only female player Rep. Linda Sanchez [D, CA-38] argues that the game can be an opportunity for bipartisanship since a good play is a good play and because women from both sides of the aisle often approach her to commend her for her jersey number, which is always #9, honoring Title IX. While there was a healthy bit of trash talk leading up to the game and some chanting from both sides, it was a close and exciting game this year. Despite a late inning comeback, the Dems were unable to continue their winning streak. Maybe they should have asked their interns for tips on how to pull an all-nighter and still get a W the next day.



Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • In the first two civil lawsuits in the aftermath of the Flint water crisis, the Michigan attorney general sued the French water company Veolia and a Texas firm for “botching” their role in preventing lead contamination of the city’s water.
  • The Pennsylvania House voted 132-65 to ban abortions after 20 weeks and criminalize a procedure known as dilation-and-extraction. Gov. Tom Wolf [D] has threatened to veto the bill.
  • Virginia state officials removed 132 sex offenders from the state’s list of eligible voters. This removal came after an executive order by Gov. Terry McAuliffe [D] in April that restored voting rights to over 200,000 convicted felons.
  • A California ballot initiative that would ask voters whether to repeal the state’s 38-year-old death penalty has gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot this November. The initiative received nearly 405,000 voter signatures.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign bill that would require all single-occupant bathroom stalls to be gender-neutral. The New York City Council passed the measure 47-2, and it will take effect on Jan. 1 of next year.


Weekend Reads

"2016 Economic Survey of the United States"  from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

"Commercial Space: Industry Developments and FAA Challenges"  from U.S. Government Accountability Office

"Annual Report to Congress"  from IRS Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee

"Supervisory Highlights Mortgage Servicing Special Edition Report"  from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau