Big week on the Hill, with bills becoming law…
Senate passed legislation to help Puerto Rico restructure its $70B in debt — President Obama quickly signed bill into law before July 1st debt payment deadline. MilCon-VA spending bill, with included Zika funding package, failed in the Senate. President Obama signed FOIA reform bill into law, making it easier for public to access certain records. Senate Appropriations cleared final spending bill, marking the earliest all 12 spending bills have passed committee since 1988.
Image Source: Carolos Barria/REUTERS
Congress passes Puerto Rico debt legislation, President Obama signs bill into law
Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) into law, just one day before the July 1st deadline where Puerto Rico is expected to default on $2 billion of debt, including $800 million of Constitutionally backed general obligation debt.
Watch bill signing.
Under Puerto Rico’s Constitution, these Constitutionally backed general obligation debts should receive priority over government resources, including those needed to keep hospitals and schools open. Earlier this month, U.S. hedge funds filed law suits against a local debt-moratorium law to ensure that they received priority, suggesting future lawsuits if Congress did not intervene.
PROMESA is the result of bipartisan compromises, Congressional leadership support, and the backing of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The bill passed the House on June 9th by 297-127 vote and passed the Senate this Wednesday with a vote of 68-30. Senate approval was uncertain due to the unexpected early House recess, forcing the Senate to adopt the bill as is because amendments would have necessitated a House vote after the July 1st deadline.
What Will PROMESA Do?
Although PROMESA was passed before July 1st, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Puerto Rico does not have the money nor time to meet the debt payments due today.
Though PROMESA will not help Puerto Rico make today’s $2 billion debt payment, it will prevent lawsuits from creditors, create a financial oversight board that will control Puerto Rico’s budget and can reorder the priority of creditors, and allow federal minimum wage to be lowered to $4.25 for workers under 24 years old. The oversight board will operate independently of the Puerto Rican government and restructure its finances, similar to the oversight boards created in Detroit and New York City. Additionally, PROMESA prevents a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico’s debt.
Senate Democrats block Zika deal, citing partisan provisions
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked $1.1 billion Zika deal in 52-48 vote. The deal was part of a larger $82.5 billion annual appropriations bill the House approved 239-171 in a rare late night session, around 3 A.M. last Thursday.
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]
- Restrictions on funding to Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups, as the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted and cause birth defects.
- Offsets that would redirect $500 million from an ObamaCare fund for state health exchanges and $100 million from the fight against Ebola.
- Veterans Affairs provision allowing Confederate flags to be flown at veterans cemeteries.
In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan before Tuesday’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin [D-IL], Chuck Schumer [D-NY] and Patty Murray [D-WA] expressed "…deep disappointment at the inclusion of several poison pill riders.”
"We are writing to urge your cooperation in quickly negotiating an agreement that rejects politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities."
The Obama administration threatened to veto the proposal. Last week, 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 last 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.
According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans say they are “not too” or “not at all” worried about Zika infecting them or a family member. One-third are at least “somewhat worried.” These results indicate that fewer Americans are concerned about the Zika virus than the Ebola epidemic. However, according to a new Kaiser poll, a majority of Americans support funding for Zika research, preventative measures, and family planning services for American women affected by the outbreak.
Image Source: Susan Walsh/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FOIA reform bill becomes law
President Obama signed bipartisan FOIA reform bill into law, requiring federal agencies to make certain records available for public inspection in an electronic format. The bill also ensures the creation and operation of an online portal where FOIA requests can be submitted to any federal agency though a single website.
According to release from House Oversight and Government Reform, the bill "places the burden on agencies to justify withholding information, instead of on the requester to justify release of said information."
The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in March, and passed the House by voice vote mid June. (The House approved its own version in January but decided to take up the Senate version rather than merging the bills in a conference committee.)
Watch bill signing.
President Obama commended Congress on moving forward with the "significant and important legislation" and noted the bipartisan compromises that made it possible. White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said the bill 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." (Currently, FOIA only applies to the executive branch.)
Senate Appropriations clear final spending bill
On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the 12th and final approps bill of the year. As noted by This Hill, this was the earliest all spending bills have passed committee since 1988. The committee credited the bipartisan cooperation of Chairman Thad Cochran [R, MS] and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski [D, MD] with the legislative success. Of special note was the first bipartisan health spending bill to clear a Senate committee in seven years.
Nine of the twelve bills are still awaiting a final vote by the full Senate and, of course, resolution with the House, where the appropriations process is not going as well. Check out “Appropriations 101” from the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Passed committee this week:
Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2017 (S. 3117)
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]
Approved 30-0, the $52.08 billion appropriations bill “strengthens federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”
Read full Committee Report.
Included in the bill (Read summary):
- $3.4 billion for military aid for Israel
- $26 million for programs to promote international religious freedom, and $25 million for a new Atrocities Prevention Fund.
- $6.1 billion for embassy security
- $3.06 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance
- Continues provisions relating to abortion, including the Tiahrt, Helms, and Kemp-Kasten Amendments.
- $8.67 billion for Global Health Program
- $6 billion for global HIV/AIDS assistance
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature passed bill that would deny public access to footage from police body cameras unless a court order is filed. Gov. Pat McCrory [R] is expected to sign bill into law.
- An Illinois judge ruled Tuesday that the state must add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify for treatment with medical marijuana. The decision could be rendered moot by pending legislation that would do the same thing.
- New Jersey Assembly passed a bill to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 23 cents per gallon to fund road and bridge work and cut the sales tax from 7% to 6%. New Jersey Senate refused to take action on the proposal yesterday, leading Gov. Chris Christie [R] to halt all ongoing work paid for by the nearly broke Transportation Trust Fund and declare a state of emergency.
- Chicago’s city council unanimously approved ordinance to guarantee workers up to five days of paid sick leave. Mayor Rahm Emanuel described the measure as “earned sick leave,” as employees will receive one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked.
- California Senate Public Safety Committee advanced bills that would strengthen penalties for those convicted of sexual assault. One bill would mandate prisons sentences for those who sexually assault unconscious victims, and the other would expand the definition of rape to include all types of penetration.
- Need a weekend read? Take a look at the Pew Stateline blog’s annual Legislative Review, which gives a rundown of state policy and politics since legislatures began their work in January.
New Bills on the Block
- Rep. Elise Stefanik [R, NY-21] introduced bill to instruct the Library of Congress to track changes in bills for Congress.gov.
- Reps. Guthrie and Bustos introduced legislation to amend the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt minor league baseball teams from complying with overtime and minimum wage standards.
- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy introduced counterterrorism legislation, outlining process for preventing known or suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms.
- Things got confusing and feisty on the Senate floor this week, as senators debated whether the words Planned Parenthood would appear in a bill. Confusion mounted as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called up House-passed bill aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood, only to strip it of its language and use it as vehicle for Genetically Modified Organism labeling bill. Vote to advance GMO labeling bill will occur next week.
- Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] is still talking admin leave with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Government Accountability Office report found Department of Homeland Security had 100+ employees on paid leave pending investigations at a cost of nearly $20M. Related bills: Chaffetz bill passed the House in April, would cap admin leave at 14 days per year. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs approved Tester bill in February, would limit admin leave to five days at a time and create two new leave categories.
- Senate confirmed nominations of three members to the Federal Maritime Commission, including former Hill staffer and U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei. Senate passed Fischer/Booker bill to amend and enhance maritime programs.
- Next week Senate will consider Toomey immigration bill regarding sanctuary cities. Bill would withhold congressional funding from cities and counties that bar local law enforcement from complying with federal immigration authorities.
- Bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reorganization bill to see the House floor in July. McCaul bill would restructure how Department of Homeland Security is organized to address cyber issues. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee is reviewing draft legislation and also setting sights on July.
- Murphy mental health bill will see the House floor next week.
- Senate and House negotiators are nearing deal on Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune hopes the Senate will consider proposal next week, with agency funding set to expire on July 15.
- White House launched Data-Driven Justice Initiative, joining together 67 city, county, and state governments to incorporate data-driven approaches in law-enforcement and move mentally ill and low-level offenders awaiting trial out of prison.
- Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Pentagon lifted ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, effective immediately. Sen. Jim Inhofe [R, OK] called on Senate Armed Services to hold hearings. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain confirmed hearings will be held to discuss implementation and hear from military leadership.
- Facebook and Google are working to remove extremist content from their sites, as governments around the world have called for internet companies to eliminate propaganda from sites.
- House will vote next week on "terrorism package." Details still emerging but will include provision to prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns.
- House lawmakers are intent on giving staffers a raise in 2017, but new analysis shows it won't nearly be enough.
- Speaker Ryan hasn't made a decision about what to do, if anything, to reprimand Democrats for sit-in. Some House Republicans are calling for investigation, reprimands, or fines.
- 42 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby, urging a vote on ex-im nominee. Board cannot approve major loans without a quorum of at least three members.
- Senate is finally breaking up with BlackBerry.
- More than a dozen House Democrats' official websites have been down for days, with hackers hitting websites shortly following overnight sit-in.
- English will no longer be an official European Union language following Brexit. No other EU country has English as their official language, and so goes English's EU official language designation.
- Federal Communications Commission released fact sheet on media ownership rules proposal, maintains most broadcast ownership restrictions. Congress ordered commission in 1996 to review cross ownership rules every four years. Last completed review by FCC was 2006.
- Supreme Court struck down parts of Texas abortion law, saying the state created unacceptable obstacles to abortion access. Read 5-3 decision. Congressional note: 174 Democratic lawmakers filed amicus brief in support of Whole Women’s Health. 174 Republican lawmakers filed in support of Hellerstedt.
- Following viral sit-in, Rep. Eric Swalwell [D, CA-15] pushed for live streaming in the House.
- Pope Francis offered historic apology to gays and others who have been offended or exploited by the church.
- Supreme Court overturned bribery conviction of former VA Gov. Bob McDonnell. Lower court to hold a retrial. Read unanimous opinion.
- President Obama named first national monument to LGBT rights: Stonewall National Monument in New York City.
- House GOP tax plan would cut corporate rate to 20%.
- Supreme Court ruled that domestic violence conviction is a misdemeanor crime of violence for purposes of limiting access to firearms. Read 6-2 decision. (*Refresher: this is the case that drew attention in February when Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question for the first time in a decade.)
- Top Obama economic adviser said he expects lawmakers to approve Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame-duck session following November election.
- Results of the Federal Reserve's annual stress tests for large U.S. banks are in — 33 banks demonstrated they are better prepared to withstand crisis than they were a year ago.
- New study reports abortion demand has increased in countries most affected by Zika outbreak.
- President Obama said he's down to work in venture capital following presidency.
- House Select Committee on Benghazi released its long-awaited 800-page report. Democrats on House Select Committee on Benghazi released 339-page report.
- NASA's Juno Spacecraft is almost to Jupiter. It will spend 20 months studying planet's interior.
- House Democrats facing ethics complaints for fundraising around specific legislation and using House resources during sit-in for political purposes.
- President Obama stacked cheerios and made friendship bracelets in new GOTV video.
- Rep. Roger Williams [R, TX] is under review by House Ethics whether car rental amendment he offered to last year's transportation bill was a conflict of interest.
- Don't drink the water — Staffers who work in Cannon may have been exposed to lead-contaminated water for as long as nine months. Water sample contained more than three times the safety limit.
- Rep. Charlie Rangel's been in Congress for 46 years. Hear how he went from high school dropout to Member of Congress.
- It was only a matter of time — political candidate confused a quote from Hamilton the musical, instead attributing it to the founding father.
- U.S. border control may soon start asking for social media accounts on landing and visa forms.
- Senate confirmed over 60 military nominations, including new Air Force chief of staff David Goldfein.
- For the first time since 2008, majority of Americans say the United States is the world's leading economic power.
"Fragile States 2016" from Foreign Policy
"Refugees Encounter a Foreign World" by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times
"Freedom of Information Act: Department of Labor Can Improve Management of Its Program" from Government Accountability Office