Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress (Aug. 21-26, 2016)

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POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress

August recess is drawing to a close…

Congress will return to the District after Labor Day, along with your Weekly Update and Gavel Down newsletters from POPVOX.  

For now, here's a recap of the issues Congress is talking about in their final days of summer.
National Parks   |   Louisiana Flood    |   Zika Funding   |  Private Prisons   |   TPP    |   EpiPen pricing


NPS turns 100!

The National Parks Service turned 100 on August 25, with celebrations around the country, including a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon and a concert at Yellowstone.

President Obama marked the occasion by creating a new national monument: Katahdin Woods and Waters monument in Maine. On Friday, he announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2006. The expanded Hawaii national monument will be the largest protected area in the world.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 created the ability for presidents to designate national parks. A bill (H.R. 330) from Rep. Don Young [R, AK] would require Congressional approval for new monuments.

Louisiana Flood Recovery 

President Obama toured Louisiana flood damage this week, after issuing a disaster declaration on August 14. Federal assistance has reached $127 million and more than 100,000 people have applied for federal disaster aid.

Administration officials say that FEMA has enough funding to address the Louisiana recovery, though there is talk of a potential aid package as an add-on to a funding bill expected in September.

Congress has appropriated the necessary funding to address disasters for this fiscal year. FEMA has enough funding to address response and recovery support to Louisiana”

– Rafael Lemaitre, FEMA director of public affairs

Zika Funding

Additional funding for the Louisiana recovery may be intertwined with the ongoing discussion about resources to combat Zika, since both are considered emergency appropriations.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said this week that he will be in DC the day that Congress returns (September 6) to push for action on Zika funding. A cloture vote is scheduled in the Senate that day on a House-passed conference report that contains $1.1 billion in funding to combat Zika. However, the bill (H.R. 2577 – appropriations for Military Construction and the Veterans’ Administration) contains several provisions that Democrats consider “poison pills,” including prohibitions on funding for Planned Parenthood and loosening of environmental restrictions on pesticides. 

Private Prison Phase-out for Federal Prisons

The Department of Justice announced the reduction and eventual end of using private prisons to house federal prisoners. The DOJ instructed the Bureau of Prisons not to renew and to substantially reduce private contracts. The move is partially in response to an Inspector General's report, finding that "contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP (Bureau of Prisons) institutions."

Of 195,000 federal inmates, approximately 14,200 will be in private prisons by May 2017, down from 30,000 in 2013.

Private prisons are the subject of several pending bills, including: 

McConnell on TPP: "No action this year."

As we mentioned last week, President Obama is pushing Congress to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to end that conversation this week in a speech to the Kentucky State Farm Bureau:

"The current agreement, the Trans-Pacific [Partnership], which has some serious flaws, will not be acted upon this year."

– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell


EpiPen Price Increase

Many in Congress expressed concerns about the 548% price increase for EpiPens by its manufacturer, Mylan pharmaceuticals. Sen. Joe Manchin [D, WV], father of Mylan's CEO, Heather Bresch, said that he shared the concerns. A twin EpiPen pack now costs a little more than $608 from $57 for a single pen in 2007.

Demand for the drug skyrocketed after a 7-year-old girl died in 2013 at school due to an allergic reaction to peanuts that could have been treated with an EpiPen. Congress passed legislation encouraging epinephrine devices in schools and 47 states require or encourage EpiPens in schools.

Several members of Congress sent letters seeking information on the company’s pricing practices, including: Senator Richard Blumenthal (letter); Senator Chuck Grassley (letter); Sens. Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, the chair and ranking Democrat of the Senate Special Committee on Aging (letter). Representative Grace Meng sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing. Senator Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to the FTC calling for an investigation.

Price increases for existing drugs were the subject of a Congressional hearing earlier this year, when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraprim more than 5,000%. Former CEO Martin Shkreli pled the fifth before House Oversight and Government Reform.

What does Congress do on recess POPVOX

Sen. Jerry Moran [R, KS] wrapped up his third 105-county Kansas Listening Tour.


Sen. Jon Tester [D, MT] visited Yellowstone National Park and celebrated 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.

Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart [R, FL-25] and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R, FL-27] participated in Zika preparedness roundtable.

Rep. Rick Nolan [D, MN-8] shoveled dirt at school groundbreaking.

Rep. Mark Meadows [R, NC-11] concluded Veterans' Solutions Seminar.

Sen. Martin Heinrich [D, MN] read books to children.

House Majority Whip John Cornyn traveled to Afghanistan, received briefings, and met servicemembers.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin [D, WI] toured local gem Forest Lodge.

Rep. Will Hurd [R, TX-23] took student-led tour of local elementary school.

Rep. Bennie Thompson [D, MS-2] recognized new Mississippi Freedom Trail marker, commemorating Mississippi's first black, female mayor Unita Blackwell.

Legislative Lowdown: States Edition


Congress is back home working, and we're sending a summer version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major legislation. 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.