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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
- A proposal to eliminate public contracts for private prisons for federal and state governments: The Justice is Not for Sale Act (H.R. 3543/S. 2054) from Rep. Raúl Grijalva [D, AZ-3] and Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT]
- The Ending Tax Breaks for Private Prisons Act (S. 3247) from Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] would eliminate private prisons' ability to claim the tax break for real estate investment trusts (REITs).
- The Private Prison Information Act (H.R. 2470) from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D, TX-18] would require facilities that house federal prisoners to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by making certain records available to the public.
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
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.
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.
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
- Illinois state lawmaker introduced Pidgey's Law, legislation in response to Pokémon Go.
- California state legislature passed two climate change bills: one to expand the state's climate goals and one to increase oversight of state regulators. Gov. Jerry Brown [D] said he plans to sign both measures into law.
- Pennsylvania launched new open data website, serving up several government datasets to the public. Executive order signed in April mandated the creation of a centralized open data portal.
- Residents of a small Alaskan village voted to relocate their community from barrier island to mainland due to erosion and flooding.
- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe [D] restored voting rights to 13,000 felons. Last month Virginia Supreme Court invalidated executive order, ruling that voting rights cannot be restored en masse. McAuliffe used an autopen, signing 13,000 individual clemency grants.
- House Oversight and Government Reform said Department of Homeland Security failed to comply with committee's request and demanded information on DHS senior staff's private email use.
- House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte set to introduce new online sales tax bill.
- New Office of Management and Budget report said House spending proposals for FY17 would require a sequester of nearly $800 million.
- Sen. Chris Murphy [D, CT] admitted to liking Nick Lachey's first solo album.
- FDA called for nationwide testing of all blood donations for Zika. Florida, New York, and California have the most reported cases.
- President Obama designated world's largest marine preserve.
- FARC-Colombia peace deal finalized, marking end to five-decades-old insurgency. Read statement from President Obama.
- Sen. Richard Burr [R, NC] just isn't about socks.
- Partisans see opposing party as more ideological than their own, according to Pew Research Center.
- Obama administration proposed ban on swimming with dolphins in Hawaii.
- Commerce Department said sales of new homes rose to highest level in nearly nine years.
- Federal labor board ruled graduate students can unionize at private colleges, ruling that teaching and research assistants are employees and granting collective bargaining rights.
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.