The Week Ahead in Congress: Nov. 30 – Dec. 4

Congress is back in session after Thanksgiving recess. The House will consider an energy bill—and whether to disapprove the Administration’s new EPA standards — while the President travels to Paris for the COP21 climate change conference. The Senate and House will soon vote on the final long-term highway funding bill, which is being hammered out in conference, before a Friday deadline.



“Giving Tuesday” — the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving — kicks off the holiday season in a spirit of service following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI-2] and Rep. Will Hurd [R, TX-23] introduced a bipartisan resolution to recognize #GivingTuesday (H.Res. 482):

H.Res. 482: Expressing the sense of the House that Congress should recognize the benefits of charitable giving and express support for the designation of #GivingTuesday       — Bipartisan — 


Energy Policy Changes (and Challenges)

House energy policy vote

This week, the House will vote on an energy bill that, according to the sponsor, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6], addresses “many of the nation’s energy laws [that] are rooted in the days of energy scarcity and do not take into account our newfound energy abundance.”

H.R. 8: North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act  
—  Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6]
“Fortifies America’s energy security by reinvesting in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and by hardening and modernizing energy infrastructure to withstand21st century threats like cyber, severe weather, and EMP attacks. The legislation will also help benefit the United States by streamlining the approval of LNG exports and by providing improved coordination on energy diplomacy issues with our North American neighbors… also includes energy efficiency provisions,” according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Section-by-Section Summary   |   Congressional Budget Office Score


Paris Climate Talks #COP21

On Sunday, President Obama travels to Paris to attend the United Nations “Conference of Parties” to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference or “COP21.” The stated goal of the conference was “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate,” with over 150 heads of state participating. That goal, however, was a sticking point for the Obama Administration, which would be constitutionally-bound to submit any “treaty” to the Senate for ratification. On the eve of the talks, it was announced that French negotiators would not push for a “treaty” designation and would be open to allowing some non-binding provisions.

In Congress, Members have introduced three measures stating that the results of the Paris talks should be considered a treaty and submitted by the President for the “Advice and Consent” of the Senate.


S.Res.290: Expressing the sense of the Senate that any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change… shall be considered a treaty requiring the advice and consent of the Senate.
Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY]


H.Con.Res. 97: Expresses the sense of Congress that the President should submit to the Senate for advice and consent the climate change agreement … and Congress should refuse to consider any budget resolutions and appropriations language that include funding for the Green Climate Fund until COP-21 emissions commitments are submitted to the Senate. 
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Kelly [R, PA-3]


S.Con.Res 25A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the President should submit the Paris climate change agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent.
Sponsor: Sen. Mike Lee [R, UT]


Obama Administration Efforts on Climate Change

In May 2015, President Obama, in a speech at the Coast Guard Academy commencement, said that climate change poses a serious national threat:


“Around the world, climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes. Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees…

Climate change, and especially rising seas, is a threat to our homeland security, our economic infrastructure, the safety and health of the American people.”
—  President Obama speech to Coast Guard Academy commencement


On August 3, 2015, President Obama and EPA announced the “Clean Power Plan” regulatory plan—“a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change.” It establishes “strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change,” according to the EPA. Learn more about the Clean Power Plan.


This Week: Congressional Efforts to “Disapprove” Obama Environmental Regulations

This week, the House will vote on two resolutions to formally “disapprove” Administration regulations under the rarely-used “Congressional Review Act.” (Read more from POPVOX on the CRA). The resolutions have already passed the Senate and are expected to be vetoed if they reach the President’s  desk. (Only one CRA resolution in history has been successful.)


S.J.Res. 23: Resolution Disapproving of the New EPA EGU Carbon Pollution Standards
Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY]

Disapproves of the EPA’s “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.” The EPA is finalizing new source performance standards (NSPS) under Clean Air Act (CAA) section 111(b) that, for the first time, will establish standards for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) for newly constructed, modified, and reconstructed affected fossil fuel-fired electric utility generating units (EGUs). This action establishes separate standards of performance for fossil fuel-fired electric utility steam generating units and fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines.

S.J.Res. 24Resolution Disapproving of the EPA’s Carbon Pollution Guidelines for Existing Sources  
Sponsor: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito [R, WV]

Disapproves of the EPA’s “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.”  The EPA is establishing final emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs).

Highway and Transportation Funding Deadline Friday

A long-term highway funding bill is currently under negotiation by a formal House–Senate conference committee.

“This is significant in and of itself,” explained a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan. Conference committees have become rare. This month, two conference committees met—one on the highway bill and one on K-12 education reform. The ESEA conference report may also get a vote this week.



The House and Senate are under pressure to pass the highway bill before a Friday deadline for the expiration of highway funding authority — a time set by the latest stop-gap, short-term extensions passed to give the conference committee time to work.

This means that by Friday, the conference committee must negotiate differences to create one bill, pass the bill in both the House and Senate and finally send it to the President for his signature into law. However, House procedures require that Members have 48 hours to view legislation before voting on it—making the deadline essentially December 2nd.

The House passed its version earlier this month, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act (H.R. 3763), which would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs — but requires that Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years. The Senate passed a six-year highway authorization, the DRIVE Act (H.R. 22), providing three years of guaranteed funding for the highway trust fund, in July.

Also in the House

This week, the House will also consider:

S. 1170: Breast Cancer Research Stamp Reauthorization Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA]
– Passed Senate 9/22/15  –

Current authorization for the Breast Cancer Research Stamp expires this year, and this bill would extend the sale of the stamps for an additional four years. The stamp provides first-class postage and currently costs 60 cents, with 11 cents directed toward helping fund breast cancer research programs.  Since 1998, proceeds from the stamp have exceeded $80.4 million, helping to fund the National Cancer Institute’s breast cancer research programs at the National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense, according to the bill sponsors.

S. 611: Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act  
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS]
Passed Senate 6/9/15  –

“Would reauthorize the “Safe Drinking Water Act’s” (SDWA) technical assistance and training provision for $15 million per year over the next six years,” according to the sponsor. “More than 50,000 small and rural communities, comprising more than 90 percent of the drinking water supplies in the country, are responsible for providing safe, clean water to their citizens. The Environmental Protection Agency’s technical assistance and training provision assists these communities in securing the necessary technical expertise to improve and protect their water resources. The initiative has been effective in ensuring implementation of the SDWA in rural areas.”

H.R. 3490: Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. John Ratcliffe [R, TX-4]

“Authorizes the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) under the US Secret Service in order to train state and local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges on how to investigate cyber and electronic crimes, conduct computer and mobile device forensic examinations, and respond to network intrusion investigations,” according to the House Judiciary Committee. 

H.R. 3279: Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Doug Collins [R, GA-9]

“Will strengthen the Equal Access to Justice Act, passed in 1980, by reinstating the tracking and reporting requirements on how much money is being paid out by the federal government under EAJA. The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act increases transparency by requiring the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to submit an annual report to Congress and establish an online searchable database to allow public access to information on the amount being spent on attorneys’ fees under EAJA. This allows taxpayers to see to whom their money is being paid and from which agencies,” according to bill sponsors.

H.R. 1755: Changing the Disabled American Veterans’ Federal Charter
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Miller [R, FL-1]

Since 1920, Disabled American Veterans “provides free assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining federal benefits and services earned through military service” and “represents the interests of disabled veterans, their families, their widowed spouses and their orphans before the federal, state and local governments.” This bill would alter the DAV’s federal charter as a step toward changing its tax-exempt status from a 501(c)(4) to a 501(c)(3) organization to “facilitate DAV in its fund-raising efforts,” according to the House Judiciary Committee. 

H.R. 1541: PRISM (Preservation Research at Institutions Serving Minorities) Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Raúl Grijalva [D, AZ-3]

Would make Hispanic-serving institutions eligible for technical and financial assistance for the establishment of preservation training and degree programs, according to the House Natural Resources Committee. 

H.R. 2212: To take Federal lands in Lassen County, California, into trust for the benefit of the Susanville Indian Rancheria 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Doug LaMalfa [R, CA-1]

Would direct the Secretary of the Interior to take into trust approximately 300 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed lands for the Susanville Indian Rancheria. Under the bill, class II and class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is prohibited on these lands, according to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. 

H.R. 2288: To remove the use restrictions on certain land transferred to Rockingham County, Virginia
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Bob Goodlatte [R, VA-6]

Removes a deed restriction on Rockingham County, VA property so that upgrades can be made to a childcare facility, according to the House Committee on Natural Resources. 

H.R. 2270: Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Denny Heck [D, WA-10]

Would designate the wildlife refuge on the Nisqually River Delta as “The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.” The legislation also creates a National Historic Site at the location of the signing of the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty, and requires the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to involve the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Squaxin Island Tribes in the development of educational materials for the National Historic Site, according to the sponsor.

Background: Billy Frank Jr. was known as a tireless champion for treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and salmon recovery. He was on the front lines in the campaign against state-imposed limits on tribal fishing, known as the Fish Wars in the 1960s and 1970s where he organized “fish-ins”—modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Those efforts lead to the 1974 Boldt, which reaffirmed the Tribes’ rights to half of the fish harvest in Washington.

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.

GavelDown Li.001

Gavel Down: Nov. 21 – 27

This week Congress was out for Thanksgiving. The President pardoned a turkey and signed six bills into law — including one he previously vetoed. A corporate merger strategically designed for tax benefit reignites the “inversions” talk in Congress and there are rumors of a deal coming on “Tax Extenders.”


Top Search on POPVOX this week:


Most active bill on POPVOX this week:

President Pardons Turkey — Sets Off International Incident

With “Dad jokes” and a few pretty good one-liners, President Obama fulfilled his seventh turkey “pardon” this year for Thanksgiving. (Watch)

“Time flies, but turkeys don’t,” remarked the President — even drawing a giggle from his youngest daughter.

The turkeys, “Honest” and “Abe” were selected in a nationwide poll by the National Turkey Foundation. Unfortunately, a turkey named “Abe,” —  also the English spelling of the name of the Japanese Prime Minister — brought some (perhaps intentional) confusion in the Chinese media.

President Signed Sweeping Defense Authorization (that he previously vetoed)

On November 25th, President Obama signed S. 1356, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016” (NDAA) into law, explaining that he vetoed a previous version due to a disagreement on military funding levels that was later changed in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement. Though “deeply disappointed” with restrictions in the NDAA on moving detainees from Guantanamo, the President said he was signing the bill:

because it includes vital benefits for military personnel and their families, authorities to facilitate ongoing operations around the globe, and important reforms to the military retirement system, as well as partial reforms to other military compensation programs.  It also codifies key interrogation-related reforms from Executive Order 13491, which I strongly support.

Speaker Paul Ryan said: “By signing this legislation, President Obama is now required to come up with a real, comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS.”

(Read full summary of the bill from the House Armed Service Committee.)

How did your Representative or Senators vote on the NDAA? 


Five Other Bills Became Law This Week

The President also signed:

  • H.R. 208, the “Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act,” expanding access to Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to small businesses during major disasters;
  • H.R. 639, the “Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act,” to amends the effective date of Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs;
  • H.R. 2262, the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” which amends current law concerning the U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry; extends authority for use of the International Space Station through September 30, 2024; and provides authority to facilitate commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources;
  • S. 799, the “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which establishes activities at the Department of Health and Human Services to research and address prenatal and postpartum opioid-use disorder and neonatal abstinence syndrome;
  • S. 2036, the “Equity in Government Compensation Act,” (capping CEO pay and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)


Congress could vote on Major Tax Bill in Next Two Weeks

The tax media is reporting that Congress is working on a $700 million end-of-year tax package that could come up for a vote in the next two weeks:

House and Senate negotiators are working on a tax extenders package that would make the research credit permanent and delay the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac” tax on high-cost healthcare plans for two years …

According to tax lobbyists and House staffers, the tentative deal now under consideration is being developed by all congressional leaders and the White House. The extenders are likely to be attached to the omnibus budget legislation expected to pass Congress by December 11.   Tax Analysts

What are “Tax Extenders”?

“Tax Extenders” are carve-outs in the tax code that give special treatment to certain activities — and they are usually only authorized for one year and must be “extended.” That one-year, short-term policymaking means that there is a massive annual lobbying scramble for reauthorization from almost every corner of Washington. From the Research and Development (R&D) credit to encourage business innovation; the production tax credit (wind energy) and the solar tax credit that were enacted to encourage alternative energy; “bonus depreciation” for business capital expenditures, a $250 deduction for teachers who spend money out of pocket for classroom materials, low income and “new markets” tax credits to encourage development of affordable housing and in underserved areas, and many many many more. (Read the full list on POPVOX, also see: Meet the Tax Extenders from Politico)

Pfizer Deal Reignites Corporate “Tax Inversions” Debate

On Monday, American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, announced that it would merge with the Irish company, Allergan. While Pfizer is much larger, the combined company will officially be Irish, for tax purposes, becoming the latest (and one of the largest) “corporate inversions,” and reigniting discussions about the U.S. “worldwide” tax system. “Corporate inversion” is the practice of companies moving headquarters overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. The pending Pfizer deal received several mentions on the Presidential campaign trail from both Republicans and Democrats.

On December 1, the two tax-writing committees in Congress (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means) will hold hearings to examine international tax policy. The U.S. Treasury Department recently released new rules aimed at making the practice more difficult, but significant reform would require Congressional action. Several bills are pending to limit corporate inversions, including S. 198 from Senator Dick Durbin [D-IL] and H.R. 415 from Rep. Sander Levin [D-MI-9].

Congressional Action on Refugees Hits Bumps

Members of Congress responded to the Paris attacks with a host of bills aimed at limiting entry into the United States and discussions about ways to roll back the President’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.

  • A House bill (H.R. 4038) that passed last week to require heightened screening of Syrian refugees may face a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
  • While some Members of Congress have suggested blocking funding for Syrian refugees in a funding bill, the process is not straightforward. Most refugee assistance is financed by immigration fees and not dependent on a Congressional appropriation, which is how Congress normally yields its “power of the purse.”
  • Instead of limiting refugee entry, some Democrats are proposing to limit “visa waiver” access for people who have spent time in Syria.
  • The visa waiver program allows people with certain passports to enter the US without a visa, which many business groups support. In fact, two bills (S. 2091H.R. 1401) were introduced this Congress to expand the program.
  • In the wake of the Paris attacks, some Members are pushing for bipartisan legislation to bar gun sales to suspected terrorists. The Senate bill (S. 551) is sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein [D-CA] and the House bill (H.R. 1076) is sponsored by Rep. Peter King [R-NY].


#ICYMI (In Case You Missed It)

  • Some Senators are working on a bill to assist Puerto Rico, which is expected to default on its debt on December 1.
  • Most Americans feel that “their side” loses more than it wins in politics, according to a new study from Pew.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned several banks and individuals for assisting the government of Syria and facilitating Syrian oil purchases from ISIL


Weekend Reads

Speaker Ryan is “steering” the Congress toward more changes – Molly E. Reynolds, Brookings

See how Americans rate their own senators (Hint: much better than they rate “Congress” as a whole) – Reid Wilson, Morning Consult


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.

POPVOX WeeklyUpdate

The Week Ahead in Congress: November 23rd-27th

With Congress in recess this week for Thanksgiving, here’s a look at bills related to military action against ISIS, safeguards and funding for admission of Syrian refugees — and whether states have the authority to refuse refugees. Before leaving for recess last week, the House and Senate reached bipartisan agreement on replacing No Child Left Behind. And, as you plan your holiday shopping, remember “Small Business Saturday”!

Replacing No Child Left Behind

Last week, the House and Senate conference committee reached agreement on a proposal to replace No Child Left Behind. The legislation is expected to be on the floor of both chambers shortly after the Thanksgiving recess. It represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (HR 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177).

Conference Agreement on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — Bipartisan—

This agreement is a historic step in reforming K-12 education. Lead negotiators – Representatives John Kline [R, MN-2] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] and Senators Lamar Alexander [R-TN] and Patty Murray [D-WA] — combined policies from the House bill that passed with only Republican support, and the Senate bill, which carried broad bipartisan support.

This agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step towards local control in 25 years.”  – Senator Lamar Alexander

According to the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, this agreement:

  • “Reduces the federal role in K-12 education. One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated.”
  • “Restores local control by returning to state and local leaders the primary responsibility for accountability and school improvement. The framework protects the right of states to opt out of federal education programs, as well as provides new funding flexibility so federal resources are better spent on priorities set at the local level.”
  • “Empowers parents. We continue to promote transparency about school performance, so parents have the information they need to do what’s best for their children. We also strengthen the charter school program and magnet school program to offer parents greater school choice.”

Read the full summary  |  Check out the POPVOX Issue Spotlight

Small Business Saturday

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the full holiday shopping season just around the corner, Congress considered bills related to small business issues before leaving for Thanksgiving recess. Small Business Saturday, November 28, celebrates and supports small businesses and their roles in communities.

The Senate recently adopted a resolution honoring small businesses (S.Res. 304). The House Small Business Committee will consider a similar resolution when they return:

H.Res. 534 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for the designation of a “Small Business Saturday” and supporting efforts to increase awareness of the value of locally owned small businesses.

The resolution notes that there are over 28 million small businesses in the United States, representing 99.7 percent of all businesses with employees and employing more than 48 percent of private sector employees.

The House Small Business Committee also held a hearing on the contribution of entrepreneurs to America’s economy and considered a resolution recognizing the third Tuesday in November as National Entrepreneurs’ Day:

HRes. 511 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for designation of the third Tuesday in November as “National Entrepreneurs’ Day”.

Military Action Against ISIS?

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the White House released a progress update on the fight against ISIS (also known as ISIL or Daesh). A part of that strategy includes “relentlessly pursuing ISIL leaders and going after attack plotters wherever they are.” Some Members of Congress are urging for additional action.

Last week, Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced a joint resolution declaring a state of war against the Islamic State:

H.J.Res. 73

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Emmer [R, MN-6]

Declaring that a state of war exists between the Islamic State and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.

“The Islamic State has declared war against America and now we have an obligation to act,” said Congressman Emmer. “The wolf of tyranny is at our doorstep and now is the time to euthanize this evil before it enters America’s home. Congress must exercise its constitutional authority through this Declaration of War and give the President the power to utilize all facets of our military and diplomatic strength to successfully defeat our enemies. It is time that we speak with one voice and unite as a country against the Islamic State.”

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced a resolution urging the Administration to work with the NATO member states:

H.Res. 525

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]

Urging the Administration to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in response to the Paris attacks. Article 5 signifies that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all and requires a joint response from all NATO members.

Syrian Refugees and National Security

More than four million Syrians have fled the conflict zone in their home country, contributing to the largest global refugee crisis since World War II. In response to the crisis, the Obama Administration announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the course of this fiscal year — after each of them undergo 18 to 24 months of security screenings, including biometric (fingerprint) and biographic checks, medical screenings, and lengthy interviews.

Last week, the House passed the American SAFE Act (HR 4038), which aims to “stop the open flow of 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States without adequate vetting.” The President issued a veto threat, saying that the bill introduces “unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act (HR 4038)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX-10]

|| Passed by the House on Nov. 19, 2015; now goes to the Senate for consideration ||

“Would put in place the most robust national security vetting process in history for any refugee population and it gives the American people the assurances needed that we will do everything possible to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores,” according to the bill sponsors.

“Specifically, under this legislation, no refugee from Iraq or Syria will be admitted into the U.S. unless: 1. The FBI Director certifies the background investigation of each refugee; and 2. The Secretary of Homeland Security, along with the FBI Director and the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat to the United States. Under this legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee can enter the United States until the American people’s representatives in Congress receive these certifications.”

The American SAFE Act is under fire by some Republicans in the Senate who believe there isn’t a way to easily vet Syrian refugees, and estimate the costs of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States as too high. (The bill doesn’t specify how the certification process is supposed to work.) Senator Jeff Sessions [R-AL], Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, explained:

“[T]he American SAFE Act – fails to defend the interests of the American people. It is based on a flawed premise, as there is simply no way to vet Syrian refugees. …  there is no database in Syria against which they can run a check…  no way to enter Syria to verify the applicants’ personal information.  And we know the region is being flooded with false documents.” – Senator Jeff Sessions

States’ Response to Refugees

In October 2015, 187 Syrian refugees were accepted into the US and settled in 17 states—the first of the 10,000 expected in this fiscal year:

Last week, 27 Republican governors wrote to President Obama asking him to “suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.” The governors wrote that while the US “has long served as a welcoming beacon”, the priority must be on “ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.”

Members of Congress also responded by introducing bill related to governors’ authority to receive refugees into their states:

States Right of Refusal Act (HR 4032)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2] and 32 cosponsors

“Will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that States have the right to refuse to participate in the Refugee Resettlement program if their Governor chooses to opt out.  Right now, the Refugee Resettlement Act only permits consultation with the States, but it does not give the States the right to refuse,” according to the bill sponsor.

Give States a Chance Act (HR 4078)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Yoho [R, FL-2] and 2 cosponsors

“Protects state governors’ right to refuse Syrian refugees in their states if they have not been properly notified, if they impose a security threat, or if the proposed location is not appropriate,” according to the bill sponsor.

HR 4030

Sponsor: Rep. Steven Palazzo [R, MS-4] and 0 cosponsors

“Would support the rights of the states to determine whether or not they choose to accept refugees as part of any resettlement program,” according to the bill sponsor. 

Refugee Relocation Security Act (HR 4033)

Sponsor: Rep. Eric “Rick” Crawford [R, AR-1] and 1 cosponsor

“Would put an immediate moratorium on the relocation of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States. In response to state and local leaders… who have expressed concerns about the relocation of refugees, the bill would give State governments the authority to decide whether or not to allow refugees into their states,” according to the bill sponsor.

H.Con.Res. 94

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Meadows [R, NC-11] and 0 cosponsors

Declares that, in the case of a governor requesting that Syrian refugees not be resettled in his or her state (whether temporarily or permanently), no federal official should take any adverse action against, or withhold funds from, the state, and no federal official should take any other action to persuade or entice the governor to reverse such request.

Find more information and related bills in the POPVOX Issue Spotlight

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.


Issue Spotlight: Replacing No Child Left Behind

*** UPDATE – November 30, 2015: The language for the combined House/Senate bill is now available here. ***

Last week, the House and Senate conference committee reached agreement on a proposal to replace No Child Left Behind.
The legislation is expected to be on the floor of both chambers shortly after the Thanksgiving recess. It represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (HR 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177).

Conference Agreement on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 


This bipartisan agreement is a historic step in reforming K-12 education. The lead negotiators – Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA)—borrowed ideas from both the House bill that passed in July with only Republican support as well as the Senate bill, which carried broad bipartisan support.

As one of the lead negotiators, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), explained to the media:

This agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step towards local control in 25 years.” – Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

According to the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) this agreement addresses three key principles:

  • “Reduces the federal role in K-12 education. One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated.”
  • “Restores local control by returning to state and local leaders the primary responsibility for accountability and school improvement. The framework protects the right of states to opt out of federal education programs, as well as provides new funding flexibility so federal resources are better spent on priorities set at the local level.”
  • “Empowers parents. We continue to promote transparency about school performance, so parents have the information they need to do what’s best for their children. We also strengthen the charter school program and magnet school program to offer parents greater school choice.”

(Read the full summary http://edworkforce.house.gov/uploadedfiles/joint_esea_conference_framework_short_summary.pdf )


Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Conference Agreement

The joint House-Senate conference committee’s agreement on a proposal to improve K-12 education and replace No Child Left Behind. The agreement represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (HR 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177).

Highlights in the proposal include:

  • Replaces the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” federal accountability system under current law with a comprehensive State-designed system that improves State capacity to identify and support struggling schools.
  • Builds on State-led innovation in measuring school performance using multiple measures beyond test scores, including student engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, and school climate and safety.
  • Maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12.
  • Requires that the federal government not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core.
  • Ends federal mandates on teacher evaluations, while allowing states to innovate with federal funding.
  • Improves the Charter Schools Program by investing in new charter school models, as well as allowing for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter school models.
  • Includes early childhood education under the federal education umbrella.
  • Authorizes ESEA for four more years, which means that lawmakers will be able to revisit the policy under the next Administration.

(Read the full summary http://edworkforce.house.gov/uploadedfiles/joint_esea_conference_framework_short_summary.pdf )

GavelDown Li.001

Gavel Down: Nov. 16 – 20

Repercussions of the attacks in Paris ruled headlines this week as the House voted to restrict U.S. refugee policy – a bill that the White House threatened to veto. Congress received a high-level security briefing. And Congress held two joint House-Senate conference committee meetings — on Highway and Education reform bills.

Top Search on POPVOX:


Most Active Bill on POPVOX:

Kate’s Law (S. 2193)

Sponsored by:Sen. Ted Cruz (R, TX)
To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase the maximum prison term for a person who reenters after being denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed from two years to five years.

Bill to Limit Refugee Policy Passes House

As Congress reconvened for the week, dozens of bills were introduced in response to the Paris attacks. Many sought to restrict refugee policies, including The American Safe Act (H.R. 4038) from Rep. Michael McCaul (R, TX) which passed the House on Thursday/

To Conference We Go

One of the final steps of “regular order” in the legislative process is “going to conference” –when the House and Senate appoint conferees to meet and work out differences in different versions of bills that passed both chambers.

On Thursday, two conference committees met on major legislation: the long-term highway bill and an education reform bill. This is more in-the-weeds, “regular order” legislating than has happened in a long time! This increases the number of conference committees from two to four (so far) for the 114th Congress.The conferences now underway will likely impact infrastructure projects and education policy for many years to come.

Transportation Conference

  • Lawmakers are expected to reach agreement and file a conference agreement by Nov. 30. The combined bill (a “conference report”) would then come up for a vote in both the House and Senate.
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R, PA), say that’s “a very ambitious schedule.”
  • The House and Senate passed respective bills that cover six years, but so far, neither legislative body can find enough funding for more than three years. This obstacle caused Senate leaders and transportation lobbying groups to shift support to a shorter bill with more funding. House Transportation Ranking Member, Peter DeFazio (D, OR), supports this option but Chairman Shuster is “sticking to his guns on a six-year bill, saying the House option is his preferred length.”
  • Learn more about the bills S. 1647 DRIVE Act and H.R. 3763 STRR Act.

Education Conference

  • On Thursday, House and Senate lawmakers agreed to a bipartisan, bicameral compromise for replacing No Child Left Behind — with a vote of 39-1 to endorse the deal.
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY) was the lone dissenter — not present but voting “no” by proxy —  opposing any federal government role in public schools.
  • Here’s the framework for the agreement, the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Up next: The agreement will be brought to the House for a vote by Dec. 2. If it passes, President Obama is expected to sign it into law.This would mark a significant transfer of power and authority over public schools from the federal government to state and local governments.
  • Recap: Both chambers passed their respective bill versions in July. Learn more about the bills S. 1177 Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 and H.R. 5 Student Success Act.

Federal Reserve in Congressional Crosshairs

On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 3189: The Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization (FORM) Act by a vote of 241-185. The “Audit the Fed” bill now goes to the Senate. The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches the President’s desk. Read more from the AP.
Also — Congress may tap the Fed’s capital reserves as a “pay-for” for the Highway Bill, now in conference.
The Fed expressed: “strong concerns about using the resources of the Federal Reserve to finance fiscal spending.”

#ViewFromTheHill – November 16, 2015

Upped security was evident on the Hill this week, in response to recent terrorist attacks and security concerns. Bearcats like this one were spotted, and public events and school field trips were cancelled or postponed. Check out our POPVOX View From the Hill on Tumblr

Trans Awareness Week

The House launched a task force for transgender equality and hosted its first-ever forum on violence against transgender people. Learn more about current legislation affecting the transgender community.

Congressional Pushback on Obama Environmental Efforts

Congressional disapproval of environmental rules: On Tuesday, the Senate held two votes invoking the Congressional Review Act to “disapprove” the President’s Clean Power Plan. (Read more about the Congressional Review Act – a “legislative Loch Ness monster.”)

Paris Climate talks coming – Congressional opposition hardening: The largest  climate talks ever will convene in Paris on November 30, with 190 countries represented. In the Senate, a bipartisan group introduced a non-binding resolution this week stating their view that any agreement emerging from the talks should be considered a “treaty”, constitutionally subject to approval by two-thirds of the Senate. The Obama Administration has indicated it plans to negotiate the deal in a way where it would not be submitted to Congress.

#ICYMI (In Case You Missed It)

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a closed briefing on how the U.S. should proceed in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Listen to Sen. Bob Corker (R, TN) discuss the closed briefing.
  • This week, the Obama Administration announced rules to clamp down on corporate “tax inversions” (moving operations to offshore subsidiaries to avoid US taxes).
  • Wednesday was The Great American Smokeout. We highlighted proposals in Congress that address smoking and tobacco sales, particularly among children.


Weekend Reads

Conference Committee and Related Procedures: An Introduction by Elizabeth Rybicki, Congressional Research Service

Syrian refugees split Democratic Party by Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett, POLITICO

Negotiators Come to Agreement on Revising No Child Left Behind Law by Motoko Rich, The New York Times

ObamaCare repeal teeters in Senate by Alexander Bolton, The Hill

No Child Left Behind Overview, New America

The Clash Over the Paris Climate Talks by Clare Foran, The Atlantic

House Freedom Caucus Eyes Paul Ryan and Its Bolstered Relevance by Billy House, Bloomberg Politics

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!


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.


photo credit: http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/

Issue Spotlight: Refugee Policies and U.S. Strategy for Combatting ISIS/ISIL/D’aesh

The horrific attacks in Paris have intensified ongoing discussions about the American strategy for combatting ISIS — or “ISIL” or “D’aesh. (See: Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS “Daesh.”) It has also brought some to express concerns about refugee resettlement policies for those fleeing ISIS, ongoing human rights violations in Syria, and US intelligence capabilities in the region. While there will be ongoing debate about the extent to which refugee policies, domestic threats, and military strategy intersect, the issues are already intersecting within the U.S. political debate.

We highlight bills already pending in Congress about these topics. Presidential candidates (and senators) Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have announced that they will introduce related bills. (We will update as bill details become available.)


UPDATE: November 19, 2015: House passes H.R. 4038

H.R. 4038: To require that supplemental certifications and background investigations be completed prior to the admission of certain aliens as refugees, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. McCaul, Michael T. [R-TX-10] (Introduced 11/17/2015)

How did your rep vote?


UPDATE November 18, 2015: Related bills introduced in the past 48 hours

H.R.4048: To suspend the admission and resettlement of aliens seeking refugee status because of the conflict in Syria until adequate protocols are established to protect the national security of the United States 
Sponsor: Rep. Graves, Garret [R-LA-6] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4033: To temporarily suspend the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States and to give States the authority to reject admission of refugees into its territory or tribal land.
Sponsor: Rep. Crawford, Eric A. “Rick” [R-AR-1] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4032: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for a limitation on the resettlement of refugees.
Sponsor: Rep. Poe, Ted [R-TX-2] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4031: To prohibit obligation of Federal funds for admission of refugees from Syria, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Byrne, Bradley [R-AL-1] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4030: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide that refugees may not be resettled in any State where the governor of that State has taken any action formally disapproving of the resettlement…
Sponsor: Rep. Palazzo, Steven M. [R-MS-4] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4025: To prohibit obligation of Federal funds for admission of refugees from Syria, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Ross, Dennis A. [R-FL-15] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


S.2284: A bill to suspend the admission and resettlement of aliens seeking refugee status because of the conflict in Syria until adequate protocols are established to protect the national security of the…
Sponsor: Sen. Vitter, David [R-LA] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4017: Save Christians from Genocide Act
Sponsor: Rep. Rohrabacher, Dana [R-CA-48] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


H.R.3999: American SAFE Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Hudson, Richard [R-NC-8] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


H.Res.528: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the Victims of the Terror Protection Fund.
Sponsor: Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


The U.S. Military Strategy to Combat ISIS

Last Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike in Libya, killing the leader of ISIS in Libya. The airstrike marked the first time the U.S. directly attacked an ISIS target in Libya. “It demonstrates that the United States will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate,” a Defense Department spokesperson explained.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, several Members of Congress called for a “Syria Surge,” while President Obama, speaking from the G20 meeting in Turkey, said: “It is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers, that that would be a mistake.”

Beyond the question of strategy, there is also the question of the President’s authority to undertake military in the region. On November 10, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy For The Global Coalition To Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, spoke before a Senate briefing, saying that President Obama did not need additional authority to take on ISIS.

However, the President has requested this authority, sending Congress a draft Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution earlier in the year:


 Draft Authorization for the use of Military Force in Syria
Proposed by: President Barack Obama


Several lawmakers have proposed versions of an AUMF, and other bills related to military strategy against ISIS:


S.1587: Authority for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Act
Sponsor: Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA]


H.J.Res.33: Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Sponsor: Rep. Kinzinger, Adam [R-IL-16]


H.J.Res.30: Comprehensive Solution to ISIL Resolution
Sponsor: Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]


H.J.Res.27: Authorization for Use of Military Force Against ISIL Resolution
Sponsor: Rep. Schiff, Adam B. [D-CA-28]


HRes. 139: Condemning violence against religious minorities in the Middle East and any actions that limit the free expression and practice of faith by these minorities.
Sponsor: Rep. Black, Diane [R-TN-6]


HJ.Res. 269 A resolution expressing the sense of the House
Sponsor: Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4]

[T]hat: the United States should urge the government of Syria and other parties to the civil war in Syria to implement an immediate cease fire and engage in negotiations to end the bloodshed; the United States should declare that it is a requirement of basic justice that war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether committed by officials of the government of Syria or other parties to the civil war in Syria, should be investigated and prosecuted; the President should direct the U.S. representative to the United Nations to promote the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal; the United States should continue its efforts to collect and analyze documentation related to ongoing violations of human rights and make collection of information that can be supplied to a Syrian war crimes tribunal a priority; in working with other countries to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal the United States should promote judicial procedures that enable the prosecution of the most culpable persons guilty of directing such crimes; the United States should urge other interested states to apprehend and deliver into the custody of a Syrian war crimes tribunal persons indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity in Syria, and urge such states to provide relevant information to the tribunal.


U.S. Refugee Policies

On September 20, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US would increase the number of worldwide refugees it accepts:

Under the new plan, the limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.


The announcement was met with criticism from some activists who said it was too little:

“This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II.” — Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First

Eighteen US Mayors signed a letter in support of the President’s plan, indicating that their cities welcomed refugees.

After the Paris attacks on November 13th, some elected officials suggested a link between recent refugees and terrorist activity and called for a limit to expanded refugee policies for the U.S. In recent days, nine governors said that they would “at least resist temporarily” refugee resettlement in their states. Texas Governor Greg Abbot sent a letter to President Obama, saying that the has instructed Texas agencies to not participate in refugee resettlement programs, though some question the legality of such an order. On Monday, CNN reported that “more than half the nation’s governors say Syrian refugees not welcome.”

Despite the push-back, Administration officials have said that the new plan will proceed. Congressional Democrats are rallying around the President’s plan. According to the Huffington Post, House Speaker Paul Ryan may move legislation regarding Syrian refugees through the House as early as this week.


Limits on refugee policy as part of spending bills?

On Monday, Senator Pete Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, sent a letter to Senate colleagues:

“to respectfully request that any upcoming appropriations legislation – including any Omnibus legislation – require Congressional approval for the President’s refugee resettlement plans and the funds to carry them out.”


Below, we highlight pending bills on the topic. But first, some background about the current policy.



Who is a refugee?

  • Refugees are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and cross a border into a new country to find safety. (See full definition from USCIS)
  • Internally Displaced People (or IDPs) are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and move into safer areas within their country.
  • Immigrants are people who leave their country by choice. They choose to live somewhere else for any number of personal reasons.
  • Migrants also leave their country by choice, in order to improve their livelihood, usually for economic reasons.
    Source: http://www.unrefugees.org/

How do refugees enter the United States?

  1. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, each year, the President makes an annual “determination on refugee admissions” setting refugee admissions numbers, after consultation with Congress. (Read the 2016 Presidential Determination.)
  2. A person must be referred by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee (USRAP processes referrals from the State Department, UNHCR, Resettlement Support Centers, DHS, Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement, International Organization for Migration (IOM), and non-governmental associations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
  3. Eligibility is determined “on a case-by-case basis through an interview with a specially-trained USCIS officer,” who “confirm[s] that security checks have been completed and the results of the checks are reviewed and analyzed before approval.”
  4. Refugees then undergo additional security checks, a medical check, are matched with a voluntary local sponsor agency, and given cultural orientation.
  5. Before departing for the U.S., refugees are given an additional pre-departure security check.

“it currently takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or even longer to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the United States.” – Background Briefing On the Mechanics of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, September 11, 2015

See: This Is How the Syrian Refugee Screening Process WorksTime magazine

Pending Bills about US Refugee Policy:

H.R. 4017: To recognize that Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya are targets of genocide, and to provide for the expedited processing of immigrant and refugee visas for such individuals
Sponsor: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R, CA]


S.2145: Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2016
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]


H.R. 2839: To reform and modernize domestic refugee resettlement programs.
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Pascrell [D, NJ]


H.Res. 435: Recognizing the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, especially Christians and Yezidis, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, and calling for the immediate prioritization of accepting refugees from such communities.
Sponsor: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI]


H.R. 2798 Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act
Sponsor: Rep. Keith Ellison [D, MN]


S.1615 Domestic Refugee Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2015
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]


H.R. 3573 Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX]


H.R. 3314 Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI]


S.Res. 268 A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the Syrian refugee crisis
Sponsor: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH]


the scale and complexity of the Syrian refugee crisis and the need for the international community to work together to provide resources and capacity to aid refugees; the humanitarian commitment of Syria’s neighbors who have worked to absorb the vast majority of refugees, as well as the European nations who have made commitments to share in the refugee resettlement effort; and that the refugee crisis is a symptom of the broader conflict in Syria, the persecution of persons based on identity groups, including Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, and Kurds, and instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and that efforts to resolve those challenges are a necessary component of any plan to address the refugee crisis. Welcomes the President’s decision to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, and to increase the overall number of refugees received by the United States to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017.

Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in graphics” – BBC




We will update as new bills are introduced.

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.





POPVOX Dem Debate Recap

Debate Recap: Second #DemDebate


(Photo Source: ABC News)

Many topics discussed in the presidential debates have already been introduced as bills in Congress. Check out a summary of our #DemDebate tweets below:


Weekly Update: November 16th – 20th

The Week Ahead in Congress: Nov. 16 – 20, 2015

Lawmakers respond to the Paris Attacks. Some urge vote on authorizing military force against ISIS. House takes up veterans legislation, FCC transparency, laws on tribal lands and financial services. Senate will vote on “Kate’s Law.”

The House will work on bills related to veterans (they were in recess last week, during Veterans Day), as well as bills related to financial services, amending Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In addition, the House will consider a bipartisan bill that aims to bring transparency to the FCC. The Senate may work on “Kate’s Law.”

But first, here’s a look at how elected officials are responding to the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people.” – President Obama


“Peace for Paris”

Created by artist Jean Jullien

The image has received over 50,000 retweets,
and was shared by Members of Congress of both parties.


Read the responses of President Barack Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; Speaker of the House Paul Ryan; and Secretary of State John Kerry.


Also last week, the US conducted an airstrike in Libya on Friday, killing the leader of ISIS in Libya. This airstrike marks the first time the US has directly gone after an ISIS target in Libya. “It demonstrates that the United States will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate,” a Defense Department spokesperson explained.

Deputy Special Presidential Envoy For The Global Coalition To Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, spoke before a Senate briefing, saying that President Obama did not need additional authority to take on ISIS—even with 50 Americans on the ground in Syria, according to media reports. Yet, earlier this year, President Obama sent to Congress a draft Authorization of the Use of Military Force against ISIS.

 Draft Authorization for the use of Military Force in Syria
Proposed by: President Barack Obama

As lawmakers, pundits and Americans across the country discuss ISIS and the use of the American military force, the question of whether the President needs a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) may again re-emerge.


Veterans Legislation in the House

The House was in recess last week during Veterans Day. This week, House members will consider several bills related to veterans.

One bill to be considered would change the definition of “veteran” to include Guard and Reserve retirees who served honorably for a minimum of 20 years but do not meet the active duty service requirement to qualify them as veterans under existing law:

  Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act (HR 1384)
Sponsor: Rep. Tim Walz [D, MN]

“The law defines a veteran as servicemen and women who have served on active duty. This legislation would amend this definition and allow these Guard and Reserve retirees to be recognized as a veteran. Due to the fact that no additional benefits beyond the title of veteran are extended to these retirees, there is no cost associated with this legislation,” according to the bill sponsor. 

“It is estimated that 47,000 unclaimed, uninterred veteran cremains remain on shelves collecting dust,” Congressman Bill Shuster testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

To further research this issue, the House will vote on:

 Dignified Internment of Our Veterans Act (HR 1338)
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Shuster [R, PA]

“Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a study on matters relating to claiming and interring of unclaimed veteran remains. The intent of the study is to confirm the scope of this problem, uncover any barriers associated with claiming and interring veteran remains, and solicit recommendations from the Department of Veterans Affairs on potential program improvements. This is the first step in fixing this issue and bringing honor back to our fallen heroes,” according to the bill sponsor.

In addition, the House will vote on these veterans’ bills:

 Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act (HR 1694)
Sponsor: Rep. Mike FItzpatrick [R, PA]

“Levels the playing field in federal contracting for veteran-owned businesses by providing veterans access to existing preferences authorized for transportation projects,” according to bill sponsors.

Background: Federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation, have special ‘set-asides’ for contracts going to small businesses owned and controlled by particular groups of people who have been designated for contracting preferences. States that receive federal dollars for highway infrastructure repairs have to set aside 10 percent for preferred groups of small businesses through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) – however Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) are currently not included within this program. The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act fixes this discrepancy and ensures veteran small businesses are put on the same playing field as everyone else. Source
 Army Corps of Engineer’s Veterans Curation Program (VCP) Act (HR 3114)
Sponsor: Rep. Grace Napolitano [D, CA]

“Would authorize the VCP, which trains and utilizes veterans in carrying out the Corps’ curatorial responsibilities,” according to the bill sponsor. “Created in 2009, the VCP protects and preserves the Nation’s cultural and archeological resources with curatorial services according to professional museum and archival practices. Currently, there are VCP laboratories in Augusta, GA, Washington, DC, and St. Louis, MO, providing veterans with a 5-month program of training and employment in curatorial services. Of the 203 graduates of the program to date, 87 percent have gone on to either permanent employment—in museums, forensics, administrative, and records management—or to continuing education.”


Kate’s Law in the Senate

This week, the Senate may consider “Kate’s Law.” The bill is named for Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old woman who tragically died on a San Francisco pier after being shot by an undocumented immigrant who had several felony convictions and had been deported from the United States five times.

Kate’s Law, or the Establishing Mandatory Minimum for Illegal Reentry Act (S 2193) 
Sponsor: Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX]

“Imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any illegal reentry offense,” according to bill sponsor. 

House Votes on Bills Passes by the Senate

The House will consider three bills recently passed by the Senate. Once a bill is passed by both chambers, it is delivered to the White House to be signed into law by the President. (Check out this flow chart)

Equity in Government Compensation Act (S 2036)
Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter [R, LA]

Passed by the Senate on Sept. 15, 2015; now goes to the House for consideration.

Suspends the current compensation packages for the chief executive officers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act (S 599)
Sponsor: Sen. Ben Cardin [D, MD]

Passed by the Senate on Oct. 2, 2015; now goes to the House for consideration.

Would extend the current three-year Medicaid Emergency Psychiatric Demonstration Project, which is providing timely, cost-effective and life-saving care to individuals who are experiencing an emergency psychiatric crisis, through Sept. 30, 2016. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to submit a report to Congress with her recommendations based on the final evaluation, according to the bill sponsor. 

Background: “In 2010, Congress authorized this demonstration project to alleviate the shortage of psychiatric beds by allowing federal Medicaid matching payments to freestanding psychiatric hospitals for emergency psychiatric cases, waiving the longstanding Institution for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion for Medicaid beneficiaries between the ages of 21 and 64 years. In Maryland and 10 other participating states, as well as the District of Columbia, this demonstration project is allowing Medicaid beneficiaries with severe mental illness to receive emergency inpatient treatment in community psychiatric hospitals. Despite very promising preliminary results, the demonstration is set to end on December 31, 2015.”

Protecting Our Infants Act (S 799)
Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY]

Passed by the Senate on Oct. 22, 2015; now goes to the House for consideration.

“Would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a departmental review to identify gaps in research and any duplication, overlap or gaps in prevention and treatment programs related to prenatal opioid abuse and infants born with opioid withdrawal. It also would direct HHS to work with stakeholders to develop recommendations both for preventing prenatal opioid abuse, and for treating infants born dependent on opioids.  Finally, this measure would encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with states and help improve their public health response to this epidemic.” Source

Background: Researchers estimate that nationwide, one baby every hour is born dependent on drugs and suffering from withdrawal. Nationwide, there has been a staggering 300-percent increase in the number of infants diagnosed with newborn withdrawal since 2000.

FCC Transparency

The House will consider a bill that “aims to bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and predictability to the FCC,” according to the bill sponsor.

 FCC Process Reform Act (HR 2583)
Sponsor: Rep. Greg Walden [R, OR]

Would require the FCC to: (1) adopt rules concerning rulemaking comment and reply periods, public notices, petition dispositions, the specific language of proposed rules or amendments to be included in proposed rulemaking notices, and performance measures to be included in certain proposed rulemakings or orders that would create or substantially change a program activity; (2) seek public comments regarding a bipartisan majority of commissioners’ authority to place items on an open meeting agenda, deadlines for the disposition of certain license applications, and whether to publish orders, decisions, reports, and actions within 30 days after adoption; and (3) initiate a new rulemaking proceeding every five years to continue consideration of procedural rule changes. Allows a bipartisan majority of commissioners to hold a nonpublic meeting under specified conditions if: (1) no votes or actions are taken, (2) an attorney from the FCC’s Office of General Counsel is present, and (3) the meeting is disclosed subsequently within two business days.



Financial Services Legislation

This week, the House will vote on several bills related to financial services firms, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations and amending Dodd-Frank:

Specifying how clearing requirements apply to certain affiliate transactions (HR 1317)
Sponsor: Rep. Gwen Moore [D, WI]

“Clarifies Dodd-Frank’s treatment of affiliates of non-financial firms that use a central treasury unit (CTU) as a risk-reducing, best practice to centralize and net the hedging needs of affiliates. Without a clear legislative exemption, non-financial companies may either have to eliminate the CTU function, be subjected to increased regulatory costs, or retain more risk on their balance sheets and pass along that risk to customers in the form of higher prices. This bipartisan bill would enable non- financial companies with affiliates to continue employing best practices to manage internal and external trading in order to mitigate risk within a commercial entity,” according to the House Financial Services Committee.

SEC Reporting Modernization Act (HR 3032)
Sponsor: Rep. Krysten Sinema [D, AZ]

“Eliminates a reporting requirement for the Securities and Exchange Commission that has already been eliminated for all other federal agencies,” according to the House Financial Services Committee.

Policyholder Protection Act (HR 1478)
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Posey [R, FL]

“Affirms that resources from an insurance company may not be used to bail out an affiliated financial institution from liquidation under Title II of Dodd-Frank – unless the state insurance commissioner consents. This bill clarifies Dodd-Frank to ensure that resources set aside to satisfy insurance policyholder claims cannot be used to satisfy non-insurance liabilities within a holding company system,” according to bill sponsors. 

Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act (HR 1737)
Sponsor: Rep. Frank Guinta [R, NH] / Financial Services Committee

“To rescind flawed guidance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which harms consumers by limiting their ability to obtain discounted auto financing,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would repeal a CFPB bulletin from 2013 that was designed to pressure lending institutions into eliminating the availability of auto financing discounts.” 

Portfolio Lending and Mortgage Access Act (HR 1210)
Sponsor: Rep. Andy Barr [R, KY]

“Would ease the regulatory requirements on home loans, so long as the mortgage lender holds the loan on its books rather than selling it into the secondary market,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would relax the overly burdensome, one size fits all Qualified Mortgage Rule imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill promotes affordable home financing and discourages the risky practices which led to the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting taxpayer bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and large systemically important financial institutions.”

FORM Act (HR 3189)
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Huizenga [R, MI]

“Requires the Fed to generate a monetary policy strategy of its own choosing in order to provide added transparency about the factors leading to its monetary policy decisions,” according to the House Financial Services Committee. “By requiring the Fed to regularly communicate how its policy choices compare to a benchmark rule, the FORM Act helps consumers and investors make better decisions in the present and form better expectations about the future. These improvements are important for Americans to enjoy greater economic opportunity. By pursuing this expansion through increased transparency instead of policy mandates, the FORM Act further insulates the Fed from political pressures.”

Laws on Tribal Lands

The House will consider two bills related to tribal lands – one banning casino gaming in Indian land in Arizona, and the other exempting business from certain labor laws under the NLRA:

Keep the Promise Act (HR 308)
Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks [R, AZ]

To prohibit gaming activities on certain Indian lands in Arizona until the expiration of certain gaming compacts. According to the sponsor, the bill “halts a precedent that may lead to an expansion of off-reservation casinos and dangerous changes to the complexion of tribal gaming in other states across the country. Tribes across the nation, including many of the other Arizona tribes that played an integral role in the 2002 gaming compact, strongly support this legislation due to the impact this situation could have on tribal gaming enterprises nationally. This bill is not about a vendetta. Nor is it about ending gaming in Arizona. It is, very specifically, about ensuring that the limits on casinos specifically promised back in 2002 during debate on Proposition 202 are realized.”

Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (HR 511)
Sponsor: Rep. Todd Rokita [R, IN]

“Will amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to stipulate that the law does not apply to any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on tribal land, restoring to tribal leaders sovereignty over employee-employer relations,” according to the House Education and Workforce Committee. “As passed by the committee, the bill also specifies that the NLRA does not apply to Native American tribes themselves.” 

Homeland Security

The House will consider two bills related to security:

Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (HR 1073)
Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks [R, AZ]

“Will enhance DHS threat assessments for geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulse blackouts which will enable practical steps to protect the vital electric grid that serves America and her critical financial, agricultural, medical and emergency response capabilities and many other critical systems,” according to the bill sponsor. 

Partners for Aviation Security Act (HR 3144)
Sponsor: Rep. Donald Payne [D, NJ]

“Requires the TSA to consult with the Aviation Security Advisory Committee regarding modifications to the prohibited items list,” according to the bill sponsor.

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.







Gavel Down: Nov. 9 – 13

Closing Out the Week in Congress Nov. 9 – 13


There was a collective exhale on Capitol Hill, as frenetic pace gave way to a recess in the House and shortened week in the Senate. Members were home in their districts and states to commemorate Veteran’s Day and staffers in Washington put away the heels, pulled out the jeans, and brought canine friends to work.

POPVOX Podcast Launch

POPVOX Rep. Stephen Fincher


Join us for our first podcast episode — we speak with Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN) who led the effort on the first successful “discharge petition” in many years.


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Warning: our POPVOX Podcast song will get stuck in your head!


Big News From the Congressional Powerhouse Few People Know About…Or Understand

Believe it or not, in the game of Congress, there actually IS a referee.

Parliamentarians ensure that the House and Senate follow their own rules. This week, the Senate Parliamentarian blew its whistle and made a call on the pending Reconciliation bill.

  • The Reconciliation bill passed the House 240 to 189 with a laundry list of issues, including repeal of certain pieces of Obamacare (individual and employer mandate), defunding Planned Parenthood, repeal of the medical device tax, and repeal of the Cadillac tax.
  • Reconciliation is a procedure that allows Congress to put forward a bill with initiatives to reduce the deficit with expedited consideration, not subject to a filibuster in the Senate.
  • Just as a Reconciliation bill gets expedited consideration, it is also subject to special limitations — in this case, the “Byrd Rule.”

The Byrd Rule is a Senate rule that amends the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to allow Senators, during the Reconciliation Process, to block a piece of legislation if it purports significantly to increase the federal deficit beyond a ten-year term or is otherwise an “extraneous matter” as set forth in the Budget Act.

  • The Senate “Parls” (as they’re known in the biz) just issued a decision on the Reconciliation bill, finding that:
    • Repeal of the ACA employer mandate and individual mandate violates the Byrd Rule.
    • De-funding Planned Parenthood does not violate the Byrd Rule.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s aides downplayed the decision and said that a substitute amendment that preserves the repeals will bring the Obamacare repeal bill in compliance with Senate rules.

Three moderate Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have indicated opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood. With 54 Senate seats, Republicans can lose only three votes to pass an Obamacare repeal bill. (Democrats are expected to vote unanimously against it.)

Military and Veterans Funding Bill

Just in time for Veteran’s Day, the Senate passed the Military and Veterans funding bill in a unanimous vote.

  • Of note: the bill contained a provision that would allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana. The amendment, offered by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would allow the VA medical providers to recommend medical marijuana to veterans living in states where medical marijuana is legal.
    See: Veterans drop hundreds of empty pill bottles in front of the White House

Fourth #GOPDebate Recap

GOP Debate Recap POPVOX Top Policy Issues

Many topics discussed in this week’s #GOPDebate relate to bills currently in Congress. Learn more about related bills here.

We live tweeted related bill mentions during the debate. Follow POPVOX for future debate coverage. The next #DemDebate is tomorrow (11/14). With only three presidential candidates remaining, the debate is expected to “dive deep into policy.”

#SCOTUS Update

The Supreme Court decided today it will hear its first major abortion case in nearly a decade. The case evaluates the constitutionality of a Texas abortion law that would leave the state with about 10 abortion clinics, compared to more than 40.