The Week Ahead: Sept. 28 – Oct. 2

October just got very interesting — with a post-Boehner Leadership scramble; government shutdown off the table;  short-term CR, Debt Ceiling, Ex-Im Bank Reauthorization, Highway bill possibly *on* the table…  And the Reconciliation process begins with aims to repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood.

Last week began with a historic address to Congress by Pope Francis, with a special message for lawmakers:

Read full remarks

Speaker John Boehner Announces Retirement

The Pope's visit reportedly helped Speaker John Boehner decide to announce his retirement from Congress. He will depart both his Speakership and his Congressional seat on his birthday, November 17.

Many expect that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will ascend to the position, but that has not stopped the scrambling and speculation. And remember, the Speaker of the House does not have to be a Member of Congress!

From our Hill Sources:  Majority Leader McCarthy is known as a consensus-builder and well-respected by both sides of the aisle. But that doesn't mean he will pick up a lot of Democratic votes. Our sources said that would be "the worst thing that could happen to a Republican Speaker" (to get elected only with the help of Democrats.)

Take the POPVOX Poll: Who Should Replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House?

While we will release the results of the POPVOX poll next week, we can share that the leading write-in candidate (beyond those listed in the poll) is Trey Gowdy (R, SC).

At least for now, Boehner's announcement appears to have shut down talk of a government shutdown. House conservatives had threatened to hold up a bill to keep the government running after the current authorization ends September 30, if it did not de-fund Planned Parenthood. Last week, the Senate started work on a "clean bill", extending funding through December 11, 2015. But does that punt a possible shutdown to December?

A procedural "cloture" vote is scheduled for Monday on the legislative vehicle for a "clean" continuing resolution to fund the government through December 11, 2015:

A "Clean" Continuing Resolution 
(traveling as amendment 2689 to H.R. 719, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act.)  

Flurry of Legislative Activity Expected

Speaker Boehner's resignation sparked discussion of a possible opportunity to for him to "clear the decks" without fear of retribution from House conservatives. Some are speculating that there might be a gridlock reprieve, if a Speaker with nothing to lose teams up with a President nearing the twilight of his last term.

John’s not going to leave for another 30 days, so hopefully he feels like getting as much stuff done as he possibly can,” President Obama said on Friday.

If Boehner does decide to take that approach, issues potentially on tap include: Reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, raising the debt ceiling, a long-term highway bill (possibly with international tax reform and tax "extenders"), education reform, and reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (which expired in 2007).

Reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank

HR 3611: To reauthorize and reform the Export-Import Bank
Sponsor: Rep Stephen Fincher (R-TN)

According to the sponsor:
"This legislation is a five-year reauthorization bill that will keep American jobs here at home, make the Bank’s practices more accountable, and enhance taxpayer protections by requiring the Bank to become more solvent and self-sufficient."

Raising the Federal Debt Ceiling

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated Congress will have to increase or suspend the debt ceiling between mid-November and early December.

HR 692: Default Prevention Act 
Sponsor: Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) 

According to the sponsor:
The bill "guarantee[s] that the sovereign debt of the United States Government will be paid in full and on time, under any circumstances, even total political gridlock. [The bill] simply provides that if the debt limit is reached, the Treasury Secretary may continue to borrow above that limit for the sole purpose of paying interest and principal that is due. It is an absolute guarantee that the debt of the United States will be honored.

Reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund

The current highway bill will expire on October 29, before Speaker Boehner leaves office. The Senate passed a three-year bill, while the House is working on an ambitious five year plan that would be funded with significant changes to the international tax system. (Senate Majority Leader McConnell has not embraced that approach.) If the House can pass its bill in the next few weeks, the Senate could either take that bill or go to conference. (The looming deadline and Boehner's departure will provide an increased sense of urgency.)

S 1647: The Senate Highway Bill (The DRIVE Act)
Sponsor: Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK)

According to the sponsor:
“The DRIVE Act will provide states and local communities with the certainty they deserve to plan and construct infrastructure projects efficiently.  This bipartisan bill also contains the hallmark accomplishment of a new freight program to prioritize federal spending on the facilities that will most directly benefit our economy, in addition to prioritizing federal dollars towards bridge safety and the interstate system.  The DRIVE Act will help set the tone for America’s economic future by putting our nation back on the map as the best place to do business."

Reforming No Child Left Behind

The education program that introduced nationwide testing technically expired in 2007. Both the House and Senate have been working on reform bills that would give more authority to local governments, among other changes. Each chamber passed their own bills in July:

S 1177: Every Child Achieves Act (Senate Education Bill)
Sponsor: Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

According to the sponsor:
"If senators were students in a classroom, none of us would expect to receive a passing grade for unfinished work. Seven years is long enough to consider how to fix No Child Left Behind. … Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. "

HR 5: Student Success Act (House Education Bill)
Sponsor: Rep John Kline (R-MN)

According to the sponsor:

"By reducing the federal footprint, restoring local control, and empowering parents and education leaders, the Student Success Act will help provide all children access to an effective education. The bill is a commonsense response to a status quo that has failed students for far too long.

The Student Success Act will ensure our investment in K-12 education is more efficient and effective. The bill eliminates more than 65 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary programs, and replaces this maze of programs with a Local Academic Flexible Grant. H.R. 5 provides the freedom to allocate resources in a way that reflects local priorities, not Washington’s priorities. 

A Reconciliation bill may include Obamacare Repeal, Planned Parenthood Defunding

photo: Energy and Commerce committee markup of energy bill by Whitney Wyszynski

One of the first battles awaiting a new Speaker will be sheperding a Budget Reconciliation bill through the legislative process. A reconciliation bill gets special procedural treatment and does not require 60 votes to proceed in the Senate.

(Flashback: Final Health Reform revisions passed in a 2010 reconciliation bill.)

Markup of a reconciliation bill will begin this week in the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees. The bill will likely include Conservative priorities such as repealing Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and changes to the Sequester.

Bills up for a vote in Congress this week
Follow the links below to tell Congress what you think: 

HR 3594 – Higher Education Extension Act
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Bishop

HR 2617 – To amend the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 to postpone a scheduled increase in the minimum wage applicable to American Samoa
Sponsored by Rep. Amata Radewagen

HR 2786 – Cross-Border Rail Security Act
Sponsored by Rep. Filemon Vela

HR 2835 – Border Jobs for Veterans Act 
Sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally

Concur in the Senate Amendment to HR 2051
Agriculture Reauthorizations Act  |  Sponsored by Rep. Mike Conaway

HR 3596 – Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act 
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith

HR 3595
To extend the authorization to carry out the replacement of the existing medical center of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, Colorado  |  Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller

HR 3594 – Higher Education Extension Act
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Bishop

HR 2617 – To amend the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 to postpone a scheduled increase in the minimum wage applicable to American Samoa
Sponsored by Rep. Amata Radewagen

HR 2786 – Cross-Border Rail Security Act
Sponsored by Rep. Filemon Vela

HR 2835 – Border Jobs for Veterans Act 
Sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally

Concur in the Senate Amendment to HR 2051
Agriculture Reauthorizations Act  |  Sponsored by Rep. Mike Conaway

HR 3596 – Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act 
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith

HR 3595
To extend the authorization to carry out the replacement of the existing medical center of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, Colorado  |  Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller


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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. —

Remarks of Pope Francis to a Joint Meeting of Congress, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Remarks to Congress




United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. 
Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

The Week Ahead: Sept. 21 – 26

It’s a short week, with Congress out for Yom Kippur on Wednesday and a papal visit on Thursday: Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress, with remarks that are expected to make both sides of the aisle nod and squirm. The Senate will vote on a 20-week abortion ban while the specter of a government shutdown continues to loom. The President will welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday after a late-breaking agreement over the weekend meant the US will not impose sanctions for Chinese cyberhacking.

Pope Francis to Address Congress

Pope Francis to address Congress

At the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress. Approximately 31% of Congress is Catholic, including Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, as compared to 22% of the American public.

Pope Expected to Discuss Climate Change

While the content of the Pontiff’s speech have not been released, speculation has been enough for at least one Catholic House Member to announce plans to boycott the speech: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) penned an op-ed explaining his objections to reports that the Pope will focus the speech on climate change.

In contrast, eleven conservative Members of Congress signed onto a resolution expressing commitment to “conservative environmental stewardship.”

Expressing the Commitment of the House of Representatives to Conservative Environmental Stewardship (HRes 424)

Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Gibson [R, NY]

In June, the Pope issued an “encyclical” (a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church) on Climate Change, stating: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods… It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Senator Al Franken introduced a resolution expressing agreement with the encyclical:

A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the "Laudato Si" encyclical of Pope Francis, and global climate change. (SRes 244)

Senate Vote on 20-week Abortion Ban

As foreshadowed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during last week’s Planned Parenthood discussions, the Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The bill is not expected to reach the 60-vote cloture requirement, but will give Senators another opportunity to go on the record on the issue.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36)

Sponsor: Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ) Prohibits an abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater (with exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother). The bill has passed the House.

Government Shutdown Looms

House conservatives are standing strong on a demand for defunding of Planned Parenthood to be included in a must-pass spending bill to keep the government operating beyond September 30. Appropriations Chair, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) recently explained that Con­gress cannot ac­tu­ally change the status of Planned Par­ent­hood’s fed­er­al funds in a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion be­cause they are al­lot­ted through Title X grants that have already been giv­en out. Last week, the House passed a "standalone" bill to defund Planned Parenthood:

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep Diane Black (R-AZ) prohibits federal funds for any purpose to Planned Parenthood or affiliates for one year unless they certify that no abortions will be performed during that period.

From our Hill sources: Republican Leadership would like to see a CR that funds the government until December 11. Democrats prefer a shorter term CR to give incentive for a longer term bill to be negotiated (that would take spending through 2016) with their priorities, including: avoiding a showdown on increasing the debt limit, lifting Sequester limits, limiting any changes to Dodd-Frank, reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. Ironically, the more COnservatives push and make Democratic votes necessary to keep the government open, the more leverage Democrats have on these priorities.

A "Clean" CR, which House Leadership and Democrats want, could upset House Conservatives and lead to a leadership battle in the House with a privileged "motion to vacate the chair" on tap. In that case, Speaker Boehner could find himself depending on Democratic votes to retain his gavel.

Declaring the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives vacant. (HRes 385)

Sponsor: Rep Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Chinese President Arrives for State Visit

President of China, Xi Jinping, will arrive in Washington on Wednesday for a state visit that almost began with sanctions in response to Chinese cyberespionage. After an all-night negotiating session on Friday, officials announced that an agreement had been reached and sanctions would not be be imposed before the visit. Some in Congress, however, are encouraging the President to act:

Expressing the sense of Congress that the President in consultation with the Department of the Treasury should apply economic sanctions against Chinese businesses and state-owned enterprises that can be linked to cyberattacks against United States entities. (HConRes 78)

Sponsor: Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Also in the House:

This week House will rename approximately twelve federal buildings and post offices and consider the RAPID Act:

The Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID) (HR 348)

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) says the bill is "a way to reform and expedite the approval and completion of critical energy and infrastructure projects." "Everybody agrees that new or improved infrastructure is needed in nearly every corner of America. Everybody agrees lower energy costs mean more money in their pockets. And everybody agrees that approving critically important economic projects should be simple. This is exactly what my RAPID Act does. It streamlines, it eliminates duplicative processes, it rewards good environmental stewardship and it aids our economy," said Rep. Marino.

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. —

The Week Ahead: Sept. 13 – 17

From our Hill Sources: Congress bounded back from recess with sound and fury — and the (short) week ahead will bring more of the same: heated debate on the Iran Deal and intractable positions on Planned Parenthood funding threatening a government shutdown if it holds up a continuing resolution. Beneath the turbulent surface, however, new data shows that bipartisanship is on a rebound!

Iran Deal will proceed. Opponents will keep fighting.

The Iran Nuclear Deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) will proceed; but challenges to it will continue. Last week, forty-three Democrats blocked a vote in the Senate to “disapprove” the Iran Deal, effectively guaranteeing that no such bill emerge from Congress. 

On Sunday, Leader McConnell said that President Obama "won the 'short-term battle' because Congress will not be able to block the Iran nuclear deal. … but believes the issue has a 'long shelf life' and that the debate will continue until Americans 'render judgment' on Election Day 2016." (Source: Fox News)

The Senate will hold an additional vote to disapprove the Iran Deal on Tuesday at 6 PM, though there is no indication the result will be different.

The House took several votes last week aimed at Members on the record and pursuig any possible roadblocks for the deal.

  • HR 411: a resolution declaring that: " the President has not complied with provisions of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 requiring transmission to Congress of nuclear agreements with Iran and related verification assessments because the communication from the President did not constitute the agreement as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954; and the period for review by Congress of nuclear agreements with Iran under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 has not commenced because the agreement has not yet been transmitted to the appropriate congressional committees and leadership."
  • HR 3460: a bill blocking the President’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran until January 21, 2017
  • HR 3461: a bill stating that Congress "favors the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action relating to Iran's nuclear program" 

From our Hill sources: The statutory Congressional review period of the Iran deal ends on September 17.

Planned Parenthood Funding and the Looming Government Shutdown

Authorization for government spending ends on October 1. The government will shut down if a continuing resolution ("CR") is not passed before then. Thirty-one Republicans have vowed to oppose any CR that does not explicitly de-fund Planned Parenthood. The President has vowed to veto any bill that has such a provision (in the unlikely event that one could get past the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.) 

This week House Leadership will attempt to satisfy Planned Parenthood opponents by holding a standalone de-funding vote (separate from the CR.) The bill will be a chance for Members to go on the record, but is not expected to advance in the Senate.

  • The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134) Sponsor: Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) — prohibits federal funds for any purpose to Planned Parenthood or affiliates for one year unless they certify that no abortions will be performed during that period.

From our Hill sources: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has said that he would  support a “clean” measure to fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. Ironically, if a clean funding bill requires votes from Democrats to pass, it may allow Democrats to make demands on a longer term spending bill. Regarding Planned Parenthood funding, McConnell told Politico: “What we are going to do is move to the pain-capable [abortion] bill sometime this month and see how people feel about that,” he said.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36) Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) — Prohibits an abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater

​From our Hill sources: The President has said he would veto the 20-week ban, which would set up a vote in the Senate to override (requiring 67 votes.)

This week the House will also vote on:

  • The Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (No bill number or summary available yet) Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

Bipartisanship on the Rise

According to our friends at Quorum Analytics (as reported by Vox), Congress is not as divided as it has been:

while bipartisan bill writing is still well below its historical average levels, it has bounced back — especially in the Senate — from the nadir it reached in the 112th Congress.

Also in the House this week

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA) (HR 758)

Sponsor: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

"LARA restores accountability to our legal system by penalizing lawyers for filing baseless lawsuits. The bill specifically ensures that judges impose monetary sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits, including the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the victim of the frivolous lawsuit; and reverses the 1993 amendments to Rule 11 that allow parties and their attorneys make frivolous claims without penalty by withdrawing them within 21 days." — Source: House Judiciary Committee


The House will also vote on the following legislation this week:

  • H.R. 2961: To establish a research, development, and technology demonstration program to improve the efficiency of gas turbines used in combined cycle and simple cycle power generation systems  |  Sponsor: Rep. Paul Tonko 
  • S. 230 – To provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation located in Bethel, Alaska  |  Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski 
  • S. 501 – New Mexico Navajo Water Settlement Technical Corrections Act  |  Sponsor: Sen. Tom Udall

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.

Bills to honor 9/11 victims and provide treatment for first responders

9/11/15: Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. President Obama will mark the solemn occasion at Fort Meade.

We remember and honor those who perished, offer deepest sympathies to the families, and express our gratitude to those heroes who rushed in.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to honor those who died and to provide medical care for first responders. We highlight those below. Click through to share your thoughts with Congress.

Bills to extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program

The original September 11th Victims Compensation Fund operated from 2001-2004. On January 2, 2011, President Obama signed into law the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which re-authorized the VCF, allowing individuals who became ill or died after the original VCF closed to be compensated for economic damages and losses stemming from their physical injuries. Current authorization from the VCF ends in October 2015.

On September 6, 2015, Special Master of the VCF, Sheila Birnbaum, reported that to date, the VCF has found 12,150 people eligible for compensation in claims totalling $1,443,475,952.82.

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (S 928) — bipartisan —

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (HR 1786) — bipartisan —

House Sponsor: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY-12)

The bills would extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Fund indefinitely and index appropriations to the medical care component of the consumer price index for urban consumers.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the bill in June.

Bill to Release Documents Related to the 9/11 Attacks

Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act of 2015 (S 1471) — bipartisan —

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY)

This bill "requires the President to declassify and release to the public the previously redacted portions of the report on the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001, filed in the Senate and the House of Representatives on December 20, 2002, including all the material under the heading "Part Four–Findings, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." CRS Summary

"I firmly believe the family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have the right to know the details surrounding the tragedies that occurred on that sad day. The American people deserve a government that instills trust and a restoration of their sense of security, and I believe that the Transparency for the Families of the 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Paul upon introduction of the bill.


Making the World Trade Center site a National Monument

Representative Tom MacArthur (R, NJ-3) has introduced a bill designating the National September 11 Memorial located at the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, as a national memorial.

National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center Act (HR 3036) — bipartisan —


— Highlighting a bill doesn't imply a 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.

The Week Ahead: Sept. 8 – Sept. 11

From our Hill Sources: Congress' "crazy busy" Awful Autumn is upon us, as Members make their way back to Washington to work on a long list of outstanding issues with very few legislative days scheduled (15 for the Senate, 10 for the House.) Avoiding a government shutdown and a vote on the Iran Deal, are on the short-term agenda, with much more ahead in the coming weeks.

Congress Expected to Disapprove — But Not Stop — the Iran Deal

World Leaders announce the Iran Deal

On August 4, 2015, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union announced a nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On July 19, the State Department officially transmitted the agreement to Congress, triggering the 60-day Congressional review period set by legislation passed by Congress in May. During this review period, Congress must vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval (or opt to do nothing). The 60-day review period expires on Sept. 17, 2015.

This week, the House and Senate will vote on a joint resolution to disapprove the Iran Deal. The President has said he will veto the resolution. Last week, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) became the 34th Senator to support the deal, ensuring that the Senate will not have sufficient votes to override a Presidential veto. See "A Guide to Congress' Upside-Down Vote on Iran" from the AP.

Disapproving of the agreement transmitted to Congress by the President on July 19, 2015, relating to the nuclear program of Iran (HJRes 64)

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-39) States that Congress does not favor the nuclear agreement with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) transmitted by the President to Congress on July 19, 2015, for purposes of prohibiting the taking of any action involving statutory sanctions relief by the United States pursuant to such agreement.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown – Substance or Symbolism on Planned Parenthood Funding?

Government funding runs out on September 30. To avoid a shutdown, Congress will need to pass a temporary "continuing resolution" (CR). Several GOP Members have indicated that they will not vote for a CR if it does not include a provision to de-fund Planned Parenthood; President Obama says he would veto any bill that contains such a provision. If a senator decides to block a CR without the defunding provision, the delay could result in a government shutdown. With many predicting Senate "fireworks" on the topic in the coming days. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said "funding the government is the top challenge facing him when he returns to the Capitol."

All four presidential candidates currently serving in the Senate (Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)) support defunding Planned Parenthood, according to The Hill, though they differ on whether a shutdown threat is the best tactic.

Several bills have been introduced to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood. S. 1881 from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), failed to achieve cloture in the Senate before Congress left for recess. (The final tally was 53-46.)

A bill to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood (S 1881)

Sponsor: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) prohibits federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep Dianne Black (R-TN) freezes Planned Parenthood funding for one year.

Also in the House

The House will also vote on the following legislation this week:

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (HR 1344)

Sponsor: Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY-2) would reauthorize the federal authority for hearing tests and intervention programs for newborn babies, which were first authorized through the Newborn Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999. "Early detection of hearing loss is just like the early detection of any other disease or illness – it can dramatically change the outcome of one’s prognosis. By reauthorizing these screening and intervention programs, and by shifting our focus to ensure there is less loss to follow-up, we can ensure all newborn babies are being evaluated and receiving any necessary treatment." said Rep. Guthrie.

Protecting Our Infants Act (HR 1462) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Katherine Clark (R-MA-5) directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify and make available best practices for the diagnosis and treatment of NAS, evaluate and coordinate federal efforts to research and respond to NAS, and assist state health agencies with their data collection efforts. "There is nothing political or partisan about the opiate epidemic or the babies who are suffering its devastating effects… The partners we’ve made across the aisle, across chambers, and with doctors throughout the country are ready to fight for the children and families impacted by this epidemic, and we’re pushing Congress to take action. The Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 is a common sense approach to determining how to best care for these newborns while also addressing the enormous cost of that care," said Rep. Clark.

National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Authorization Act (HR 1725) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY-1) bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act, or NASPER Act. NASPER provides grant funding to States to foster the use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in the fight against the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic. "Prescription drug abuse continues to takes lives, ruin families, and drain on our health care system and its resources. Tragically, drug overdose death rates in the United States have increased five-fold since 1980, and drug overdose now kills more Americans than automobile accidents. The NASPER program will provide States with the necessary investments to build upon the success PDMPs have had in reducing prescription drug abuse through streamlined access to timely, accurate, and secure patient prescription history. This will allow physicians to properly treat their patients while cracking down on the interstate trafficking of prescription medications and patients who are simply doctor shopping," said Rep. Whitfield.

Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Authorization Act (HR 2820) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ-4) provides that two collaborative programs that support treatment and therapies derived from adult stem cell lines will not expire at the end of the federal fiscal year. Under the legislation, the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program will be authorized for five years at $20 million annually, while the National Cord Blood Inventory is authorized at $23 million annually for a five-year period. "This important bipartisan legislation is needed to expand and extend two great research and therapy programs that are already saving lives… Cord blood and bone marrow adult stem cells have applicability and potential that is proven and invaluable. People are being cured each and every day by these therapies—continuing federal support offers a lifeline to thousands more. We look forward to seeing this bill quickly pass the House and Senate and be signed into law," said Rep. Smith.

E-Warranty Act (HR 1359) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Deb Fischer (R-NE-0) streamlines warranty notice rules and provides explicit direction to manufacturers that they have the option to meet their warranty requirements on their company’s website. "The world is changing, and our technology is getting smaller, faster, and more efficient. Our laws must follow suit. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Senator Bill Nelson to introduce a new, bipartisan bill to provide manufacturers the option of posting their warranty information online," said Rep. Fischer.

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.

The Week Ahead: August 31 – Sept. 4

From our Hill Sources: Congress returns from August recess on Sept. 8 to what the media are now calling "Awful Autumn" or the "Fall from Hell." It will try to review the Iran nuclear deal by the Sept. 17 deadline. In addition, Members of Congress will work to avoid a government shutdown by Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. And, Congress will play host to a visit by Pope Francis as he speaks to a Joint Meeting of Congress on Sept. 24. (Read the invitation.)

But first, Labor Day!

In anticipation of Labor Day, we're spotlighting bills related to workers' wages, safety and health and time off. Share your voice on POPVOX!

(Photo of the first Labor Day parade, 1882 Source: DOL


About Labor Day

Labor Day pays tribute “to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker,” according to the Department of Labor. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation, which first passed in Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. (Learn more about Labor Day history)

Bills Related to Wages

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009, but many states have minimum wage laws higher than the federal wage. Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have already raised their minimum wage to $15, and similar increases are being considered in other cities and states across the country, including: Washington, DC; Sacramento, CA; Olympia, WA; Kansas City, MO; Delaware; and Massachusetts. In Congress, several bills have been introduced to regarding the federal wage laws:

Pay Workers a Living Wage Act (S 1832)

Sponsor: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  Phases in a $15 minimum wage by 2020 over 5 steps, increasing to $9 in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $12.00 in 2018, $13.50 in 2019, and $15 in 2020. After 2020, the minimum wage will be indexed to the median hourly wage. The tipped minimum wage will be gradually eliminated. (Read bill text)

Original Living Wage Act (HR 122)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  “The Original LAW Act would link the minimum wage to fifteen percent over the federal poverty threshold for a family of four ($23,850) and increases the minimum wage automatically every four years to ensure that inflation does not erode its purchasing power. Under current poverty guidelines, this legislation would cause the national minimum wage to be increased from $7.25 to approximately $13.00,” according to the bill sonsor.  (Read bill text)

Davis-Bacon Repeal Act (S 1785)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  To repeal the wage rate requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. Since 1935, the Davis-Bacon Act has required that workers on all federally funded or federally assisted construction projects whose contracts total more than $2,000 be paid no less than “prevailing wages” in the area in which the project is located, according to the CBO. (Read bill text)

RAISE Act (HR 1003)

Sponsor: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN)  “To amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow employers to give merit-based compensation increases to individual employees, even if those increases are not part of a collective bargaining agreement. If enacted, the RAISE Act would essentially make wages set in union contracts a minimum floor, while giving employers the flexibility to reward diligent employees for their hard work,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

Worker Safety and Health

Established in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the major federal agency responsible for workplace safety. Since then, fatality and injury rates have dropped markedly. In 1970 around 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009 even with US employment almost doubling since then. Since the passage of the OSH Act, the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.6 per 100 workers in 2009. (Source: OSHA)

There are several bills in Congress addressing worker safety and health:

Protecting America’s Workers Act (S 1112)

Sponsor: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)  “Would strengthen and modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act by giving OSHA more tools ensure workplace safety,” according to the bill sponsor. "This legislation will expand the number of workers in safe workplaces and make it harder to violate workplace safety laws. It will also protect whistleblowers who bravely speak out about unsafe work conditions for themselves, their coworkers, and their families. This legislation protects the public's right to know about safety violations and about OSHA investigations. It will also help us track and respond to workplace safety issues by requiring tracking of worker injuries."  (Read bill text)

Voluntary Protection Program Act (HR 2500)

Sponsor: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN)   “Would codify the VPP program, a successful partnership between private industry and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was created in 1982 but never authorized in law. The program requires implementation of comprehensive health and safety worksite protocols, which when certified compliant by OSHA, yields fewer injuries and illnesses and allows agency officials to focus on higher risk workplaces," according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Bills Related to Child Labor

The federal child labor provisions, authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, were enacted to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities, according to the Department of Labor. These laws provide exemptions, and there are several proposals in Congress to expand child labor safety provisions:

Children Don't Belong in Tobacco Fields Act (S 974)

Sponsor: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)  “The US currently has no specific restrictions to protect children from nicotine poisoning or other health risks associated with tobacco farming,” according to the bill sponsors. “The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves.”  (Read bill text)

Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) (HR 2764)

Sponsor: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)  “Addresses the problems associated with 500,000 children employed in agriculture in the US by raising labor standards and protections for farmworker children to the same level set for children in occupations outside of agriculture,” according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Stop Blood Tomatoes Act (HR 2385)

Sponsor: Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA)  “Would require corporations with revenues over $1 billion dollars to undergo annual independent audits of their supply chains to verify that they are not selling products manufactured by child or forced labor,” according to the bill sponsor. “The results of these reviews would be prominently displayed on the companies’ websites stating that their products “May have been produced using child/forced labor” or “Products are free of child labor and forced labor’’. The results would also be reported to the Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor.”  (Read bill text)

Child Performers Protection Act (HR 3383)

Sponsor: Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)  To limit the number of hours that children may be employed as actors, performers, and models, to require blocked trust accounts for the financial protection of such children, to clarify the liability of employers, contractors, and other individuals for sexual harassment of such child performers (Read bill text)

Future Logging Careers Act (HR 1215)

Sponsor: Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)  Would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 so that 16 and 17 year olds would be allowed to work in mechanized logging operations under parental supervision. “Like farming and ranching, timber harvesting is often a family-run business where the practice of harvesting and transporting forest products from the forest to the mills is passed down from generation to generation,” said the bill sponsor. “But while the agriculture industry enjoys regulatory exemptions that allow family members between the ages of 16 and 17 to work under their parents’ supervision, the logging industry doesn’t have that same right. We should not unfairly penalize young people who want to enter the logging industry and make it their career.” (Read bill text)

Bills Related to Time Off from Work

Currently, there is no federal law that guarantees paid time off from work. The Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, only provides unpaid leave for serious health problems or the birth of a child. There are several proposals in Congress to establish federal paid time off policies as well as flexible work hours:

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (S 786 and HR 1439)

Sponsor: Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)  “The current Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides unpaid, job-protected leave for serious health related events, but only about half of the workforce qualifies for this unpaid leave, and many more simply cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid,” according to the bill sponsors. “The “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act” or the FAMILY Act would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation. The proposal makes leave available to every individual regardless of the size of their current employer and regardless of whether such individual is currently employed by an employer, self-employed or currently unemployed, as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history.”  (Read bill text)

Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act (S 1564)

Sponsor: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) “Would provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least one year. A recent study by Oxford Economics found benefits of taking time off from work include higher productivity, greater employee retention, increased workplace morale, significant health benefits and a boost to the economy,” according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Healthy Families Act (S 497 and in the House, HR 932)

Sponsor: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)  “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsor. “The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.”  (Read bill text)

Schedules that Work Act (HR 3071 and in the Senate, S 1772)

Sponsor: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)  "Addresses unstable, unpredictable, and rigid scheduling practices like placing workers "on-call" with no guarantee of work hours, scheduling them for "split shifts" of non-consecutive hours, sending workers home early without pay when demand is low and punishing workers who request schedule changes," according to the bill sponsors. "All employees of companies with 15 or more workers will have the right to request changes
in their schedules without fear of retaliation. Employers would be required to consider and respond to all schedule requests, and, when a worker’s request is made because of a health condition, child or elder care, a second job, continued education, or job training, the employer would be required to grant the request unless a legitimate business reason precludes it." (Read bill text)

— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

The Week Ahead: August 24 – 28

From Our Hill Sources:  With Congress still in recess, the President challenged Congress “to do its part” when it returns in September. “Americans expect Congress to help keep our country strong and growing,” he continued. “When Congress gets back, they should prevent a shutdown, pass a responsible budget, and prove that this is a country that looks forward—a country that invests in our future, and keeps our economy growing for all Americans.” 

This week, we’re highlighting reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, which the President considers a top priority, as well as the federal budget process. Will there be another federal government shutdown? Congress has only a few weeks to act when it returns from recess.

Finally, we are spotlighting “sanctuary cities” and the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Share your voice on POPVOX!

(Photo: Workers raising the first of 32 sections of drapery in the Rotunda, from the Architect of the Capitol on Instagram. (Watch time-lapse video of the construction)

Reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank

On the top of the President’s list for Congress after recess was reauthorizing the Export Import Bank:

“When it returns from recess, reauthorizing the bank ought to be a top agenda for members of Congress.”


The Export-Import Bank’s charter expired on July 1—for the first time in its 81-year history. While the bank cannot currently make new loans, it continues to service outstanding loans and guarantees. However, its funding runs out at the end of FY 2015, Sept. 30, without Congressional action.

Reauthorization Proposals in Congress

Before leaving for recess, the Senate voted 64-29 on an amendment reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank’s charter attached to their long-term highway bill. The amendment, from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), reauthorizes the bank's charter through the fall of 2019.

The amendment passed by the Senate and the House proposal, which failed to be considered, is identical to a bill that was introduced in March:

Export-Import Bank Reform and Reauthorization Act (S 819)

Sponsor: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) —Bipartisan— Would reauthorize the Bank’s charter until September 30, 2019 and implement several reforms, including: Reduce risk to taxpayers by requiring higher loan loss reserves; Put greater focus on small businesses by increasing the required lending to small businesses from 20 percent to 25 percent; and increase oversight of Ex-Im Bank practices by: Creating a Chief Risk Officer and a Risk Management Committee to oversee the Bank's operations; Requiring the Inspector General to regularly audit the Bank’s risk management procedures; and Creating a non-political Chief Ethics Officer to oversee ethics practices of Bank employees. (Source: bill sponsors)

Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), sponsor of a House bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, is pushing for a vote on his bill when Congress returns from August recess. “Make no mistake, American jobs will be lost over the month of August because we did not act to get this reauthorized," he explained

Reform Exports and Expand the American Economy Act (HR 597)

Sponsor: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank through 2019. “Includes 31 meaningful reforms to the Ex-Im Bank that will enhance transparency, improve accountability, and reduce risk, while preserving an important entity that supports American jobs,” according to the bill sponsor. “Reforming and reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank will not only allow American companies to break into emerging markets but it will keep jobs here at home.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Supporters of the Export-Import Bank may continue to look for opportunities to add the Export-Import Bank to other must-pass legislation throughout the rest of the year.

Another Government Shutdown?

Also in his weekly address, President Obama urged Congress to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown. The fiscal year ends on Sept. 30th, giving Congress only a few weeks after their recess to act. Alternately, they could pass a Continuing Resolution, a short-term funding bill that extends pre-existing funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year. The President also challenged Congress to pass a budget without the sequestration cuts: 

Congress also hasn’t passed a budget – and when they return from vacation, they’ll only have a few weeks to do so, or shut down the government for the second time in two years. They’ve had all year to do this. Months ago, I put forward a detailed plan to strengthen our economy and our national security in a fiscally responsible way. And for months, I’ve said I will veto any budget that locks in the sequester—those senseless cuts to domestic and national security priorities. Remember, we can’t cut our way to prosperity. We should be investing in things that help our economy grow today and tomorrow, like education or infrastructure or scientific research."


From our Hill Sources: Democrats in Congress believe there is bipartisan support for ending the sequestration cuts, which are the arbitrary across-the-board spending cuts that were enacted after the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011. In June, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) urged Congress to repeal the “mindless mechanism of sequestration” as the Senate worked on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016.

Ending Sequestration Cuts

Some Democrats in Congress have been pushing for repealing the sequestration cuts since they began in 2013. There’s a proposal in Congress that would repeal the cuts:

Cancel the Sequester Act (HR 782)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  This one sentence legislation would repeal sequestration, the across the board cuts that went into effect in 2013. (Read bill text)

Defunding Planned Parenthood

In addition, some conservative Republicans have threatened to hold up funding bills to keep the government open after Oct. 1 unless federal money for Planned Parenthood is cut. In a letter to House leadership, 18 Republican Representatives pledged that they “cannot and will not support any funding resolution—an appropriations bill, an omnibus package, a continuing resolution, or otherwise—that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood, including mandatory funding streams.” (Learn more in our previous Weekly Update.)

Stand-alone bills to defund Planned Parenthood have been introduced in both the House and Senate. The House bill has yet to have received a vote:

Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) —Bipartisan— “Would place an immediate moratorium on all federal funding of Planned Parenthood for the span of one year while Congress conducts a full investigation into the organization’s activities,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

In the Senate, the bill was considered, but it didn’t have the 60 votes needed to advance:

Prohibiting federal funding of Planned Parenthood (S 1881)

Sponsor: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) “In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, this legislation ensures the preservation of Federal funding for women’s health services including relevant diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, well-child care, prenatal and postpartum care, immunization, family planning services including contraception, sexually transmitted disease testing, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and referrals,” according to the bill sponsors. “Funds no longer available to Planned Parenthood will continue to be offered to other eligible entities to provide such women’s health care services.” (Read bill text) —Failed cloture vote (53-46) on August 3, 2015.—

From our Hill Sources: Under the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood is banned from using federal funding for abortion services.

Sanctuary Cities

We’ve been hearing about “sanctuary cities” particularly on the Presidential campaign trail, and wanted to spotlight related proposals in Congress. The issue became a flash point after the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot on July 1 in San Francisco by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times.

Before leaving for recess, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Sanctuary Cities: A Threat to Public Safety.” Jim Steinle, Kathryn’s father, testified before the Committee in support of laws to keep “undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good”: 

“Our family realizes the complexities of immigration laws, however, we feel strongly that some legislation should be discussed, enacted and/or changed to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good. We would be proud to see Kate’s name associated with some of this new legislation. We feel that if Kate’s Law saves 1 daughter, 1 son, a mother or a father, Kate’s death won’t be in vain."

What is a Sanctuary City?

The term sanctuary city is given to cities that have policies designed to shelter immigrants who are in the United States illegally. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by practice (de facto) Generally, these cities do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status.

As the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “one of the characteristic elements of our broken immigration system is the significant challenges that the federal government and federal law enforcement officials have had in enforcing the law by working closely with local law enforcement officials. And this is something that the United States Congress had the opportunity to fix in the context of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But this fix was blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives.”

When comprehensive immigration reform efforts failed in Congress last year, President Obama “acted on his own; and in acting on his own, the President actually scrapped the Secure Communities Program” in November 2014. This was the program that previously codified the relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement that actually caused a number of cities to declare themselves sanctuary cities.

The Secure Communities Program was then replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which focuses on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety. The Program enables the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with state and local law enforcement to take custody of individuals who pose a danger before those individuals are released into our communities. (Source: DHS

Congress Responds to Sanctuary Cities

In reaction to Steinle’s murder, the House passed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act last month:

Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (HR 3009)

Sponsor: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) —Passed the House on 7/24/2015— “Would deny funding for states or local governments that fail to enforce immigration laws that protect Americans,” according to the House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). (Read bill text)

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, which was supposed to be marked-up by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early August, but has been postponed until after recess:

Stop Sanctuary Cities Act (S 1814)

Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) “To withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities that fail to comply with detainer requests issued by the Department of Homeland Security,” according to the bill sponsors. “Under the legislation, sanctuary cities would be ineligible to receive funds under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), a federal grant program intended to offset the cost to states and local jurisdictions for jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes. States or cities that do not then come into compliance within 180 days would subsequently lose eligibility for grants under the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne JAG). The bill would also ensure that these funds are reallocated to other regions of an affected state that are in compliance with federal immigration law.” (Read bill text)

Related Bills in Congress

Last year’s calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” in Congress resulted in a bipartisan framework, which was passed by the Senate but not considered by the House. Some in Congress continue to fight for a comprehensive approach: “Without comprehensive immigration reform, we are jeopardizing the safety and imperiling the economic security of immigrant families and our country,” explained Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY). Others in Congress have introduced more piecemeal proposals to fix the immigration system.

Here are a few recently introduced bills related to "sanctuary cities":

Protecting American Citizens Together Act (PACT Act) (S 1764)

Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) “Would prevent “sanctuary cities” from harboring dangerous criminal aliens by requiring state and local law enforcement to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following the arrest of an illegal immigrant, and detain an illegal immigrant if requested to do so by ICE,” according to the bill sponsors. “Additionally, if the Bureau of Prisons receives a request from ICE to transfer an illegal immigrant to their custody, that request will take priority over the request from state and local agencies. Under this legislation, localities will be required to follow the new requirements as a condition of receiving federal law enforcement grants.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Sen. Paul also introduced this proposal as an amendment to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S 754), which may be considered after recess by the Senate.

Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (S 1640)

Sponsor: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) “Named for two Sheriff’s Deputies in California who were murdered by an illegal alien with an extensive criminal record and immigration history,” according to the bill sponsors. “In addition to enhancing cooperation with states and local law enforcement and eliminating loopholes that allow criminal aliens to obtain immigration benefits, this bill would constitute the strongest response to sanctuary jurisdictions that this government has ever undertaken. Specifically, it would withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions that do not cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration laws or do not honor federal immigration detainers, provide immunity to jurisdictions that honor federal detainers and hold aliens until ICE can pick them up, and provide a general sense of Congress that “the Department of Homeland Security has probable cause to believe that an alien is inadmissible or deportable when it issues a detainer” for an alien.” (Read bill text)

Improving Cooperation with States and Local Governments and Preventing the Catch and Release of Criminal Aliens Act (S 1812)

Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) “Would withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate on criminal aliens and other high priority individuals. The bill would also increase the amount of time, from up to 2 years to a mandatory 5 years, an illegal immigrant must spend in jail for re-entry after deportation,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —