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Posts in "Appropriations"
July 29, 2014
A Congress known for its dysfunction and acrimony may be on the verge of a rare triple combo — passing major bills addressing the border crisis, the Veterans Affairs scandal and the Highway Trust Fund in one week. But if it happens, it’s going to be like the rest of the 113th: ugly.
The pre-August sprint got off on the right foot with the announcement Monday of a $17 billion deal to slash wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs, followed Tuesday by the 97-0 confirmation of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary.
A highway patch seemed likely too, although not without last-minute wrangling between the two chambers over the fine print. Full story
July 24, 2014
The House and Senate Republicans of the Texas congressional delegation are the latest contingent to stake out a position on the border crisis as time left to act on the issue before the August recess recedes.
On Thursday, all 26 Lone Star State Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill — 24 in the House and two in the Senate — signed on to a letter to President Barack Obama that lays out actions they want him to take to respond to the surge of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Full story
June 20, 2014
Defying the Obama administration, a bipartisan veto-proof House majority voted to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans late Thursday.
The 293-123 vote on the amendment by libertarian-minded Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., had majority support in both parties, although a number of leaders in both parties and chairmen opposed it. Some 135 Republicans and 158 Democrats backed it.
The amendment would prohibit the National Security Agency and the CIA from placing surveillance backdoors on commercial tech products and prohibit warrantless collection of Americans’ online data. Full story
June 9, 2014
The House is back in Washington for almost two full months, but don’t look for a lot of breakthroughs: GOP leadership has pared back big-ticket wish lists, choosing instead to sprint for the August recess with a relatively modest legislative agenda.
There is less and less serious talk of an overhaul of immigration, a rewrite of the tax code or replacing the Democrats’ health care law. Instead, it’s much more likely the next two months of House floor action — roughly 28 legislative days before a monthlong summer recess — will be consumed by such small-bore economic measures as targeted tax extenders and energy regulation bills.
May 30, 2014
Following the resignation Friday morning of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized President Barack Obama again for not doing more to solve problems surrounding the scheduling system and waiting lists at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
“[Shinseki's] resignation, though, does not absolve the president of his responsibility to step in and make things right for our veterans,” Boehner said during a Friday afternoon news conference. “Business as usual cannot continue. And until the president outlines a vision and an effective plan for addressing the broad dysfunction at the VA, today’s announcement really changes nothing. One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem.”
May 20, 2014
In a speech that is almost certain to stoke speculation he is running for House speaker, Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling slammed Washington insiders and special interests during an address at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday.
Less than two hours after the Heritage Foundation suffered one of its harshest congressional rebukes ever — more representatives broke from the advice of Heritage Action than ever before, with only four Republicans voting against a water resources bill — Hensarling came to Heritage’s Massachusetts Avenue offices to praise the foundation and condemn a boogeyman called Washington, D.C.
The Texas Republican did nothing to allay the concerns of K Street or Wall Street that he won’t work with special interests to protect some of Washington’s favorite carve-outs. In fact, Hensarling consistently demonized the “Washington insider economy.” Full story
April 10, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner had a few things to say Thursday morning.
During his weekly press conference, which lasted just over 6 minutes, Boehner criticized former director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, Lois G. Lerner, and knocked Democrats for playing politics rather than working with Republicans to create jobs. But Boehner most notably and vociferously went after the Obama administration for putting up roadblocks to answers on Benghazi, Fast and Furious and the IRS scandal.
The Ohio Republican also addressed the recent kissing controversy surrounding Louisiana Republican Vance McAllister, saying he had spoken to the freshman Congressman and expects all members to be held to the highest ethical standards.
Boehner said Republicans were “trying to build a consensus” on an Obamacare replacement bill, and were waiting for Democrats to offer an unemployment extension that was paid for and would address the economic problems in the United States.
Boehner’s press conference turned into an outburst, however, when he fielded a question from Fox News’s Chad Pergram regarding Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s intimation that he had been treated unfairly because of his race.
Watch the full press conference below:
March 11, 2014
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., cheered the passage of one of his top priorities Tuesday, as a pediatric research funding bill he laboriously pushed through the House easily passed the Senate.
The bill is the first piece of legislation under the umbrella of Cantor’s much-publicized Republican rebrand to pass the Senate, and his office now expects President Barack Obama to sign the bill into law.
“So often everyone is focused on what Congress cannot accomplish that we overlook the good that can be done when both parties work together,” Cantor said in a statement.
Of course, the road to passage was not so simple for the legislation. It moves $126 million over 10 years that would be used to pay for political conventions into a fund that can only be applied to pediatric research through the National Institutes of Health.
Yet many House Republicans opposed the bill because they would rather see the money used to offset the deficit. Top Democrats, meanwhile, called the $126 million a pittance in the NIH budget and said Cantor was simply trying to obscure several years of Republican-led cuts to medical research.
It was not until Cantor rebranded the bill itself that he found legislative success.
The bill was renamed for Gabriella Miller, a 10-year-old Virginia girl who died last year. Afflicted with brain cancer, she nonetheless made viral YouTube videos advocating for heightened awareness for pediatric diseases.
With Miller’s parents watching from the House chamber’s visitors gallery, the bill passed in December on a 295-103 vote despite objections from Democratic leaders.
It passed the Senate on Tuesday with unanimous consent.
January 22, 2014
Lawmakers heralded the sweeping spending bill signed into law last week as a return to regular order, but politicking and the short election-year calendar have many doubtful that they can actually resume regular lawmaking at all.
Writing and passing the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill built trust among bipartisan House and Senate appropriators, who fashion themselves the last vestige of old-school, institutional policymaking. Both sides believe members of the other party want to pass and conference all 12 spending bills by the September deadline.
“We’ve got 12 bills. Those are going to be hard,” House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said. “But … having amendments, debating your priorities, that’s good for the institution, that’s good for Congress. We need to reclaim the power of the purse.”
The budget deal Ryan negotiated with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last year aids this process, starting both sides off with a common number of $1.014 trillion (not counting overseas contingency operations) for fiscal 2015 — $2 billion more than this year. What remains untested is whether congressional leaders and the rank and file are willing to let the process bear out.
The dilemma lies in the very openness regular order affords. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he wants to see all 12 bills come to the floor under an open rule, meaning any lawmaker can offer amendments.
“We’ll take them through the regular process, you know, like a car wash, and the amendments will be fought out in subcommittee, then full committee then conference,” he said.
The problem with a car wash is while the vehicle might emerge sparkling clean, the grime always seems to rub off on someone nearby. In the case of spending bills, leaders may be wary of hundreds of politically charged amendments on everything from abortion to immigration to Obamacare — forcing swing-district members into tough votes while weighing bills down with poison-pill riders that cost bipartisan support.
Appropriators are bombarded with these riders, which they see as overtly political and often duplicative and come from members trying to look tough back home, particularly in election years.
“It’s maddening,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., an appropriator and member of the GOP whip team. “I believe in regular order, but I believe in sane regular order where members aren’t just given the ability to grandstand for purely political purposes.”
It’s particularly maddening for appropriators when members secure amendments but vote against the underlying bill. Rooney said the whip team is already discussing ways to not only dissuade members from bringing those amendments, but to make it known on the floor who is offering amendments in good faith and who, as he put it, is “just grandstanding for their Facebook page.”
“We’re much more cognizant of that as we move forward and I am going to be a stickler about that as we move forward too because that drives me crazy,” he said. But, he added, it’s possible some bills move ahead, likely those dealing with military spending, while others are bundled into a continuing resolution.
The Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee bill, for instance, is routinely snagged by riders cutting funding to the EPA. Panel Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he and his fellow cardinals must do a better job of persuading members to keep amendments to a minimum, particularly his fellow Republicans, who he said offer the bulk of the changes.
“Part of the challenge for us is convincing our members that adding 200 amendments to a bill is not really productive,” he said. “Make sure they’re meaningful amendments and not press release amendments.”
They have had limited success in that endeavor in the past. Conservative Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., said he’s looking forward to amendments from his members targeting the IRS on the Financial Services Subcommittee bill and slashing Obamacare funding in the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee product.
“That’s why we’re here is to tackle the tough issues,” he said. “We’re pushing them to do that. Our goal is to have a full open process.”
An analog problem for leaders is one of time. The process cannot start until the president sends his budget to Congress, which is not expected until well after the statutory Feb. 3 deadline. A return to regular order in the Senate would require far more than agreement on the top-line spending level; it would also necessitate a change in strategy on the part of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. GOP senators note that only four minority amendments have seen floor votes since July of last year, as Reid has repeatedly maneuvered to avoid having his vulnerable senators take tough votes.
And if the process isn’t finished by the August recess, any attempt at real policymaking will be eclipsed by pure politics until Election Day.
Appropriators estimate they will need a minimum of a full month of floor time, perhaps more, in June or July to complete the 12 bills. It is dubious, some aides said, that leaders would allot so much time in the dead center of a pivotal election year to unpredictable floor debates, rather than voting on targeted political messaging bills to corner their opponents.
And because each bill will likely come with hundreds of amendments, the open process simply takes too long, said Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, a former appropriator. That is why she has come to favor a rule for floor debate that limits amendments.
“It would be literally unmanageable. When you’re allocating floor time, that’s not realistic,” the Wyoming Republican said. “I don’t believe a fully open rule is the way to go because of the effort of both parties to try to run out the clock on amendment after amendment” on the controversial bills.
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, though, has made an open process a central plank of his tenure. That, said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden is not likely to change.
“I don’t know if that’s in the speaker’s DNA,” the Oregonian said. “The one time you have the ability to come affect policy on the floor is during appropriations with amendments. I doubt that will be denied.”
January 17, 2014
The omnibus passed the House this week in an overwhelming fashion, 359-67. But only one of the 67 lawmakers who voted against it is a member of the Appropriations Committee: Jack Kingston, an old-school appropriator who has become increasingly more conservative.
As the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, Kingston is the third highest-ranking appropriator in the House. He was a big part of crafting the omnibus, particularly provisions heralded by conservatives for cutting money used to implement Obamacare. But apparently that wasn’t enough to appease the Georgia Republican. On Wednesday, he very quietly voted “no” without so much as a news release.
On Tuesday, while Kingston said he was undecided on the $1.1 trillion omnibus — which he said he was “still reading through” — he certainly sounded like a legislator who supported the measure.
“There are a lot of conservative victories in this bill,” he said in an off-the-floor interview. “And so I think people realize there are some things in here that were hard fought.” Full story
January 15, 2014
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said he was “almost giddy” after the strong bipartisan vote to pass the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.
“This gives us a big boost here, this vote, this big vote,” said the Kentucky Republican, “this spirit and attitude that prevailed.” Full story
The House on Wednesday afternoon passed the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill funding the government through Sept. 30 with a large bipartisan majority.
Lawmakers voted 359-67 on the omnibus package of all 12 annual spending bills to fund federal operations, sending the bill to the Senate and almost certainly ending the risk of a government shutdown. Full story
January 14, 2014
When the omnibus comes to the House floor on Wednesday, members won’t be asking whether the bill will pass but rather by how much.
The chances are slim that House Republicans, still fatigued from the political fallout of the government shutdown, will galvanize around bringing down the $1.1 trillion spending bill needed to fund the government through September.
“I think many of the members are resigned to the fact that we’re gonna pass an omnibus bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who opposed the October shutdown strategy. “I think a lot of our members have learned some lessons since the shutdown.”
But the measure is a proverbial landmine for hard-line conservatives, prompting many of them to make carefully calibrated choices about how they’re going to vote.
On the eve of House floor consideration of the omnibus, a number of Republicans interviewed by CQ Roll Call were still mulling their options. Full story
January 13, 2014
On Monday evening, appropriators from both chambers unveiled a massive omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the end of September, the culmination of just a few weeks of work and bipartisan negotiations.
The House is expected to pass the 1,582-page package of all 12 appropriations bills this week, if for no other reason than to dispel anxiety over another government shutdown and encourage a return to the age of “regular order.”
But, as with any major piece of legislation, the final product necessitated some compromises, and there are policy riders that are sure to ruffle feathers from members on both sides of the aisle — even if they won’t be enough to sink the whole ship.
Here are a handful of the provisions House lawmakers will have to swallow in the name of passing the spending bill: Full story
January 9, 2014
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers told reporters Thursday afternoon that members should expect to vote on a very short-term continuing resolution next week — a sign that a final fiscal 2014 appropriations package will not be passed by the Jan. 15 deadline.
The Kentucky Republican would not get into details about what issues were preventing appropriators from unveiling the 12-bill omnibus imminently.
“I don’t think it would be wise to negotiate through the press,” he said. “We’re having very productive, quiet meetings, very sensible and responsible, and I think we’ll get there, but we still have some things yet to overcome.” Full story