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April 21, 2014

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April 3, 2014

Denham Sees Defense Bill as Vehicle for ENLIST Act Immigration Vote (Updated)

energy presser008 032912 445x304 Denham Sees Defense Bill as Vehicle for ENLIST Act Immigration Vote (Updated)

Denham wants an immigration vote in the HASC. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4 p.m. | Rep. Jeff Denham wants a vote on his bill that would allow illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to gain permanent residence in the United States in exchange for military service — and he’s got a plan in the works.

The California Republican is looking for Democrats and Republicans who are members of the House Armed Services Committee to sign on as co-sponsors of his legislation, known as the ENLIST Act, a House GOP aide familiar with Denham’s efforts told CQ Roll Call.

“We are working to gather co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle,” Denham spokeswoman Jordan Langdon said in a statement.

The panel is set to mark up the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act in the weeks ahead and Denham, who is not himself a HASC member, needs to shore up support among committee members who would be willing to vote on the ENLIST Act if it were offered as an amendment to the underlying bill.

Denham also needs a lawmaker on the committee to introduce the amendment, which shouldn’t be a problem: Of the 42 co-sponsors of the ENLIST Act, 11 of them are HASC members, including the chairman, Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.

McKeon, however, has not yet committed to supporting efforts to place the amendment into the bill, either in advance of or during the course of the markup, a Republican committee aide told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.

The aide noted that any member of the panel is free to offer an amendment during the full committee markup so long as the language was “solely the jurisdiction” of the Armed Services Committee. Denham’s bill has only been referred to one committee, Armed Services, and would only change U.S. military code, not immigration law — which falls under the purview of the Judiciary Committee.

Full story

January 15, 2014

Blue Dogs Add Four Members

The embattled House Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats has added four members, its co-chairmen announced Wednesday.

Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber, both of Arizona, along with Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia joined the group, bringing its ranks to 19 members, according to a release from the group, up from its lowest-ever level of just 15 members.

The once-powerful group has seen its influence on Capitol Hill wane along with its ranks in recent years. Peaking at 54 members in the 111th Congress, its ranks of moderate and conservative Democrats were decimated by Republicans in 2010. Full story

January 13, 2014

With George Miller’s Retirement, Pelosi Will Lose Her ‘Consigliere’

pelosi011314 445x296 With George Millers Retirement, Pelosi Will Lose Her Consigliere

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senior House Democrat George Miller announced on Monday that he would retire at the end of this Congress, unearthing a flurry of questions over what it might mean for the party ahead of the November elections. Are more retirements imminent? Is Congress’ liberal presence in peril?

Sources close to the nerve center of the House Democratic Caucus caution against rampant speculation, but they do acknowledge there’s one person who stands to lose the most from the 20-term lawmaker’s departure: his fellow Californian, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Over their years serving together in the House, Miller has been one of Pelosi’s very closest allies. He has remained an adviser and a confidant, even as Pelosi surpassed him in the leadership ranks and shattered the glass ceiling as the first female speaker.

In 2010, as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Miller helped pass Pelosi’s legacy bill, the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, Miller continues to hold an honorary leadership position despite lacking a formal title within the power structure.

In Miller, Pelosi is losing one of her best vote-counters, said one Democratic chief of staff. She’s also, in the words of one senior Democratic aide, losing her “consigliere.”

“He’s something greater than an ally,” the aide said. “He’s her conscience. … He can make or break a decision for her. She listens to him.”

Another senior Democratic aide likened Pelosi’s relationship with Miller to the one she had with Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., who died in office in February 2010.

“I definitely think, with Murtha and Miller being gone, she’s lost both of her heavies,” said that aide.

This aide added that Pelosi needs her progressive lieutenants with institutional knowledge more than ever, now, as she seeks to lead a large freshman class of moderate members who aren’t always amenable to voting the party line. “She’s definitely weaker,” he said.

When Miller leaves at the end of the year, Pelosi will need to look elsewhere for members who can help fill the void, and sources say she has already started to elevate more junior members into positions of power.

Perhaps in a sign that she anticipated Miller’s impending retirement, Pelosi in December 2012 installed Rep. Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey as a co-chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, a post that had been held by Miller for a decade.

Pelosi has also embraced Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, as a de facto member of her leadership team.

But neither lawmaker — nor any of the others with whom Pelosi is close, professionally and personally, like Steering and Policy Co-Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — might be able to really take Miller’s place.

“They don’t necessarily have the gravitas among members to play that role,” said a senior Democratic staffer. “Miller is Pelosi’s stick: Keep folks in line. I’m not sure either [Van Hollen] or Andrews could play that role.”

Aides close to Pelosi say that, at the end of the day, the House’s top Democrat is resilient, with no plans to step down or step aside later this year or anytime in the immediate future.

And as for the impact Miller’s departure will have on her day-to-day operations?

“It’s a personal loss,” said a Democratic leadership aide, “and that’s the extent of it.”

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

January 10, 2014

House Passes First Anti-Obamacare Bill of 2014

More Democrats defected on the House’s first anti-Obamacare bill of 2014 than on any other Obamacare-related vote to date, a blow to party unity and leadership’s advice that rank-and-file members stand strong against GOP “gotcha” bills.

The legislation, which would require victims of security breaches through the HealthCare.gov insurance exchanges to be notified within two days, passed 291-122. Sixty-seven Democrats joined Republicans to vote for the bill.

Democratic leaders were expecting defections from the rank and file, particularly from more moderate and vulnerable incumbents. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether they were expecting fractures of this magnitude. Even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Steve Israel, D-N.Y., voted for the bill. Democratic leaders had encouraged a “no” vote. Full story

January 9, 2014

New Year, Old Headaches for Democrats on Obamacare Bills

waxman010914 445x286 New Year, Old Headaches for Democrats on Obamacare Bills

At a closed-door caucus meeting, Waxman urged his Democratic colleagues to vote against the bills coming to the floor Friday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Democratic leaders, busy with a public relations blitz over Republicans’ refusal to extend expired unemployment insurance, aren’t terribly preoccupied with the pair of Republican bills coming on the floor Friday to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

They aren’t whipping colleagues against the measures, nor are they spending time running interference among the moderate members who might want to vote “yes” to score political points back home.

“There is a long list of critical items the House should take action on … rather than wasting time on unnecessary bills,” shrugged a senior Democratic leadership aide.

Democrats might be able to ignore the bills this time around, but they are up for 11 months of intermittent headaches over the same issues: House Republicans say they have no plans to let up their attack on Obamacare anytime soon, and Democrats should be prepared to confront many uncomfortable votes on the law between now and the midterm elections.

“Holding Democrats accountable for their support for this awful program is part of our responsibility,” said an aide with House Republican leadership. Full story

December 30, 2013

The House Year in Review

This year, doing the business of the People’s House was, at best, a struggle. It’s well-known that 2013 was, legislatively, the least productive session in congressional history. Leaders strained to get to 218 — a majority in the 435-seat House (in case you had no idea where the blog name came from). And there were some pretty notable news stories as a result of all this congressional dysfunction.

But as painful as the year was for members, covering the House was a pleasure, one which we here at 218 only had the honor of doing for about half the year.

In that short time, 218 — or “Goppers,” as we were formerly known, which rhymes with “Whoppers,” for all you still wondering about that — had more than a few favorite stories.

Among the labors of love, there was a piece about the 10 Republicans who could one day be speaker, a story on an internal August playbook that went out to House Republicans telling them to profess how they were fighting Washington, and a piece (in response to his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment) asking the question: How do you solve a problem like Steve King? Full story

December 10, 2013

Moderates Pen Bipartisan Budget Letter Urging Deal

Moderate Democrats and Republicans who banded together to seek bipartisan solutions to end the government shutdown appear to still be talking to each other, and they want the chief budget negotiators to know.

Three Blue Dog Democrats and three Republicans from the centrist Tuesday Group have co-signed a letter to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., with a simple message: They’re ready to work together, across the aisle, to find solutions to pressing political problems. Full story

By Emma Dumain Posted at 10:07 a.m.
Moderates

November 15, 2013

House Passes Upton’s ‘If You Like It’ Obamacare Fix

cantor111513 445x294 House Passes Uptons If You Like It Obamacare Fix

A Republican proposal by Upton, second from right, to allow insurers to keep offering old insurance plans for another year passed the House on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House easily passed Republican legislation on Friday allowing insurers to keep offering old insurance plans for another year in response to President Barack Obama’s broken “if you like it, you can keep it” promise.

The bill passed 261-157 with all but four Republicans joined by 39 Democrats backing the bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. Those Democrats defected despite strong opposition from their party leadership and President Barack Obama, who, hours after the White House announced an administrative fix Thursday, vowed he would veto the Upton bill. Full story

November 13, 2013

House Democrats’ Frustration With Obamacare Rollout Reaches Fever Pitch

House Democrats emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning worn thin from arguing with White House officials over the bumpy rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

One source in the room described Democratic lawmakers from across the political spectrum — from moderates in vulnerable districts to progressives in safe seats — as frustrated with the administration in equal measure.

They pushed David Simas, the White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, to account for the glitches on the enrollment website and for President Barack Obama’s unfulfilled promise to Americans that if they liked their health insurance policies, they could keep them, regardless of what changes would be ushered in by the new health care law.

“I think in diplomatic terms we had a frank discussion,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said. “I think there was a lot of frustration and in some cases anger vented towards the White House for their continued ham-fisted approach. It’s not just their credibility that’s on the line, but it’s our credibility.”

“Why can’t we call people who know how to do these things, who do it for corporate America, and say, ‘We have a website, fix it,’” said Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y. “Maybe I’m being simplistic, but can’t we call Bill Gates up and say, ‘Take care of this?’ Or go to a college dorm and say, ‘You guys, you invented Yahoo, can you take care of this?’ Full story

November 11, 2013

Democrats Face Dilemma on the Upton Obamacare Bill

President Barack Obama’s “if you like it, you can keep it” promise has House Democrats facing a dilemma as they look ahead to a vote on Republican legislation to preserve existing health plans.

“There will be defections,” a House Democratic leadership aide predicted.

The bill, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., would give insurance companies the option of continuing all existing health plans for a year. It’s considerably weaker than a proposal by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., that would require insurance companies to continue offering existing plans, but the political power of the legislation may be no less potent: Are you in favor of keeping the president’s promise or not?

The problem for the White House, and House Democrats, is this: Keeping those old plans undermines the new insurance exchanges and reforms at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. They’d much rather have people enter the new exchanges and see them take advantage of the options for comprehensive benefits with the law’s other attributes — such as no more penalties for pre-existing conditions and no more gender discrimination — intact. That has presented two additional problems: The website woes have made signing up difficult for many, and others, particularly those making too much money to qualify for subsidies, are seeing higher premiums than they had under their old plans.

In a House Democratic Caucus conference call at the end of last week, leaders, unsurprisingly, said that they would urge a “no” vote on Upton’s bill.

Though the vast majority of Democrats will likely side with leadership, a sizable contingent of vulnerable caucus members — mostly freshmen — are expected to side with Republicans in bids to win over their more moderate-minded constituents ahead of the 2014 elections.

It’s a challenge to Democratic leaders who pride themselves on maintaining party unity — in stark contrast to GOP leaders who regularly struggle to corral their rank and file — and who hail passage of the health care law as their premier legislative accomplishment.

Both factors were weighing on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when legislation came to the floor this summer to delay implementation of the individual mandate by one year. Pelosi lobbied members hard to oppose the bill, even as targeted lawmakers argued that their re-election chances hinged in part on that vote.

In the end, 22 Democrats voted “yes,” a number one senior House Democratic aide said would probably have been higher without Pelosi’s work.

That same aide told CQ Roll Call that a similar scenario could play out this week, and it could be even more of a challenge for Pelosi. Millions have received cancellation notices from insurance companies, despite the president’s promise that they could keep their health plans if they like them, “period” — leading to a rare presidential apology and turbocharging political pressure for a fix in both parties.

“The president has apologized, but that apology will be hollow unless Washington Democrats work with us to actually stop this train-wreck,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “If they do not, the American people will certainly take notice.”

In conversations with CQ Roll Call, many House Democratic aides said that it was crucial to allow “front-liners” to do whatever it takes to keep their seats in the next Congress and not be bullied into upholding the party’s ideological purity.

One staffer for a senior House Democrat suggested the party should rethink broader Obamacare strategy and back some changes to the law.

Democrats, he wrote in an email, have “bitten the reins and been the work horse for this administration time and time again. We’ve defended health reform to the hilt with the promise that once it went into effect, the pain would have been well worth the struggle.

“It may be time to rally around some adjustments to the law,” he continued. “If the president can’t or won’t aggressively confront the insurance industry for exploiting this loophole, we’ve got to be proactive going into ’14.”

But a House Democratic leadership aide countered that the need for party loyalty, and a unified commitment to defending the health law, couldn’t be overstated. While some House Democrats might feel it “safe” to vote for the Upton bill because they don’t see it going anywhere in the Senate, a few Senate Democrats like Landrieu are starting to rally behind similar legislation.

“Members are going to have to realize that, to some extent, you can cause problems in the Senate if there is considerable House Democratic support on some of these things,” said the aide of the adverse effect those Upton “yes” votes could have if they provide leverage to Senate Democrats.

Of course, with the bill not scheduled to come to the House floor until the end of the week, a lot could change. The current legislative text could fall prey to conservative amendments, vaporizing Democratic support. The White House, which is exploring an “administrative fix” to address the dilemma, could unveil a plan that satisfies Democrats and, in their estimation, renders Upton’s bill irrelevant.

In the meantime, front-line Democrats are staying mum on their stances: None of the offices of the 22 Democrats who voted for the individual mandate delay would tell CQ Roll Call how the lawmakers planned to vote come Friday.

Correction 10: 46 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misstated the way 22 Democrats voted on legislation this summer to delay implementation of the individual mandate by one year. They voted “yes.”

Club for Growth and Heritage Action Back Upton Obamacare Bill

ObamaCare Hearing 24 102413 445x268 Club for Growth and Heritage Action Back Upton Obamacare Bill

Upton is sponsoring a bill aimed at letting people keep insurance plans that don’t conform to the Obamacare law. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America have been sticklers for purity when it comes to Obamacare. Republican lawmakers, the conservative advocacy groups argue, should focus on repealing the entire 2010 health care law, not dismantling bits and pieces or making changes that inadvertently make the law better.

But both groups are fans of legislation that will come before the House this Friday that is intended to let Americans keep their existing health insurance plans, rather than have insurance companies cancel them if they don’t comport with the new standards of the health care law.

“We support the bill,” Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said in an email to CQ Roll Call late last week.

“Generally, we appreciate efforts to focus much-deserved attention on Obamacare, which is increasing premiums, reducing work hours and causing folks to lose their insurance,” Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, added in a separate email. “Heritage Action’s focus will continue to be on stopping the implementation of this unworkable, unaffordable, unfair law.” Full story

November 6, 2013

House to Take Up Obamacare Fix Bill Next Week

Energized by the woes of the early days of Obamacare implementation, House Republicans will return to Capitol Hill next week to pass another bill chipping away at what they consider a failing law.

On Wednesday afternoon, midway through the chamber’s recess week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., took to Twitter to announce leadership’s plans to bring up the “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013.” Full story

November 5, 2013

Paul Ryan Signals Conditional Support for ENDA

Ryan041213 330x225 Paul Ryan Signals Conditional Support for ENDA

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Paul D. Ryan may be open to voting for legislation that would protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace, CQ Roll Call has learned.

Conditional support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act from the influential Wisconsin Republican, who is also the Budget chairman and was the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, would be significant as the legislation moves through the Senate this week, then faces an uncertain future in the House.

“Congressman Ryan does not believe someone should be fired because of their sexual orientation,” said a Ryan spokesman in an email to CQ Roll Call. “That said, any legislation to address this concern should be narrowly crafted to guard against unintended consequence.”

The spokesman did not elaborate on what the “unintended consequence” might be. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled Monday through his own spokesman that he opposes ENDA because it could be a job killer.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

Ryan may be reticent to support the legislation currently pending in the Senate that would bar workplace discrimination based on gender identity. He was one of 35 House Republicans who voted for a more narrow version of ENDA that passed through the Democrat-controlled chamber in 2007, which didn’t build in protections for the transgendered community.

In 2010, when the House was poised to take up the legislation again, the new language made him pause.

“It makes it something you can’t vote for,” Ryan said at the time. “I think ENDA’s the right thing to do,” but the transgender provision “changes the equation.”

Of the 35 lawmakers who voted for the 2007 bill, 12 remain in the House and, in addition to Ryan, two are now members of leadership: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice C. Miller of Michigan.

Only two of those 12 members have signed onto the House’s ENDA bill: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Moderate GOP members newer to the House — Jon Runyan of New Jersey and Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna of New York — round out the list of the only Republican co-sponsors.

November 4, 2013

Boehner Under Bipartisan Pressure to Bring Up ENDA

boehner110413 445x302 Boehner Under Bipartisan Pressure to Bring Up ENDA

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

“Speaker Boehner, don’t stand on the wrong side of history” may be the the subject line of a House Democratic press release on gay rights legislation, but it’s also a message coming from some members of Speaker John A. Boehner’s own party.

“We ought to take this vote with nothing to fear,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told CQ Roll Call on Monday afternoon. “The Republican Party has to understand where the country is moving on this issue, particularly younger voters who feel that we have to have a more libertarian view on this issue.”

“It isn’t right to be fired just because you are gay,” added Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., in an e-mailed statement. “I am hopeful that my colleagues in the House will … do their part to ensure equality for all.” Full story

October 16, 2013

House Republicans: ‘We Lost’

boehner 224 101613 326x240 House Republicans: We Lost

Despite defeat, Republican rank and file largely support Boehner. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans emerged from an all-hands meeting Wednesday afternoon waving the white flag.

After a two-and-a-half-week government shutdown and on the brink of the deadline to raise the debt ceiling, the GOP rank and file said leadership was prepared to bring up the Senate-crafted compromise bill that largely skimps on the Obamacare concessions for which they fought.

The mood was somber in the basement of the Capitol as lawmakers trickled out of the conference room, readily sharing with reporters their sense of resignation. Even if Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, loses votes from the majority of his majority on the Senate deal, nearly all House Democrats are expected to vote in favor, which would ensure the package’s victory.

Some of the starkest pronouncements of defeat came from committee chairmen.

“It’s better to win than it is to lose,” said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan. “We lost.” Full story

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