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October 25, 2014

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August 20, 2014

Paul Ryan Rules Out Another Government Shutdown

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Ryan, kicking off his book tour in Philadelphia, ruled out another government shutdown. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

PHILADELPHIA — House Republicans won’t shut down the government in September, Heritage Action is “constructive at the end of the day” and a person can write a book without necessarily running for president.

Those were some of the points Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., hit home during an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday afternoon from the ornate Union League Building in downtown Philadelphia.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x3008 240x234 Paul Ryan Rules Out Another Government Shutdown

The House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee was in the city to kick-off a 10-day national tour promoting his new book, which hit the stands Tuesday.

“The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea” is part-memoir, part-sweeping policy proposal, and Ryan will be spending some of the waning days of August recess touting it in Wisconsin, Chicago, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and California.

Full story

June 10, 2014

GOP, White House Tout Opposing Highway Proposals

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The Highway Trust Fund, used for road and transportation projects nationwide, is nearly broke. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With only two months before a crucial fund for highway projects nationwide is tapped, House Republicans and the White House touted dueling plans Tuesday aimed at avoiding a late-July construction shutdown.

Speaker John A. Boehner told Republicans in a private morning meeting that leadership’s plan to raise cash for a temporary $15 billion road fix by eliminating some Saturday mail service may not be ideal, but is the only viable plan that does not raise taxes.

On the other side of the Capitol, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tried to sell the House Democratic Caucus on a larger-scale highway bill President Barack Obama unveiled earlier this year, which would also bolster the Highway Trust Fund.

Foxx told reporters after the meeting that the administration’s policy is the viable one because it also reauthorizes the expiring surface transportation bill.

“We’ve got to get past … the gimmicks in transportation and really get serious about trying to get a long-term strategy going,” Foxx said. Full story

June 9, 2014

House GOP’s Summer Agenda: Bergdahl, Benghazi and Tax Extenders

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Rep. Trey Gowdy heads the House probe into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.
Full story

June 2, 2014

GOP Leaders: Cut Saturday Mail Service to Pay for Roads

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Shuster supports a bill to end Saturday mail delivery to pay for roads. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There were plenty of bipartisan hallelujahs with last month’s House passage of a water resources and infrastructure bill — enough so that Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is now cautiously optimistic about passing a highway bill this summer.

But the GOP leadership’s plan to save the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money before the August recess is likely to be more controversial than the water bill — especially if the plan means no more Saturday mail delivery.

According to a memo circulated among House Republicans in the late-afternoon on Friday, leaders plan to spend the next two months ginning up support for a short-term  highway bill extension that would also spare from bankruptcy the fund that pays for transportation projects around the country.

The suggested pay-for? Eliminating the U.S. Postal Service’s Saturday mail delivery service. Full story

May 21, 2014

Broun, Gingrey Leaving Conservative Hole in House

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Broun, above, and Gingrey didn’t make the Georgia Senate runoff, so they’ll be going home at the end of this session. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The defeat of tea-party-aligned candidates in primaries across the country was a disappointment to conservatives, but perhaps nowhere will the hard-right suffer more from the establishment “Super Tuesday” sweep than in Georgia.

Two conservative House members now know for sure their Capitol Hill careers will expire at the end of this year.

Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey are perhaps two of the most committed conservatives in the House, and — both doctors by trade — two of the staunchest critics of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“It’s going to be a big void to fill. You couldn’t have asked for more from Congressman Broun. He’s been there with conservatives on every single issue,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America. “Gingrey’s been right there too. We’re losing two very, very good members of the House.”

Full story

May 16, 2014

House GOP Touts Water Bill as a Sign of Thriving, Post-Earmark World

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The water bill heading for a final vote is earmark free, after a long process and compromise from Shuster, left and Rahall, among others. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, May 17, 3:31 p.m. | The notion of passing a major infrastructure bill through the House and Senate without earmarks seemed, at first, unthinkable.

After all, it’s a highly dysfunctional Congress, there’s an army of outside conservative groups ready to thwart legislation that doesn’t meet their standards and members from both parties have complained an earmark moratorium is a reason it’s tough to get anything done.

But Speaker John A. Boehner insists things can get done, and he and Rep. Bill Shuster have a bipartisan water bill coming up to prove it. Should they succeed in the next few days, it might pave the way for a highway bill without special projects attached.

The bill is the bipartisan, bicameral conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and the speaker touts it as “a significant policy achievement.”

“Earmarks aren’t coming back on my watch,” the Ohio Republican told CQ Roll Call in a statement. “With the reforms in this agreement, Chairman Shuster has proven that we can do water resources bills without earmarks, and for that he deserves great credit.”

As a first-term chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster would have had an easier time seven years ago, when legislation to fund key water and infrastructure initiatives around the country was last signed into law.

That water bill was historically one of the only pieces of legislation to repeatedly come before Congress composed almost entirely of earmarks, basically constituting a laundry list of line items handpicked by lawmakers to pay for specific projects in their districts.

So Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, got to work early in the 113th Congress. He labored with his committee’s ranking member Nick J. Rahall II, a West Virginia Democrat facing a difficult re-election battle, to build consensus for the billions of dollars worth of water projects. (The final conference report hasn’t been scored, but House aides predicted the cost will be close to the Senate’s bill, which would cost $5.7 billion over five years.)

Shuster also reached out to the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee with WRRDA jurisdiction, Republican Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Democrat Timothy H. Bishop of New York.

Supported by party leadership and staff, Shuster set out to build consensus in uncharted territory. The congressman’s goal, according to GOP committee aides, was to educate everyone who would have a stake in the final bill.

He invited industry groups to Capitol Hill to weigh in, and he traveled across the country to learn what was important outside the Beltway. Shuster also took a hands-on approach to the social media campaign surrounding the effort, even lending his voice to an “explainer” video walking laymen through the ins and outs of reauthorizing water infrastructure projects.

Anticipating pushback from the right over legislation typically criticized for wasteful spending and government overreach, Shuster made sure conservatives were all on board, from Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana to to the usual suspects in the outside advocacy group community.

Heritage Action for America spokesman Dan Holler told CQ Roll Call that Shuster’s gestures went a long way toward his group’s inclination not to score votes on the measure when it first passed the House last fall, which meant there weren’t political consequences for backing it on the floor.

“You pull back and look at what this bill is, it is not something that we would generally be supportive of, [but] they went through a very painstaking process through this, and that really gave them an opportunity to explain what they were doing,” Holler said.

And Republican and Democratic committee staff worked on getting around the whole earmark problem.

In the past, individuals would take their water infrastructure requests to the Army Corps of Engineers — which executes construction and maintenance activities — directly to their representatives on Capitol Hill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, would then fashion new authorization bills based on those requests.

While the practice clearly ran afoul of the earmarking ban, stopping it would mean ceding authority to the executive branch. The Senate’s approach to skirting its own earmark prohibition involved automatically authorizing projects with positive reviews from the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Shuster and other House Republicans didn’t like the idea of handing over project selection powers to the Obama administration — or any future administration — for fear that Congress wouldn’t be able to easily wrest back that power.

For WRRDA, their solution was to create a whole new process wherein local sponsors would take their projects directly to their regional Army Corps of Engineers office for review. Positively reviewed projects would be submitted to Congress as part of annual reports, and lawmakers would get to review those reports before including them in future water bills.

Shuster and company took their pitch to Republican leaders, who gave them the green light to move ahead. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House late last year, with just three dissenting votes. When both chambers finally finished hashing out one combined water bill, the House’s framework prevailed.

Two days after the conference report’s release, Holler told reporters that Heritage Action and the group’s think tank and policy arm, the Heritage Foundation, felt that while the final product was a step in the right direction, its conservative credentials had been diluted by the Democratic-controlled Senate during negotiations.

“We’re not exactly impressed,” Holler said, but he stopped short of suggesting the group would seek to punish lawmakers who vote “yes.” Even if Heritage Action does decide to score votes, the bill is likely to pass, given its wide bipartisan support and the compelling narrative Republicans have created around the bill as one that doesn’t betray the party’s values.

The last WRRDA measures became law in 2007, only after Congress took a rare vote to override President George W. Bush’s veto of the legislation on the grounds that it spent too much — on earmarks. Shuster’s goal? Reauthorizing the law in 2016 and every two years hence.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Bishop said lawmakers felt “a sense of urgency” to get to work because it had been seven years since the last legislation. He dubbed the earmark ban “bad public policy,” but admitted the process worked well this year.

Practically speaking, WRRDA is so unique it’s not likely to give lawmakers a template they can replicate in other comparable bills. It could, however, create precedent going forward in an earmark-free Congress, especially in the case of the highway bill, which needs to be reauthorized this year and probably won’t enjoy as smooth and bipartisan a legislative journey.

The Senate is already generating new ideas on how to retain lawmakers’ supervision of project selection without relying on earmarks, no doubt inspired by provisions in the water bill.

Earlier this month, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Senate’s proposed highway legislation, which would include a new grant program run by the Transportation Department that would spend $400 million annually on projects of regional or national significance.

There is a similar, existing DOT initiative known as TIGER, but the Senate program would be subject to greater congressional oversight: If lawmakers don’t like what they see, they’ll be able to block funding with a joint resolution of disapproval.

The Senate proposal is an attempt to get to the heart of objections to the earmark ban, the argument that it diminishes Congress’ power over purse strings.

On the House side of the Capitol, Shuster has no illusions about the challenges of passing a highway bill, particularly when the matter of funding is still in question. But a Republican Transportation committee staffer called WRRDA a “blueprint” for Shuster going forward.

The chairman expressed similar remarks at an association gathering earlier this year: “I’m really lucky that I had the WRRDA bill first … I learned a tremendous amount on how to put something together.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated the day after it was published to add breaking news about Heritage Action’s stance on the legislation.

March 21, 2014

Cantor Says House Budget Will Conform to ‘Spending Limits’ (Updated)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:44 p.m. |Majority Leader Eric Cantor is telling House Republicans they will produce a budget that adheres to spending limits and balances the budget in ten years.

“We owe it to the American people to demonstrate how we will allocate their tax dollars and balance the budget,” Cantor wrote Friday to House Republicans.

The Virginia Republican noted that President Barack Obama’s budget “blows past” the spending caps previously agreed to for fiscal 2015, but the the House GOP’s budget will conform to the agreed upon “spending limits.”

The pluralization of that last word is key: There are rumors that House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan intends to offer a budget that would adhere to the overall spending limit, but would exceed the defense spending caps, which are unpopular with a number of Republicans. Full story

March 11, 2014

Cantor Scores First GOP Rebranding Win as Pediatric Research Bill Sails Through Senate

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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 30, 2014

GOP Leaders to Obama: Sign Our Bills

CAMBRIDGE, Md. – In a letter to President Barack Obama, House Republican leaders asked him to push four House-passed proposals they say fit the priorities he set out in his State of the Union address, but which are largely panned by Democratic groups and have in some cases drawn veto threats.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, along with his top leadership team, cited Obama’s “year of action” theme to revive four controversial bills on job skills, drilling and pediatric research the House has already passed and they say should move in the Senate.

“Naturally, we don’t agree with all of the proposals you outlined in your speech, but where there is potential for agreement we believe it is critical that we come together to advance the interests of the American people,” they wrote. Full story

January 15, 2014

5 Interesting Tidbits From Conversations With Conservatives (Updated) (Video)

A monthly meeting with the press and conservatives lawmakers has become a must-attend event — and not just for the free Chick-fil-A.

The Conversations with Conservatives event, hosted by the Heritage Foundation, brings a group of the most far-right legislators on Capitol Hill together to discuss a wide range of topics. And while lawmakers were, unexpectedly, a bit more reserved on topics like the omnibus this month, they had plenty to say on other issues.

Here are five interesting tidbits from the discussion: Full story

January 13, 2014

A Few Highlights — Or Lowlights — From the Omnibus

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 7, 2014

Jobless Benefits Split House GOP, Democrats

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Levin gave an impromptu press conference on jobless benefits in the Senate press gallery Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Ways and Means ranking Democrat Sander M. Levin wants an unemployment insurance extension, doesn’t want to pay for it, and wants it now.

With a handful of Senate Republicans voting with Democrats on Tuesday to advance legislation restoring lapsed unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans, Levin called on Speaker John A. Boehner to pass a temporary extension now and work out how to pay for it later.

“There is a present emergency,” Levin said during an impromptu press conference in the Senate press gallery. “This is not something theoretical.”

Levin said he wanted the House to pass the bill currently under consideration in the Senate, which would extend the expired unemployment insurance for three months without an offset, and then work toward a larger, longer-term solution that could include an offset. Full story

Steny Hoyer to Eric Cantor: ‘Talk Is Cheap’

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer slammed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday, ahead of a Cantor speech to the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.

“Talk is cheap,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing of the Virginia Republican. “Performance is what pays off.”

The Maryland Democrat’s remarks came the day before Cantor is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Brookings Institution on school choice as an avenue for solving income inequality in America. They also came on the heels of House passage of the Gabriella Miller Kids First Act, which the chamber’s No. 2 Republican championed and which authorizes funds for pediatric health research.   Full story

December 12, 2013

House Passes Budget Deal

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House passed a budget agreement Thursday night that, though modest, could fundamentally change how Capitol Hill functions for the remainder of the 113th Congress.

Lawmakers voted 332-94 on the deal negotiated by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Breaking the vote down by party, Republicans were split 169-62, while Democrats divided themselves 163-32.

The vote was a difficult one for many members. Full story

December 11, 2013

Democrats Ignore Leaders to Pass Pediatrics Research Bill

House Democrats bucked their leaders Wednesday to join Republicans in voting for a contentious suspension bill that would authorize taking $12.5 million from political conventions and giving it to pediatric medical research.

The House voted 295-103, with 72 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Paul Broun of Georgia) easily clearing the threshold for a two-thirds majority required by suspension bills.

The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, named after a 10-year-old girl who died in October following an 11-month battle with an inoperable brain tumor, was the latest iteration of a proposal that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., unveiled in April.

Democrats and their leadership made it clear this week that their objection was not to pediatrics medical research funding. One Democrat, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, called the bill “a joke,” and said it was “nothing but a guise and a ruse.”

Indeed, a number of Democrats pointed out Tuesday that it was Republicans who had cut billions from the National Institutes of Health and had proposed additional cuts in GOP budgets.

Full story

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