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House Republicans have been boasting about their early start to appropriations season, but consideration of the very first spending bill — considered the least controversial of all 12 annual measures — hit a snag Wednesday night.
GOP leaders had intended to hold evening votes on a slew of amendments and on final passage of the fiscal 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, but ultimately opted to postpone that vote series at the very last minute. Full story
House Democrats voted unanimously last year for the appropriations bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and related programs; this year, there could be considerable defections.
Reps. Xavier Becerra of California and Joseph Crowley of New York, the chairman and vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus respectively, told reporters Wednesday morning they would not be complicit in passing the fiscal 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill this week — a bill they contend would ultimately decimate veterans services.
In the second reporters’ briefing of his majority leader career, California Republican Kevin McCarthy offered a strong defense of the House GOP’s record in the first 100 days of the 114th Congress.
Appropriations bills are coming to the floor as early as they have since 1974, he said, with the first two up for consideration this week; and committees are passing bills at a higher rate than in the past three Congresses. Full story
Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t dress like the typical member of Congress — opting for youthful, fashion-forward designs and splashy, bright colors over Capitol Hill’s ubiquitous tailored suits and muted blazers.
She doesn’t act like the typical Democrat, either. Sinema’s unafraid to criticize the president, voted to repeal portions of the party’s precious health care law and even fraternizes with the enemy: Republicans. Full story
Wednesday was a good day for the Congressional Black Caucus: In just a matter of hours, the powerful group saw Democrats’ seniority system — a tradition that has long protected minority lawmakers from being passed over for leadership positions — prevail not once, but twice.
He’s not a member of the CBC, but Pallone showed that lawmakers had no intention of bowing to pressure from some party leaders, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to disregard the House Democratic Caucus’s deference to the decades-old seniority precedent. Full story
Updated 9:28 a.m. | Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota thought there would be a vote after Thanksgiving on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member race. As it turns out, his face-off against Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida will happen on Wednesday.
It gives Walz less time than he and his allies said they anticipated to build support around his uphill challenge of Brown, who benefits from seniority and the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she is a member.
Before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee can meet to vote on a recommendation to the full House Democratic Caucus, Walz will have to clear an additional hurdle: A vote on whether he is even eligible to hold the post.
Walz is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress and has had a seat at the Veterans’ Affairs Committee table since 2007. He is, however, on the committee via waiver, and his opponents say it doesn’t qualify him to run against Brown, who after nearly two decades on the committee is next in line to succeed the current retiring ranking member, Michael H. Michaud of Maine. Full story
Rep. Tim Walz will seek the ranking member seat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, setting up a potentially ugly fight when House Democrats are still reeling from Election Day losses.
At first blush, Walz is an ideal candidate. The Minnesota Democrat is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Though he’s technically the least senior member on the committee — he gets a waiver to sit at the bottom of the roster so he can continue serving on two other panels — he’s actually the third longest-serving member there. He’s more moderate than others in his party and veterans’ services organizations think he can work well across the aisle if need be, a Democratic aide said.
A source familiar with Walz’s thinking told CQ Roll Call he has informed leadership of his intention to run and, if elected by his peers, would gladly give up one of his current committee assignments — most likely Transportation and Infrastructure.
But Walz’s real obstacle is that he’s going up against Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., who is the next in line for the job with current ranking member Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, retiring at the end of the year. Full story
Almost every House member is on the stump this month, wrapping up re-election bids, with most cruising to new terms and a handful on both sides of the aisle scrambling to hang on to their jobs. But for a select few GOP lawmakers — those actively seeking committee chairmanships — the final days before Nov. 4 are as much about lining up support among colleagues as they are about connecting with voters.
Every two years, after the Election Day dust settles, members return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session that includes the selection of colleagues to serve as senior lawmakers on the chamber’s standing committees during the new Congress.
Republicans, widely expected to retain the majority this cycle, will be particularly busy during the lame duck, scheduled to begin Nov. 12, when it comes to doling out committee leadership appointments. Thanks to retirements, possible assignment shuffles and a 20-year rule capping panel leadership at three terms, as many as 11 out of 21 committees could see new chairmen in the 114th Congress.
A twelfth committee could even be at play, if term-limited Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma decides to challenge Jeb Hensarling’s grip on the Financial Services gavel, as he recently suggested he might.
For the decidedly open chairmanships, some lawmakers are expected to win their desired posting without competition, while others will be facing off against their peers. All of the slots are filled by a secret ballot vote of members on the Republican Steering Committee, comprised of party leaders, top-tier panel chairmen and regional representatives.
Here’s a rundown of 11 committee gavels that are up for grabs, and which members stand to snag them. Full story
California Republican Darrell Issa has a well-deserved reputation for finding ways to bring the issue of the moment into his committee’s jurisdiction.
President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ebola crisis is no exception.
On Friday afternoon, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman announced he would convene a full panel hearing in seven days, on Oct. 24, titled, “The Ebola Crisis: Coordination of a Multi-Agency Response.” Full story
As President Barack Obama addressed the American Legion Wednesday and stressed the importance of regaining veterans’ trust after the Veterans Affairs health care crisis, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shane Scherer was in the middle of his second week as a congressional staffer.
“I wanted to continue doing my duty for the public, so this is an opportunity to jump back in that role in a different setting,” Scherer told CQ Roll Call in a Wednesday phone interview.
The retired sergeant is part of the Wounded Warrior Program, which awards two-year fellowships in House offices to disabled veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
According to Patricia Orsini, the director of the Wounded Warrior Program, a total of 135 veterans have participated in the program since it began in 2008. There are currently 40 Wounded Warrior fellows in the House.
“We just target disabled veterans who want to get hired and have an opportunity to really make a difference,” Orsini said Wednesday. She added that many fellows go on to become permanent staffers in Congress or at the VA. “It really opens doors, especially for those who want to stay in the advocacy field,” she said.
Scherer said that he was enjoying his experience working for Roskam so far, particularly “the opportunity to help people once again.”
Scherer was deployed in Afghanistan from July 2008 to May 2009. Eleven days before he was scheduled to return home, Scherer suffered life-threatening injuries during an attack on his base. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and spent months recovering and re-learning basic functions, such as walking and talking. Today he does not have any feeling in his left foot and hand.
“His remarkable recovery is a testament to his strength, resilience, and unparalleled determination to help the country he nearly lost his life defending,” Roskman said in a statement announcing Scherer’s hire.
According to Roskam, Scherer “will be responsible for helping our local veterans receive the care and attention they deserve.”
Scherer said his personal experience receiving care at a VA hospital will be beneficial in his new role, which will involve helping fellow veterans navigate the VA and other federal agencies.
“I understand the ins and outs in what it’s like to be involved in all levels of care in the VA,” said Scherer. “I relate and can connect on a very personal level, having the same experience.”
Updated 5:04 p.m. | The House voted overwhelmingly to pass the compromise health care overhaul aimed at slashing wait times at Veterans Affairs facilities. The bill is expected to easily pass the Senate and head to President Barack Obama’s desk before Congress leaves for the August recess.
The bill — crafted by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. — proved so popular that leaders brought it to the floor under suspension of the rules, an expedited floor procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. It passed 420-5, despite the conservative group Heritage Action for America announcing it would key vote against its package on its annual scorecard.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, cheered the rare bipartisan achievement:
“Allowing the lives of our nation’s veterans to slip through the cracks of a broken bureaucracy is not just unacceptable, it’s immoral,” he said in a statement. “Making sure veterans have timely access to care is one of the first things we must do to address the crisis at the VA. We also need real accountability, and making it easier to fire or demote the senior managers who are not doing their jobs is a positive step forward. But, this agreement is just the beginning. Much more work needs to be done to fix the widespread problems at the VA, and it’s going to require the president to outline a long-term plan.”
The easy passage marked a major turnaround from late last week, when talks stalled.
Updated 3:21 p.m. | House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., took issue with charges from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that Miller was seeking to ram through a GOP plan to reduce wait times for medical care at the Veterans Administration.
Miller rebutted the allegation after a Thursday meeting of negotiators tasked with drafting a compromise proposal, which was boycotted by all Democrats except Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona. He plans to hold another meeting Monday.
“I heard all kinds of rhetoric thrown around on the [Senate] floor today that this was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, not true; that we had not been negotiating in good faith, certainly not true. Sen. Sanders knows that,” Miller said. “All we wanted to do today was to come together in public, make the offer and leave, and that is what we just did. That is all that would have happened had the Democrats just come.”
With time running out before the August recess, Speaker John A. Boehner still wants deals for a border supplemental and to address the VA health care crisis, but put the onus on the Democrats and the White House to move in the GOP’s direction.
Boehner said Republicans were still talking with their colleagues about a supplemental spending package to address the flood of children crossing the border, and he said those conversations would continue in the days leading up to the August recess.
“But understand: It’s time for the White House to get their act together,” the Ohio Republican said. “They want to change the ’08 law and address the underlying problem here, or don’t they?” Full story
As the Veterans Affairs scandal expands and unfolds across the country, lawmakers are taking matters into their own hands back home to draw more local attention to problems at VA medical facilities.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp wasn’t satisfied with the answers he was getting from a VA hospital in Wichita, Kan., so the Republican lawmaker planned an ambush, bringing along a local television crew. The result was an acknowledgment of long waiting lists and deeper concerns about veterans’ health care.
The recess move followed Capitol Hill complaints about the unraveling scandal at a VA hospital in Phoenix, as well as reports that nine veterans may have been placed on an unofficial waiting list for health care at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Huelskamp’s Kansas district.
The top four House Republicans sent President Barack Obama a letter on Wednesday morning, making requests and seeking solutions in the aftermath of the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Speaker John A. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers wrote that, less than a week after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, Obama must now make short- and long-term plans to address the systemic failures that led to the patient backlogs at veterans’ hospitals around the country.
In doing so, they formalized in writing many of the complaints they have already been making regarding the Obama administration’s handling of veterans’ issues and continued to put pressure on the president as the midterm elections approach. Full story