Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
May 27, 2015

May 27, 2015

Notes From the Battlefield in the Patent War | Commentary

By Austin Meyer

Some years ago, living in a cheap apartment near the airport in Columbia, S.C., I wrote X-Plane, a flight-simulator program that has been the top-selling simulation training program in the world, enabling countless pilots to learn to fly more safely on a computer, thus enabling safer flight.

It’s not just for professional pilots, however. X-plane has provided millions of hours of enjoyment for hundreds of thousands of customers around the world, and provided millions of dollars per year in taxable revenue to the state of South Carolina. All this from an invention that I created by turning my idea into a marketable product and selling it to those who wanted it.

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May 22, 2015

On Trade, Step 1 Comes First | Guest Observer

By Christopher A. Padilla

Many nights at the dinner table, my kids ask for ice cream. Every time my reply is the same: finish your dinner first. While this answer is rarely popular, it is now understood that eating dinner is the prerequisite for dessert.

This family ritual comes to mind when some members of Congress tell me they support the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, but oppose Trade Promotion Authority “for this president.” That is a bit like asking for the Creamsicle before finishing the peas and carrots — there simply will not be a TPP without Congress first passing TPA.

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Protecting Foster Youth Must Be a Priority All Year Long | Commentary

By Rep. Diane Black

Here is a statement members of both political parties in Washington can agree on: Nothing is more important to a child’s upbringing and long term success than a loving, stable home.

Unfortunately, too many children in my home state of Tennessee and across the country are lacking this basic human need. This May marks National Foster Care Month and is an important opportunity to open a dialogue about the need to reform our foster care system and protect the more than 400,000 children in its care.

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Time to Update Universal Service for Rural Telecoms

By Shirley Bloomfield

As times change, it’s important that rules governing technology keep pace. While existing laws may contain timeless principles, if the regulations governing those principles do not evolve over time, they may begin to hinder progress.

When it comes to providing access to high-quality telecommunications services to rural Americans, inaction in Washington has done just that: regulations written for the telephone era are governing a rapidly-evolving tech sector. And it’s time for a change.

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May 21, 2015

Regulatory Oversight of Online Gaming in the States Is Working | Letter to the Editor

By Anna Sainsbury

I was struck by the assumption in Lyle Beckwith’s commentary (“States’ Rights and Internet Gambling,” Roll Call, May 7, 2015) that there is no regulatory oversight on geolocation for online gambling in the U.S. today, and no way to secure geolocation compliance against well-known spoofing, tampering and fraud tools. In fact, the opposite is true and already many states have stepped up to successfully embrace new technology to address these problems.

I agree, however, with some of Beckwith’s points. First, it is easy to fake your location online and many people are doing it. (Netflix for example has been said to have 50 million users who fake their location to access their content.) In addition, the jurisdictions and states that choose to legalize and regulate online gaming or lottery need to take such risks into account.

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Credit Union Difference Blindsides Bankers | Letter to the Editor

By Jim Nussle

Frank Keating really fumbled his assessment of how credit unions work (After the NFL Decision, It’s Time for Credit Unions to Stop Abusing the Tax Code, Roll Call, May 8) – but it’s par for the course with the bankers. The fact of the matter is Congress provided credit unions a federal tax-exemption because of their not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative structure. This structure allows credit unions to have a real impact on the financial lives of consumers.

The credit union tax status benefits all consumers – credit union members and nonmembers alike – to the tune of $10 billion a year nationally because credit unions are fulfilling their special mission to serve Americans.

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May 20, 2015

Is Social Media Killing the Lobbyist? | Commentary

By Christian Theuer

By traditional measures, lobbying is on the decline in American politics. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending on lobbying has hit a five-year low and the number of registered lobbyists is at its lowest point since 1998, so it seems the art of influence is waning, right? Not quite. As long as there are vested interests in American politics, there will always be organized efforts to shift the political landscape. So where have all the influence-peddlers headed?

Surprisingly, 46 percent of those who dropped out of lobbying in 2012 were still employed by the same company. These lobbyists aren’t necessarily going away, rather the art of lobbying is changing. Congressional regulations on lobbying exempt from disclosure spending on grass-roots mobilization, television and social media campaigns. This gives lobbyists a plethora of ways to thrive in an industry that is only dying on paper.
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May 19, 2015

Biofuels Decision May Signal Big Oil’s Influence in White House | Commentary

By Anne Weismann

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release its new plan for implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The RFS is a federal mandate dictating how many gallons of biofuel should be blended into our transportation fuel supply. It was intended to encourage production of gasoline alternatives, thereby reducing American dependence on foreign oil, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The RFS has been held up for months as a result of political wrangling. When the number finally comes out, the American people might find out just how much influence the oil industry has on the Obama administration.

Last year, it was reported that the Carlyle Group and Delta Airlines, both powerful corporations that own oil refineries, used their significant political influence to lobby the White House for a proposal that would dramatically weaken the RFS for 2014 and beyond. Through their allies in Congress, they pressured Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to convince the administration to reduce the amount of biofuel to be mixed into fuel. The EPA never released the RFS, which was due last September, probably because of all the controversy. Still, a new RFS has to come out sometime.

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May 18, 2015

Congress Should Pass Long-Term Highway Funding Bill | Commentary

By Kevin Burch

Every day, more than 3.2 million professional truck drivers take to the road to meet our nation’s biggest and smallest freight needs. Day in and day out, they consistently deliver the goods we need today and rely on for tomorrow: food on our tables, medicine for our families and supplies for our nation’s military.

The ability to move goods and services through our transportation networks is indeed the lifeblood of our economy. Yet, leaders on Capitol Hill, at the Department of Transportation and in the White House have unfortunately left the trucking industry in a “state of confusion” — again — by failing to pass a long-term highway bill. The Highway Trust Fund’s authorization is expiring on May 31.

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May 15, 2015

Immigrant Bed Quota Ensures Profits, Not Safety | Letter to the Editor

By Lia Lindsey

Prior to Texas GOP Rep. John Culberson’s challenge on the need for an immigrant detention bed quota to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana, others were talking about the policy and its influences, too — but not in the way he would have hoped.

The American Friends Service Committee has been looking closely at the “bed quota” policy, the for-profit prison corporations have advocated for it, and the members of Congress who have accepted money from the industry while active in shaping immigration policy. We’re developing white papers and gearing up for Google hangouts to share information on the subject. Simultaneously human rights advocates met last week to discuss how to stop this immoral, arbitrary and costly policy.
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May 14, 2015

Will GOP Let Clinton Capture Latino Vote? | Pennsylvania Avenue

Immigration reform activists in front of the White House march and chant following President Barack Obama's speech on his executive action on immigration policies last November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Immigration reform activists march and chant following President Barack Obama’s speech on his executive action on immigration policies last November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A plan is circulating on Capitol Hill and among immigrant advocate groups to give Republicans in Congress the chance to get something constructive done this year on the fractious issue — and perhaps undercut Hillary Rodham Clinton’s shrewd (and cynical) effort to lock down the Hispanic vote in 2016.

The plan is the work of Rick Swartz, founder of the National Immigration Forum and longstanding campaigner for left-right policy solutions on environmental, trade, tax and agricultural issues. He’s advocating — not for the first time — that Congress pass a “small bill” solving part of America’s immigration problem, recognizing that comprehensive reform has zero chance of enactment anytime soon.

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Justice for the Soldier or Profits for the Lawyer? | Commentary

By John Brieden

Everyone who has served in the armed services in the last century has faced threats both seen and unseen. For some veterans, a great unseen is asbestos — a toxic fiber dangerous many years after surviving the battlefield. Congress authorized creation of asbestos trust funds in 1994 to protect asbestos victims, including veterans who were exposed on the job while they served.

But accessing the roughly $36 billion in asbestos trust funds tends to require a lawyer. Sadly, this has created a second threat to our veterans: unscrupulous trial lawyers, motivated by their own financial interests.

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May 13, 2015

As Ocean Drilling Expands, Obama Administration Turns Blind Eye to Offshore Fracking | Commentary

By Kristen Monsell

America’s coastal communities got some disturbing news recently when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell pledged to open “vast areas” of the ocean to oil drilling.

Under the shadow of the anniversary of the deadly Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Obama administration is moving quickly to greenlight oil and gas exploration in dangerously unpredictable Arctic waters and off the Atlantic coast, where an oil spill could devastate coastal economies.

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Civil Forfeiture Finds A Champion | Commentary

By Robert Everett Johnson

Opponents of civil forfeiture — myself included — have been waiting for someone to take the other side of the debate. Every year, the federal government uses civil forfeiture to seize more than $1 billion dollars in private property simply by alleging it was somehow involved in a crime. Property owners are forced to engage in protracted legal battles to prove their own innocence and get their property back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been difficult to find anyone willing to defend this controversial and constitutionally suspect practice.

That changed at a recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when civil forfeiture finally found a voice in GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Now we know what a full-throated defense of civil forfeiture sounds like. And that defense is unconvincing.

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May 12, 2015

The Growing Movement Fighting Big Money in Politics | Letter to the Editor

By Larry Cohen and Michael Brune

In Stuart Rothenberg’s recent column, “‘Big Money’ and the 2016 Elections” (Roll Call, April 23, 2015), his inside-the-Beltway perspective blinded him to the fact millions of people across the country are fed up with the current political system, the state of campaign finance and the growing role big money plays in national, state and local elections.

Gallup Polling this year cited government dysfunction as the top issue for Americans. Fully 92 percent of Americans agree it is important for our elected leaders to do something about the influence of money in politics, according to a 2013 MFour and Tulchin Research poll. Those numbers don’t lie — and they are being matched with action in states across the country.

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