Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 5, 2015

September 4, 2015

Back the JCPOA, but Strengthen Deterrence Against Iran | Commentary

By Howard Berman

I have been carefully reviewing and considering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action over the past six weeks. It is not the document that I envisioned when, as a member of Congress, I was a principal co-sponsor of the very first Iran sanctions law to pass Congress in 1996, nor when, as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010, I authored the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which imposed financial sanctions that are widely credited with being one of the primary reasons Iran finally agreed to negotiate seriously.

This agreement falls short in a number of ways: It is time-limited rather than permanent, and it allows Iran to continue its nuclear-fuel-production program, although not for weapons-production. On the other hand, it requires Iran to reduce its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent to less than one bomb’s worth. And, thanks to a highly intrusive inspection system, it virtually guarantees there will be no Iranian bomb for the next 15 years and for several years beyond that. Moreover, it commits Iran to a pledge never to pursue nuclear arms — a pledge that, if violated and detected, would surely form the basis for use of force to bring Iran into line.

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A Needed Step Toward Fair Pay and Workplace Safety | Commentary

By Sen. Patty Murray

Rodney Bridgett’s wife buried her husband on their 14th wedding anniversary. After five months at his new job at a plant in northeast Nebraska, Rodney was standing beneath a piece of equipment just as the safety chain that held it up suddenly snapped, and crushed him.

Federal investigators found that his employer — a company that receives big federal contracts every year — had failed to inspect the chain and other gear at the plant, putting the company’s workers, like Rodney, directly in harm’s way.

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The Looming Budget Showdown on Capitol Hill | Commentary

By Laicie Heeley

When lawmakers return to Congress in September, they’ll face a series of pressing budgetary decisions in need of immediate attention, and a packed agenda likely to draw their attention away. Republican leaders have already conceded the likelihood of a stop-gap funding bill, or continuing resolution, when the end of the fiscal year arrives on September 30. But the latest reports have lawmakers mulling the possibility of a yearlong Continuing Resolution for every part of the federal budget, including defense. CRs have become commonplace, especially in the past few years, but a year-long CR has little precedent. Unfortunately, it could be the path of least resistance for Congress, especially in an election year, leaving the Pentagon to pick up the pieces of Congress’ refusal to adhere to one of its most basic responsibilities: setting the budget.

The issue at hand is the 2011 Budget Control Act caps. In short, the caps place limits on defense and domestic spending during the years fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2021. If congressional appropriations exceed those spending caps, the Office of Management and Budget is required to make automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts. But this year, the president sent Congress a budget request that would break those caps for defense by $38 billion, paying for the adjustment through changes in tax laws and mandatory or entitlement programs. Since the Republican Congress could not agree on raising the caps, or raising taxes, they dodged the issue by adding the $38 billion to defense spending that isn’t subject to the caps — the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. The Republican budgetary tactic has been critiqued as “budget gimmickry” and a “slush fund,” adding money to what is supposed to be a war-related account for things that have nothing to do with America’s current combat deployments.

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September 3, 2015

How the Criminal Justice System Hurts Young Americans | Commentary

By Jordan Richardson and Molly Gill

While college kids across the country head back to campus this fall, a disturbingly large segment of our young people will be stuck in institutions that are far less productive or educational: prisons.

This must change. Fortunately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is doing something about it. U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Robert C. Scott, D-Va., recently introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act. It’s a step in the right direction toward reducing our federal prison population and helping young people improve their lives. Now it’s up to Congress to get it to a vote.

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September 2, 2015

State Efforts to Reform Secretive Pharmacy Benefit Manager Pricing Policies Gain National Momentum | Commentary

By Alan G. Rosenbloom

Americans today rightly demand more transparency in their governmental, financial and educational institutions. It is the foundation upon which to assess accountability, performance and trust. The same must hold true for our complex, sprawling health care system, which continues to struggle under a jumble of bureaucratic inertia, antiquated payment systems and opaque pricing structures for both medical services and prescription drug medications.

To that end, the Senior Care Pharmacy Coalition — a coalition dedicated to representing the exclusive legislative and regulatory interests of independent Long Term Care pharmacies and the vulnerable patients they serve — hopes to work with Congress on reforms that both increase transparency in drug pricing practices and ensure protection against Medicare Part D pricing policies that hinder LTC pharmacies’ ability to delivery quality pharmaceutical care and services to American seniors.

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On Capitol Hill, It’s Business as Usual for Investor Visas | Commentary

By Kenric Ward 

Set to expire by year end, the EB-5 immigration program is up for renewal on Capitol Hill. Can Americans expect the biggest supporters of controversial investor visas to bring them under control?

There are ample reasons to scrap the pay-for-play system that has been exposed by numerous government investigations. Threats to national security and tawdry examples of political influence are well documented. Most recently, the Government Accountability Office reported immigration authorities even failed to interview foreign nationals or identify funding sources.

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September 1, 2015

Voluntary Conservation Works Across Party Lines | Commentary

By Bruce Knight and Dave White

In a season where Republicans and Democrats find themselves on opposing sides of almost every issue, there’s something on which we both agree: the value and effectiveness of voluntary conservation programs to improve water quality, protect the soil, and preserve and increase habitat for wildlife. We know helping landowners help the land makes sense for agriculture, and it makes sense for taxpayers too.

One of the issues we both addressed during the time we each served as chief of the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service was the need to enhance and increase habitat for at-risk species. This is a concern that cuts across party lines and political boundaries. And the common sense solutions we implemented work for those on both sides of the fence and demonstrate that those in Washington can understand the needs and interests of those who care for the land.

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Congress Should Act to Preserve Financial Innovation | Commentary

By Brian Knight

What Congress can do to help financial innovation and inclusion is a frequent source of discussion on the Hill, but there is rarely a simple answer. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has provided Congress with one: undo a recent ruling from the court that threatens credit access and innovation for consumers nationwide.

What is the problem? The New York-based Second Circuit, in Madden v. Midland Funding, ruled that while the National Bank Act allowed a federally chartered bank to charge interest under the laws of its home state on loans it makes nationwide (“interest rate export”), non-banks that bought those loans could not continue to collect that interest. Instead, non-banks are generally subject to the limits of the borrower’s state. While on its face the ruling is limited in scope, applying only to the Second Circuit and federally chartered banks, its impact will likely be much broader, possibly freezing the market for promising new means of consumer credit that thousands have been used to refinance high-cost traditional debts, and preventing robust competition in the consumer credit market. While there is a small chance that the Supreme Court will take up the case, in any event there will be months of delay and uncertainty. Far better for Congress to intervene to modernize banking law and protect consumer credit access.

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August 31, 2015

Consumers Deserve Private Flood Insurance Options | Commentary

By Bradley Kading

After years of trying and failing to reform the long-broken National Flood Insurance Program, perhaps the simplest solution is to inject old-fashioned competition into the marketplace. By allowing private insurers to break the government’s flood insurance monopoly, consumers would have something they have not had in some time: choice.

It is no secret the NFIP has long been plagued by serious problems. In recent years, the program has struggled to pay out claims, failed to accurately price risk and improperly mapped flood zones. On top of that, taxpayers are on the hook for the NFIP’s massive $23 billion debt, which continues to balloon with each major flooding event. Despite this, efforts to get flood insurance on track in a way that would benefit consumers and taxpayers have not advanced.

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Fixing School Lunch Inequities | Commentary

By Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is gradually fixing school lunch inequities. But to make sure all children continue to have growing access to healthful school lunches, the Senate must not weaken the legislation when its reauthorization is considered on Sept. 17.

Reversing current provisions that require more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains would reverse new findings such as those from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A recent study the organization conducted found that schools with more racially, ethnically diverse student bodies now have greater access to these foods every day thanks to the act.

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August 28, 2015

In New Orleans, Waiting Out an Unfortunate Anniversary

Linda Nelson hold a picture of her house in New Orleans that was destroyed after hurricane Katrina, at a rally with survivors of the storm, in Upper Senate Park.  The rally was held by ACORN Katrina Survivors Association and democratic senators to bring attention the still looming problem that evacuees face and that they need government help to get back on their feet.  Blanche Barnes, left, also lost her home.

Linda Nelson holds a picture of her house in New Orleans that was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina, at a 2006 rally with survivors of the storm in Upper Senate Park. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

NEW ORLEANS — It’s an incredibly rare 73-degree August morning here. The stately live oaks stand out against a perfectly clear blue sky. The smell of fried seafood greets me as I pass the neighborhood lunch spot, and I hear a trumpeter in the distance practicing scales.

I am blessed to live here.

It feels as if the city should be getting ready for the next seafood or music festival, or some crazy walking parade with outrageous feathered costumers carrying go cups.

Instead, the city is holding its collective breath until all of this Katrina 10th anniversary madness is behind us. Full story

Papal Popularity | Commentary

By Robert Sirico

When Pope Francis visits the United States in September it will be first time Jorge Bergoglio will visit these shores. But on the return flight from Latin America last month, the pope already gave some insight into themes he is likely to address during his visit to Cuba and the U.S.

The pontiff confirmed an observation that a number of commentators have made (myself included) regarding his lack of economic clarity. “I have a great allergy to economic things,” he said, “and I didn’t understand it very well.”

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August 27, 2015

Free Affordable Care Act From Unpopular Taxes | Commentary

By Dan Maffei

Even as the White House touts its success, the Affordable Care Act, dubbed “Obamacare,” remains unpopular. However, many of the most hated provisions – new taxes – are not vital to the law’s purpose, which is to ensure Americans can access affordable health insurance.

These unnecessary provisions include taxes on medical device manufacturers and health insurance premiums, as well as a special tax on so-called “Cadillac” comprehensive health plans. These taxes are all likely to increase costs for patients – precisely the opposite of what the ACA is supposed to do. Unlike the law’s penalty for violating the mandate to obtain insurance, these taxes have no purpose other than to help us say the ACA would reduce future deficits.

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Yes Congress, There Is a Role You Can Play to Protect Breastfeeding | Commentary

By Gina Cicatelli Ciagne

August is a month of family fun, vacations, hot and steamy weather and … breastfeeding awareness! As a former breastfeeding mom and now a breastfeeding educator and advocate, this makes August my favorite month. I get to talk about an issue I’m passionate about and help others understand why we need to support nursing moms and their babies at home, in public, and at work.

Breastfeeding is often thought of as just an act that impacts that mom and baby. While it’s true it’s a great bonding experience between mom and baby, it’s also something that impacts the health of our nation. That means it impacts all of us. Decades of research show that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for moms and babies. However, it seems that there’s still a level of personal discomfort around breastfeeding for many women. This discomfort can prevent them from giving their children a lifetime of health benefits, such as a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention, the benefits for moms. For instance, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and ovarian and breast cancer.

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August 26, 2015

Safeguarding Our Climate Means Safeguarding Our Health | Commentary

By Laura Anderko 

Many heath organizations and health care providers recognize climate change for what it is: a clear and present danger to public health. With the impacts of climate change making themselves felt around the country and around the world, our elected leaders must take action to prevent suffering and promote healthy and safe communities by supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The evidence that climate change is a significant health issue is undeniable. The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, has said climate change poses “an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health,” while U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has warned it will lead to more asthma attacks and more extreme weather events — such as floods and wildfires — that harm our health. In addition, more than 120 major health organizations have named climate change a serious public health issue.

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