Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 2, 2015

July 1, 2015

Obama’s Long-Awaited Kenya Trip Should Strengthen Economic Security Ties | Commentary

By Robinson Njeru Githae

When President Barack Obama travels to Kenya in July, he won’t only be returning to his father’s homeland. He’ll be visiting one of the most pro-American societies in Africa, an ally against international terrorism and a regional economic hub, with great potential as a trading partner.

When he returns from his long-awaited visit, coinciding with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit from July 24 to 26 in Nairobi, the United States and Kenya should take three steps to strengthen their partnership.

First, both countries should step up their cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. Second, Obama soon should sign the African Growth and Opportunity Act, furthering trade between the U.S. and 41 African countries, including Kenya. Third, the U.S. should allow nonstop flights to and from Kenya, promoting trade and tourism.

This alliance benefits both countries. Kenya is a reliable security partner in strategically critical East Africa, helping to stop the spread of terrorism. Increased trade opens up an expanding market for US exports, thereby supporting American businesses and jobs.

Our friendship dates back before the Republic of Kenya — and Obama — were born. “The Airlift,” a program conceived by the Kenyan nationalist leader Tom Mboya and funded by the U.S., brought promising Kenyan students to this country, preparing some 70 percent of Kenya’s early leaders, including an economist in the Finance Ministry, Barack Obama Sr.

The U.S. was among the first nations to recognize our independence in 1963, and Kenyans are among the most pro-American people in Africa. In a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 69 percent of Kenyans viewed the U.S. positively.

Moreover, Kenya and the U.S. confront a common enemy: international terrorists from al-Qaida and its Somali affiliate, al Shabaab.

Since Kenya is on the frontlines of the fight against terrorism, the U.S. is providing equipment and training for our security forces. Kenya is revamping and retooling those forces while reinforcing our border with Somalia and increasing patrols. With terrorists on the march, the U.S. should continue to support our efforts against violent extremism in East Africa.

Alongside security measures, the best bulwarks against instability are an expanding economy and an inclusive democracy. Kenya was selected as the site for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit because our economy is led by the private sector and oriented toward innovation and growth.

With deposit insurance covering 95 percent of bank accounts and more than half of Kenyans participating in mobile-phone banking, Kenya’s financial sector is an engine of economic growth. Through the social security system, Kenyans can get loans for education, housing and business startups. Encouraging entrepreneurship, the Uwezo Fund offers financing and grants for promising new businesses, with a special focus on women and youth. Kenyan entrepreneurs and foreign investors benefit from Kenya’s growing number of well-educated, English-speaking, tech-savvy workers.

Kenya’s economy is expected to expand 6.5 percent this year, after growing 5.3 percent in 2014 and 5.7 percent in 2013. In order to expand trade with African economies such as Kenya’s, the U.S. Congress has voted to renew AGOA, which has been in effect since 2000 but was slated to expire on September 30. The renewal of AGOA, which has passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins, is headed to the president’s desk for signature, a development that is being cheered across the African continent and especially in Kenya.

Economists estimate that AGOA supports 120,000 jobs in the U.S. and 200,000 in Kenya. For Kenya, AGOA opens opportunities to export horticultural products, species, coffee, tea, fruits and nuts. For the U.S., Kenya offers a growing export market for aircraft (including nine Boeing Dreamliners recently sold to Kenya Airways), machinery, optical and medical instruments, and electronics.

Bilateral trade between Kenya and the U.S. has more than tripled, from $348 million in 2000 to $1.1 billion. But there is still room for expansion. With the Obama administration’s anticipated approval of direct flights from Kenya to the U.S., trade is expected to expand, especially in perishable products such as Kenya’s world-famous flowers. `

Even more importantly than our common interests, Kenya and the U.S. share common values, especially a commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Elected in free and competitive balloting in 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta leads a government that represents every major ethnic and geographic community. Through the decentralization of decision-making and a sweeping anti-corruption campaign, the government is striving to earn the confidence of every citizen.

Ultimately, good governance is the best antidote to extremism, the most effective encouragement of economic growth, and the strongest sign that Kenya and the U.S. are natural allies.

Robinson Njeru Githae is the ambassador of the Republic of Kenya to the United States.

 

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FDA Needs to Provide Guidance on Biosimilars | Commentary

By Louis Tharp

When Congress passed the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act in 2010 as a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it created an approval pathway for biosimilars and interchangeable biologics. The BPCIA also gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to issue guidance related to the approval of biosimilars and interchangeable biological products when it comes to naming, substitution, interchangeability and labeling. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the FDA to finalize guidance five years later.

Biologics are forms of treatment that millions of Americans depend on to treat their chronic diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis, cancer and chronic pain on a daily basis. Derived from living cells, biologics are designed to target diseases directly, not just their symptoms. The BPCIA allows for highly similar alternatives, called biosimilars and interchangeable biologics to enter the market.

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June 30, 2015

House Hearing Pushes for New Era in U.S.-Hungary Relations | Commentary

By Réka Szemerkényi

A significant new push for redirecting United States-Hungary relations took place in a Rayburn House Office Building hearing room this spring. Members of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats appraised the U.S.-Hungary relationship with a clear-headed recognition that the two countries are strategic and economic allies — and remain dedicated to the fundamental values of democracy and freedom.

As Hungary’s new ambassador to the United States, it is my fondest wish that this mutual respect will spawn further growth in our centuries-old friendship. Like any representative democracy, Hungary faces challenges. But we have remained steadfast in our initial commitment to step out of the ruins of the communist past and to create a free country where citizens can enjoy the freedom they lacked for so long under communist rule.

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Does Congress Believe In Deceiving Americans or Invading Their Privacy? | Commentary

By Paul Bland

An alarming bill from Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia is now making its way through Congress, and it is imperative that lawmakers who care about and champion consumers’ rights take quick action to ensure it never becomes law.

The congressman has misleadingly titled his legislation the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” In fact, it is anything but.

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June 29, 2015

Wireless Broadband Spectrum and the Slow Creep of Big Government | Commentary

By Ben Quayle

When Americans elect a new president next year, I hope we’ll select someone who favors free markets and consumer choice. These are the same basic principles that should guide the Federal Communications Commission when it makes a crucial upcoming decision: how to auction off the low-band spectrum currently occupied by television broadcasters but essential to wireless carriers of all kinds. Keeping in mind that free markets, not monopolies, drive innovations and improvements, the FCC should make sure that the auction results in a robust wireless sector that allows true competition and market forces to thrive.

Here’s why the FCC’s support for free competition is so important: wireless devices are ubiquitous in today’s society. We use them to talk with our family, respond to texts, draft emails, watch movies and even make payments. These technological advances have changed the way we communicate and the way we conduct our business. All of these features, however, require one thing that is allocated and controlled by the government – spectrum.

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June 26, 2015

Insurers’ Dirty Tricks Are Undermining a Central Promise of Obamacare | Commentary

By Robert Goldberg

Thanks to President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law, insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients with pre-existing health problems. For millions of sick Americans, this “guaranteed issue” mandate has been transformative, ensuring they can secure the coverage they need to afford vital medications.

Unfortunately, insurers have discovered a sneaky way to undermine this requirement. They’re structuring plans to heap huge costs and bureaucratic burdens onto high-risk patients. Technically, such patients are insured. But they don’t actually have access to medical care.

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June 25, 2015

Half Measures Make Ethanol Mandate Worse | Commentary

By Thomas Pyle

In an effort to show Congress “can work again,” some lawmakers are attempting to make an unworkable law even worse. Recently, several proposals have been floated to “amend” the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to blend rising volumes of renewable fuel into gasoline.

Proponents of such bills, including Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would do away with the corn-ethanol mandate but retain the mandate for “advanced” biofuels — products that don’t exist in appreciable, economically viable quantities, if at all.

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Congress Should Promote Fairness in State Sales Taxes | Commentary

By Alan McQuinn

When governments levy taxes on businesses or consumers, they should do so in a fair and consistent manner. And yet, when consumers make purchases with online retailers they do not always have to pay the same taxes that they would pay in their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Originally, there was a very good reason for this exemption: with thousands of different tax jurisdictions in the United States, it would simply be too impractical to require e-commerce sites or mail-order catalog businesses to abide by so many different tax rules. But since 2000, states have been working diligently to simplify their tax codes and developers have created software capable of handling the complexity of remitting taxes to multiple jurisdictions. It is now feasible for remote sellers to pay the same taxes as local ones. The next step is for Congress to pass legislation that would enable states to tax goods equally no matter how they are sold.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that because of the complexity involved in adhering to thousands of tax jurisdictions, states can only require companies with a physical location within their borders to remit sales taxes. This meant that states could tax the sale of goods from businesses within their jurisdiction, but could not do the same for the sales of goods from businesses across state lines. However, Congress can override the ruling if it decides that circumstances have changed. Indeed, the Supreme Court rendered this decision in 1992, well before the growth of e-commerce, the simplification of state tax codes, and the development of software needed to implement tax rules for multiple jurisdictions.

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June 24, 2015

Senate’s Spending Ban Endangers the Lives of Children | Commentary

By Jeanne Atkinson

Two years ago this month Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., proudly announced, “Before the American people give up on the Congress, look at what we achieved today in a bipartisan fashion.” The Senate had just voted 68 to 32 to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill that, while far from perfect, put the country on a path to resolve the situation affecting 11 million undocumented people already in the country and revise the laws for future immigrants. But that effort collapsed in the House of Representatives and now the Senate, far from being part of the solution, is adding to the problem.

Among the many challenging immigration issues facing our country is how to address the large numbers of vulnerable immigrants fleeing violence, poverty and chaos in their Central American homelands. About this time last year, U.S. border immigration officials arrested 162,700 unaccompanied minors crossing our border over the span of six months. Since then the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the United States has significantly dropped, but tens of thousands are still in the United States.

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June 23, 2015

Are Lobbyists Banned From House and Senate Gyms? | A Question of Ethics

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A walking machine at the House Fitness Center. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Q. I am a former officer of the House now working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. I love my job, but sometimes wonder if we lobbyists are unfairly singled out and discriminated against. One example I recently learned about is that former members and officers who become lobbyists are apparently not allowed to use House exercise facilities, while other former members and officers are. Is this really true?

A. Lobbyists do get a bad rap, don’t they? At the federal level, many laws impose restrictions that apply to lobbyists but not to anyone else. And, in states, it can be even worse, where “lobbyist” can verge on being a bad word. Some states even require lobbyists to wear the virtual equivalent of a scarlet “L” whenever they are engaged in lobbying. Connecticut, for example, requires anyone engaged in lobbying to wear a badge identifying themselves as a lobbyist, with the “color, material, and other requirements of such badge … prescribed by regulation.” In 2011, a lobbyist was fined $10,000 for lobbying without a badge.

So, what about House exercise facilities? Full story

June 22, 2015

Remembering the Importance of Our Ships During Times of Peace | Commentary

By Matthew Paxton

The importance of a strong naval fleet once again revealed itself recently when the Pentagon urgently deployed a U.S. destroyer — the USS Farragut — to the Strait of Hormuz to aid a commercial container ship that was boarded and detained by Iranian forces. This situation came just days after tensions escalated when the U.S. stationed an aircraft carrier — the USS Theodore Roosevelt — off the cost of Yemen suspecting that Iran was supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels who are trying to take over Yemen.

The USS Farragut not only was designed specifically to counter such an attack on this commercial container vessel, the M/V Maersk Tigris, but the U.S. fleet was large enough to enable this destroyer to be in proximate waters and ready to defend and assist in the humanitarian distress call from the commercial ship. The overwhelming force posed by the USS Roosevelt near Yemen quickly brought calm while protecting our national interest to prevent weapons being supplied to terrorists.

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June 19, 2015

A Revolving Door for Confidential IRS Information | Commentary

By Dan Epstein

One of the lingering mysteries of the Obama administration is how a presidential appointee gained access to confidential Internal Revenue Service information — and whether such activity is widespread at the White House. In 2010, Austan Goolsbee, then-chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, publicly divulged information about Koch Industries’ tax returns. This information should not have been available to anyone outside the IRS — especially a presidential appointee — yet Goolsbee casually trotted it out in a conference call with reporters.

We may finally be getting close to solving this mystery. Last month, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the Obama administration’s unprecedented use of a lawyer-exchange program that could be the source of the White House’s access to private tax-return information. I also urged the committee to exercise its full powers of oversight to investigate this new development. Cause of Action, where I am executive director, then filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to force the Department of Justice to release records on this exchange program.

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June 18, 2015

‘Big Box’ Behemoths Would Crush Small Biz | Commentary

By Hamilton Davison

There is a move afoot in Congress that will crush the ability of small businesses to compete with big box giants and stifle the growth of electronic commerce. This has nothing to do with head-to-head competition on the basis of quality or price or ease of shipping. Instead, it has to do with a proposed unfair and burdensome new tax law.

Today, there are millions of online transactions every year at more than 600,000 online stores across the nation, but our tax laws haven’t kept up with the times. The challenge has been finding a way to simplify collection procedures that is fair to stores large and small, online and brick and mortar.

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Propane Goes Beyond the Backyard | Commentary

By Rick Roldan

Propane users are in almost every congressional district in the United States. This fuel is an important part of America’s energy landscape, and that is why a bi-partisan group of congressmen led by Reps. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Tim Walz, D-Minn., have taken a leadership role in the creation of the Congressional Propane Caucus. This dedicated group of legislators is committed to addressing the infrastructure challenges facing America’s propane customers and ensuring that they can continue to rely on propane for their energy needs.

Especially during this time of year, propane is widely associated with backyard barbecues. However, its usage and value extend far beyond the backyard. Propane contributes $38.7 billion to America’s gross domestic product and provides nearly 50,000 domestic jobs. More than 50 million Americans choose propane for a variety of applications. Globally, propane is the third most prevalent vehicle fuel, and there are approximately 150,000 propane-powered vehicles in the United States.

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June 17, 2015

McCain is Right: Introduce Capitalism to the Defense Department | Commentary

By Seth Cropsey

Americans believe the federal government wastes 51 cents out of each dollar it spends, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Further evidence of Americans’ skepticism is especially abundant at the Defense Department.

Buried deep within a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment analysis of the Defense Department’s 2012 budget is a list of major programs that were cancelled from 2001 to 2011, which have nothing to show for the money that was spent. The programs range from the Army’s Future Combat Systems to its Comanche helicopter to the Defense Department’s portion of a new satellite system. Amounts from $200 million dollars to $3.7 billion dollars account for spending on nine other programs for which there are no tangible results. In all, $46 billion dollars were spent to produce … nothing.

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