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October 22, 2014

Posts in "Congress"

July 16, 2014

Who Has Time for Legislating Anyway? | K Street Files

Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services panel, was in a rush to recess a lengthy markup so he and the other lawmakers could make it across the street to the Capitol for evening floor votes.

But Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., pleaded for a few seconds to squeeze in his comments before the gavel.

Even though Hensarling reconvened the markup just after those votes, Scott had somewhere else to be. “Thank you, because I have a fundraiser I’ve got to get to right after,” Scott said in a moment of candor that sent the room into surprised laughter.

Scott’s spokesman Michael Andel noted in an email that members are in town about 2.5 days per week. “That’s not a lot of time to do much of anything,” Andel said.

The episode on June 10 offered a rare glimpse into the reality that members of Congress of both parties face, especially in an election year: the constant tension between raising money to keep their jobs and actually doing their jobs.

The dash for cash is nothing new to elective office, but with the increasing costs of campaigns and the ever-bigger potential threats of outside money flooding into races, lawmakers over schedule their short work weeks in D.C. to hit up stakeholders and lobbyists from dawn until dark.

“There are only so many hours in a day, and when you have to spend an increasing amount of those asking people for cash, something has to give,” said Adam Smith, spokesman for Public Campaign, which advocates for public financing of elections. “And what gives, I think, is the job you’re elected to do.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform recently released a report that seemed to conclude much the same. Led by ex-lawmakers-turned-K-Steeters such as Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, the commission’s June 24 report found members “spend too much time fundraising, which crowds out the time for legislating.”

“The commission decries the inordinate amount of time that members of Congress spend raising money and worry about the effects of such fundraising on the legislative process,” the report stated. “In particular, we fear that the need to raise ever-increasing amounts of campaign funds is crowding out the time that members have to engage in legislating and government oversight, the job they were sent to Washington to perform.”

The bipartisan group recommended Congress set up a task force styled after the 9/11 commission to make policy suggestions, and urged Congress to pass legislation requiring more disclosure of outside political money. The group also suggested Congress impose new restrictions on leadership political action committees, including limiting the funds to political, not personal, activities.

As much as lawmakers may complain, many of them privately, about the crush of pressure to raise money and the need to fork over donations to colleagues to help them advance in party or committee leadership in a sort of pay-to-play process, Congress seems to have little appetite to revamp the system — at least for now.

But the current way makes for a grueling schedule. House Republicans alone, for example, have 10 fundraisers scheduled on Wednesday, while House Democrats have at least five on the docket, according to party committee lists emailed among lobbyists. Senators also have several events on the docket.

That day, lobbyists and lawmakers can start things off with a breakfast at Bullfeathers benefiting Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. And they could end the day in a bipartisan way with a reception for Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., at Legal Seafoods in D.C.

To say nothing of the legislative work taking place on the Capitol campus.

Of course, the overbooked lawmakers and unpredictable congressional calendar can make life plenty difficult for lobbyists, too, who are trying to oblige members’ requests to hold fundraisers.

“Many of these events are scheduled weeks or months in advance, and you just don’t know what the voting or committee schedule will be like,” said Michael Herson, who runs American Defense International and hosts fundraisers. If an event is on the Hill, lawmakers usually can pop in, even briefly, between votes or committee meetings. But when the event is across town, the guest of honor may not make it at all.

But even the best of plans could be easily waylaid. “Votes could blow up the entire event,” Herson said.

Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.

June 13, 2014

Unemployment Extension Cause Has Invisible Lobby | K Street Files

Unemployment Benefits 17 010814 445x296 Unemployment Extension Cause Has Invisible Lobby | K Street Files

Unemployment extension lobbyists aren’t as visible — even though 3 million are affected. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Walk through the Capitol South Metro station and you’ll pass SoftBank ads that festoon the walls — but you won’t see a campaign for the 3 million people hoping Congress will pass an unemployment insurance extension.

Business groups and most big-money lobbies that typically place such advertising to influence the people working in the Capitol either oppose extending jobless benefits, or they won’t take a position.

That leaves the unemployment extension lobbying mostly to people who are out of work themselves, along with an unusual collection of Washington allies: unions, religious organizations, anti-poverty and mental health groups. Full story

April 2, 2014

Supreme Court Rejects Aggregate Contribution Limits

scotus 078 100813 445x296 Supreme Court Rejects Aggregate Contribution Limits

Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer speaks at the Supreme Court after McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission arguments last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated, 11:45 a.m. | In a long-awaited ruling in the case known as McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court today struck the aggregate limit on campaign contributions as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

Significantly, the high court left in place the base limit on how much individuals and political action committees may give to candidates and political parties. But today’s ruling makes a challenge to that direct contribution limit, which stands at $2,600 per election for an individual, all but inevitable in the near future.

What the court overturned today was the overall limit on the amount that one individual may give to candidates, parties and PACs in a two-year election cycle, a cap that now stands at $123,000. Republican businessman Shaun McCutcheon had challenged the aggregate limit on the grounds that giving the same amount to a larger number of candidates would not invite corruption. Full story

March 25, 2014

Steeped in Overhead: A Look at the Expenses of Tea Party Groups

chocola002 010914 445x299 Steeped in Overhead: A Look at the Expenses of Tea Party Groups

Chocola runs the Club for Growth. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, 5:20 p.m. | Republican leaders are stepping up their campaign to discredit tea party activists who are challenging them on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, accusing conservatives of lining their own pockets at the expense of the GOP.

A recent radio ad for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — who is under attack from the right in his own primary — blasts the Senate Conservatives Fund for spending its money “on a luxury townhouse with a wine cellar and hot tub in Washington, D.C.” House Republicans joke privately about the “conservative-industrial complex.” Even Ann Coulter has warned of “con men and scamsters” infiltrating the tea party movement.

Such claims hold more water for some groups than others in a movement with no clear leader. The tea party, loosely defined, is scattered among more than a dozen multimillion-dollar organizations, from the Club for Growth to FreedomWorks, to the Tea Party Express and the conservative startup Madison Fund, all with different bottom lines and spending patterns.

Some of the groups that have come in for the most criticism, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund — which calls the McConnell radio ad inaccurate — actually do spend most of their money on candidates. Others, such as the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, have spent exactly zero in this election cycle on candidates, even as they raise millions from low-dollar donors.

Whatever their overhead, tea-party-aligned groups are spending tens of millions collectively, sometimes with little or no board oversight. Such groups tend to operate multiple fundraising entities, simultaneously pulling in checks for a 501(c)(3) charity, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, a conventional political action committee subject to contribution limits and an unrestricted super PAC. Public records filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission revealed some unusual expenditures.

Full story

January 29, 2014

The State of the Union in 3 Minutes (Video)

From focusing on the minimum wage to celebrating the Olympics to addressing the partisan divide in Congress, Roll Call condenses President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address into 190 seconds.

Read Roll Call’s full coverage of Obama’s speech here.

January 27, 2014

Key Moments From Obama’s State of the Union Addresses (Video)

Watch Roll Call’s key moments from President Barack Obama’s five State of the Union addresses, including criticism of the Supreme Court, hammering Wall Street banks and pushing for immigration and gun reform.

January 7, 2014

The State of K Street | K Street Files

No one expects a boom in the lobbying business this year. But out of the dysfunction and stalemate of 2013, K Streeters see signs of potential work in select areas, including a revival for an old standby: appropriations.

The bipartisan budget deal (tiny as it may have been) from late last year has given lobbyists cause for hope that a return to regular order on appropriations bills will offer them a legislative vehicle to work on behalf of clients.

Still, for any Hill staffers or soon-to-be-ex-members of Congress eyeing a gig downtown, the hiring scene on K Street will continue to be tight and the competition fierce.

Lobbyists are also trying to woo lawmakers to extend 55 lapsed tax credits. A patent bill, immigration matters, a farm bill, regulatory work and trade policy may also drive business. And K Streeters are looking to set the stage for longer-term overhauls of the nation’s tax code and housing finance system. Full story

December 23, 2013

The Best (or Worst) of Congress in 2013 (Video)

The first session of the 113th Congress — the least productive in modern times — will be remembered for what it did, and did not, accomplish.

An immigration overhaul, gun control and health care mixed with “calves the size of cantaloupes,” “Alice in Wonderland” and cocaine. Together, it is the best and worst of the year that was, wrapped into one.

December 9, 2013

The Tragedy of the Budget Deal | Kondracke

murray ryan 041 111313 445x312 The Tragedy of the Budget Deal | Kondracke

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are grown-ups, and it looks as though they are reaching a deal to avoid another government shutdown crisis — provided superpartisans don’t block it.

That said, it’s sad — and bad for the country — that the best they could do was avoid immediate disaster. What they could not do, apparently, is make the slightest dent in the long-term disaster that the federal debt represents.

If the Washington Post lead story Monday is right, their deal will also — to their credit — partially repeal the budget sequester that is strangling federal agencies and give them slightly more money to spend in fiscal 2014 and 2015.

It’s not clear, but one hopes they will also provide Cabinet officers with the ability to move money around and not continue having to slash every program across the board.

But it’s a grave disappointment that they could not even begin to shave the government’s $17.6 trillion national debt — more than 100 percent of GDP, now higher than at any time since World War II. Full story

December 4, 2013

Partying Within the Rules | K Street Files

Hide the silverware. Stow the dinner plates. And definitely keep that 100-year-old cognac corked.

This is how K Street gets ready for a holiday shindig in the age of the Capitol Hill party police.

Fancy finery and displays of luxury have been replaced by toothpicks and finger foods. Six years ago, changes to the rules tightened the restrictions on gifts that members and staff may accept from lobbying groups, including food and drinks at lavish soirees.

Some good news for those seeking holiday cheer: Many K Street-Capitol Hill holiday parties slip in through the reception exemption, which allows for menu items of nominal value. And while the scene may not be what it once was, the parties go on.

Full story

November 12, 2013

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Both Parties | Kondracke

Face it: Both the Republican and Democratic parties are in trouble. Neither can be sure which is in worse shape. So it behooves them both to do something right for a change.

What? Reach a budget deal that ends threats of government shutdowns and debt defaults, restores confidence among both foreign and domestic investors, and convinces the public that federal politicians can govern.

Will it be hard to get a deal — especially by the mandated deadline of Dec. 15? Of course. But both sides know what needs to be done — reform entitlements to get the country’s long-term debt under control, reform taxes to make the economy more productive, and lift the budget sequester’s stranglehold on domestic spending and defense. Full story

May Staffers Participate in IPOs? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I am a House staffer and have been offered a chance to participate in the initial public offering of a well-known company that is about to go public. My position as a House staffer had no role at all in the opportunity becoming available to me. In fact, the person who invited me to participate did not even know that I work for the House of Representatives. I presume this means that it is OK for me to participate. However, another staffer in our office told me I’m wrong.  I really want to do it, so please don’t tell me the rules prevent it.

A. You know the adage that it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission? In this case, ignore it. Here’s why. Full story

November 5, 2013

Ideology Isn’t Source of All Partisanship | Procedural Politics

Why do political parties in Congress sometimes fight, even when they agree? Is it like siblings who seem to quarrel over nothing — just the nature of the beast?

Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, agrees that a lot of the inter-party fighting seems senseless because it doesn’t involve deep philosophical differences. In her book, “Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate,” Lee writes, “The public perceives party conflict in Congress as ‘bickering,’ as excessive quarreling driven by members’ power and electoral interests.”

Political scientists, on the other hand, have “tended to interpret congressional party conflicts as evidence of members’ principled differences on the proper role and scope of government,” she writes.

Lee sides more with public perceptions that parties often spar just to advance narrow partisan interests, rather than giving voice to pre-existing policy differences in the larger political context. That only exacerbates and institutionalizes conflict. In their quest to win elections and hold power, she writes, “partisans impeach one another’s motives, question one another’s ethics and competence and engage in reflexive partisanship … rather than seeking common ground.”

Evidence of this can be found in instances in which the parties are in broad agreement on an underlying bill yet still engage in partisan combat. Lee’s analysis of the Senate reveals that “procedural votes on issues not involving ideological questions are just as intensely partisan as substantive votes on some of the most ideologically controversial issues in American politics.”

From my experience, the House is much the same. An example arose last month over House consideration of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The bill would authorize 23 water projects — dams, levees, canals, harbors, dredging and environmental restoration programs — at a cost of $3.1 billion over the next five years. It also would establish a new, non-congressional earmark process for selecting future projects.

The bill had nearly four dozen bipartisan co-sponsors and was approved on a voice vote from the 70-member House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Dozens of business, labor and civic groups endorsed the bill, as did the White House and bipartisan House leadership. With such a strong tailwind, it is little wonder the measure sailed through the House, 417-3.

And yet, before the vote, the special rule for the bill encountered partisan resistance. The Rules Committee had allowed one hour of general debate and 24 amendments — divided equally between the parties. However, 98 amendments had been submitted to the Rules Committee. Ranking Democrat Louise M. Slaughter’s attempt in committee to substitute an open amendment process was defeated on a party-line vote, as were attempts to make in order three additional amendments.

When the rule was called up on the floor, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, who was managing the rule for committee Democrats, complained that the procedure blocked more than 70 amendments, “many of which were germane” — he said that “is not conducive to an open process.” The Florida Democrat then spent the balance of his time discussing something closer to home: Port Everglades, Fla., has been waiting 17 years for a report from the chief engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers on deepening its channels in anticipation of the new Panama Canal standards.

Near the end of the hour of debate on the rule, Hastings indicated that if the previous question on the rule was defeated (the only opportunity for the minority to amend the rule), he would offer a motion to make in order an amendment by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., to authorize projects that received a final chief of engineer’s report within a year after enactment, thereby holding out hope for Port Everglades. Despite Hastings’ efforts, the previous question was adopted on a near party-line vote, with only two Democrats breaking ranks, and the rule was subsequently adopted with all but 48 Democrats opposing it.

This minor partisan dust-up on the rule didn’t affect the eventual overwhelming passage of the bill. Hastings didn’t follow through on his implied threat to force a vote on an open amendment process and instead confirmed former Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.’s axiom that “all politics is local.”

Nevertheless, the two procedural votes on the rule will be part of CQ Roll Call’s session-end tally of “party unity” votes (party majorities on opposing sides), as well as of ideological spectrum rankings of members. In the 112th Congress, 197 party unity votes on special rules alone (not counting other procedural votes) constituted 17 percent of all party unity votes — a significant exception to any ideology connection.

Who Does Congress Listen to Most? | K Street Files

It might just be the ultimate insiders’ strategy: When pressing a client’s cause, try to catch the ear of the two offices that Congress most cares about to spread your message.

This duo of influential outposts isn’t the House and Senate leadership. Rather, Hill staffers’ most valuable sources of information are the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office.

That’s according to research done by ex-K Streeter David Rehr, who holds a doctorate in economics and is now an adjunct professor with George Washington University’s graduate school of political management.

If you’re a lobbyist and you’ve never tried to cultivate the CRS or the CBO, you might be missing out, Rehr says. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

“I’m a little surprised that people don’t naturally think of CRS or CBO as part of the process,” Rehr said recently. “And I think the one thing the research said to me: They’re more important in the process than we probably realized.”

Rehr 042903 105x147 Who Does Congress Listen to Most? | K Street Files

Rehr

Rehr’s survey of bipartisan aides on Capitol Hill found that 55 percent rated the CRS’ information as “very valuable,” the most of any source. They ranked the CBO third — after academic and issue experts — at 32 percent.

These findings don’t match up with the sources that lobbyists think Hill aides find most important, Rehr’s research showed. Neither the CRS nor the CBO even registered among lobbyists’ top 5.

“It’s a little harder in the culture of advocacy because if you’re not used to doing it, you do what’s easier for you,” Rehr said. “If you were a Hill staffer, now you lobby staff and members.”

Michael Fulton, a longtime lobbyist who is with the Arnold Agency, recently heard Rehr’s pitch and said the idea clicked with him because he relied on CRS reports when he worked on Capitol Hill.

“My daughter works on the Hill, and she lives by them, and I used to live by them when I was on the Hill,” Fulton said. “I think if a CRS report has any inaccuracies or is leaning away from your client’s perspective, it would be valuable to correct that sooner rather than later.”

When it comes to dealing with the numbers-driven, wonky CBO, lobbyists caution that if you don’t have the data to back up a client position, it’s probably not worth the stop.

“It’s not really lobbying, it’s educating,” said one veteran health care lobbyist. This K Streeter noted that the CBO, which “scores” how much each piece of legislation will cost, is less interested in meeting with lobbyists or the Washington representatives of corporations and instead wants high-level executives, actuaries or economists who speak their language.

“People don’t approach them lightly or approach them ever without an outside numbers run or solid policy arguments that would shape a score,” this lobbyist said. “They’re going to dig, and they’re going to find the answer.”

A spokeswoman for the CBO referred me to its website, which explains that in preparing its cost estimates and other analysis, “CBO uses data and other information from a wide variety of sources, including federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry groups, among others. CBO closely follows professional developments in economics and related disciplines, encourages open discussion of analytic issues, and consults with outside experts in a broad range of relevant fields for guidance on ongoing work.”

Lobbyists who’ve worked with the CRS, a branch of the Library of Congress, say it can at times seem more shrouded in mystery and potentially more difficult to navigate as an outsider with an agenda. Many of the CRS reports are private and come only at the request of a member of Congress.

“I think the better way to go is to have a congressional champion who then writes to the CRS,” Rehr said. It’s also crucial to identify the researcher who handles the topic your clients care about.

“You’ll see who wrote the CRS report, and you find out you knew them from GW or American [University],” Fulton said.

Then, you can make the connection directly.

“CRS experts use available information from a wide variety of sources, on all sides of issues, enabling them to serve Congress with comprehensive, authoritative, objective and nonpartisan research and analysis,” CRS Communications Specialist Cory Langley wrote in an email.

Rehr said the research service is “less numerical” than the CBO, “so they’re even more open to data and empirical studies that help them do their job better.”

Still, said Rehr, the former head of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, it’s not as if you could hand a CRS researcher a study on beer taxes and they’ll include it in one of their reports. “But it might influence the report,” he said.

And a CRS or CBO mention that isn’t negative means ready-made talking points, one-pagers and potential fodder for issue advertising.

“Sometimes you get some favorable paragraphs or a reference, then you can pull that out and create lobbying material,” Rehr said.  “It gives you a little more oomph.”

October 29, 2013

Are Members of the House Allowed to Hire Relatives? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I have a question about a recent “60 Minutes” segment I saw about nepotism among members of Congress. As I understand the report, it said that there are some circumstances in which nepotism is legal. This confused me. As a former House staffer, I’m pretty sure members are not allowed to hire relatives to work in their offices. What’s the deal? May members of the House hire relatives to work for them?

A. Yes and no.

You are correct that federal law prohibits members from hiring relatives to work in their House offices. But no law prevents members from employing relatives for their election campaigns. Here’s why:

Federal law broadly forbids a government official, including a member of Congress, from hiring or promoting any “relative” to any agency over which the official exercises authority or control.  Someone counts as a relative of a member under this restriction if they are a “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.”

Ever since 1967, when the anti-nepotism statute was enacted, it has been illegal for a member to hire or promote anyone meeting this definition. Full story

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