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July 2, 2015

Posts in "Congress"

June 16, 2015

Former Top Hill Staffers on Roll Call Turning 60

Manley with Reid in 2006. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Manley with Reid in 2006. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reflections from Ron Bonjean, Jim Manley, Bob Stevenson, Doug Thornell and Brian Walsh

RC-60th-Anniversary-logo-HighRes-01To some Americans, 60 years of watching Congress’ every move might seem like sentence in purgatory, but for the editors and reporters at Roll Call, and for those of us who have been regular readers, it has been one hell of an interesting ride.

Exactly 60 years ago, Sid Yudain, press secretary to Al Morano, R-Conn., created a Capitol Hill community newspaper — Roll Call — to serve what he called “the most important community in the world.” It quickly caught on, becoming the small town paper of the Congress, divulging the gossip whispered in the corridors and chronicling the comings and goings of members and staff, the day-to-day tidbits of birthdays and births, weddings, retirements and deaths.

Full story

May 11, 2015

Congress Is Still Evolving, but to What? | Procedural Politics

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on “The Evolving Congress” cosponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center and National Capital Area Political Science Association. It was based on a book by that title written by a group of experts at the Congressional Research Service on its 100th anniversary. The panel had no problem agreeing that Congress has changed considerably since its inception. But there are still unresolved questions over just how and why it has evolved to what it is today, and what it might be evolving to.

CRS Senior Specialist Walter Oleszek, in his introductory chapter to the volume, offers the best explanation of what has happened and why: “Congress is an institution constantly in flux,” he writes. “The policy and political struggles among the elective units are a permanent fixture of the Nation’s constitutional system that continue to shape the evolution and work of Congress.”

Full story

April 27, 2015

Were House and Senate Budgets Separated at Birth? | Procedural Politics

Sometimes it’s hard to believe House and Senate budget resolutions had the same birth parents back in 1974. They are different in so many ways: They look different, act different, and, yes, even weigh different (more on that later).

If you’ve been away from them for several years and only occasionally read about what they’ve been up to, you nod knowingly and sigh, “Oh, those budget kids will be kids.” You might be somewhat concerned that one of them, the Senate budget kid, has been missing in action four of the past five years. But then, lots of families have prodigal sons, and you figured he’d be back some day. And indeed, this year did seem to be a new day with both kids showing up on time for the family’s spring reunion.

Full story

April 13, 2015

Congress Has an Overriding Problem With Iran Deal | Procedural Politics

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Corker’s bill is reportedly one vote short of a veto-proof majority in the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act introduced by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. The bill requires the president to submit the final agreement to Congress for a 60-day review period. The administration strongly opposes the legislation on grounds the pact is an executive agreement between the U.S., Iran and the five other nations and does not require congressional approval.

Contrary to some shorthand press reports, the bill does not require Congress to approve the nuclear agreement for the sanctions relief to take effect, nor does it force Congress even to vote on the matter. It simply provides that any sanctions relief contained in the plan may go forward if Congress enacts a joint resolution favoring the agreement or fails to enact a joint resolution disapproving the plan during the review period. There are no action-forcing mechanisms or expedited procedures to require either a vote of approval or disapproval.

Congress may, in effect, take favorable action on the plan by inaction. Full story

March 30, 2015

House GOP Restores Budget Game of Thrones | Procedural Politics

When Republicans regained control of the House in 1995 after 40 years in the minority, they vowed to eliminate the Democrats’ “king-of-the-hill” process for voting on budget resolution substitutes.

Since 1982, the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee had been issuing special rules on budget resolutions that allowed for votes on substitute amendments by various factions, notwithstanding the disposition of a previous substitute. Under ordinary amending procedures, once an amendment in the nature of a substitute is adopted, no further amendments are allowed.

The “king-of-the-mountain” approach, as it was originally called, provided that if more than one substitute is adopted, the last one adopted prevails, even if it has a smaller majority. Not coincidentally, the last substitute to be offered would always be the Democratic budget reported by the Budget Committee. Full story

March 16, 2015

Cotton Balls Up Diplomatic Protocol With Letter | Procedural Politics

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cotton (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senator Tom Cotton’s “open letter” to the leaders of Iran on negotiations over its nuclear program ran into a buzzsaw of criticism from the president, vice president, our negotiating partners and members of Congress from both parties. The main criticism: Senators should not thrust themselves directly into the middle of ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and other countries.

The Arkansas Republican and his 46 Senate Republican co-signers have been accused of everything from trying to blow up the negotiations and undermining the president to giving aid and comfort to the enemy and betraying the national interest. Full story

March 10, 2015

Lott-Daschle Reform Bars Bill-Blocking Actions | Procedural Politics

House Republicans painted themselves and the Senate into a corner by making Department of Homeland Security funding after Feb. 27 contingent on rolling back President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration actions. Surely, they were fantasizing a corner with a hidden trap door and safe room.

Instead, a more realistic escape route appeared out of nowhere — a rope ladder thrown down by a federal district court judge in Texas who stayed the president’s 2014 immigration action pending disposition of legal challenges to it by 26 states. Since judicial appeals from the dueling orders could take months, the judge’s injunction freed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to propose a compromise: a clean DHS funding bill in return for separate consideration of a bill rescinding the president’s 2014 immigration order.

Full story

March 3, 2015

Watch: Benjamin Netanyahu Addresses Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress on security threats posed by “radical Islam” and Iran. Congress will reconvene at 10:45 a.m. for Netanyahu’s speech. Full story

February 24, 2015

Keystone Process Tells Tale of Two Houses | Procedural Politics

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Boehner signs the Keystone bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Do you remember Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California promising last fall to return the new Congress to the regular order? The initial test came on the first major bill in the well of both houses, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Whereas the Senate produced a veritable gusher of amendments with all hands at the wellhead, the House reverted to a narrowly-constricted flow tube controlled by a few valve masters.

Identical House and Senate pipeline bills were introduced on the opening day of the new Congress by two North Dakota Republicans, Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven. Both measures were placed on a fast track to the floor the first week of the session. But that’s where the similarities ended. Full story

January 30, 2015

#Flashback Friday: Covering Congress, 40 Years Ago

(Courtesy WAMU)

Manual typewriters, cigarette smoke and alcohol.

Those were the ingredients in the delectable mix that was the House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery (was that even the name?) in the mid 1970s. It featured radio and television reporters in search of (or awaiting) sound bites. When California Rep. Robert Dornan stepped into the well, a member of the gallery staff would blast out an emergency signal. That meant, “Turn on your tape recorders, wild man sound bite coming your way!” Full story

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 extension advocates aren't as visible as other campaigns. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer speaks in front of the Supreme Court after the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission oral arguments on Tuesday morning, Oct. 8, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

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

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.

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