Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 25, 2014

July 24, 2014

McConnell Seeks to Break Out Funding for Israel’s Iron Dome From Border Bill

mcconnell 016 040114 445x312 McConnell Seeks to Break Out Funding for Israels Iron Dome From Border Bill

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is introducing standalone legislation to provide funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The Kentucky Republican’s bill would meet a supplemental funding request from the Pentagon for $225 million for the program. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., included the funding in her much broader supplemental that would primarily address the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children entering the United States from Central America — but Republicans are balking at that $3.6 billion bill.

“Republicans are united in support of our ally Israel. We have legislation that would allow Congress to meet the Secretary’s request. And we hope our friends on the other side will join us in coming to a sensible, bipartisan solution that can be passed quickly,” McConnell said in a floor speech. “As most senators know, the Iron Dome missile defense system has played a critical role in defending Israel’s population from the rocket attacks launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip.

“By passing a bipartisan measure to meet the secretary’s request, we can send a message to Hamas that its terrorist tactics and its attempts to terrorize Israel’s populace will not succeed,” he said.

Republicans aren’t happy that Mikulski’s bill would not make changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law. The two parties remain far apart on the best way to address the immigration crisis. McConnell’s move allows Republicans to demonstrate that they are supportive of the requested funds for defense of Israel even if they oppose the broader package.

But it likely does not speak well to the prospects that the two sides will reach a deal.

VA Talks Collapse (Updated) (Video)

sanders 027 040913 445x296 VA Talks Collapse (Updated) (Video)

Sanders (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:08 p.m.  | Talks on a fix for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care crisis have collapsed, after the lead Senate Democratic negotiator accused the top House GOP negotiator of a “take-it-or-leave-it gambit.”

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has signaled he has abandoned talks after calling a noon meeting of the conference committee in an effort to ram a GOP plan through.

Sanders told CQ Roll Call he did not plan to attend the noon conference meeting called by Miller.

“It’s not a conference. A conference is when two sides agree to meet. This was decided at 10 last night by the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,” Sanders said, adding he would be prepared to talk with Miller over the weekend.

After Sanders and Senate Democrats opted not to go, Boehner sent out a statement blasting them.

“In the wake of the shocking scandal at the Veterans Administration, the House passed a bipartisan VA reform and accountability bill, and we’re ready to complete work on an agreement the president can sign. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats refused to even show up and discuss bipartisan solutions, preferring instead to talk behind closed doors. That is shameful. If President Obama cares about America’s veterans, he needs to pick up his phone out in California and tell Senate Democrats to get to work.”

Sanders blasted the move in an earlier statement of his own.

“Instead of working constructively toward a compromise, Miller unilaterally called a ‘conference committee meeting’ to unveil his take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” Sanders said in the release. “This is a sad indication that the House leadership is not serious about negotiations.  We don’t need more speeches and posturing. We need serious negotiations — 24/7 if necessary — to resolve our differences in order to pass critical legislation.”

On the Senate floor, Sanders said Miller’s move was a low point in the talks.

“This is a proposal that nobody on our side has seen,” Sanders said. “My understanding is that he then wants to take this to the House on Monday and [hold] a vote.”

“Any sixth grader in a school in the United States understands that this is not negotiation, this is not what democracy is about,” Sanders continued.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has also been involved in the talks, agreed that negotiations are in a difficult period, but suggested Sanders go to the noon meeting prepared to negotiate in calm fashion.

“I hope we could go to this conference at noon today and listen to the various proposals,” McCain said in an effort to save the talks.

Sanders asked McCain to sit down with Miller and the ranking members to work out a deal.

“I’d be more than glad to do that,” McCain said, adding he hoped agreement could be reached Thursday.

Durbin Puts His Mark on Defense Bill

durbin003 061714 445x299 Durbin Puts His Mark on Defense Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Waging war on smoking, for-profit colleges and tax loopholes may sound like odd subjects for the military spending bill, but not when you consider who is wielding the gavel.

In an era without earmarks, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin has used his perch atop the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to put his stamp on several of his priorities, like increasing the accountability of for-profit schools getting federal tuition dollars through the Pentagon.

“If you’ve been bored and watched C-SPAN, you’ve probably heard me on the floor talk about this a couple times. This is serious,” the Illinois Democrat said at last week’s Appropriations Committee markup. “Corinthian Colleges is about to fail and go bankrupt. It’s going to cost the United States over a billion dollars when this for-profit school goes under.”

Full story

July 23, 2014

Cruz Threatens to Delay State Department Nominees Over FAA’s Israel Flight Ban

gop sens005 101613 445x287 Cruz Threatens to Delay State Department Nominees Over FAAs Israel Flight Ban

(Tom William/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz announced late Wednesday that he would hold up State Department nominees over a moratorium on U.S. flight traffic to Tel Aviv.

As a practical matter, the move by the Texas Republican may not mean much, since a slew of ambassador nominees are already tied up in an existing logjam. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working the phones in an attempt to get diplomats through to confirmation.

Full story

Sessions: ‘Colossal Error’ to Pass Immigration Spending Without Blocking ‘Administrative Amnesty’

luncheons010 061014 445x314 Sessions: Colossal Error to Pass Immigration Spending Without Blocking Administrative Amnesty

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Jeff Sessions says it would be “institutional surrender” for the House to advance an immigration spending bill without preventing President Barack Obama from expanding “administrative amnesty” for millions of additional unauthorized immigrants.

The Alabama Republican made that case in a lengthy statement circulated Wednesday afternoon, and he expanded on those views in a brief conversation with CQ Roll Call.

“I think it would be a colossal error to pass any kind of legislation that does not prohibit the president from granting legal status to five or six million people, as he’s indicated he intends to do,” Sessions said. “I’m baffled that the House talking points didn’t deal with that … The House principles didn’t address President Obama’s failure to execute the laws and expressed no concern about that danger.”

Full story

Sanders Says Money Still Stalling VA Conference

sanders 027 040913 445x296 Sanders Says Money Still Stalling VA Conference

Sanders (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A congressional fix for the veterans health care crisis remains stalled over the pricetag.

Sen. Bernard Sanders on the Senate floor and later in a gaggle with reporters Wednesday said that a spat over a request for supplemental Veterans Affairs Department funding is among the disagreements in a House-Senate conference.

The independent from Vermont who serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said he believes at least some supplemental funding is needed for the VA, as requested by acting secretary Sloan Gibson.

The two sides are closer on paying for access to private care for veterans stuck on long waiting lists than they are on beefing up the VA’s own services.

“We must make sure that the VA has the doctors, the nurses, the medical personnel, the IT and the space they need in order to deal with this crisis, so that two years from now we’re not back in the same position that we are,” Sanders said.

“I think we can lower that amount of money,” from the $17.6 billion requested for those purposes, Sanders said. “Because some of that money is not going to be spent this year or even next year, but the issue here is that we have got to strengthen the VA, their capacity, so that veterans do not remain on long waiting periods, and that we can get them the quality and timely care they need.”

Sanders said there was general agreement that veterans facing claims backlogs need access to private care.

“That is what we’ve got to do because it is unacceptable that veterans remain on long wait lines, waiting periods and not get health care. There is a general agreement on that,” Sanders said. “I think we can reach some resolution on that.”

While Sanders would prefer to pass a bill with no offsets, he said he is “willing to concede that there can be some offsets, which I think will not hurt the veterans community.”

He called his counterpart, House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., “a serious man.”

“I think he wants to get a bill passed,” Sanders said.

“I hope, at least, that on this issue — we could overcome that partisanship and do this,” Sanders added later.

“It really would be a disgrace if Congress left for the August break without passing the veterans’ bill,” he said.

Sanders also quoted from a statement issued earlier this week by Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander William A. Thien.

“Pass a bill or don’t come back from recess … America’s veterans are tired of waiting — on secret waiting lists at the VA and on their elected officials to do their jobs,” Thien said. “If Congress goes on recess without passing this legislation, the VFW will work hard with all veterans and the American public to hold every member of Congress fully accountable for failing America’s veterans.”

Sanders highlighted a letter from 16 veterans’ service organizations to the leaders of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committees. That letter backs Gibson’s call for supplemental funding.

“Taking into account the progress achieved by VA over the past two months, and considering the funding shortfalls our organizations have identified over the past decade and in next year’s budget, the undersigned believe that Congress must quickly approve supplemental funding that fully meets the critical needs identified by Secretary Gibson, and which fulfills the principles and priorities we laid out a month ago,” the letter said. “Such an approach would be a reasonable and practical way to expand access now, while building internal capacity to avoid future access crises in the future.”

Bob Dole, Veterans Groups Push Disabilities Treaty

vet presser053 072314 445x298 Bob Dole, Veterans Groups Push Disabilities Treaty

Former Senate Majority Leader Dole, R-Kan., speaks with Sen. Ayotte, R-N.H., after a news conference urging the Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Despite remaining short of the 67 votes needed to ratify the United Nation’s disability treaty, disabled veterans groups are pushing for a vote to identify the holdouts.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., at a press conference urging ratification, said the treaty is a no-brainer to help veterans.

“I just hope the Republicans will take another look and support this treaty,” Dole said.

“This is a common sense thing … so … the people in wheelchairs can have the same rights when they travel overseas as able-bodied persons.” Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 2:33 p.m.
John McCain

Internet Sales Tax Bill Dealt a Blow; Wyden Cheers

wyden 009 040114 445x308 Internet Sales Tax Bill Dealt a Blow; Wyden Cheers

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Majority Leader Harry Reid is quietly stepping back from his intention to bundle an Internet tax moratorium with a more contentious proposal to allow states to collect online sales taxes, at least for now.

The Nevada Democrat had said July 16, “I think it’s fair to say the two are going to be together.” The move, backed by Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., would have constituted a run around Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who opposes the legislation known as the Marketplace Fairness Act.

But, CQ Roll Call’s Alan K. Ota reported that as of Tuesday, the plan had changed:

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:27 p.m.
Ron Wyden, Taxes

July 22, 2014

Mikulski Set to Unveil Emergency Spending for Immigration Crisis (Video)

polish004 060413 445x296 Mikulski Set to Unveil Emergency Spending for Immigration Crisis (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski plans to introduce a $3.57 billion emergency supplemental spending package on Wednesday.

The Maryland Democrat’s emergency bill primarily deals with the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children, but it also would provide funding for fighting wildfires and make a payment to Israel for the Iron Dome missile defense system. A Senate Democratic aide said the package is expected to reach the Senate floor early next week, which would make it one of many pieces of a pre-recess push.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had deferred to Mikulski in regards to announcing the plan earlier Tuesday.

Full story

Senate Needs ‘Magic’ to Complete Pre-Recess Agenda (Video)

reid 234 072214 445x313 Senate Needs Magic to Complete Pre Recess Agenda (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate might just have too much to do before departing for August recess.

But, it is a chamber where “magic” all-too-often occurs on Thursday evenings, and senators might need it come July 31. There’s no shortage of big ticket items on the legislative agenda of Majority Leader Harry Reid, including funding for the crisis involving unaccompanied migrant children, stopgap highway funding and the ongoing issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Full story

Reid: ‘Absurd’ Obamacare Decision Vindicates ‘Nuclear Option’ (Video)

Senate Democrats are hoping their use of the “nuclear option” to end a Republican blockade of circuit court nominees last year will help overturn a 2-1 appeals court ruling with the potential to gut Obamacare tax subsidies for millions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the court’s ruling that Congress only wanted to provide tax subsidies in states with their own exchanges an “absurd” move by “two activist Republican judges.”

The administration plans to appeal the ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which now has more Democrat-appointed judges after the nuclear option blew up GOP attempts to filibuster Obama’s nominees. Full story

July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

johnson 014 010614 445x306 Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnsons Obamacare Lawsuit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

Full story

Nomination Backlog Frustrates Administration, Democrats as August Looms

A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.

There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.

But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.

“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”

“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.

“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”

After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.

“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”

Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.

“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”

The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.

“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.

Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.

“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.

Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.

Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.

At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”

At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.

If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.

Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.

Correction 6:42 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.

 

Reid Predicts Veterans’ Health Bill Will Fall, Fears Gridlock on Border Supplemental (Video)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday predicted Congress would fail to pass a fix for the veterans’ health crisis  — and worried the same could happen with the border supplemental to address the child migrant crisis.

“We had a big show here, not long ago, where we provided $35 billion to help veterans. We’ve spent trillions of dollars in two wars, unpaid-for by the way. That’s what President [George W.] Bush wanted, and that’s what he got,” the Nevada Democrat said in a floor speech.

Full story

July 18, 2014

Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

kirk011 061214 445x295 Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk said in a jarring video circulated late Friday that President Barack Obama’s Iran policy is leading to nuclear war.

The video, posted on Youtube and available through the Illinois Republican’s official website, features a background of a “60 Minutes”-style ticking clock and highlights news reports about the state of the negotiations between the international community and Iran on nuclear programs.

“The administration policy is the quickest policy that leads to war, nuclear war. That is a horrible fate to condemn American children to witness,” Kirk said in the video.

Full story

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...