Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 20, 2014

Posts by Humberto Sanchez

180 Posts

September 17, 2014

Tom Coburn Won’t Be Going Away Quietly

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Tom Coburn is retiring at the end of this Congress, but the Oklahoma Republican has put the word out that he isn’t likely to let the Senate have its end-of-session legislative feeding frenzy.

Thursday may be the last day of the work period before the elections and, as usual, some senators are making a final push on pet legislation, including renewing a travel promotion bill that Coburn has long opposed.

“I am not inclined to let things go,” Coburn said, when asked if he planned to hold up last-minute efforts to get unanimous consent to pass legislation before the Senate heads out of town.

Full story

September 16, 2014

Congress Ducks War Authorization Vote

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Anti-war protesters disrupt a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress appears set to sprint for the exits after voting to fund President Barack Obama’s new war on ISIS — although not by name — after rejecting a smattering of calls from lawmakers to go on record explicitly debating and authorizing it.

The get-out-of-town votes could come Wednesday, as the nation celebrates Constitution Day, the brainchild of the late-Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who was long the defender of Congress’ prerogatives, especially with regard to war.

“Sen. Byrd would be on the floor demanding that the United States Senate fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, which are debate, amend and vote,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one voice in a fairly small bipartisan group pushing unsuccessfully for a full debate and votes on the authorization to use military force before going home. “This is another act of cowardice, which contributes to the low esteem in which we’re held by the American people.”

Today, the closest heir to Byrd may be Sen. Tim Kaine. The Virginia Democrat has long been an ally of the president, but he has nonetheless sharply criticized Obama — and his colleagues — for not seeking a vote from Congress authorizing the war.

“It’s the most important power that Congress has and it’s the most momentous decision that the nation makes,” Kaine told CQ Roll Call after a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. He called the issue an “obsession” of his, but suggested any comparisons between himself and Byrd are “presumptuous.” Full story

Mark Warner Still Pushing Grand Bargains on the Stump

VAPOL14 032 090414 445x296 Mark Warner Still Pushing Grand Bargains on the Stump

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

FAIRFAX, Va. — How often do you hear a Democrat on the campaign stump tell a largely partisan audience that some of the attendees might be well-advised to vote for a Republican?

That’s exactly what happened when Sen. Mark Warner stopped on a college campus a few weeks ago.

“If you’re a Democrat, you may have to vote for a Republican who is willing to do revenues,” the Virginia Democrat said. “If you’re a Republican, vote for a Democrat who’s willing to do entitlement reform.”

In any case Warner, the former Virginia governor who is favored to win re-election against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie this fall, and has often been talked about as someone who could end up on a national ticket, said no one should vote ”for anybody who’s signed one of these stupid pledges” such as the anti-tax one championed by the Grover Norquist-led group Americans for Tax Reform.

Full story

September 15, 2014

Wyden Cites Oregon Wine in Effort to Spark Extenders Action

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Oregon wine grapes could go unpressed and it’s Congress’ fault, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden on Monday.

In a release urging congressional action on a package of expired tax breaks known as tax extenders, the Beaver State Democrat uses the state’s wine industry as an example of why Congress should act.

“For example, because Congress has not renewed increased expensing limits under Section 179, industrious Oregon wine makers will be forced to pay more for a new wine press needed today to expand their business, or they may be forced to choose between new equipment and hiring new employees,” Wyden said. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 5:02 p.m.
Taxes

Reid Moves NRC Nominations as Fight Over Yucca Mountain Continues (Updated)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:35 p.m. | It helps to be the majority leader when you’re trying to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is using floor time this week to confirm nominees to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a move that will ensure a Democratic majority.

Two Republicans now outnumber the only Democrat on the commission, NRC Chairwoman Allison M. Macfarlane, who has indicated opposition to the Yucca Mountain project before being confirmed by the Senate two years ago deeming the site geologically unsound and calling for an alternative.

The two nominees, Jeffery M. Baran and Stephen G. Burns, would fill vacant spots on the commission. Reid has spent considerable political capital to effectively kill the project, and repeatedly used his influence to ensure the NRC’s opposition to it. Full story

September 11, 2014

Senate Democrats Seek More Information on Obama’s ISIS Plan (Updated)

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Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference Sept. 11. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:40 p.m. | The Senate’s top Pentagon appropriator told reporters Thursday he will be probing the Obama administration about legal authorities for the fight against Islamic State extremists, including in Syria.

“I have a lot of questions to ask about how they’re both interpreting the vote on the invasion of Iraq and the [authorization of use of military force] with Afghanistan,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said after a news conference where Senate Democratic leaders called for Congress to unite behind President Barack Obama as the nation confronts ISIS.

Durbin, who is chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said after an all-senators closed briefing that he had gotten answers to questions about authority for the new military actions. Asked whether or not they were answers he wanted, the senator said the issue will be discussed at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing next week.

Full story

September 10, 2014

Obama Lobbying for Authority to Equip Syrian Rebels (Updated) (Video)

reid091014 445x282 Obama Lobbying for Authority to Equip Syrian Rebels (Updated) (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:54 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is backing President Barack Obama’s renewed push for authority to train and equip Syrian rebels as part of his plan to take on the Islamic State, as the president himself is lobbying lawmakers to act before heading home.

Reid called on Congress to approve so-called “Title 10″ authority, which would allow the U.S. to train and equip rebels in Syria and others who are fighting ISIS.

“The president has tried to get that from us and we should give it to him,” Reid said. “That is one way of helping build an international coalition.”

Full story

September 9, 2014

Reid Doubts Senate Will Vote on Inversions in September

reid 090 090914 445x288 Reid Doubts Senate Will Vote on Inversions in September

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doesn’t expect the Senate to vote on legislation revamping corporate inversions this month.

“I kind of doubt it,” Reid said when asked if there would be a vote in September. When asked why not, Reid only chuckled as he walked into the chamber after his weekly Tuesday press conference.

The Senate has a packed schedule and only plans to be in session through Sept. 23, the day before the Jewish High Holidays begin.

Congress and the Treasury Department have been exploring ways to stem the growth of inversions, the growing trend of American companies buying foreign competitors, often times smaller businesses, then re-incorporating overseas in order to pay less in U.S. taxes. Forty-seven U.S. corporations have reincorporated overseas through corporate inversions in the past 10 years, far more than during the previous 20 years combined, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Secretary Jacob J. Lew said Monday in a speech at the Urban Institute that his agency could act soon.

“The Treasury Department is completing an evaluation of what we can do to make these deals less economically appealing, and we plan to make a decision in the very near future,” Lew said in his speech. “Any action we take will have a strong legal and policy basis, but will not be a substitute for meaningful legislation — it can only address part of the economics. Only a change in the law can shut the door, and only tax reform can solve the problems in our tax code that leads to inversions.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he has been in contact with Lew and that he continues to work with ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, on the issue, which he said voters have concerns.

“At community meetings around my state when people would ask about inversions this summer, I said look, if you erode the business tax base, what happens is working families and other businesses have to pick up the freight,” Wyden said.

“What I’m doing is using every single day, and have now for weeks, focused on trying to produce a bipartisan effort,” Wyden added. “We’ve talked about it with Sen. Hatch. Our staffs have been at it day after day now for weeks … and I’m encouraged.”

Wyden said that the environment in the Congress remains highly partisan, which has made it difficult to reach a bipartisan solution to the inversion problem, but not impossible.

“I think it’s important to have a bipartisan stop-gap measure to plug the inversion loophole, and I believe that is consistent to do in line with major tax reform,” Wyden said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is expected to unveil his own proposal next week that is would further limit the amount of interest an inverted corporation can deduct from its taxable income.

In August, three Senate Democrats called on Obama to use executive action to address the issue.

Bridget Bowman and Katy O’Donnell contributed to this report.

 

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September 5, 2014

After Ferguson, Durbin May Seek Reforms to Police Militarization Programs

453583712 445x296 After Ferguson, Durbin May Seek Reforms to Police Militarization Programs

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

After police use of military equipment in Feguson, Mo., raised concerns of excessive force following the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., may seek to revamp two key Pentagon programs.

The Defense Department runs two programs that allow state and local police forces to receive or purchase excess military equipment — known as 1033 and 1122 respectively — and Durbin, who is also chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to voice his concerns.

“The adoption by local police departments of military-style tactics and their use of military equipment have provoked concern across the nation for a number of years, but the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, give new urgency to the need for an examination of the DoD programs that supply such equipment,” said Durbin, who also has jurisdiction over the matter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee

“I appreciate the briefing that DoD officials provided to my staff about these programs. Based on this briefing I have identified several areas of concern that I wanted to bring to your attention,” Durbin added. “I intend to ensure that these issues are addressed as the Administration and Congress review these programs and consider reforms.”

Durbin cited a lack of effective coordination between the Defense Department and the Justice Department, with respect to the 1033 program, and suggested that the Justice Department could play a significant role in ensuring that police departments have valid law enforcement purposes for the equipment, do not have a history of violations of federal laws or grant requirements with regard to federally-provided equipment, and are not the subject of any allegations or investigations that would raise concerns about the possession of the equipment.

Durbin also said that he is concerned that under the 1033 program there is no procedure for evaluating whether there has been any illegal or inappropriate use of equipment, particularly of firearms, explosive devices or military vehicles.

The lack of a requirement for training for 1033 related equipment also disturbed Durbin, but he noted that the Defense Department is not the appropriate entity to provide the training.

Durbin further recommended that an independent ombudsman be part of the complaint process in an effort to help instill community confidence that the programs are being run effectively.

“I look forward to working with you to ensure that any provision of excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement is carried out with the safeguards, accountability and oversight that our communities need and deserve,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s letter comes after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue for Tuesday.

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September 4, 2014

Reid Backs Moratorium on Closing Postal Processing Facilities

reid009 0114141 445x295 Reid Backs Moratorium on Closing Postal Processing Facilities

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has joined a bipartisan group of 50 senators seeking a moratorium on closing mail-processing facilities by the U.S. Postal Service.

“With Reid’s signature, a bipartisan majority of all senators now have signed the letter,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who helped organize the effort, in a release touting Reid’s move.

The moratorium would save postal jobs while giving Congress time to come up with a way to reform the postal service, which reported it lost $2 billion in the second quarter, and $740 million more than the same time last year.

Previous losses, and a lack of congressional action, have led the postal service to consolidate 141 mail-processing facilities since 2012 and more closures are expected. Sanders said a moratorium would save as many as 15,000 jobs.

Along with Sanders, Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and  Jon Tester of Montana put the effort together and released a letter in August. Most of the 50 signatories to the letter were Democrats, but six were Republicans: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, John Thune of South Dakota, Susan Collins of Maine, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

After the letter was released, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has written a postal service overhaul bill, issued a release warning that in the absence of congressional reform, a moratorium would further drain the USPS’s resources without giving it any additional authority to cut costs or increase revenue, and increasing the risk of a congressional bailout.

“If my colleagues want to address these concerns for the long-haul, I urge them to join me this September as we continue our efforts to fix the serious, but solvable, financial challenges facing the Postal Service,” Carper said. “Our bill isn’t perfect but it is an important step in the right direction. I hope my colleagues will join our efforts to enhance this plan in order to save the Postal Service before it’s too late.”

Related:

50 Senators Call for Moratorium on USPS Facility Closures (Updated)

GOP Leaders: Cut Saturday Mail Service to Pay for Roads

September 2, 2014

Senate Democrat Proposes Authorization to Strike ISIS in Syria

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Nelson (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., plans to introduce legislation next week that would give President Barack Obama definitive authority to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State terror group in Syria — as senators on both sides of the aisle ramp up calls for military action.

“This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria,” Nelson said in a release.

While Obama has ordered airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, some policy experts have questioned whether the administration has the clear legal authority — independent of Congress — to broaden the air campaign to strike targets in Syria. Nelson’s legislation is designed to allay those doubts. Full story

August 21, 2014

McCaskill to Hold Police Militarization Hearings

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McCaskill will hold hearings on the militarization of local police in wake of Ferguson events. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With lawmakers on the left and right questioning the militarization of law enforcement after two weeks of violence in Ferguson, Mo., Sen. Claire McCaskill announced she will hold hearings next month on the federal programs supplying local authorities with surplus military gear.

The Missouri Democrat, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, plans to take a broad look at programs like the Defense Department’s 1033 program that have steered surplus equipment to local police departments.

That DOD program has come under particular scrutiny from other lawmakers.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, last week said he would review the program, which is part of the defense authorization bill, before it gets to the Senate floor “to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.” Full story

August 18, 2014

Jim Jeffords, Veteran of Three Decades in Congress, Dead at 80

Jeffords3TW092600 445x291 Jim Jeffords, Veteran of Three Decades in Congress, Dead at 80

Jeffords served more than three decades in Congress. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a longtime Republican who flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats after switching parties in 2001, has died.

Jeffords, who had been in declining health, was 80. The Burlington Free Press first reported his death.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was sad to hear of Jeffords’ passing and called him a man of conscience.

“Throughout Jim’s time in the Senate he left an important mark on the history of the institution,” Reid said. “He was a strong supporter of helping people with disabilities and always fought for the underdog. Jim was a model of a great legislator who avoided partisan politics and fought for what was best for the people of Vermont. In 2001 he changed the makeup of the Senate by switching from a Republican to an Independent and caucusing with the Democrats. History will remember Senator Jeffords as a courageous man who listened to his conscience, and I will always respect him for doing so.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also lauded Jeffords’ career.

“He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend,” Leahy said in release. “He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate’s history.”

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who won the election to replace Jefford after he retired in 2006, praised his demeanor and his dedication to the state.

“Jane and I join all Vermonters in sending condolences to the family of Jim Jeffords,” Sanders said in a statement. “Jim was one of the most popular elected officials in the modern history of the state — serving at the local, state and federal levels. Vermonters admired him because of his low-key and down-to-earth qualities, and because of his obvious and strong love of the state and the Vermont way of life. He was an effective champion of education, disability rights, the environment and the arts — and millions of Americans have benefited from his efforts.”

Sanders acknowledged Jeffords’ strength when he changed the Senate in 2001 and became an independent. “He displayed enormous courage by leaving a party that, he often said, had left him because of its dramatic move to the right,” Sanders said. “Jim was a friend and he will be sorely missed.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said that Jeffords and his wife Liz Daley, who died in 2007 of ovarian cancer, were mentors during his early days as the state’s at-large House member.

“While Jim would certainly wave away the notion, he was indeed a legend in Vermont and the nation,” Welch said in a release. “With characteristic decency, humility and civility, and a dogged persistence, he made his mark in Congress.”

“Millions of children with disabilities are better off today because he lead the charge for their equal access to education,” Welch said. “Americans are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water because of his fierce advocacy for the environment and clean energy. And budding artists across the nation receive the boost of his encouragement every year thanks to his legacy as the founder of the annual Congressional Arts Competition.”

“And, in 2001, the world saw what his fellow Vermonters already knew: Jim Jeffords, above all, had the courage of his convictions,” Welch said.

Jeffords endorsed Welch in his 2006 campaign over GOP candidate Martha Rainville.

Education was a legislative passion for Jeffords and Republican leaders decision not to include a school funding provision in a $1.6 trillion tax cut bill led him down the path to renouncing his party affiliation.

At the time of his decision to become an independent who would caucus with Democrats, the Senate was split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote giving Republicans control of the chamber.

Following Jeffords’ switch, the Democrats controlled the chamber, 51-49. Until 2001 he identified as a Republican his entire political career, including 14 years in the House of Representatives and all but the last six years of the 18 years he spent in the Senate.

“It was a unique time in history,” Jeffords once recalled. “It was the first time you had a situation of a 50-50 Senate. That opened up an opportunity for one individual, myself or any other Republicans that wanted to, within the rules, to change the whole thing. And then I got to thinking. … I said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to be to blame for everything that happens from now on — Supreme Court appointments — all of that. Because you had the power to make that change, to stop the abuse of power.’ So that’s when I decided I had to do it.”

August 14, 2014

50 Senators Call for Moratorium on USPS Facility Closures (Updated)

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Baldwin joined Sanders and Tester in calling on the moratorium. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 5:05 p.m. | A bipartisan group of 50 senators urged appropriators Thursday to include a provision in year-end, catchall spending legislation that would prevent the U.S. Post Office from closing more mail-processing facilities in the next fiscal year.

“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively into the future,” the group said in a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

The letter — circulated by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. — was also sent to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the post office, and the panel’s ranking member Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

While Congress doesn’t provide funding for the post service, it does oversee the agency. Full story

July 31, 2014

Senate Fails To Pass Border Supplemental (Video)

Updated 7:56 p.m. | The Senate failed to pass a $3.6 billion emergency supplemental spending package, most of which was designed to deal with the tens of thousands children illegally emigrating from Central America.

Hours after House GOP leaders had to pull their own $659 million bill, Republicans used a budget point of order by Senate Budget Chairman Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to kill the Senate bill on a 50-44 vote, 10 votes shy of the 60 votes needed.

Full story

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