Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 30, 2014

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

710 Posts

July 30, 2014

Corker Lauds Victory on Highway Stopgap, Pushes House to Accept

corker 049 0601014 445x314 Corker Lauds Victory on Highway Stopgap, Pushes House to Accept

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bob Corker is working the phones, trying to garner support on the House side for a shorter Senate-passed highway extension in a bid to force action in the lame duck.

Even though the effort is likely to be futile, given comments by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, that the House would return the measure to the Senate with the changes stripped out, the Tennessee Republican still thinks the final 79-18 vote was a victory.

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July 28, 2014

As Ted Cruz Lifts Hold, Diplomats Have a Chance at Confirmation (Video)

judiciary007 052114 445x291 As Ted Cruz Lifts Hold, Diplomats Have a Chance at Confirmation (Video)

( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There’s a chance at least some of the ambassadors caught in a legislative holding pattern might be confirmed before the August recess.

While the process of filling the diplomatic corps has been slow in the aftermath of the “nuclear option” standoff last fall, Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday that he had withdrawn his more recent objection.

The Texas Republican had placed a hold on State Department nominees — a move with limited utility in the post-nuclear Senate where Democrats can break filibusters without any GOP votes. Cruz had placed the hold because of last week’s brief Federal Aviation Administration ban on flights by U.S. carriers to Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Reid Open to Separate Funding for Israel, Wildfires and Border in Pre-Recess Rush

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The pre-recess rush began Monday with a plea from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“Leaving here with Israel being naked as they are, with these wildfires raging and a crisis at the border, it would be a shame if we did nothing,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.

Those three priority items would get emergency funding under a measure introduced last week by Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

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July 27, 2014

VA Health Care Deal Reached; Miller, Sanders Plan to Announce Monday (Updated)

sanders 027 040913 445x296 VA Health Care Deal Reached; Miller, Sanders Plan to Announce Monday (Updated)

Sanders (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:39 p.m. | A $15 billion VA health care deal has been reached after a weekend of negotiating to resolve differences between the House and Senate.

House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., are planning to outline their agreement on a measure that would overhaul veterans health programs on Monday, aides said Sunday. The two lawmakers have scheduled a news conference for 1:30 p.m. Monday.

According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending — $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That’s $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.

To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to be experiencing long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare.

The news comes as the Senate is also on track to confirm former Proctor & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the nation’s next secretary of Veterans Affairs before departing for the August break. Full story

July 25, 2014

Wyden Ponders Release of CIA Torture Report Without White House Consent

wyden 214 062414 445x303 Wyden Ponders Release of CIA Torture Report Without White House Consent

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A senior Senate Democrat is firing a warning shot at the White House against stalling the release of a report about the past use of torture by the U.S. intelligence community.

Sen. Ron Wyden is talking with his colleagues about the possibility of using a seldom-invoked procedure to declassify an Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture in the event the White House does not move ahead quickly.

Speaking with reporters on a variety of subjects Thursday, the Oregon Democrat referred to the Senate’s “Resolution 400″ — the Abraham A. Ribicoff-sponsored resolution that established the Intelligence Committee back in 1976.

Wyden said he was discussing invoking the resolution “in order to move this along if we have to, through the committee process, to get it declassified.”

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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.”

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July 23, 2014

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

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(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.

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

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(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.”

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Sanders Says Money Still Stalling VA Conference

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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.”

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:

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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.

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

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(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.

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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.

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