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October 22, 2014

Posts in "Appropriations"

October 22, 2014

Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’ Targets Include Mountain Lions, Sheep, Beer

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Coburn, pictured here unveiling the 2013 Wastebook. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn and his investigators have been busy in their most recent effort to unveil what they view as government waste and abuse.

The 2014 edition of the Oklahoma Republican’s annual “Wastebook” runs almost 250 pages and features more than 1,100 footnotes. It’s presumably the last such report Coburn will issue from his Senate perch, as he’s resigning his seat early at the end of the current Congress.

As in previous editions, the report highlights billions of dollars of projects that Coburn views as wasteful government spending.

“This report, the fifth annual Wastebook, gives a snapshot of just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months with borrowed money and your tax dollars,” Coburn wrote in the report’s introduction. “Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings, raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be been better spent — or not spent at all — were squandered.” Full story

October 20, 2014

Mikulski Sets Senate Ebola Hearing Two Days After Elections (Updated)

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Mikulski will hold a post-election Ebola hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:15 p.m. | As the threat of the Ebola virus in the United States appears to be easing, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski announced she would hold a hearing on the issue two days after voters are scheduled to go to the polls.

The hearing is set for Nov. 6, and would be the first in the Democratic-run Senate since the first U.S. Ebola case was discovered in Dallas. The hearing could take on increased urgency if the Obama administration follows through on sending over a supplemental spending request. A Democratic aide said appropriators were told to expect a request for Ebola funding as soon as this week but did not have any details on its scope or whether it would be designated as emergency funding.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, has been pushing for a new hearing on Ebola. Moran visited the University of Kansas hospital last week, where he said the situation had changed since a joint hearing last month of the Appropriations subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Full story

October 15, 2014

McConnell Says CDC Should Get Money Needed to Battle Ebola

If federal health agencies under President Barack Obama want more money to fight Ebola, they should get it, according to the Senate’s top Republican.

“I think they should have anything they want. The president asked for $88 million a few weeks ago, we gave it to him,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told MSNBC. “Whatever the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] thinks they need, we’ll give it to them.”

Full story

October 8, 2014

Republicans Eye Obamacare Showdown in Lame Duck

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:22 p.m. | A group of Senate Republicans have their eye on another Obamacare showdown in the lame-duck session.

The 14 Republicans, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote a letter urging Speaker John A. Boehner to ”prohibit the Obama administration” from spending money on an “Obamacare taxpayer bailout.”

They point to a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office that said additional funding authority would be needed to make payments to insurance companies under the risk-corridor component of the Obamacare health care exchanges. The Republicans say taxpayers could be on the hook for bailing out insurance companies that suffer losses.

“Without that appropriation, any money spent to cover insurance company losses under the risk corridor program would be unlawful,” the senators wrote to Boehner, later noting Congress needs to act to keep the government operating past Dec. 11, when the existing continuing resolution expires.

Full story

September 26, 2014

Inhofe Holds Up Ebola Funding, Seeks Details on Protecting Soldiers (Updated)

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(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:55 p.m.| Senate Armed Services ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., is holding up most of a $1 billion request from the White House to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa until the administration proposes a plan to keep soldiers from contracting the illness. Full story

September 18, 2014

Senate Votes to Fund Syrian Rebels Against ISIS, Avert Government Shutdown (Updated) (Video)

manchin091814 445x302 Senate Votes to Fund Syrian Rebels Against ISIS, Avert Government Shutdown (Updated) (Video)

Manchin said he’s concerned about arming Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:50 p.m. | After some last-minute drama on immigration, the Senate took care of Congress’ last must-pass piece of business before the November elections — keeping the government funded and providing authority for arming and training Syrian rebels in the fight against the terror group known as ISIS.

Senators voted 78-22 in favor of the continuing resolution funding the government through Dec. 11, with the bill’s next stop President Barack Obama’s desk, well ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline to preventing a government shutdown.

The bill, which the president has said he will sign, provides billions the president intends to use for his war on ISIS, but does not explicitly authorize that war beyond arming “vetted” Syrian rebels. The vote did not cut cleanly along party lines, which came as no surprise. Full story

September 10, 2014

Cruz to House GOP: Punt Spending Debate Into 2015

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Ted Cruz is launching an effort to push the House into a continuing resolution that funds the government into the next Congress.

“It would be a serious mistake for House Republicans to pass a Continuing Resolution that would ensure that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats would come back to Washington, after many of them will have likely lost their seats, for a no-holds barred lame duck session where they will be free to pass legislation that the American people will never be able to hold them responsible for,” the Texas Republican said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call.

“Americans cannot trust politicians they can no longer hold accountable at the ballot box,” Cruz said. “The Continuing Resolution should, at a minimum, fund government operations until after the new Congress is sworn in next year; House and Senate Republicans should both insist on this basic principle.”

The statement followed a letter sent by Cruz and Lee to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledging to object to consent requests to move on more contentious proposals in the lame duck.

Full story

September 9, 2014

Reid Warns of Shutdown Showdown Over Immigration (Video)

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Cruz said Tuesday it would be appropriate to add language blocking a “pen and phone” approach from the president on immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that if a band of Republicans press for language blocking executive actions on immigration, they’re inviting a government shutdown.

“If I have anything to do with it? No, no, no,” the Nevada Democrat said of allowing a vote on such a proposal, as sought by a group of Senate and House conservatives led on the Senate side by Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions and Mike Lee.

Asked what happens if the senators insist on considering it as part of the continuing resolution debate that’s expected next week, Reid pointed to a risk government funding could lapse.

Full story

September 5, 2014

After Ferguson, Durbin May Seek Reforms to Police Militarization Programs

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(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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August 21, 2014

Chambliss Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Obama on Bergdahl Swap

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee wants a special counsel to investigate President Barack Obama’s swap of five Taliban members for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

An aide to Sen. Saxby Chambliss told CQ Roll Call in an email Thursday that the Georgia Republican wants the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the prisoner swap, which the Government Accountability Office contended earlier Thursday violated federal law.

The GAO opinion said the administration violated the notice requirement for transfers out of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Antideficiency Act, which is the federal law barring spending without appropriated funds. The Defense Department has contended that the notice requirement is unconstitutional.

The aide’s email came after Chambliss sent out a statement Thursday pointing to the GAO opinion, which came at the request of Republicans.

“This legal decision further validates the argument I have been making with many of my colleagues against the administration’s release of the Taliban Five,” Chambliss said. “By failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance as required by the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, the president completely disregarded laws duly passed by Congress and signed by his own hand.

“In addition to simply violating the notification requirement, the administration has violated the Antideficiency Act by obligating funds that were not legally available. While the president has a habit of ignoring laws relating to domestic policy, such as healthcare and immigration, this latest overreach regarding our national security has dangerous implications. The United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists for good reason, and these senior Taliban leaders will soon rejoin the fight, as they have stated publicly multiple times.”

Chambliss’ release notes federal employees who violate the Antideficiency Act can face administrative and criminal sanctions.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the possibility of a grand jury in either Washington, D.C., or Alexandria, Va., pursuing the matter.

August 11, 2014

Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus

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Mikulski details her plans about transportation funding issues at Baltimore’s Penn Station. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

BALTIMORE, Md. — When the Senate returns next month, the chamber’s top appropriator is planning one more push at an omnibus, even if it’s a serious long shot.

Speaking at an event to laud the enactment of a stopgap measure to provide about $11 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund and avert construction layoffs, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., outlined an effort to use the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill as the vehicle for a catchall package, rather than a continuing resolution.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x300 Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus“When we come back in September, I’m going to make another effort to get us to an omnibus. I believe, now that we’ve passed the groundbreaking bill to look out for veterans’ health care, that’s a long range bill, but right now we have money for fiscal ’15 that would enable us to move VA medical care,” Mikulski said at Baltimore’s Penn Station. “And that would be the little engine that could that would help me move to an omnibus.”

Full story

August 4, 2014

Leahy: Reported USAID HIV Ruse in Cuba ‘Worse Than Irresponsible’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s top appropriator is not amused with a new Associated Press report about the agency’s activities in Cuba.

Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee warned of the consequences of the effort to the reputation of USAID.

“It is one thing to support nascent Cuban civil society organizations, if USAID’s role is disclosed in advance to participants and beneficiaries. It is quite another to concoct an HIV/AIDS workshop to promote a political agenda,” Leahy said in a statement. “If that is what happened here it is worse than irresponsible. It may have been good business for USAID’s contractor, but it tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.” Full story

August 1, 2014

Senate Passes Funding for Israel’s Iron Dome

The Senate passed a supplemental spending bill for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system Friday, after most senators had gone home for the August recess.

The bill had been proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., only to be blocked late Thursday by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who demanded the $225 million cost be offset so that it would not add to the debt.

Coburn relented, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who thanked him afterward at a press conference for no longer standing in the way of the bill.

“By passing this bipartisan measure, we send a message to Hamas that its terrorist tactics and its attempts to terrorize Israel’s populace will not succeed,” McConnell said in a statement. “And we can help Israel defend its civilian population against indiscriminate attacks as it continues its campaign — Operation Protective Edge — to destroy the often-Iranian-supplied weapons stockpiled within Gaza.”

By Steven Dennis Posted at 11:35 a.m.
Appropriations

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

Dr. No Plans One-Man Blockade on Bills That Add to Deficit

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Dr. No is at again, despite the jet fumes in the air.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. — the fiscal hawk of the Senate who has earned the nickname Dr. No. — warned his colleagues that he would object to passing bills by unanimous consent, including money for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system or wildfires, unless they were offset.

“I am putting my colleagues on notice that if you want to pass any bill that’s going to go by unanimous consent, you better find some waste somewhere to offset it or I will object,” Coburn said. “And I don’t mind taking the heat, no matter what the issue. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.” Full story

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