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Posts in "Appropriations"
August 21, 2014
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
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.
“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.”
August 4, 2014
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
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.”
July 31, 2014
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.
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
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is warning of a whirlwind September schedule that will feature a slew of do-over votes on Democratic campaign priorities.
“I want everyone to know what’s going to happen when we come back. Following the August recess, we’re going to convene on Sept. 8, and we’re going to be here for one week, two weeks and two days. Sept. 23 is our target date to adjourn until after the election,” the Nevada Democrat said when opening the Senate floor Thursday for the last expected session day before the August break.
July 28, 2014
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.
July 24, 2014
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.
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.”
July 23, 2014
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.”
July 22, 2014
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.
July 16, 2014
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin would not concede that the only way forward for fiscal 2015 appropriations is a continuing resolution, but he wasn’t very optimistic.
Asked if the regular process of handling bills one at a time was dead, the Illinois Democrat said ”I hope not, but it really looks tough.”
Durbin’s comments come a day ahead of a scheduled full committee markup of the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill. In addition to his leadership role, Durbin serves as chairman of the Defense subcommittee, which considered the measure on Tuesday.
July 15, 2014
Sen. Jeff Sessions is calling on his fellow lawmakers to reject any new spending to address the immigration crisis at the border until President Barack Obama disavows any plans to expand deportation relief known as DACA.
The Alabama Republican made his plea in a “dear colleague” letter circulated to Senate offices on Monday. In the letter, he said the possibility of more executive actions on immigration “threatens the foundation of our constitutional Republic.”
“Certainly, DACA and the President’s other numerous unlawful policies must be terminated,” Sessions wrote. “But as a first step, Congress must not acquiesce to spending more taxpayer dollars until the President unequivocally rescinds his threat of more illegal executive action.”
The Sessions letter comes ahead of an all-senators briefing on Wednesday on the Obama administration’s roughly $3.7 billion request for emergency supplemental appropriations to address the crisis at the border. The full text appears below:
Ask Sen. Tom Harkin about his committee’s work this Congress and he’s ready to rattle off a key statistic.
“Fourteen bills. More than any other committee in the Congress. Fourteen bills signed into law.”
The retiring five-term senator — who hails from a vastly more productive era — might seem at first blush an unlikely candidate to break through in the most dysfunctional Congress ever. Harkin is an unabashed Midwestern liberal. But he’s also proved adept at reaching across the aisle on issues that don’t always make the front pages — such as the Workforce Investment Act reauthorization — a major overhaul heading to the president’s desk.
To hear Harkin tell it, much of the opportunity for success comes from having an old-school legislator as a partner.
“First of all, I have a good ranking member in Lamar Alexander. While we disagree on things, we’re able to work together and find common ground and get it done,” the Iowa Democrat said. Alexander, who became the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this Congress, learned the ropes under a fellow Tennessean, the late Majority Leader Howard Baker.
“That’s just it. We just work. It takes work. It takes time,” Harkin said last week, as leaders in both parties hailed the WIA.
It also takes discipline.
Harkin rejected the idea of adding an unemployment extension he and other Democrats supported to the re-authorization. “We worked five years on it and it’s a good bill and we are not going to let it get screwed up by anything,” Harkin said when the bill headed to the floor.
Alexander said the HELP committee has a history of focusing on areas where common ground between the parties can be achieved, including under the leadership of the previous chairman, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and I’ll give Sen. Harkin a good deal of the credit,” Alexander said. “Ideologically, we are very different, but we both know that our job is to get a result where we can. We have a huge jurisdiction. Sen. Kennedy used to say that we have about 40 percent of the jurisdiction of the Senate. And I think we’ve produced more legislation that has been reported to the floor and become law than any other committee.”
The House cleared the workforce investment agreement with an overwhelming 415-6 vote on July 9.
“The Workforce Investment Act had been stuck, literally, for 10 years. And finally, especially due to the work of Sen. Murray and Sen. Isakson, it passed,” Alexander said, lauding Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., for running point.
“I think what you saw was both of us sit down and work with our counterparts across the aisle to find common ground and achieve something that was really important to our country. And that is how we work,” Murray said.
Alexander also highlighted the work of longtime committee members Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., who helped pass the Child Care Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families.
“I think part of the solution is that we look for areas where we can get a result, and we have good participation from other members of the committee. It’s not just a two-man show,” Alexander said.
Other HELP Committee measures that have become law this Congress include a reauthorization of the toll-free number for the poison control center and promoting access to epinephrine pens in schools. Harkin has more he wants to get done before retiring, but getting his education agenda to move could be quite a struggle. There’s more of a partisan divide on that issue than some others he’s handled.
“I’m working on the higher education bill. I’ll have it out in September. I don’t know know, maybe lame duck,” Harkin said. “Maybe.”
If he does, it might be testament to the relationships he’s built.
“If I only dealt with my Republican colleagues only on an issue basis, I probably never would get anywhere,” Harkin said then. “But I deal with them on a human basis, too.”
Alexander said he had particular issues with the Democratic view on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — also known as No Child Left Behind.
“Like on kindergarten through the 12th grade, my view of the Democratic bill is that it creates a national school board. We simply don’t agree so we had competing bills. On higher education, we may have some different opinions,” Alexander said. “But where we can agree we’ll work together.”
But Alexander also pointed out his recent effort with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to simplify the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid to attend college. Their bill would eliminate the current 10-page Free Application for Federal Student Aid and replace it with a simple, two-question postcard.
At a meeting of the National Governors Association on July 11, Alexander stood up and showed the current student aid form to demonstrate its length.
“Because it’s a bipartisan effort, I think it has a much better chance of actually getting a result,” Alexander told CQ Roll Call. “So we are not just interested in making speeches, we are interested in getting a result and where we can we will and where we can’t, we’ll lay those items aside and go on to something else.”
Harkin’s also continuing to focus on early learning legislation, pushing for floor time.
But his other baby, the appropriations bill that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, is stuck in a broader morass as Democrats seek to avoid contentious amendments.
Asked about the chances to consider that bill, Harkin said: “I have no idea. I really don’t know.”
“I think the CR that we have in September is going to be short-term, probably until December or something,” Harkin said. “And then after we come back in the lame duck we’ll work on a longer bill, and hopefully it will not be a CR, but it will actually be an omnibus.”
And naturally, one that includes his bill.
When Harkin retires at the end of this Congress, Murray — who has been bolstering her legislative bona fides this Congress — could be in position to take his dual gavels at HELP and the appropriations subcommittee that funds the programs HELP oversees. But she declined to say whether she would.
“All those questions will be answered at some point, I am not ready [to] yet.”