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April 25, 2014

Posts in "Appropriations"

April 18, 2014

Senate Approps Wants You! (To Talk About Research)

mikulski 140 012914 445x284 Senate Approps Wants You! (To Talk About Research)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate Appropriations Committee took to Twitter to solicit ideas for an upcoming hearing on federal investments in innovation.

The panel is seeking written testimony from the public on the subject of how federal research dollars can help drive innovation in existing and new fields. Materials should be submitted in accordance with committee guidelines no later than April 24, for an April 29 hearing with the heads of several departments and agencies that spent quite a bit of their budgets on federally backed research.

The vaunted committee sent this public appeal Friday:

Federal investments in science, technology, medicine — all creating #innovation each day. Be part of our conversation http://t.co/CUD6a5tneE

— Sen. Appropriations (@SenateApprops) April 18, 2014

Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. will lead the hearing, which includes a witness list starring Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins.

Full story

April 16, 2014

Cornyn Presses Holder on Gun Tracking

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn is asking Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. about the possibility of the Obama administration trying to track gun owners. The Texas Republican’s letter puts the Justice Department on the spot following Holder’s testimony about new gun safety devices at an April 4 House subcommittee hearing about the department’s fiscal 2015 budget.

“Would the technological capabilities you referenced in your testimony require, or allow for, the monitoring of American citizens’ personally identifying information through a central database or registry?” Cornyn asked in his Tuesday letter.

Full story

March 26, 2014

Reid Plans to Have Spending Bills on Floor in June and July

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is promising the Appropriations Committee a month’s worth of floor time.

The Nevada Democrat said Wednesday that he has given Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., four weeks for moving some of the 12 bills for fiscal 2015.

“I’ve set aside a month for her, two weeks in one month and two weeks in another,” Reid said, adding that the months are June and July.

Reid’s comments will be music to the ears of many a senior appropriator on both sides of the aisle who think that moving some bills through regular order is one opportunity for bipartisanship, even as Democrats move other, more politically-motivated measures.

Mikulski said Tuesday that she hoped to have the military construction-veterans affairs bill to the floor shortly after Memorial Day.

In separate interviews in the past two days, Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said similarly that it’s a chance for the Senate to function.

Murkowski said Wednesday that she didn’t think Reid could afford to push the “pause button” on all legislative business.

March 25, 2014

Come Memorial Day, Mikulski Wants the Floor

mikulski 116 051413 445x328 Come Memorial Day, Mikulski Wants the Floor

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski signaled again Tuesday that she intends to bring spending bills to the floor this year.

The Maryland Democrat outlined her proposed schedule at a Tuesday morning hearing of the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs subcommittee, before pushing Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki about efforts to fight the department’s claims backlog.

“Our goal will be on May 22 to have our first full committee markup,” Mikulski said. “If I’m advised by the subcommittee chair and his vice chair that they’re ready to go, the committee will be ready to go.”

Full story

March 13, 2014

McCain Rails GOP on Ukraine Bill: ‘Don’t Call Yourself Reagan Republicans’ (Video)

Sen. John McCain hammered Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday for refusing to pass by unanimous consent a Senate Foreign Relation Committee bill which would provide economic aid while imposing sanctions on Russia.

“What has happened? Where are our priorities? You can call yourself Republicans, that’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” the Arizona Republican said.

Full story

Top Intelligence Appropriator Blasts CIA, Wants Torture Report Released

Senate Luncheons 30 052113 445x289 Top Intelligence Appropriator Blasts CIA, Wants Torture Report Released

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

CIA Director John O. Brennan is facing new pressure from the Senate Democrat in charge of the agency’s secret budget.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who doubles as the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, sent a lengthy missive Thursday to Brennan backing concerns raised by Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and calling for declassification of a torture report prepared by the Intelligence panel.

Departing the Capitol just before a trip to Ukraine Thursday afternoon, Durbin was asked if he might use his power of the purse to try to push the issue forward.

“I won’t rule that out,” Durbin told CQ Roll Call.

The text of the letter to Brennan appears below:

Full story

Graham to Kerry: ‘Let Me Know What I Can Do’ to Help With Boehner (Video)

Following remarks Wednesday from Speaker John A. Boehner saying IMF aid to Ukraine is unnecessary, Sen. Lindsey Graham personally offered assistance to Secretary of State John Kerry as the House and Senate continue to debate the appropriate response to the Ukrainian crisis.

“Hey, John, good job,” the South Carolina Republican was heard saying before Kerry turned off the desk mic. “Let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner.”

Graham’s remarks were caught following a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department’s fiscal 2015 budget. Meanwhile, Kerry travels to London on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Correction 11:40 p.m.

An earlier version of this report misstated where Kerry is traveling on Friday.

March 4, 2014

Democrats Take Aim at Ryan Budget Senate GOP Doesn’t Want

With few remaining options for enacting major public policy before the November election, Democrats instead are looking to set a political trap for Republicans on income inequality issues and hoping the GOP takes the bait.

According to several sources, some Republicans, especially on the Senate side, are reluctant to have House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., push forward with his annual budget framework, which he telegraphed this week would focus on the federal government’s antipoverty programs. Senate Republicans, several of whom are caught between primary challengers on the right and Democratic upstarts on the left, would rather talk about something else, as opposed to being forced to contend with issues better suited to the Democratic party line.

“You are correct they have a vote count problem and that has led to concern on our side. We have better issues on which we can message,” said a Senate Republican aide, of the cross-chamber view of Ryan’s potential budget unveiling.

Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., already have set topline numbers for this fiscal year and next, and Murray has said she will not produce a budget this year. With those spending levels, it could be hard for House Republicans to actually pass the budget, given the 62 GOP defectors on the 2013 Murray-Ryan agreement.

“We don’t have any announcements to make at this time. It is Chairman Ryan’s intent to again put forward a balanced budget,” a Ryan spokesman said in an e-mail.

But perhaps more significant in the GOP’s calculations, assuming there is a regard for Senate Republicans’ political needs from their House counterparts, is that since 2010, Senate Democrats have used Ryan’s budgets as a political weapon against Republicans, and are sure to do so again.

The potential political “trap” goes like this: Democrats, through a series of messaging votes and initiatives from the White House, make “income inequality” issues — extending expired unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage — the centerpiece of their 2014 midterm narrative.

Republicans, in turn, respond to these messaging efforts by trying to engage on the issue. Republican senators such as Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida already have given speeches to these ends. And on Monday, Ryan unveiled a 204-page report assessing the failures of federal antipoverty programs.

Once Ryan releases his budget blueprint — if he does — Democrats plan to attack him and House Republicans, as they have for years, for slashing safety net programs to balance the budget. For their part, Democrats are happy Republicans are playing on their turf.

“House Republicans are realizing that the major issue that’s affecting the American people is the decline of incomes for the middle class and people below the middle class. … We may not agree with their solutions, but I think it’s a good step that they’re focusing on these things now rather than some other stuff,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.

When reminded of previous Democratic messaging efforts, largely led by the New York Democrat himself, Schumer added the following caveat: “Well, I haven’t seen the whole Ryan budget this year, but I imagine most of it is going to be similar to last time — where he’s trying to dramatically cut things that will help the middle class grow, like education, infrastructure, scientific research. It’s not going to work.”

A Senate Democratic aide conceded the political nature of budgets in a way that underscored this dynamic: “A lot of these political debates aren’t necessarily won or lost on the answers to questions, but what you can frame as the important question, and on that front, we feel like we’ve already won.”

That has some Republicans asking why give Democrats an easy messaging issue when control of the Senate is in play. With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings hovering around 40 percent, and almost a complete disregard of his budget release Tuesday, these Republicans believe that other messages would be clearer and more effective.

But other Republicans dismiss the idea that attacking Ryan’s budget brings much political advantage to otherwise struggling Democrats.

“I don’t think the Democratic talking points on our budget [are as] effective as they think they are,” said one GOP aide. “I think they’d love to find an issue that would become a national issue to combat the general fatigue with the Obama presidency.”

And even some Democrats admit that what’s said on the ground by candidates plays a more significant role in voters’ decisions than national narratives.

“At the risk of going off-script, I don’t think the problem is Paul Ryan, I think it’s the ideas that all these candidates support and that’s what will have big consequences in these Senate races,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter, citing recent stories of GOP candidates opposing the principle of a minimum wage. But Canter suggested that national policy decisions “build a narrative.”

Would McConnell Have a Governing Majority?

mcconnell020414 445x283 Would McConnell Have a Governing Majority?

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell has long coveted the chance to be Senate majority leader, and while he could get the job come 2015, it may be more than he bargained for.

The Kentucky Republican and current minority leader could end up with the narrowest of majorities, with tea party firebrands such as Ted Cruz of Texas holding the power to sink, for example, a Republican budget blueprint if they aren’t satisfied.

It would be similar to the scenario faced by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, whose fractious conference has repeatedly revolted against and thwarted House leadership’s agenda.

On most issues in the Senate, of course, 60 votes are still needed and that means working with Democrats. McConnell has said repeatedly that he would run a more open Senate and would seek to restore some semblance of regular order. If he only has 51 Republicans, he’ll have to corral his conference and nine or 10 Democratic votes each week to advance legislation. And that need for bipartisanship is sure to put stresses on his party’s internal dynamics.

Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt, who has served in GOP leadership on both sides of the Rotunda, said the party would face a test of whether it’s ready to govern.

“There are some things like the budget that 51 Republicans in the Senate would have to vote for,” the Missouri Republican said. “That [and] how we use our committees would be two of the big tests of whether we are ready to be a governing party or not, and I think it’s something we ought to be thinking about just in case the majority does happen.”

Republicans could try to nullify the health care law through budget reconciliation rather than by threatening another government shutdown, for example. But drafting a budget that gets 51 votes would be the toughest challenge — especially if McConnell doesn’t have a vote to spare.

Blunt is one of many Republicans contrasting how McConnell would run the Senate with the current Democratic rule under Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“No. 1, I hope we’ve learned the lessons of what happens when you don’t do the business the right way,” he said. “Second, the times that Republicans did lead the House and Senate, there was a budget and the appropriations bills generally came to the floor one at a time, and all came to the floor in some form to be debated and amended.”

That could help Republicans attract Democratic votes to advance legislation, although it won’t necessarily close the sharp split over tactics between McConnell and Cruz and others in the GOP base.

Operating in the minority, Republicans fractured over the tactic championed by Cruz of tying the funding of the government to defunding Obamacare. McConnell, notably, cut the deal to reopen the government.

“The tactical choices you make can actually help your chances or hurt your chances. Shutting down the government to defund Obamacare was a tactical mistake. We’ve overcome that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Cruz later feuded with McConnell, as the Texas Republican forced his fellow GOP senators to walk the plank on the debt limit.

Cruz senior communications adviser and speechwriter Amanda Carpenter said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call that she didn’t envision her boss changing course.

“He’s said before, ‘I don’t trust Republicans, I don’t trust Democrats.’ He’s still going try to do the things he set out to do. The goal of being in the Senate isn’t just to be the guy with the most people on your team. It’s to fix it,” Carpenter said.

Other senior Republicans acknowledged the balancing act McConnell would face. The challenge would be to balance the desires of the conservative base with trying to operate a functional chamber.

“We won’t have 60,” noted Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is in line to be Armed Services chairman in a GOP-led Senate. ”One of the things I know for a fact because I’ve got the commitment for Sen. McConnell is that we will take up bills in the regular order, and we will do as we did for years.”

The party also has to focus on what’s achievable, suggested Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota.

“You can’t set unrealistic expectations,” Thune said, adding that it’s something the party has been guilty of previously. “You have to define your reality, and the reality will be, even if we win the majority, is that we will be working with a Democratic president for the next couple of years who has a veto pen.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, McConnell opened the door to reversing November’s “nuclear” rules change, though that would be a postelection debate.

“The Senate can be returned to the place of great debates, contentious debates, but where you can still get outcomes on things where you have at least 60 senators,” McConnell said.

“I definitely think that there is support for what I would consider to be regular order, which is moving to approps bills,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “When we are to assume that [majority], we are going to have some different faces, different folks. So, you take every session as it comes.”

Thune conceded that keeping the conference unified would be a challenge and there could be more disputes like the one over defunding Obamacare. But he said that having the majority is a “very different scenario.”

“In the minority you are reacting all the time, and in most cases you are trying to put up a defense against what the other side is trying to do. But when you are calling the plays and setting the agenda, I think there is more of a, I hope, more of a buy-in to what the goals are. If we have gotten the buy-in and gotten everybody invested, taking ownership of what we want to achieve, then I think it gets easier to get people together, but we will see.”

January 16, 2014

Omnibus Sails Through the Senate

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The allure of recess won out Thursday as senators sped up the timeline and cleared a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Passage completes the process on Capitol Hill of keeping the government funded through the end of the fiscal year at the end of September. Appropriators completed a rather herculean lift of getting all 12 regular appropriation bills included in the package, and then guided the bill through the House and Senate less than 72 hours after revealing it to the public.

Senators voted 72-26 to limit debate on the measure before passing it by the same vote count. Full story

McCain: Putting Drone Language in Classified Omnibus Annex ‘Outrageous’

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. John McCain is incensed about a report that says the omnibus spending bill essentially blocks the transfer of CIA drone operations to the Pentagon.

The Arizona Republican, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, says he was not advised of the inclusion of any such provision in the classified annex that accompanies the Defense Department portion of the $1.1 trillion catch-all discretionary spending bill. The Washington Post wrote about the provisions on Wednesday night, after the House had already easily passed the legislation.

“It’s one of the most outrageous violations of … the authority of the authorizing committees. This is clearly an issue for the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and I’ve talked to members of the Appropriations Committee that didn’t even know this was in,” McCain said. “You can’t do business like this.

Full story

January 13, 2014

Appropriators (Finally) Complete Their Work, Send Omnibus to House Floor

rogersmikulski 445x333 Appropriators (Finally) Complete Their Work, Send Omnibus to House Floor

(Courtesy House and Senate Appropriations committees)

Appropriators achieved Monday what seemed like an impossible task, crafting an omnibus spending bill that includes even the most contentious of the 12 subcommittee measures.

In recent years, the idea of moving a spending bill funding departments like Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency through the divided Congress has seemed at times laughable. With a product in hand, now the time comes for the panel’s leaders to sell the measure, which would fund the discretionary parts of the government through the end of September.

“The agreement includes the work of all of our Subcommittee Chairs and Ranking Members — in total, nearly 50 Members of the House and Senate, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement. “It is truly a bipartisan agreement that a significant number of Members worked day and night over the holidays, and I thank them all for their dedication.”

Full story

January 7, 2014

Mikulski Warns Appropriators May Need ‘a Little Bit More Time’ for Omnibus

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Subcommittee chairmen may be known as cardinals in appropriations parlance, but Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski called Tuesday’s meeting of the Democratic and Republican spending chiefs on both sides of the Rotunda a “conversation” rather than a “conclave.”

The Maryland Democrat left a meeting of the top four leaders of the congressional spending panels Tuesday afternoon sounding optimistic about getting an omnibus finished soon and averting a shutdown, but she conceded negotiators may need a short reprieve from the current deadline.

“So, there’s no white smoke like we have a bill, however … we’ve narrowed our choices,” Mikulski said, indicating that the principals and staff are upbeat about the chances of getting an agreement.

Full story

January 3, 2014

Did Murray, Ryan Set Table for Future Leadership Bids?

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Patty Murray and Paul D. Ryan are lawmakers on the rise, and their recent budget framework might not be a mere passing of ships in the night — especially if their upward trajectories continue on parallel paths.

The Democratic senator and Republican representative like to downplay their personal ambitions, even though Ryan ran for vice president at 42 and Murray has become Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s go-to person for political and policy puzzles.

Both have been mentioned as potential future leaders of their respective parties, even though those prospects are likely years away. In that event, the Murray-Ryan deal of 2013 may be an early harbinger of what could become a significant working relationship in years to come.

Aides to the Washington Democrat and Wisconsin Republican declined to comment on the personal stakes each lawmaker has in their successful budget negotiations, but House and Senate sources noted they are in a much better position for having come together than they would have been had they failed. Full story

December 17, 2013

Coburn’s 2013 ‘Wastebook’ Features Brothels, NASA and Senate ‘Lifestyle Training’

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Coburn released his annual “wastebook” Tuesday. This year’s edition is replete with cartoons. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants Congress to stop spending money on things he deems unnecessary — such as “looking for signs of intelligent life in Congress” by giving NASA $3 million to set up a workshop in Washington, D.C., explaining the legislative branch.

Coburn, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released his annual “Wastebook” Tuesday, and if you like a little sass and a lot of cuts in government spending, this is the book for you. Of course, it does not outline a path to make structural changes on either the tax or spending side, but it does highlight approximately 100 projects that cost the government $30 billion, the purpose of which Coburn questions.

A sample of some of the items Coburn would like to eliminate? Full story

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