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December 23, 2014

Posts in "Budget"

December 17, 2014

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel (Updated)

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Enzi will take the reins in the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 7:23 p.m. | Sen. Michael B. Enzi will be the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in the next Congress.

The Wyoming Republican will get the job over current ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who announced Wednesday he’d be deferring the position. Enzi has seniority on the panel, meaning his decision to assert his position would have made his selection likely in the event it was put to a vote of the Republican members of the committee.

“Mike is an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers. He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform,” Sessions said in a statement.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:06 p.m.
Budget

December 13, 2014

Senate Avoids Shutdown, Passes Cromnibus in Bipartisan Vote

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Reid, left, and Mitch McConnell, are tested as the government gets closer to shutting down. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:26 p.m. | The Senate has avoided a government shutdown, easily clearing the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” funding the government through September.

The government was scheduled to shut down at midnight Saturday, but the Senate first cleared a four-day stopgap measure by voice vote and later reached a deal to clear the cromnibus after lawmakers in both parties sparred over who was to blame for the impending shutdown theatrics.

The final vote was 56-40 in an extremely bipartisan vote, with 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont voting no.

Republican no votes: Bob Corker of Tennessee; Michael D. Crapo of Idaho; Ted Cruz of Texas; Jeff Flake of Arizona; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa; Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah; John McCain of Arizona; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Rand Paul of Kentucky; Rob Portman of Ohio; Jim Risch of Idaho; Marco Rubio of Florida; Tim Scott of South Carolina; Jeff Sessions of Alabama; Richard C. Shelby of Alabama; and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Democratic no votes: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Barbara Boxer of California; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Maria Cantwell of Washington; Al Franken of Minnesota; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Tom Harkin of Iowa; Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Carl Levin of Michigan; Joe Manchin III of West Virginia; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Tester of Montana; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In the key vote earlier Saturday night, the Senate easily cleared the 60-vote threshold to stop a filibuster attempt, 77-19. Thirteen Republicans, five Democrats and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., voted to filibuster the bill.

The Senate then thumped an effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to raise a point of order over the issue of the President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Cruz’s effort failed on a similarly lopsided 22-74 vote. 

The Senate had been stuck in the midst of numerous procedural votes on nominations — with a weekend session forced by conservatives against the wishes of many in their own party. Full story

December 8, 2014

McConnell Plots a Functional, Bipartisan Senate

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McConnell said divisions among Senate Democrats in the next Congress will trump any discipline problems within his Republican majority.(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell wants to hit the ground running in January — and he thinks Democrats are ready to join him in crafting a more open, functional Senate.

In an exclusive interview in his Capitol office suite, the incoming majority leader told CQ Roll Call he’s been preparing his would-be chairmen to move quickly since spring.

“The worst experience any majority can have is that you convene and you look around and nothing’s ready to go. So what I said to the members who hoped they would be chairmen [was], ‘Let’s don’t have that problem. Be thinking now about legislation that you have, preferably that enjoys some Democratic support, because we certainly didn’t think we were going to have 60 and we don’t,’” the Kentucky Republican said.

McConnell pointed to conversations he’s had with Democrats, whose cooperation will be required to get the Senate functioning as he would like.

Full story

December 2, 2014

Lawmakers Look to Penis Pumps to Offset Bill for Disabled (Updated)

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Casey is a cosponsor of the bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:05 a.m. | Congress is looking to penis pumps to help pay for a bill that would establish tax-advantaged savings accounts for the disabled.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE Act, is set for a House vote today. It would help the disabled save money to help pay for education, health care, transportation, housing and other expenses.

The $2 billion cost of the bill is offset with a variety of savings proposals, including preventing Medicare from paying for “vacuum erection systems,” also known as penis pumps, which would save about $450 million.

Medicare covers the costs of penis pumps for seniors whose doctors verify they have an erectile dysfunction problem. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 9:38 p.m.
Budget

Sticking Around Could Make Portman Senate’s GOP MVP

luncheons056 120214 445x296 Sticking Around Could Make Portman Senates GOP MVP

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Free from the albatross of a presidential campaign, Sen. Rob Portman is set to play a starring role in helping set the Senate Republican agenda on taxes, spending, trade and more next year.

GOP senators were pleased to hear the news that the Ohio Republican with the gold-plated résumé plans to spend more of the next year in the Capitol than in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Sen. Portman would be an extraordinarily able president of the United States, but I’m delighted if he’s made that decision, that he’s going to be in the United States Senate. He’s one of our most valuable players,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Taxes and spending have long been in the former budget director’s wheelhouse.

“I think you’ll see in both areas he’ll play a significant role in the next Congress — both on the budget we put together and pass, the reconciliation instructions in there which are very important — and obviously he’ll be one of the lead guys on tax reform,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Portman, who announced Tuesday he would seek re-election but would not run for president in 2016, was almost tapped by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to be his vice presidential running mate.

“Given Portman’s stature in the Senate and expertise on economic issues, you can expect him to play an outsized role in the new majority; not just because he’s an affable guy, but because he’s got a unique ability to get things done,” a senior Senate Republican aide said.

Portman said his decision not to run for president was based on his desire — now that the GOP will have the majority in the Senate — to take on big issues such as tax policy changes, rewriting energy policy, trade promotion authority and regulatory relief.

“I think getting the majority makes a huge difference,” Portman said at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event Tuesday. “The Senate has been largely dysfunctional, unable to deal even with the most basic issues and now we have a chance.”

In a Monday interview with Ohio reporters, Portman said he would have been more tempted to run for president had Democrats remained in power.

“I think it would be much harder for me to feel as though I was making a significant difference in the lives of my fellow Ohioans if Harry Reid had stayed in there, because we wouldn’t be doing tax reform or expanding exports or budgets or some of the other oversight responsibilities that we have and are not doing here in the Congress,” he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Portman worked as a legislative affairs director for President George Bush before winning a House seat in 1993. He served for years on the Ways and Means Committee, which handles taxes, trade and health care. President George W. Bush appointed him as the U.S. trade representative in 2005, and the following year he became director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who is ranking member on the Budget Committee, said Portman earned some of his following when, in the OMB post, he managed to win the support of the president for a budget that balanced.

“To do that, he had to tell secretaries and department heads you’re not going to get as much money as you’d like, which is a tough job, and you can’t just cut taxes and increase spending. This won’t work,” Sessions said.

Portman now serves on the Senate Budget and Finance committees, which have a broad economic ambit.

“He has been, and will be this year particularly, an invaluable member of the Budget Committee because as [a former] OMB director he fully understands this process, and his values are good,” said Sessions, who is on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

“He also is one of the top Senate members who understands tax policy, which is a big part of how we are going to be able to produce a budget that’ll work,” Sessions said. “So, he’s an extraordinarily valuable member of the committee and the conference.”

Portman, who speaks in a cool, controlled manner, also has the respect of many, mostly moderate, Democrats and has worked with them on legislation.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sponsored an energy efficiency bill with Portman and hopes that other areas of common interest can be found.

“I’ve enjoyed the partnership we’ve had around energy efficiency and I hope that continues not only on energy issues, but others as well,” Shaheen said.

Portman said Tuesday the energy efficiency measure was on his to-do list for the next Congress. He holds a seat on the Energy and Natural Resources panel.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she hopes to do important work with Portman. The two could lead the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations. Portman is interested in being chairman.

“We could really do some important work together there, so I’m looking forward to it,” McCaskill said.

The subcommittee is famous for its broad jurisdiction and subpoena power relating to the efficiency and economy of operations of all branches of the government. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is currently that panel’s ranking member, but he is also in line to be Armed Services chairman and conference rules generally preclude leaders of top committees from holding such gavels.

McCaskill has also worked with Portman on legislation, including a measure to streamline the process for building infrastructure projects.

When Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., heard Portman was not running for president, he said he joked to his staff, “that means Romney must be running. … That’s the first thing that popped into my mind.”

Heller worked with Portman on an unemployment extension, which passed the Senate only to stall in the House. He welcomed Portman’s decision.

“He’s a great senator, easy to work with, has a great disposition, everybody likes him,” Heller said.

November 12, 2014

Enzi Hasn’t Ruled Out Seeking Budget Gavel

Honest 005 020112 445x305 Enzi Hasnt Ruled Out Seeking Budget Gavel

Enzi, left, hasn’t ruled out a run for the Budget Committee gavel against Sessions, right. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., hasn’t ruled out claiming his seniority on the Budget Committee and seeking the chairmanship against Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the panel’s current ranking member.

“There are a lot of conversations about committees and subcommittees and I am not going to talk about it now,” Enzi said when asked if he would seek the gavel.

Sessions was also coy.

“We’ve talked,” Sessions said, noting that he considers Enzi one of his best friends in the Senate.

“I wouldn’t want to comment on the details of the conversation,” Sessions added.

Asked if he expects to be chairman, Sessions said, “It’s always up to the committee and the leaders.” He later added, “Mike Enzi’s one of the best people here, and we’ve consulted. We’ve had a good conversation.”

Enzi has seniority on the Budget Committee over Sessions, who four years ago was pushed out as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, said he had not heard from Enzi on the matter, but acknowledged a gavel fight was possible.

“I don’t know,” Crapo said. “You’re not the first one to ask me if that is the case.”

“As a technical matter, the committee votes. As another technical matter all committees historically go with seniority,” Crapo said. “I suppose you could find an example where that didn’t happen, but it’s really rare.”

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both members of the panel, said they had not heard from Enzi either.

Two years ago, Enzi also left open the possibility of taking over as Budget Committee ranking member, but ultimately decided to let Sessions keep the post.

At stake is who will be the face of the party on budget issues and shepherd a budget resolution on the chamber floor — something that soon-t0-be-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other top Republican leaders have said will be a priority next year.

Sessions has staked out a position as perhaps the chamber’s most adamant opponent of the Senate’s immigration bill and President Barack Obama’s planned executive action on immigration. Sessions is pushing Republicans to block any funding for amnesty in a spending bill to keep the government running — a move that could ultimately provoke a government shutdown showdown.

Enzi is the main Senate Republican sponsor of the Internet sales tax bill killed this week by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. He also recently penned an op-ed in Roll Call calling for slashing $7.6 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade.

Neither Enzi nor Sessions voted for the bill reopening the government during last year’s shutdown over Obamacare.

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November 5, 2014

After Catching a Wave, Senate Republicans Look to Legislate

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Moran, right, with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on the campaign trail. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Having emerged from an Election Day that many Republicans only dreamed of, the Senate Republicans’ campaign chairman was already looking forward to a Senate starting to function again.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told a home state radio station that frustration with the lack of legislative activity contributed to his seeking the campaign job in the first place.

“This place has been run, for the four years I’ve been in the United States Senate, with the goal of doing nothing,” the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said on KNSS. “Boy, this place better change. It’s why I was willing to chair the Senate campaign committee, is to get us in a position in which Sen. Reid was not the leader with the plan to do nothing, and I intend as a member of the United States Senate — not as a Republican senator but as a Kansan, as an American — to do everything I can to see that we work to accomplish things.” Full story

November 3, 2014

Hal Rogers Eager for Majority Leader McConnell

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Singer Jimmy Rose has appeared with McConnell and Rogers (not pictured) on Capitol Hill and in Kentucky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The man in charge of writing spending bills in the House sounds downright excited for the possibility of fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell becoming Senate majority leader next year.

RollCall On the Road Logo150x150 Hal Rogers Eager for Majority Leader McConnell“I’m very hopeful and anxious that Mitch takes over the majority leader’s slot over there so that we can move these bills, and fund the government in a regular way — passing 12 individual bills on the House side and Senate side, then conferencing them in the old-fashioned way,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said last week in an interview.

The scenario would play out if McConnell wins his own re-election Tuesday against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republicans pick up the six or more seats needed to flip control.

The two longtime appropriators go back decades and have coordinated on a number of projects, and they would be an even more powerful duo with McConnell running the Senate.

Over the weekend, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call moved the race to Republican Favored. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sounded Saturday like he was expecting a McConnell victory. Full story

October 28, 2014

McConnell: Obamacare Repeal Will Take 60 Votes (Updated)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:35 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won’t be able to repeal Obamacare anytime soon.

Tempering the expectations of conservatives a week before the elections that could install him as the first Republican majority leader in eight years, the Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview Tuesday a repeal of the health care law simply wasn’t in the cards for now.

He wasn’t telling Fox News anything that close observers of the Senate and the budget process didn’t already know, but it serves as a reminder of the limitations Republicans should expect even if they net six or seven seats, given the obvious reality that President Barack Obama is still in the White House.

McConnell said repealing Obamacare remains at the top of his priority list.

“But remember who’s in the White House for two more years. Obviously he’s not going to sign a full repeal, but there are pieces of it that are extremely unpopular with the American public and that the Senate ought to have a chance to vote on,” he said.

McConnell also noted Democrats could filibuster a repeal effort.

“It would take 60 votes in the Senate. No one thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans, and it would take a presidential signature,” McConnell said. “I’d like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president’s desk.”

That suggests McConnell isn’t about to pull a nuclear option of his own and do away with the filibuster just for the sake of repealing the law.

Republicans including McConnell have talked about rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process — which would allow them to bypass a filibuster. That route is difficult to traverse and forbids the inclusion of items that are not budget-related. Such a bill could also still be vetoed, making the whole process a symbolic exercise without a Republican president.

Other smaller pieces might get super-majorities, such as repealing the 2 percent excise tax on medical devices. McConnell also mentioned nixing the individual mandate as another target.

McConnell again suggested Republicans would try to use the appropriations bills to rein in the Obama administration.

Asked about what a GOP-led Senate might do to blunt executive action on immigration policy that President Barack Obama is planning, McConnell used the example of environmental regulations.

“I think it’s a bad mistake for the president to try and assume powers for himself that many people feel he should not be assuming. You know, we’ve seen that on full display with the EPA and the war on coal,” McConnell said. “That’s not a result of any legislation that Congress passed. It’s just something the president wants to do on his own and uses the people who work for him to achieve. I think that’s a big mistake.”

Those spending restrictions could get to Obama’s desk, leaving the president to decide whether to use his veto authority.

Speaking to Fox from the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., during a campaign stop, McConnell counted the potential move on immigration as one such mistake. McConnell himself must overcome a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, with a variety of public and internal polls showing the race competitive in the closing week. The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

“If the American people do change the Senate, and give the Republicans control of Congress, we certainly are, through the spending process, going to try to restrain the overactive bureaucracy that’s been attacking virtually every business in America,” McConnell said. “And we intend to push back against executive orders that we think aren’t warranted by … trying to control the amount of money that is allocated.”

But there’s only so much the GOP is going to be able to accomplish.

“He is the president of the United States, and he’ll be there until January 2017,” McConnell said of Obama.

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October 22, 2014

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

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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

September 16, 2014

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

July 16, 2014

Obama’s Embrace of GOP Highway Fix Frustrates Senators Pushing Long-Term Deal

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Murphy has been pushing a gas tax hike to bolster the Highway Trust Fund. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A group of Senators focused on forcing action on a new highway bill expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama for backing a House-GOP stopgap measure that they argue would encourage kicking the can down the road. Full story

June 12, 2014

Senators Doubt ‘Astronomical’ CBO Score for VA Health Bill

coburn011 060414 230x335 Senators Doubt Astronomical CBO Score for VA Health Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Some senators are questioning an ‘astronomical’ but preliminary Congressional Budget Office score for the Senate-passed emergency veterans health bill — while promising to find ways to pay for it in conference with the House.

The CBO said the VA bill could cost $50 billion a year in expanded health benefits, but there were questions Thursday about how the CBO came to that figure.

“I think it’s astronomical because of some of the CBO assumptions, which among other things assumes that every veteran who qualifies now to get VA services … who hasn’t been using the VA, will all start using the VA and they’ll all have their share of health problems,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt said. “Probably neither of those two things turn out to be the case.”

Full story

June 11, 2014

Veterans Could Get $50 Billion a Year in New Health Care

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a co-sponsor on the bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation designed to fix problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the amount of new spending in the measure began to clarify.

And the price tag could be a gut-check when it comes to understanding what it really costs to fulfill sacred obligations to America’s veterans. The cost of the measure could be astronomical.

That’s according to preliminary numbers circulated by the Congressional Budget Office Wednesday afternoon. The bill would give veterans new opportunities to seek care outside of the health care system provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Full story

June 10, 2014

Wyden Focused on Finding Bipartisan Funding for Highway Bill (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is keeping his options open on how to fund a new highway bill in order to help foster a bipartisan solution.

“Nothing has been agreed to, nothing has been ruled out, nothing has been ruled in,” Wyden told reporters Tuesday. “And the way it’s going to work is by the end of today, early tomorrow morning, we’ll have a bead on what members of the Finance Committee want to do and then we’ll go from there.”

“There are no easy answers here,” Wyden continued. “Failure is not an option and we’re going to make decisions in a bipartisan way.”

Full story

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