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November 24, 2014

Posts in "Policy"

November 20, 2014

Senate’s 2015 Calendar Features Fuller Weeks, Fewer Breaks

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In addition to longer workweeks, it appears the Senate will be in session more frequently in 2015.

As expected, the Senate will kick off work in the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, and the chamber isn’t expected to take a full week break until Presidents Day. That’s according to a draft calendar obtained by CQ Roll Call that shows the Senate in recess the third week in February, for the two weeks around Easter Sunday (which falls on April 5), and the weeks of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

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Durbin Says Omnibus in Progress, Warns Against Defense CR

senate luncheons002 111814 445x296 Durbin Says Omnibus in Progress, Warns Against Defense CR

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Appropriators appear to be making good progress on behind-the-scenes negotiations on a big omnibus bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

That’s the word from Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate who also happens to wield the gavel of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

“I just finished a Defense Appropriation subcommittee joint meeting this morning. We’ve agreed on virtually everything, but four or five issues,” he said. “Those five issues are going upstairs, which is not unusual, to be decided at the full committee level. I hear that they’re going to meet [on] Dec. 1, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, at the highest level to resolve these outstanding issues. We’re moving forward on a good program to get an omnibus done.”

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McCain, Corker Doubtful of White House’s ISIS Strategy, Intent for AUMF

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McCain and Corker are skeptical of the Obama administration’s intent for an AUMF. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Leaving Wednesday’s closed briefing on the fight against the Islamic State, the terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL, Sen. John McCain said he doubted the Obama administration really wanted to have a new Authorization for Use of Military Force at all.

“They keep talking about the AUMF. They haven’t, they haven’t sent over anything. I’ve been involved in numerous of these crises where they send over a request for the authorization for the use of military force,” the Arizona Republican said. “You can’t believe they really want it if they don’t even send over a proposal.”

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November 19, 2014

Grassley Says Obama’s Immigration Action Worse Than King George (Video)

grassley 066 061213 445x285 Grassley Says Obamas Immigration Action Worse Than King George (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said President Barack Obama’s expected executive actions would go beyond the dreams of even King George III.

As Democrats were gathering at the White House for a meeting with Obama ahead of the formal announcement of the immigration moves in a Thursday evening address to the nation, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was on the floor of the Senate speaking about a series of administration actions that Republicans have found objectionable, ranging from the use of recess appointments to the transfer of five Taliban prisoners out of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of the American people is at stake. That’s what the framers believed,” Grassley said, before quoting from James Madison in Federalist 51.

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November 13, 2014

White House Praises McConnell on Myanmar

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Suu Kyi received a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the Capitol in September 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The man elected by his conference to be the next Senate majority leader actually won praise from the White House earlier in the day in Myanmar for his longstanding support of pro-democracy interests in that country.

The political situation in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, has been a priority for more than 20 years for the Kentucky Republican, who is set to become the majority leader when the GOP takes over in January.

“I will take the opportunity, since we are back on Burma, and we were talking about Sen. [Mitch] McConnell earlier, to note that this is an issue where we’ve had important bipartisan interest in the Burma policy for many years. And the sanctions regime that has been put in place was the work of bipartisanship. And as we’ve relaxed sanctions, we’ve consulted closely with Congress,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama in the capital city of Naypyidaw.

“Sen. McConnell has been a champion of democracy here in Burma. This is an area where I think we certainly believe he’s shown leadership. And he has, of course, a close relationship to Aung San Suu Kyi, as well, and follows events here in the country,” Rhodes said. “So I did want to note that this is an area where we very much welcome the bipartisan interest, including from the next Senate majority leader.”

Senate observers know McConnell’s interest in Myanmar well. Reporters at the University of Louisville for McConnell’s post-election news conference were invited to tour an exhibit at the McConnell Center about the Republican senator and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. Among the museum’s most prized possessions is a handwritten letter to McConnell from Burmese political leader and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who spent many years under house arrest and faced other forms of retribution from the long-ruling junta.

Obama is scheduled to hold a meeting with Suu Kyi Friday in Myanmar. He is in the country for the East Asia summit, and ahead of the trip, Obama answered questions from The Irrawaddy, a publication that covers Myanmar.

“Burma is still at the beginning of a long and hard journey of renewal and reconciliation. On the one hand, since my last visit there has been some progress, including economic reforms and welcomed political steps, including the release of additional political prisoners, a process of constitutional reform, and ceasefire agreements toward ending the many conflicts that have plagued your country,” Obama said. “On the other hand, progress has not come as fast as many had hoped when the transition began four years ago. In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward.”

“One of the main messages that I’ll deliver on this visit is that the government of Myanmar has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all people in the country, and that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all people should be respected. That’s the only way reforms can stay on track. That’s the only way that this country is going to realize greater prosperity and its rightful place in the region and the world. That would be a success, above all, for the people of Myanmar, and that would be good for the United States and the world,” Obama added.

McConnell was the longtime author of sanctions legislation against the repressive military regime, working frequently with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the effort. In a policy speech about Myanmar in July, McConnell expressed concern about the possibility that Suu Kyi could be blocked from the political process and said that while the country has taken a marked turn in the direction of democracy, ”to many Burma of late appears stalled amidst a score of pressing challenges.”

“The Burmese Government should understand that the United States, and the Senate specifically, will watch very closely at how Burmese authorities conduct the 2015 parliamentary elections as a critical marker of the sincerity and the sustainability of democratic reform in Burma,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in July. With McConnell becoming the majority leader, that’s only likely to become more true.

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Obama Veto Pen Could Soon Get a Workout

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Inhofe plans to force votes to block EPA climate change regulations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama might want to find some veto pens. A lot of them. After setting a modern record for fewest vetoes — just two early on in his presidency — thanks to a Democratic Senate, Republicans could soon be sending him reams of legislative cannon fodder.

While conventional wisdom suggests relatively few controversial bills would head to the president’s desk, because after all, Republicans will need at least six senators who caucus with the Democrats to beat back filibusters — Republicans can bypass filibusters in multiple ways if Democrats try to gum up the works.

Republicans have already talked about using the budget reconciliation rules to bypass filibusters so they can put spending and tax bills on the president’s desk with their priorities — including potentially an attempt to gut much of Obamacare.

They also plan to use another power to strike at the heart of Obama’s pen-and-phone agenda. Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate can vote to block recently enacted regulations, and such votes cannot be filibustered.

Back in 2011, Senate Republicans forced a vote on a resolution to block the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on “net neutrality.” Then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, offered the disapproval resolution, which Democrats rebuffed, 46-52. Should the FCC move ahead in the coming year on rules that are in line with what Obama and the White House outlined Monday, Republicans could have the votes to send a disapproval resolution to the president’s desk.

That’s after Republicans from all corners panned Obama’s announcement Monday that he supported viewing consumer broadband as a utility and encouraged FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ensure net neutrality.

“The president’s call for the FCC to use Title II to create new net neutrality restrictions would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle our nation’s dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune. “The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate.”

The South Dakota Republican is in line to take the gavel of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee next year. That panel’s jurisdiction includes telecommunications policy.

The EPA — and climate change regulations in particular — also face incoming fire from Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican in line to regain the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Last year, Senator Inhofe said he would be using the Congressional Review Act on any major EPA regulation that comes out under the Obama Administration, and I expect you will only see more momentum for this now that the Republicans have the majority in the Senate,” Inhofe spokesperson Donelle Harder told CQ Roll Call in an email. “There is widespread concern for how the EPA’s overbearing regulations are going to impact American job creation and the affordability and reliability of our nation’s electricity grid.”

Inhofe himself said as much back in April, when he pledged to use the CRA to try to force floor votes on EPA regulations.

“I’m committed to using the Congressional Review Act on any significant EPA regulation that comes out until the EPA gets honest about the cost accounting it uses in its rules. Because if the agency is not going to be honest, then the EPA, the President, and the Members who support their policies need to own them, which in the Senate means up or down votes on whether to keep or get rid of the EPA’s regulations,” Inhofe said.

Asked about the prospects of the Obama administration facing efforts to upend environmental policy through the CRA, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in an email that the public supported the agency’s efforts.

“A healthy environment for our children should garner bipartisan support, not be a political football. Poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans support EPA’s effort to protect public health. Across the country, citizens want EPA to safeguard clean air and clean water, which are essential building blocks for a strong economy,” Purchia said. “We don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy because the two go hand in hand.”

Opposition to EPA emissions proposals affecting coal-fired power plants was one of the recurring themes of the re-election campaign of the man set to become majority leader next year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the EPA is sure to face the prospect of spending restrictions and policy riders through the appropriations process as well.

Obama’s newly announced climate deal with China hasn’t cooled Republican passions on the issue, either.

“This unrealistic plan, that the President would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” McConnell said in a statement. “The President said his policies were on the ballot, and the American people spoke up against them. It’s time for more listening, and less job-destroying red tape. Easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.”

White House counselor John Podesta has already dismissed the idea that Congress will be able to block Obama’s climate regulations.

Other regulations that could land on Obama’s desk with congressional disapproval resolutions range from health care to labor.

There are time limits and conditions defined in the statute, so not everything the administration does will trigger a filibuster short-circuit for the GOP.

And the process will mainly be a way for Republicans to voice their displeasure — and put Senate Democrats on the record — rather than a plan to realistically change administration policy. A veto would still have to be overridden in both chambers, and Republicans would need major Democratic backing to achieve the 67 Senate votes and 290 in the House to override.

Indeed, the process has successfully upended an agency rule-making only once: an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics rule proposed at the end of the Bill Clinton presidency fell victim to a disapproval resolution that became law after Republican President George W. Bush took office.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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November 12, 2014

New Senate Republican Majority Wants Say in Iran Nuclear Deal

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Any nuclear deal with Iran needs to be approved by the Senate, Corker said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans are gearing up to try to force President Barack Obama to give Congress veto power over an agreement about nuclear weapons with Iran.

The expected chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee signaled Wednesday that getting a say in any such deal will be a priority of GOP senators when they take over next year.

“Nov. 24 is going to be the time frame which we’ll know more clearly whether there’s going to be an extension or something has actually been reached. But I would imagine that regardless … there will be a desire very quickly after the first of the year for Congress to weigh in on the topic in some form or fashion,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters. “Whether it’s ensuring, you know, that Congress has a vote in final outcome or some other way, my sense is that there’ll be a move pretty quickly to speak to that legislatively.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 9:32 p.m.
Iran, Policy, Syria

Executive Action on Immigration Could Imperil Omnibus, Cornyn Warns (Video)

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Cornyn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The No. 2 Senate Republican said Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration could endanger bipartisan efforts to craft an omnibus spending bill in the lame-duck session.

“Part of what’s I think creating the difficulty is the president’s threatened Obama amnesty, and one of the ways that that could be addressed would be through the spending,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “The president seems hell bent to do this, which I think is a terrible mistake, but it’s his to make.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the next majority leader, again cautioned Obama about the effect of making the widely-expected moves on immigration. Full story

Watch: Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Ebola Outbreak

The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a 2 p.m. hearing Wednesday on the U.S. response to the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 4,900 people since the outbreak began in December 2013.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, will testify.

Additional witnesses include officials from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State and USAID.

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November 11, 2014

Visa Agreement With China Draws Senate Cheers

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The deal announced Monday that makes it easier for Chinese business people, tourists and students to stay in the United States longer won applause from senators on both sides of the aisle, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The Nevada Democrat was among the first out of the gate Monday praising the agreement that will extend the duration of a variety of visas, highlighting the number of Chinese tourists who travel to his home state. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:15 p.m.
Harry Reid, Policy

Leahy Sticks With Judiciary, Supports Mikulski at Appropriations

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Grassley, left, and Leahy will reverse roles at the Judiciary Committee next year. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy has put to rest any speculation that he might seek to assert seniority to become ranking member on the Appropriations Committee in the next Congress.

The Vermonter, who is the most senior member of the Democratic caucus, is sticking around as his party’s leader on the Judiciary panel.

Full story

November 7, 2014

Could Obama-McConnell Liquor Choice Invite Look at Bourbon Laws?

Mint 02 031912 222x335 Could Obama McConnell Liquor Choice Invite Look at Bourbon Laws?

Could bourbon laws get another look after an Obama-McConnell summit? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was no sign of brown liquor President Barack Obama’s Friday lunch meeting with bipartisan political leaders, but the bourbon industry is using renewed attention to press its own lobbying interests.

At the top of that list is the issue of the tax treatment of the whiskey that’s aging in barrels in warehouses.

By law, bourbon must age for at least two years, and distillers tend to age the brown spirit far longer than that. But the way inventory rules work in the tax code, costs can’t be deducted along the way. Legislation already introduced by Mitch McConnell and his fellow Kentucky Republican, Rep. Andy Barr, proposes a change so the aging process would not be considered part of the production period. Every single Kentucky lawmaker, including Sen. Rand Paul, is on board.

With tax reform a possible area of compromise in the coming months, Obama’s suggestion he ”would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell” might be well-timed for bourbon moneymakers.

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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

October 30, 2014

The Attack Ads Harry Reid Didn’t Want You to See

luncheons015 060413 445x295 The Attack Ads Harry Reid Didnt Want You to See

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Harry Reid’s strategy of blocking amendments all year was intended with one clear objective in mind — protecting his majority.

Republicans have complained vociferously about the Senate majority leader shutting down amendments — but behind the scenes, the Nevada Democrat’s senators asked him to do so for a very simple reason: Nobody wants to give an opponent fodder for 30-second ads in a tough election year.

Reid’s strategy had a downside, because Democrats had fewer opportunities to show their independence from an unpopular president.

But aside from that attack, Republicans have been left mostly to mine earlier votes from, for instance, the 2013 budget resolution vote-a-rama — or for parts of the Affordable Care Act they voted for years ago.

Here are some of the subjects — and TV attack lines — Reid’s strategy sought to avoid: 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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