Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 16, 2014

Posts in "Policy"

April 14, 2014

Ban on E-Cig Sales, Marketing to Children Pushed by Durbin, Waxman

durbin 114 021114 445x302 Ban on E Cig Sales, Marketing to Children Pushed by Durbin, Waxman

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

E-cigarette sales and marketing to children will soon be banned and flavorings could be restricted by the federal government if two senior congressional Democrats get their way.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry A. Waxman of California want the Obama administration to regulate e-cigarette products the same way as traditional tobacco products. On Monday, they touted the findings of a report they commissioned with several other Democratic lawmakers finding that a number of e-cig brand manufacturers are marketing to children.

“E-cigarettes are a candy-flavored addiction, which is dangerous to our young people across America. It is growing in popularity among children and sadly poses serious public health threats,” Durbin said on a conference call. “The report … makes clear that e-cigarette companies and the tobacco companies that own some of them have a determined effort to market their product, to pass out samples and to lure children into this nicotine addiction. It’s time for the [Food and Drug Administration] to step up and to regulate this product to protect our children across America.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:02 p.m.
Policy

April 11, 2014

Tax ‘Extenders’ and Energy Efficiency Make May Agenda, Reid Says

reid 198 032514 445x296 Tax Extenders and Energy Efficiency Make May Agenda, Reid Says

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to bring up a catchall tax “extenders” package to the floor next work period, along with a long-delayed energy efficiency bill.

Those measures may be in line behind an effort by Democrats to phase-in an increase of the federal the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The minimum wage bill, spearheaded by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was initially expected to get a test vote on the Senate floor before the most recent work period ended, but Reid decided to move forward first with a vote on a gender pay equity measure, along with some nominations.

Full story

Senate Democrats to Holder: Intervene in GM Recall

A group of five Democratic senators want the Justice Department to take action to keep General Motors from denying responsibility for faulty ignition switches.

Among the suggestions by Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Barbara Boxer of California, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, is for possible intervention by the federal government in civil litigation against the giant automaker.

“We recommend that you intervene in pending civil actions to oppose any action by GM to deny responsibility for consumer damages on grounds that those damages may have resulted from deceptive and fraudulent concealment and other misconduct by GM,” the senators wrote in Friday’s letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Full story

April 10, 2014

Boxer and Vitter Have Tentative Deal on Highway Bill

boxer001 092513 445x282 Boxer and Vitter Have Tentative Deal on Highway Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With time running out before funding expires for highway and transit programs, key Senate lawmakers announced a deal in principle Thursday for a new six-year highway bill — but still no final plan on how to pay for it.

“We, as leaders of this committee, have worked across party lines before the Highway Trust Fund cannot pay its bills,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a news conference.

The trust fund, the collection of gas-tax receipts that fund the nation’s surface transportation programs, is expect to run out of money later this summer.

Boxer and ranking member David Vitter, R-La., said the committee would move to mark up the bill in the next work period after the two-week spring recess.

“What we have is a detailed outline of the next highway bill in terms of policy matters within our jurisdiction,” Vitter said. “Our staff is developing the specific legislative language on all of those points. A lot of it’s done, a lot of it’s being worked on and we expect to be acting on that bill in the next work period after this recess.”

Sens. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman and ranking member of the committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, also signed onto the proposal.

All four members said they want to fix the trust fund at some point to make it self-financing, but said there is not enough time before they must act on the next bill.

“I believe in the trust fund concept and user fees to pay for that and hopefully we can modernize that in the near future,” Vitter said.

Their comments aren’t surprising because giving up on the Highway Trust Fund would reduce the committee’s influence over transportation policy.

While the Environment and Public Works Committee is primarily responsible for drafting the nation’s road construction policy, the Senate Finance Committee is responsible for coming up with how to pay for the bill. The Senate Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over transportation safety programs and the Banking Committee oversees mass transit policy.

The new six-year bill would authorize keeping current funding levels, plus inflation. Boxer said that the measure would need $16 billion a year above what is provided by the Highway Trust Fund, which is facing shortfalls in part due to improving mile-per-gallon standards, which shrinks gas tax receipts.

Boxer said she has spoken to Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and said funding could be tied to a tax overhaul. Boxer and Vitter added that the likeliest offset would be repatriation — allowing corporations to bring overseas profits back into the U.S. at a lower tax rate — which would generate one-time revenue.

“There is nothing written in stone as to how this is going to be done,” Boxer said. “David mentioned repatriation. I think that is one area where there seems to be some interest in that because there are enough funds there to keep this trust fund going.”

Boxer called it a “pragmatic solution.”

Asked if there was any concern a tax overhaul may not happen in time, Boxer said the Finance Committee may be willing to do something without an overall tax rewrite, but stressed that that decision is up to Wyden and the panel.

Wyden declined to discuss any details. “I’ve been talking with [Boxer] about a variety of options, let’s just leave it at that,” he said.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, also said talks are ongoing.

“I don’t know that we’ve come up with any way of paying for it, but we are interesting in making sure we do what we can in that area,” Hatch said.

He was skeptical that Congress would be able to change the tax code this year, adding that renewing about 50 expired tax breaks, known as extenders, may be the best that can be done.

“And we’ll be lucky if we can get that,” Hatch added.

Keystone XL Pipeline Deadline Sought by 11 Senate Democrats

InternetSalesTax 06 042313 445x295 Keystone XL Pipeline Deadline Sought by 11 Senate Democrats

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democratic senators who favor completing the Keystone XL pipeline, including some of the party’s most vulnerable senators up for re-election, are once again prodding the White House to make up its mind.

In a new letter to President Barack Obama, 11 Democrats are making a pre-recess push for a May 31 deadline for action. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota spearheaded the new letter along with new Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.

Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina joined Montana Democrats Jon Tester and John Walsh in signing on to the letter with Heitkamp and Landrieu. Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan and Walsh are all facing the voters this fall in states lost by Obama in 2012. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 9:52 a.m.
Policy

April 9, 2014

Fischer Takes GOP Lead in Pay Equity Debate

fischer 080 040814 445x300 Fischer Takes GOP Lead in Pay Equity Debate

Fischer co-authored the GOP’s alternative pay equity bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., likes to tell a story about when she was first elected to the state legislature and a reporter asked if she would focus on women’s issues.

“And I said, ‘Tell me what a women’s issue is,’” Fischer said.

After serving in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature for eight years, she takes the same approach in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2012.

In a hallway interview Wednesday, she argued that women’s issues are no different from anyone else’s and include creating a strong economy, jobs, building infrastructure and ensuring national security.

“Women want the same thing that men want, so I don’t like being slotted in what’s perceived as a women’s issue because I think women’s issues are the same important issues that everybody in this country is trying to address,” she said.

Her comments come after she helped lead Republican opposition to the Democratic pay equity bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. Full story

Republicans Block Pay Equity Bill (Updated)

Updated 12:45 p.m. | Senate Republicans filibustered a debate on a Democratic pay equity bill backed by President Barack Obama Wednesday.

Sixty votes were needed to allow the bill to be debated on the Senate floor, but Republicans refused to allow the bill to come up for debate after complaining Democrats weren’t allowing votes on their amendments. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also broke with his typical party leanings and voted with Republicans against cloture.  The vote was 53-44, with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joining Republicans as a “no” in order to preserve his right to reconsider the vote.

King explained his vote in a lengthy statement. “This particular bill, in my view, fails to address the real causes that are driving the wage gap,” he said. “In addition, the bill could impose substantial burdens on businesses in justifying pay differentials,” he said, adding that there are better ways, like raising the minimum wage, to address the gap.

No Republican voted with the Democrats. Three Republicans did not vote: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas and Ted Cruz of Texas. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 11:41 a.m.
Filibusters, Policy

April 8, 2014

Senate GOP Not Sweating Democratic Pay Equity Push (Video)

fischer 080 040814 330x222 Senate GOP Not Sweating Democratic Pay Equity Push (Video)

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., arrives in the Capitol for the weekly policy luncheons on Tuesday. Fischer co-authored the GOP’s alternative pay equity bill. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans aren’t sweating a ramped-up push by Democrats and President Barack Obama for new pay equity legislation — pushing forward women Republicans to rebut charges they have a woman problem and doubting the issue will resonate with voters.

“I think the Democrats are doing anything they can to try to change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare and the joblessness that we experience in our country right now,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But Democrats contend that Senate Republicans ignore the pay equity issue at their political peril come November, with control of the Senate at stake.

“They are out of touch,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of Democratic leadership, said of the GOP after a press conference touting the bill. “They are so in their conservative echo chamber that they don’t know what’s going on in America and that’s going to help us dramatically in 2014.” Full story

‘Cuban Twitter’ Dominates USAID Hearing (Video)

senate012 112113 445x296 Cuban Twitter Dominates USAID Hearing (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The senior senator charged with overseeing the U.S. Agency for International Development budget unleashed scathing criticism on the department’s leader Tuesday over a “Cuban Twitter” program.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the longtime chairman of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, pressed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah over the U.S-run social media platform in Cuba that was reported last week by The Associated Press. Leahy wanted to know who was behind creation of the program, but Shah did not have a specific answer, saying it came before he started running the agency at the end of 2009.

“Whose idea was it for this specific program? I’ve read the legislation. The legislation doesn’t say anything about setting up a cockamamie idea in Cuba with Twitter accounts and all on something that the Cubans would be so easy to discover,” Leahy said. “Whose idea was this specific program to go to Cuba, who? It’s a simple question.”

Full story

April 7, 2014

Will Congressional Pay Hikes Ever Come Off Autopilot?

Alexander Burr Vitter 4 103013 445x295 Will Congressional Pay Hikes Ever Come Off Autopilot?

Vitter is among those pushing to end automatic pay raises for members of Congress. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Should members of Congress have to vote every time they want a raise?

The question’s been out there since 1989, coming and going every few years with a limited number of vocal advocates. Current law provides for often-blocked automatic salary increases.

The idea of flipping the equation might gain traction again after retiring Rep. James P. Moran told CQ Roll Call last week that he and his fellow members are “underpaid.” The Virginia Democrat floated the idea of more money to assist with the expenses associated with keeping a second residence in Washington, D.C.

It has been five years since the Senate passed a measure that would have ended the practice. The legislative branch appropriations bill, to be marked up this week, will include a provision that would “turn off” member pay raises for the next fiscal year.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, told CQ Roll Call that the pay raise issue is “not something we’ve really addressed.”

Full story

April 1, 2014

Unemployment Extension Set to Pass, But GOP Digging in on Minimum Wage, Pay Equity

mental health presser006 121813 445x293 Unemployment Extension Set to Pass, But GOP Digging in on Minimum Wage, Pay Equity

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans say they might block consideration of minimum wage and pay equity bills after Senate Democrats moved to block GOP amendments to the unemployment extension bill expected to pass later this week.

Republicans are upset at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for clamping down on amendments on the unemployment benefits extension. And they’re concerned Democrats are going to do the same on the minimum wage and pay equity bills to come.

As a result, some GOP leaders said they could vote to block those bills from coming up for debate.

“I think a lot of it is going to depend on whether or not they allow us to vote on things that we are for,” said Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D. Full story

March 31, 2014

‘Doc Fix’ Heads to Obama: GOP Senators Switch Votes Within Minutes

reid 198 0325141 445x296 Doc Fix Heads to Obama: GOP Senators Switch Votes Within Minutes

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

They voted for it before they voted against it.

Several Senate Republicans who backed a procedural motion to allow the measure known as the “doc fix” to get a final vote opposed the legislation — the very same day. The final vote on the bill, Congress’ 16th “doc fix” patch, was 64-35. It passed thanks to Republican moderates and party leadership on both sides.

The one-year bill was a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio that had angered many on the right for the way it was handled in the House last week with an unanticipated voice vote.

During the first vote Monday, GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and David Vitter of Louisiana joined the effort to waive the budget rules and clear the first hurdle to put the measure on a path to passage.

But it was a different mix of Republicans who supported the “doc fix” bill just minutes after and helped send it to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Blunt, Burr, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Collins, Cornyn, Hatch, Heller, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Kirk, McConnell, Murkowski, Vitter and Roger Wicker of Mississippi voted in favor of the deal itself.

Full story

CBO Calls Baloney on Using War Money to Pay Medicare Docs (Updated)

Updated 3:54 p.m. | Congressional budget scorekeepers don’t sound impressed with using projected savings from not fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent slashing paychecks for doctors.

In a cost estimate released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office explained that $601 billion in projected savings from limits on the Overseas Contingency Operations account might never be spent anyway, and noted there’s no funding currently provided for the OCO funding.

“As a result, reductions relative to the baseline might simply reflect policy decisions that have already been made and that would be realized even without such funding constraints. Moreover, if future policymakers believed that national security required appropriations above the capped amounts, they would almost certainly provide emergency appropriations that would not, under current law, be counted against either the existing caps on discretionary funding or the proposed new caps on funding for overseas contingency operations.”

Full story

Minimum Wage Debate Awaits Unemployment Extension Vote

The Senate debate on raising the federal minimum wage might slip until next week, in part because it’s unclear how long it will take the chamber to finish work on an unemployment insurance extension.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin has championed raising the minimum wage up to $10.10 an hour, along with an increase in tip wages. The Iowa Democrat told reporters on a conference call Monday that floor timing wasn’t clear.

“Hopefully we’ll be on the floor this week with it. Now, whether or not we can get a vote yet this week by the close of business on Thursday or not, I just don’t know yet,” Harkin said. Full story

March 29, 2014

Unemployment Extension: How Did Your Senator Vote?

Updated 8:18 p.m. | The Senate next week will consider giving final approval to an unemployment benefits extension, thanks to a procedural vote Thursday.

Given the wide national interest in this story,  we’re posting the full tally sheet and a breakdown of the bipartisan 65-34 vote to end a filibuster against bringing the legislation up for debate.

The vote came 89 days after benefits expired late last year. Supporters of the bill said that as of today, 2.24 million Americans have been cut off.

There are more hurdles to clear before the Senate can pass the bill, not to mention a wide disparity with House Republicans leadership that leaves it an open question whether the legislation would ever reach President Barack Obama’s desk.

Full story

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...