Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 30, 2014

Posts in "Policy"

July 30, 2014

Corker Lauds Victory on Highway Stopgap, Pushes House to Accept

corker 049 0601014 445x314 Corker Lauds Victory on Highway Stopgap, Pushes House to Accept

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bob Corker is working the phones, trying to garner support on the House side for a shorter Senate-passed highway extension in a bid to force action in the lame duck.

Even though the effort is likely to be futile, given comments by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, that the House would return the measure to the Senate with the changes stripped out, the Tennessee Republican still thinks the final 79-18 vote was a victory.

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July 28, 2014

Reid Open to Separate Funding for Israel, Wildfires and Border in Pre-Recess Rush

reid mikulski 023 010714 445x310 Reid Open to Separate Funding for Israel, Wildfires and Border in Pre Recess Rush

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The pre-recess rush began Monday with a plea from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“Leaving here with Israel being naked as they are, with these wildfires raging and a crisis at the border, it would be a shame if we did nothing,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.

Those three priority items would get emergency funding under a measure introduced last week by Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

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July 24, 2014

Durbin Puts His Mark on Defense Bill

durbin003 061714 445x299 Durbin Puts His Mark on Defense Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Waging war on smoking, for-profit colleges and tax loopholes may sound like odd subjects for the military spending bill, but not when you consider who is wielding the gavel.

In an era without earmarks, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin has used his perch atop the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to put his stamp on several of his priorities, like increasing the accountability of for-profit schools getting federal tuition dollars through the Pentagon.

“If you’ve been bored and watched C-SPAN, you’ve probably heard me on the floor talk about this a couple times. This is serious,” the Illinois Democrat said at last week’s Appropriations Committee markup. “Corinthian Colleges is about to fail and go bankrupt. It’s going to cost the United States over a billion dollars when this for-profit school goes under.”

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July 22, 2014

Senate Needs ‘Magic’ to Complete Pre-Recess Agenda (Video)

reid 234 072214 445x313 Senate Needs Magic to Complete Pre Recess Agenda (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate might just have too much to do before departing for August recess.

But, it is a chamber where “magic” all-too-often occurs on Thursday evenings, and senators might need it come July 31. There’s no shortage of big ticket items on the legislative agenda of Majority Leader Harry Reid, including funding for the crisis involving unaccompanied migrant children, stopgap highway funding and the ongoing issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

johnson 014 010614 445x306 Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnsons Obamacare Lawsuit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

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July 18, 2014

Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

kirk011 061214 445x295 Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk said in a jarring video circulated late Friday that President Barack Obama’s Iran policy is leading to nuclear war.

The video, posted on Youtube and available through the Illinois Republican’s official website, features a background of a “60 Minutes”-style ticking clock and highlights news reports about the state of the negotiations between the international community and Iran on nuclear programs.

“The administration policy is the quickest policy that leads to war, nuclear war. That is a horrible fate to condemn American children to witness,” Kirk said in the video.

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McCain: United States ‘Also Responsible’ for Circumstances Leading to MH17 Crash in Ukraine (Audio)

mccain 028 090413 445x303 McCain: United States Also Responsible for Circumstances Leading to MH17 Crash in Ukraine (Audio)

McCain (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. John McCain said Friday that the tragic shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 might never have happened if the United States had armed Ukrainian forces battling against Russian-backed separatists.

The Arizona Republican also said there’s no reason to wait for an international investigation of the site of the crash in eastern Ukraine.

McCain pinned the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but said the U.S. does have some responsibility for not arming the Ukrainians in their fight against separatists and other Russian elements.

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July 16, 2014

Reid Doubts Unemployment Extension Will Come Up in Highway Bill Debate

reid 202 062414 445x302 Reid Doubts Unemployment Extension Will Come Up in Highway Bill Debate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work as quickly as possible to advance a highway funding patch, but an unemployment extension isn’t likely to get a chance to hitchhike on it.

“The highway bill has to move forward, and I’m going to do everything I can to expedite it as much as I can, quickly,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters.

He signaled that he did not think extraneous items would be attached to the must-pass bill, regardless of which version advances. ”I doubt it” Reid said when asked if an unemployment insurance extension would be a piece of the Senate’s highway bill debate.

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Democrats Want Jail Time for Corporate Executives Hiding Safety Risks

barra001 061814 445x296 Democrats Want Jail Time for Corporate Executives Hiding Safety Risks

GM CEO Mary Barra is sworn in to a Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in June. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A group of Democratic senators wants corporate officers to risk jail time for concealing safety threats from the public and government regulators.

The legislation comes as part of the ongoing fallout from General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, during what’s looking to be a difficult week in the Senate for the auto giant.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania unveiled new legislation designed to provide for prison time for corporate executives who knowingly conceal risks of serious injury or death as a result of their products. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is also involved in the effort.

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July 15, 2014

Reid Says Border Already Secure (Video)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asserted bluntly Tuesday ”the border is secure.”

The Nevada Democrat was citing comments made during Tuesday’s caucus luncheon by New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich.

Asked about a bipartisan, bicameral proposal from a pair of Texas lawmakers, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, Reid said that based on what he had seen, “the answer from me is no, I won’t support it.”

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No Border Money Unless Obama Disavows Expanding DACA, Senator Says

luncheons010 061014 445x314 No Border Money Unless Obama Disavows Expanding DACA, Senator Says

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Jeff Sessions is calling on his fellow lawmakers to reject any new spending to address the immigration crisis at the border until President Barack Obama disavows any plans to expand deportation relief known as DACA.

The Alabama Republican made his plea in a “dear colleague” letter circulated to Senate offices on Monday. In the letter, he said the possibility of more executive actions on immigration “threatens the foundation of our constitutional Republic.”

“Certainly, DACA and the President’s other numerous unlawful policies must be terminated,” Sessions wrote. “But as a first step, Congress must not acquiesce to spending more taxpayer dollars until the President unequivocally rescinds his threat of more illegal executive action.”

The Sessions letter comes ahead of an all-senators briefing on Wednesday on the Obama administration’s roughly $3.7 billion request for emergency supplemental appropriations to address the crisis at the border. The full text appears below:

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Harkin’s HELP Committee Shows Off the Lost Art of Legislating

harkin 041 020713 445x326 Harkins HELP Committee Shows Off the Lost Art of Legislating

Alexander, left, and Harkin have racked up legislative victories on the HELP Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ask Sen. Tom Harkin about his committee’s work this Congress and he’s ready to rattle off a key statistic.

“Fourteen bills. More than any other committee in the Congress. Fourteen bills signed into law.”

The retiring five-term senator — who hails from a vastly more productive era — might seem at first blush an unlikely candidate to break through in the most dysfunctional Congress ever. Harkin is an unabashed Midwestern liberal. But he’s also proved adept at reaching across the aisle on issues that don’t always make the front pages — such as the Workforce Investment Act reauthorization — a major overhaul heading to the president’s desk.

To hear Harkin tell it, much of the opportunity for success comes from having an old-school legislator as a partner.

“First of all, I have a good ranking member in Lamar Alexander. While we disagree on things, we’re able to work together and find common ground and get it done,” the Iowa Democrat said. Alexander, who became the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this Congress, learned the ropes under a fellow Tennessean, the late Majority Leader Howard Baker.

“That’s just it. We just work. It takes work. It takes time,” Harkin said last week, as leaders in both parties hailed the WIA.

It also takes discipline.

Harkin rejected the idea of adding an unemployment extension he and other Democrats supported to the re-authorization. “We worked five years on it and it’s a good bill and we are not going to let it get screwed up by anything,” Harkin said when the bill headed to the floor.

Alexander said the HELP committee has a history of focusing on areas where common ground between the parties can be achieved, including under the leadership of the previous chairman, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and I’ll give Sen. Harkin a good deal of the credit,” Alexander said. “Ideologically, we are very different, but we both know that our job is to get a result where we can. We have a huge jurisdiction. Sen. Kennedy used to say that we have about 40 percent of the jurisdiction of the Senate. And I think we’ve produced more legislation that has been reported to the floor and become law than any other committee.”

The House cleared the workforce investment agreement with an overwhelming 415-6 vote on July 9.

“The Workforce Investment Act had been stuck, literally, for 10 years. And finally, especially due to the work of Sen. Murray and Sen. Isakson, it passed,” Alexander said, lauding Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., for running point.

“I think what you saw was both of us sit down and work with our counterparts across the aisle to find common ground and achieve something that was really important to our country. And that is how we work,” Murray said.

Alexander also highlighted the work of longtime committee members Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., who helped pass the Child Care Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families.

“I think part of the solution is that we look for areas where we can get a result, and we have good participation from other members of the committee. It’s not just a two-man show,” Alexander said.

Other HELP Committee measures that have become law this Congress include a reauthorization of the toll-free number for the poison control center and promoting access to epinephrine pens in schools. Harkin has more he wants to get done before retiring, but getting his education agenda to move could be quite a struggle. There’s more of a partisan divide on that issue than some others he’s handled.

“I’m working on the higher education bill. I’ll have it out in September. I don’t know know, maybe lame duck,” Harkin said. “Maybe.”

If he does, it might be testament to the relationships he’s built.

In 2011, he told CQ Roll Call that President Barack Obama didn’t seem to enjoy the give and take of the Senate.

“If I only dealt with my Republican colleagues only on an issue basis, I probably never would get anywhere,” Harkin said then. “But I deal with them on a human basis, too.”

Alexander said he had particular issues with the Democratic view on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — also known as No Child Left Behind.

“Like on kindergarten through the 12th grade, my view of the Democratic bill is that it creates a national school board. We simply don’t agree so we had competing bills. On higher education, we may have some different opinions,” Alexander said. “But where we can agree we’ll work together.”

But Alexander also pointed out his recent effort with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to simplify the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid to attend college. Their bill would eliminate the current 10-page Free Application for Federal Student Aid and replace it with a simple, two-question postcard.

At a meeting of the National Governors Association on July 11, Alexander stood up and showed the current student aid form to demonstrate its length.

“Because it’s a bipartisan effort, I think it has a much better chance of actually getting a result,” Alexander told CQ Roll Call. “So we are not just interested in making speeches, we are interested in getting a result and where we can we will and where we can’t, we’ll lay those items aside and go on to something else.”

Harkin’s also continuing to focus on early learning legislation, pushing for floor time.

But his other baby, the appropriations bill that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, is stuck in a broader morass as Democrats seek to avoid contentious amendments.

Asked about the chances to consider that bill, Harkin said: “I have no idea. I really don’t know.”

“I think the CR that we have in September is going to be short-term, probably until December or something,” Harkin said. “And then after we come back in the lame duck we’ll work on a longer bill, and hopefully it will not be a CR, but it will actually be an omnibus.”

And naturally, one that includes his bill.

When Harkin retires at the end of this Congress, Murray — who has been bolstering her legislative bona fides this Congress — could be in position to take his dual gavels at HELP and the appropriations subcommittee that funds the programs HELP oversees. But she declined to say whether she would.

“All those questions will be answered at some point, I am not ready [to] yet.”

July 14, 2014

Senators Blast NCAA, ESPN in Review of College Athletics (Video)

rockefeller050113 600x406 Senators Blast NCAA, ESPN in Review of College Athletics (Video)

Rockefeller criticized ESPN at a hearing on the NCAA and student-athletes last week, saying the network was “undermining our commitment to education.” (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A century-old debate over the commercialization of college athletics is under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers could face the issue in the coming months, and held little back when the leader of the NCAA testified recently before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Senators hammered NCAA President Mark Emmert on July 9, as questions about student-athlete compensation, graduation rates, health care and sexual assault took center stage.

Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., kicked off by reminding Emmert of the committee’s jurisdiction over intercollegiate athletics, before taking aim at the NCAA.

“College athletes and athletics are rooted in the notion of amateurism, and the history of that is very interesting and important,” Rockefeller said. “Playing college sports is supposed to be an avocation. There’s a growing perception that college athletics, particularly Division I football and basketball, are not avocations at all. What they really are is highly profitable commercial enterprises.”

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July 10, 2014

Cornyn, Durbin Highlight Divide on Immigration Supplemental

If you want to see the Senate’s divide on a supplemental spending package to address the flood of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border, look no further than the chamber’s two whips.

In separate conversations with reporters, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois expressed different concerns about the crisis.

Durbin said he was not comfortable rolling back part of a 2008 trafficking law without first getting some answers about the well-being of the unaccompanied minors who would be sent back to potentially volatile situations in Central America.

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July 9, 2014

Sportmen’s Bill Faces Gun Amendment Gauntlet (Updated)

reid 227 032614 445x296 Sportmens Bill Faces Gun Amendment Gauntlet (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:01 p.m. | The bipartisan sportsmen’s bill appeared on the verge of collapse Wednesday.

As usual, the feud is about considering amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved to block all amendments by filling the amendment tree and end debate, but said he was willing to consider a limited number.

“If you want an amendment process, bring me a reasonable list that leads to passage of the bill,” he said of the GOP.

Republicans have been calling for an open amendment process, and have proposed numerous gun amendments that threaten to turn the bill into a political minefield.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, the lead Republican compiling the package with Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, gave an all-too-familiar floor speech about oft-mythical “regular order.”

The Alaska Republican conceded the Senate was “probably unlikely” to move forward on the bipartisan assortment of bills without considering an assortment of relevant amendments. Relevancy is a broader standard than germaneness, meaning any deal might well include a slew of uncomfortable gun votes.

“The Republican Conference is absolutely prepared to vote on all relevant amendments,” Murkowski said. “Let’s get moving on these relevant amendments.”

Murkowski noted that not all amendments are broad in scope.

“I know that Sen. [Mary L.] Landrieu has an amendment that’s very unique to Louisiana,” Murkowski said, citing a proposal from the Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman about deer hunting rights.

But it isn’t amendments such as Landrieu’s that are likely to cause trouble. There are firearm policy amendments being lined up on both sides. That includes everything from the interstate transportation of ammunition to a sweeping overhaul of gun control in the District of Columbia. That last amendment has been filed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

On the other side, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin wants to impose stiff criminal penalties for “straw purchasers” of firearms, citing the spate of violence last weekend in Chicago in a Wednesday morning floor speech. Other Democrats  advocating firearm safety are working on proposals as well, including Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.

Durbin noted that his home state of Illinois has regions with very different views on firearm ownership.

“I think I may be an exception, but I welcome this debate. I want this debate. I want an opportunity to raise important issues about gun violence and gun safety in america,” Durbin said. “And I’m going to offer an amendment … which stiffens the penalties for those who purchase guns to give them to another person or sell them to another person to commit a crime.”

“What I said in Chicago, i’ll say on the floor of the Senate. Girlfriends, wake up. When that thug sends (you) to buy a gun, under this amendment, you … run the risk of spending 15 years of your life in a federal prison,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Durbin sounded a similar tone to Murkowski about the possibility the amendment process might not work, however.

“This senator is going to offer this amendment. I hope I get my chance,” Durbin said. “I hope the filibusters don’t stop me.”

It’s unclear where exactly such a filibuster might come from, but it could plausibly be from both sides of the aisle, given the political risks associated with opening the door to a broad gun safety debate.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this story.

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