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November 20, 2014

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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.

Full story

November 19, 2014

Mike Enzi Challenging Jeff Sessions for Budget Gavel

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Enzi wants to lead the Budget Committee. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republicans have a battle for a gavel.

Asked if he was interested in becoming Budget chairman when the Republicans take control of the Senate next year, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming told reporters simply, “Yes.”

Enzi has seniority over the current ranking member, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and a contest had been rumored in recent weeks. The two senators had previously confirmed conversations about the matter.

Full story

November 13, 2014

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 5, 2014

King Seeks Dealmaker Role in Reversed Senate, Stays in Democratic Caucus

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Independent Maine Sen. Angus King is remaining in the Democratic caucus, but it’s clear he views himself as a bridge between the two sides.

“There are a number of bills that, you know, that I’d been working with already with Republicans and you know my job is to going to be to bring enough Democrats along if we can make these things go,” King told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview. Even with a larger than expected victory Tuesday night, Republicans will need to find at least a handful of Democratic votes to secure the 60 votes needed to overcome potential filibuster challenges.

Full story

October 30, 2014

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

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(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 15, 2014

Barney Frank’s Advice for Mitch McConnell

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Frank has advice for McConnell. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Rep. Barney Frank has some words of wisdom for Sen. Mitch McConnell, should the Kentucky Republican claim the majority leader’s job in January.

“I think his choice will be whether or not he’s going to govern responsibly. It’s one thing to be in opposition and try to undercut the government. But when you’re a majority leader, I think you have a responsibility to do some things that might not be popular,” Frank said. “That’s not just a matter of his duty, it’s an electoral thing. I think if he becomes majority leader and does not stand up to his more right-wing elements, it’s going to be bad for his party as well as for the country.

Full story

October 14, 2014

Cornyn, Cruz Back Obamacare Lawsuit Over Origination Clause

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are backing another Obamacare lawsuit, hoping to upend the law.

The Texas Republicans — both lawyers — filed a court brief backing the lawsuit, which claims the Senate failed to comply with the Constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House.

While the House drafted and passed a health care overhaul, the Senate did not use that bill as the base for its own effort. The legislative history for the bill that became law as the Affordable Care Act shows that it started as an innocuous measure in the House waiving the repayment requirement of the first-time home-buyer tax credit for some military personnel. Full story

October 6, 2014

Cruz Says 60 Days Are Up for War Powers Against ISIS

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz is pointing out that on Monday, the 60 days for military intervention under the War Powers Resolution should run out since the start of operations in Iraq against ISIS.

The Texas Republican wrote in an opinion piece for National Review that President Barack Obama should bring Congress back now that the clock has run its course.

“Given that 60 days has expired, the president should come to Congress and get proper authorization for this new military action (with an official name for the operation). He should lay out clear, defined military objectives. Congress, as a united body, should reject every attempt from hostile actors such as Iran to exploit our mission for their own gain,” Cruz wrote. “And we must abandon the fantasy that the Syrian moderate rebels will be our proxy army in this fight and prioritize instead working with the Kurdish forces who are also focused on ISIS.” Full story

September 23, 2014

Ginsburg Won’t Resign, Notes Senate Kept Filibuster for SCOTUS Despite ‘Nuclear Option’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg sounds like she might have retired from the Supreme Court if Senate Democrats went a step further with the “nuclear option.”

In an interview with Elle magazine, the 81-year-old associate justice pointed to the fact that filibusters of Supreme Court nominations are still allowed by the Senate.

“Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court,” Ginsburg said, pointing to the change in procedure that “took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court.” Full story

September 17, 2014

Tom Coburn Won’t Be Going Away Quietly

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Tom Coburn is retiring at the end of this Congress, but the Oklahoma Republican has put the word out that he isn’t likely to let the Senate have its end-of-session legislative feeding frenzy.

Thursday may be the last day of the work period before the elections and, as usual, some senators are making a final push on pet legislation, including renewing a travel promotion bill that Coburn has long opposed.

“I am not inclined to let things go,” Coburn said, when asked if he planned to hold up last-minute efforts to get unanimous consent to pass legislation before the Senate heads out of town.

Full story

September 16, 2014

Reid Sets Lame-Duck Schedule

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Senators will return to work for the lame-duck session on Nov. 12. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate has set the date for returning for the lame-duck session. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is advising senators they will return for the post-election lame-duck session the day following Veterans Day.

Orientation and the Democratic leadership elections for the next Congress will be held Nov. 12 through Nov. 14, according to a notice obtained by CQ Roll Call.

The Senate’s two top leaders made pre-election pitches in opening the chamber Tuesday morning, as the Senate looks for a quick exit ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Full story

August 4, 2014

Congress Takes August Recess, Avoids Recess Appointments

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This recess is for real. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 3 p.m. | Congress will officially be on recess starting Tuesday — but President Barack Obama won’t use the opportunity to make recess appointments.

After the House adopted an adjournment resolution that runs through Sept. 8, a senior Senate GOP aide said an agreement had been reached with the White House that there will be no recess appointments during the recess period. That means Republicans won’t force pro forma sessions. Full story

July 21, 2014

Nomination Backlog Frustrates Administration, Democrats as August Looms

A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.

There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.

But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.

“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”

“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.

“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”

After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.

“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”

Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.

“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”

The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.

“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.

Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.

“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.

Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.

Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.

At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”

At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.

If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.

Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.

Correction 6:42 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.

 

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.

June 11, 2014

Senate Passes Intelligence Authorization Without Debate

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Wednesday was a busier day in the Senate than many people know.

The chamber continued a productive Wednesday — following up on a sweeping emergency veterans’ aid bill by passing an intelligence authorization without any fanfare.

The voice vote approval of the fiscal 2014 bill came as part of the customary Senate wrap-up process, passing following a request on the floor from Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., without significant floor debate.

In order for legislation to pass through the unanimous consent process used at the end of each Senate session day, it generally must clear through the Senate’s internal hotline, which in the modern era is an internal email system through which senators and their staffs are notified of measures that the leaders of the two parties would like to advance.

Full story

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