Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 5, 2015

Senate Democrats Have Full Agenda Ahead

Democratic Agenda

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats are in a race against the clock in order to consider all the must-pass legislation, such as a new highway bill and an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs, alongside a host of election-year items aimed at drawing contrasts with the GOP.

The Senate is poised to consider a bipartisan deal — drafted by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — that would reduce wait times for medical care at the VA.

“Details of the agreement are not in writing yet … they are being drafted,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday. Reid said he “will be happy to schedule a vote as soon as possible.”

The bill has bipartisan urgency and momentum behind it to deal with the still-widening VA scandal.

But Democrats will also consider a host of other bills aimed squarely at defining the GOP as the party of the rich and Democrats as the party of the people ahead of November.

The latest iteration of their so-called fair shot agenda includes a vote expected this week on a bill championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and President Barack Obama, that would allow 25 million people the chance to refinance their student loans at today’s low rates. It would be paid for by a new mandatory minimum tax on millionaires known as the “Buffett Rule” for Warren Buffett — a poison pill for the GOP.

(Obama suggested Monday voters hold politicians accountable for voting for the wealthy at the expense of students.)

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the measure is a waste of scarce floor time, saying it would provide a mere $1-a-day break for former students.

This “is one more example of why the American public has lost confidence in the leadership of the United States Senate,” the Tennessee Republican said, dismissing the Buffett Rule as “a class warfare tax.”

The Senate has been even more sclerotic than usual this year, with bipartisan bills like a tax extenders package and an energy efficiency bill falling to disputes over amendments, and postures are expected to stiffen as the elections near.

“The list of things with bipartisan support we need to do is long,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said. “The sooner Republicans stop obstructing for obstruction sake, the sooner we can get things done.”

There are just seven legislative weeks left before the August recess.

A new highway bill tops the list of must-pass items wanted by both parties, but it may also be the most vexing because lawmakers have yet to agree on how to pay for roads, bridges and other transportation items in a time when gas tax revenues are under pressure from rising vehicle mileage standards.

Congress must act before the end of the summer when the highway trust fund runs out of money.

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said he is “pulling out all the stops to find a funding solution to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent” and wants to find a consensus by the end of the month.

A short-term extension may be needed, a Democratic aide said.

The Senate also is expected to start considering appropriations bills next week — more must-pass items.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has said she may seek to package a few spending bills together to save time.

But appropriations bills will face the usual tussle with Republicans over amendments — as Democrats look to protect vulnerable senators before the elections.

“They don’t want to have votes that expose their members to tough political issues,” said Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota.

“I think Sen. Reid will continue what he’s been doing procedurally,” Thune continued. “But then, you know, we are always hopeful.”

A lot of issues are looking for fast-shrinking floor time.

The Senate is expected to push to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which helps support American exports and is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, before Sept. 30. Democrats support renewing the bank, but some conservative Republicans have called for ending it, arguing it is wasteful corporate welfare.

The bank “exists to dole out taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to help American exporters,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in an April floor speech. “Most of the benefits go to large corporations that are perfectly capable of securing private financing anywhere in the world. That is to say, Congress allows Ex-Im Bank to risk taxpayer money unnecessarily to subsidize well-connected private companies.”

Aides said the issue would mostly depend on what can be passed by the Republican-run House. House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has forcefully opposed renewing the bank.

Another issue considered must-pass is renewing the Terror Risk Insurance Act, seen as critical to the real estate industry, since lenders typically require terrorism insurance to be obtained by owners of large or iconic real estate projects, especially in large and gateway American cities. The law expires at the end of the year.

The Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved its bill last week. A Senate Democratic aide said the Senate bill has the backing of industry and is expected to win relatively strong support once it comes to the floor.

Reid’s agenda also includes debating a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to regulate contributions and spending in federal elections — something that allows him to beat up on his favorite target, the billionaire Koch brothers.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will mark up the proposal Wednesday and Reid is likely to put it on floor, where it will almost certainly end up as cannon fodder.

Other major bills expected to make floor appearances later this year — perhaps in a lame-duck session — include passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and a return of the tax extenders package, aides said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

Comments (45)

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  1. Jazzy

    June 9, 2014
    9:16 p.m.

    Bipartisan EUC bill should be the main focus. As you can see, 3 of 5 Most Popular articles on Roll Call are on Unemployment. Some states are still allowing EUC to file in hopes that it is renewed.

    Congress, do you understand that we went 5 months waiting for retro? We need the back pay to get a fighting chance on saving our homes, credit, getting to work, feeding our kids.

    And where do you think these 3 million people went? Do you think they went away? No, the numbers for welfare skyrocketed, as did the number of requests to food pantries, people in homeless shelters KIDS ELDERLY, social security, rent assistance if available by state, etc.

  2. Jazzy

    June 9, 2014
    9:28 p.m.

    Looks like alot of personal agendas, I thought they worked for us? EUC renew with retro. 72,000 new long term unemployed each week. Now over 3 million, and thats what the stats say, we all know the real numbers are much higher.

  3. ShadrachSmith

    June 9, 2014
    9:53 p.m.

    Shouldn’t it be called the Dole?

  4. Jack Everett

    June 10, 2014
    9:19 a.m.

    Both cham bers of congress have been on part time hours and vacations since Obama was elected. Maybe it’s time to cut their August vacation and make them do some work for a change. These corporate politicians act like school kids thinking about how they will spend their vacation time and doing nothing but holding out their hands for more corporate welfare.

    Reed is right to attack the Koch fascists and their many lobbies that do nothing but buy political favors.

    Koch Brothers Exposed

    “The labor-backed advocacy group U.S. Chamber Watch is taking aim at the
    U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a new report, arguing that the industry
    group’s aggressive lobbying effort to extend the Bush tax cuts is less
    about creating jobs for businesses and more about lining the pockets of
    wealthy corporate CEOs who would personally gain from hundreds of
    thousands to millions of dollars.”

    Chamber Of Commerce’s Lobbying To Extend Bush Tax Cuts Would Reap Millions For Wealthy Backers

    The house continues to stall on infrastructure repair and replacement with tha same old saw “where is the money coming from after voting more money for the Jews and other countries we occupy for no reason except to make fascist contractors richer in foreign countries.

    The Export-Import Bank is nothing but a corporate ponzi scheme giving rewards to corporations to outsource our jobs. If these corporate thieves want to invest money let them invest their own the taxpayers need theirs.

    “Nothing brings out the well-tailored lobbyists in Washington quite
    like a threat to corporate welfare. With the Export-Import Bank’s legal
    authorization set to run out this year, the Chamber of Commerce
    recently led a Big Business march on Capitol Hill to protect what is known as Boeing’s Bank.”

    “Over the last eight decades ExIm has provided over a half trillion
    dollars in credit, mostly to corporate titans. Congress should close
    the Bank.”

    Let Export-Import Bank and Corporate Welfare Die

    Koch Owned Cato Institute

    “The 2012 GOP is the naked Emperor, but covered with tattoos reading “John Birch Society,”
    “Koch Industries,” and “I heart Bull Connor.” The “subjects” are the
    media, which thinks the GOP is clothed in the raiments of a respectable
    political party.”

    Koch Owned John Birch Society

  5. Foxy

    June 10, 2014
    10:37 a.m.

    I see nothing on millions of unemployed workers who lost their means of income. Wow this really sucks! American Citizens I repeat American Citizens losing their homes, cars, due to no fault of their own. These bastards are for the rich only. Damn the hard working citizens who’s worked all their life. “American Dream” LOL where is it?

    • Dutch6

      June 10, 2014
      11 p.m.

      The American Dream Lite went out in November 2008.
      Thanks to those that perpetuated this misatke in 2012 more Americans will lose their livelihoods. Cheap energy is the mainstay of a strong economy. Fossil fuels provide that and more. Rather than encourage solutions that would allow for clean air by using American ingenuity,this Administration has sold out to the California Liberals who are the financial mainstay of the Democrats. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been shoveled into the hands of “renewable” advocates who just happen to be the most prolific “bundlers” at election time.
      This country could be energy independent and jobs could be created if the Administration had not declared a War on Coal. If Clean Air and Global warming are really the motivation then the facts disprove the validity. The rest of the world contributes 10 tons of CO2 for every ton that the US produces. So,we commit economic suicide to placate the interests of Wall street Hedge fund operators and the rest of America goes on the bread lines.

  6. Yonatan YONATAN

    June 10, 2014
    10:56 a.m.

    THE REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATIC PARTIES, HAVE FAILED THE MORE THAN 2.6 MILLION UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS WHO ARE STILL OUT OF WORK, WITHOUT AN EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS, SINCE LATE LAST DECEMBER. THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO WORK, BUT HAVE NOT FOUND EMPLOYMENT . DUE TO MANY FACTORS, SUCH AS “AGE” AND POOR ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT FOR THESE WORKERS ARE NOT AVAILABLE. REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE POLLS SAY, THE ECONOMY HAS NOT IMPROVED, AND MILLIONS OF WORKERS ARE STILL WITHOUT JOBS. SINCE LAST DECEMBER, THE REPUBLICANS HAVE HELD THE EXTENSION BILL “HOSTAGE” IN THE SENATE, FOR POLITICAL LEVERAGE AND PARTY AGENDA. MEANWHILE, THESE MILLIONS OF FAMILIES, HAVE FACED EVICTION, HOME FORECLOSURES, BANKRUPTCY, AND HOMELESSNESS, WHILE THE POLITICIANS CONTINUE PLAYING PARTY POLITICS. THE SENATE NEEDS TO PASS THE EXTENSION BILL TO HELP THESE FAMILIES TO FINANCIALLY RECOVER ONCE AGAIN. THESE FAMILIES ARE FACING FINANCIAL RUIN BECAUSE OF THE SIX MONTH DELAY IN BENEFITS.

  7. guest

    June 10, 2014
    12:39 p.m.

    Stop the political “tit for tat” game and come up with a solution to the unemployment situation. It isn’t foreign aid. This is home grown American aid.

  8. L. Nat Bean

    June 11, 2014
    12:09 p.m.

    Whether it’s murdering the unborn or attempting to deny care to the born, like Sarah Murnaghan, today’s liberalism is basically a death cult.

  9. Yonatan YONATAN

    June 12, 2014
    7:15 p.m.

    ARE THE 3 MILLION UNEMPLOYED GOING TO BE ON THEIR AGENDA?? THERES’ THREE MILLION UNEMPLOYED FAMILIES WHO HAVE BEEN WITHOUT AN UNEMPLOYMENT EXTENSION SINCE LATE LAST DECEMBER. THESE FAMILIES ARE TRULY BROKE, AND BECOMING FINANCIALLY RUINED WITH EACH PASSING DAY. BOTH THE REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS HAVE UTTERLY FAILED THESE FAMLIES, AND HAVE TURNED THEIR BACKS ON THEM ALREADY, AND JUST WALKED AWAY FROM THE ISSUE. MEANWHILE MORE AND MORE ARE FACING EVICTIONS, HOME FORECLOSURES, BANKRUPTCY, AND HOMELESSNESS, WHILE WAITING FOR THE HELP WHICH DOESN’T COME. HELP AND ASSISTACNE HAS COME FOR THE UKRAINE HOWEVER. CONGRESS PASSED A FOREIGN AID BILL WORTH BILLIONS OF TAX PAYER DOLLARS FOR THAT COUNTRY. I GUESS IT’S ONLY THE POOR AND STRUGGLING HERE THAT THEY REFUSE TO HELP

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    June 17, 2014
    4:45 p.m.

    For a brief introduction to the primitive superstitions of socialist ideology, I generally refer people to Igor Shafarevich’s brilliant essay Socialism in Our Past and Future: http://www.savageleft.com/poli/hoc.html

  11. Pie Thon

    June 25, 2014
    3:37 a.m.

    Liberals, democrats, socialists, marxists, and communists – they’re all the same.

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