The Irony of Ironies via Republican Poison Pills

H.R. 2577 is a conglomeration of a number of bills (Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017) that  the Senate needs to take action on failed a super-majority vote (60 votes) for cloture (the ability to be considered and voted for/against on the Senate floor).  One version of that bill was passed by the House and a different version of that/those bills passed the Senate.  Thus, it’s now gone to conference committee to work out the wrinkles between the two versions.

This conference agreement now includes the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, the Zika Response and Preparedness Appropriations Act, 2016, the Zika Vector Control Act, and an unacceptable ‘division’ on funds to be rescinded from programs the Republicans don’t particularly like.  That’s what came to the floor for a cloture vote, and it failed miserably — 52-48.

Really, Senator McConnell?  It’s too difficult for the general public to understand?  I don’t think so.

It’s one thing for Republicans to short-change President Obama’s funding request.  It’s another thing to start attaching ‘poison pills’ to the proposed legislation that limit or outright prohibit women’s choices.  When you introduce a funding proposal that limits the distribution of contraceptives and that prevents family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood from participating in the effort to help women in Zika-affected areas delay pregnancy, from a disease that not just contracted from a mosquito bite, but from sexual activity with an infected male partner, did you really think that Senate Democrats would just roll over and vote for that?

When you start gutting provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, did you honestly believe that Democrats would just roll over and just vote for that?

SEC. 2. MOSQUITO CONTROL WAIVER.
Notwithstanding section 402 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1342), during the 180 day period following the date of enactment of this Act the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (or a State, in the case of a permit program approved under subsection (b)) shall not require a permit for a discharge from the application by an entity authorized under State or local law, such as a vector control district, of a pesticide in compliance with all relevant requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C. 136 et seq.) to control mosquitos or mosquito larvae for the prevention or control of the Zika virus.

When you start stripping funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), did you really expect Democrats to just roll over, see the light and vote your way?  Or, when you decide to fund your bill by stripping balances  from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, did you really expect Democrats to go “oh yeah, that’s a great idea” and vote in favor of your bill?  Or better yet, given that we already know that you stripped a bunch of funding from the State Department for Embassy security that might have made the outcome in Benghazi drastically different, did you really expect the Senate Democrats to let you strip even more funding for the State Department and other Foreign Operations?

Are you nuts?  They certainly weren’t and neither am I.  It took me hours to sort through all the links on Congress.gov, but here’s what I found:

DIVISION D–RESCISSIONS OF FUNDS

Sec. 101.
(a) $543,000,000 of the unobligated amounts made available under section 1323(c)(1) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18043(c)(1)) is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act.

Sec. 1323. Community health insurance option. Requires the Secretary to offer a Community Health Insurance Option as a qualified health plan through Exchanges. Allows States to enact a law to opt out of offering the option. Requires the option to cover only essential health benefits; States may require additional benefits, but must defray their cost. Requires the Secretary to set geographically adjusted premium rates that cover expected costs. Requires the Secretary to negotiate provider reimbursement rates, but they must not be higher than average rates paid by private qualified health plans. Subjects the option to State and Federal solvency standards and to State consumer protection laws. Establishes a Start-Up Fund to provide loans for initial operations, to be repaid with interest within 10 years. Authorizes the Secretary to contract with nonprofits for the administration of the option.

(b) $100,000,000 of the unobligated balances available in the Nonrecurring expenses fund established in section 223 of division G of Public Law 110-161 (42 U.S.C. 3514a) from any fiscal year is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act.

DIVISION G–DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008
Title I–Department of Labor
Title II–Department of Health and Human Services
Title III–Department of Education
Title IV–Related Agencies
Title V–General Provisions
Title VI–National Commission on Children and Disasters

(c) $107,000,000 of the unobligated balances of appropriations made available under the heading Bilateral Economic Assistance, Funds Appropriated to the President, Economic Support Fund in title IX of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2015 (division J of Public Law 113-235) is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act: Provided, That such amounts are designated by the Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

Personally, I side with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid who declared, “It is unbelievable that somebody would have the audacity to come to the floor and say it’s Democrats’ fault. A significant amount of American women, especially young women, go to Planned Parenthood, and the Republicans want to say, ‘you can’t do that.’” Why indeed would Democrats not just prohibit Planned Parenthood from providing any services, but gut the EPA’s ability to assure clean water and harm HHS’s ability to manage health insurance options for not just Puerto Ricans, but millions of American families across our nation?  Apparently Sen. McConnell completely missed the irony of claiming to improve women’s health by prohibiting and defunding health opportunities for women altogether.


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Reinventing High School

WhiteHouse

— General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), Founding Chair,  and Alma J. Powell, Chair, America’s Promise Alliance

We want to talk to you about our nation’s high schools for a moment.

In 2008, the Department of Education required all states, for the first time, to use the same calculation for their high school graduation rate — a key accountability measure that this administration has embraced. In 2010, President Obama and Secretary Duncan joined the America’s Promise Alliance at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to launch the GradNation campaign, setting a national goal of a 90 percent high school completion rate by 2020.

We’re seeing tangible results.

High school graduation rates have risen and are continuing to rise across America. Preliminary data from the Department of Education for the 2013-2014 school year show the narrowing gap between students from low-income families, students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners and their peers.

This increase in graduation rates is the result of hard work by millions of young people, families, educators, community leaders, business leaders and policy makers who have come together to create brighter futures for young people.

But while we celebrate this progress, we need to be smarter and more persistent if we want to continue to raise graduation rates for all students.
Today, a diverse group of people is coming together at the White House to talk about how we can do that in a smart way. You should follow along, and join the conversation here.

Young people have to be a respected voice at the center of change. The only way this works is if they’re a part of the process.

The latest report out of our research institute asked young people who left school without graduating what would have helped them stay in school. Here’s what we found:

The most powerful “innovation” contributing to students’ success is support from caring adults in schools. Young people told us they need an anchor, someone whom they can trust to be a stable presence in their lives. Even better is a web of supportive adults and peers to help them navigate their way through life’s challenges and toward graduation and a successful adulthood.

Students who do not graduate on time have been stigmatized as ‘dropouts.’ But we’ve been listening to these young people and learning about the complex and extraordinary challenges they face — unstable housing, food insecurity, trauma, violence, physical and emotional abuse, and bullying. Leaving school may be a last resort — but it may also feel like their only option. We’re humbled by these students’ determination not only to survive, but to craft a safe and meaningful life and to fulfill their dreams.

Today, we want to applaud those participating in the White House Next Generation High School Summit working together to accelerate innovation that creates the conditions under which all children have a real chance to succeed.

We want to encourage everyone who participates in today’s conversation to be guided by the best evidence of what works. We hope we can ‘redesign’ in such a way that teachers and other adults in schools have the time and expectation to forge real and positive relationships at every turn.

And finally, let’s be persistent: The policies, practices and stigmas that contribute to opportunity gaps in this country were long in the making — and they will take time and attention to dismantle.

(As an aside, I was astounded to hear one of the commentators claim with better education systems, her son could have become a doctor, and that her daughter is a teacher and that’s just fine.  From the tone and the demeanor of the comment, it struck me as the roots of systemic gender discrimination.)

Bridging Funding for WNC and GBC Should Be a Top Priority

Since GBC President Mark Curtis came on board three years ago, he has had to cope with the defunding of 58 full time positions, representing a 27% cut, with the college’s share of state operating funds plummeting 25%, from $16 million to $12 million. At the same time, graduations rose by 60% between 2010 and 2014, a minor miracle made possible by Dr. Curtis’ adept reallocation of resources and tireless efforts to seek out gifts and grants to fill in the gaps.

Now GBC faces the prospect of an imminent $1.45 million budget cut, necessitating a further staff reduction of of 25 full time positions, leaving state-funded headcount 38% below pre-recession levels. Even a miracle worker like Dr. Curtis can only do so much with so few resources in such a limited amount of time. It can’t be done.

Chet Burton has put his business experience to good use in coping with the ongoing budget squeeze without resorting to further faculty or curriculum cuts, and none are in his plans going forward. His decision to defund the baseball and softball teams hasn’t been popular, but when you put the interests of students first, something has to give. Like Dr. Curtis, he has a plan in place to live within the constraints of the new funding realities, but fully implementing that plan in the next 90 days is not humanly possible.

The Chancellor’s budget request for the next biennium includes more than $40 million to start up a medical school at UNLV, and $3 million to compensate for a drop in enrollment at that university’s law school. I have little doubt that those are worthy goals, but they must not be allowed to eclipse the higher education needs of the rural counties. GBC and WNC are already doing more with less, and deserve to be provided with the resources necessary to finish the job.

FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES: Stealing America’s Future

David Halperin, Stealing America’s Future, joins Thom Hartmann to discuss what’s happening with for-profit colleges. As the cost of a higher education goes up – more and more Americans are turning to for-profit colleges to get what they think is more bang for their buck. But are for-profit colleges really just a big scam fueled by a never-ending supply of student loan debt?

On the Hill this Week

With just a few weeks left before the August break, Congress will try this week to pass a few spending bills for the next fiscal year. And the Senate may address the student loan interest rate hike that took place July 1.

Spending Bills

While work continues on 2014 spending bills, chances are slim that they will be completed by the end of September, when the current continuing resolution expires. Most expect that Congress will again pass a continuing spending resolution to ensure 2014 funding.
Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (S 1243): this bill would spend $54 billion in 2014, $10 billion more than the House version, and is the first spending bill for next year that the Senate has considered.
HR1243
Defense Appropriations Act (HR 2397): This bill spends $512 billion in non-war funding, down about $5 billion from last year’s bill but up $28 billion from current spending levels that include the sequester.
HR2397
As part of the debate on the defense spending bill, House members will be considering amendments to reduce military aid to Egypt and Syria — and limit NSA surveillance. Learn more in this week’s What to Watch with Charlie Mitchell.

In the Senate

Student Loan Interest Rates (S 1334): Congress might also finally pass a bill modifying the interest rate on student loans from the current 6.8 percent. A group of senators said they agreed to a bill last week that would peg the interest rate to the government’s borrowing rate, and the Senate may be in a position to pass this bill.
S1334
Many Democrats oppose the compromise, however, as it could lead the student rate to rise above 6.8% should interest rates rise higher. However, several key Democrats said last week that they support the bill, which would have the immediate effect of lowering the rate from 6.8 percent. The Senate compromise is very similar to a House-passed bill that many Democrats and President Obama said they oppose. As a result, Senate passage of the bill this week, could let the House quickly pass it as well.

In the House

The House may also take up to energy deregulation bills this week:

  • Energy Consumers Relief Act (HR 1852): would block regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency if they have an impact of $1 billion or more and would hurt job creation.
  • Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (HR 2218): would give states permission to set their own standards for managing coal runoff.

Finally, the House will consider up to six, less controversial suspension bills throughout the week:

  • Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act (HR 697): conveying park land in Nevada to the city of Henderson, Nevada.
  • HR 1300: amending the Fish and Wildlife Act to reauthorize wildlife volunteer programs.
  • California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act (HR 1411): adding land in California to the National Landscape Conservation System.
  • WMD Intelligence and Information Sharing Act (HR 1542): establishing intelligence activities in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland and security, related to weapons of mass destruction.
  • HR 2353: allowing vehicles currently allowed to operate on Route 41 in Wisconsin to remain legal even if a segment of the road is designated as a route on the Interstate System.
  • HConRes 44: A resolution allowing the Capitol grounds to be used for the Olympic torch run.

_________________________________

Last week, the House voted last week to delay parts of Obamacare, the 2010 health care law, after the Obama Administration decided to delay the employer insurance mandate.