16 Legislative Calendar Days left and …


The 2015 fiscal year ends on September 30, 2015 and we do not yet have a 2016 budget, a transportation bill, nor a resolution to Veterans Administration shortfalls which may shutter a number of VA hospitals.  And if that isn’t enough on their plates to handle when they only plan to actually work 16 days between now and then, they also need to resolve their issues with the Iran Nuclear Deal.  AND … there are no plans to cancel their August recess.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Last week, the United States along with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China signed a deal with Iran to substantially limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions.

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Under the new nuclear deal, “Iran has committed to extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification, and inspection,” according to the White House. “International inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not only be continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they will also be verifying that no fissile material is covertly carted off to a secret location to build a bomb. And if IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious. Such suspicions can be triggered by holes in the ground that could be uranium mines, intelligence reports, unexplained purchases, or isotope alarms.” (Please take the time to read more here.)

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Congress must now review the deal—and decide whether to pass a resolution to disapprove the agreement. The entire process could take up to 82 days, and during that time, the President cannot lift sanctions on Iran until the review and voting period is over. The law also requires the Administration to provide detailed reports to Congress every 90 days to ensure that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement.

Here’s how that review process should work, according to legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President in May: The White House delivered the agreement to Congress on Monday—five days after the signing of the Iran deal. Now, Congress has 60 days to review it, or until mid-September. (Keep in mind that Congress will be in recess from August 10 – Sept. 7.)  Congress then has 12 days (by the end of September) to vote on a joint resolution approving or disapproving the deal. Or Congress could opt to do nothing.

If Congress passes a resolution disapproving the deal, the President will most likely veto their disapproval. Congress would then have 10 days to override the veto, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House. (If Congress were to override a veto, the President would lose his ability to waive sanctions on Iran, which would cause the current agreement to fall through and destroy our nation’s credibility with our negotiating partners.)

Resolution Disapproving the Deal

Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL), Chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus introduced legislation expressing the sense of the House of Representatives in disapproval of the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. The resolution is “intended to build support for an expected vote on a formal joint resolution of disapproval in September.”

  • Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL)  Per Rep. Roskam, this resolution “sets the stage for the 60-day lead up to a vote on this agreement by allowing Members to express their disapproval of the accord. The unprecedented outpouring of support for this resolution proves that Congress will not rubber-stamp a deal that severely threatens the United States and our allies by paving Iran’s path to a bomb.” He went on further to state, “This agreement fails on every level to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran is allowed to keep much of its nuclear infrastructure intact and rewarded an $150 billion cash infusion from sanctions relief. The so-called ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections regime in reality provides Iran nearly a month’s notice on inspections. And, in an unprecedented last-minute concession, the U.N. arms embargo and ban on ballistic missiles will be lifted in just a few short years. This is a bad deal, and it must be stopped,” according to the sponsor. (Read resolution text)

Worth Noting:  Two Representatives from Nevada Mark Amodei and Joe Heck have signed on a co-sponsors of this resolution of disapproval.

Federal Budget and Appropriations

The House has been working on appropriations bills for FY 2016. Thus far, they’ve passed Commerce, Justice and Science (HR 2578); Defense (HR 2685); Energy and Water (HR 2028); Legislative (HR 2250); Military and Veterans (HR 2029); and Transportation and HUD (HR 2577) appropriations bills.  But when they got to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill (HR 2822) last week, they had to pull it from the floor after a series of amendments were introduced regarding whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed on public lands. Three amendments, introduced by Democrats, had been passed on July 7th that would block the National Park Service from allowing private groups to decorate graves with Confederate flags specifically in cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi and would bar the Park Service doing business with gift shops that sell Confederate flag merchandise. Unhappy with those passed amendments, a Republican sponsored amendment was introduced essentially nullifying the passed amendments. To keep from seeing everything degenerate into a total brouhaha over the Confederate Flag, Speaker Boehner pulled the bill from the floor.

Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of appropriations bills until a new budget agreement is negotiated that will mitigate the sequestration budget cuts since 2013. Congress aims to complete the appropriations process by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. If they don’t, then they’ll need to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution to prevent yet another government shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration has put Congress on notice that they have a $2.5B shortfall that if not resolved will force them to start closing some VA hospitals beginning in as early as August.

Highway Trust Fund Extension

Both the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund are nearing insolvency, according to the Department of Transportation.

As Congressional committees met to discuss ways to keep our country’s Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solvent, Secretary Foxx urged them to adopt a long-term transportation bill with increased funding:

“The state of our nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan talking point; it is a problem facing all Americans. So I am encouraged that Members of Congress are asking the tough questions about how we will find solutions together. As I have said many times, we cannot build tomorrow’s transportation system with yesterday’s policy and yesterday’s funding; I look forward to working with both parties to pass a long-term bill that aggressively boosts investment and changes outdated policies so we can build for the future.”

With a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund approaching, cash management steps are not far away.  Because the HTF supports critical roadwork by State DOTs, these cash management procedures will slow improvements and basic repairs on roads across the U.S.   With the Highway Trust Fund authorization set to expire on July 31, the House did pass an extension through December 18. You’re going to love this.  The claim is that the extension would provide $8 billion in new money – $5 billion from tax compliance measures, and $3 billion in reduced spending.  But true to form, it includes no new revenues, and is partly funded by a two-year extension of fees that would have sunsetted (passenger airport security fees collected by the TSA).

  • Sponsor: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)  Extends the authorizations of the federal surface transportation programs as well as the hazardous materials transportation program and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act through Dec. 18, 2015. Funds the surface transportation programs at the level authorized for fiscal year 2014. Would transfer $6.068 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Highway Account, and would transfer $2 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Mass Transit Account. (Read bill summary.) – Passed by the House; now goes to the Senate —

This is the 34th short-term extension in the last six-years—and many in Congress are urging that they work on a comprehensive long-term bill. In past decades, Congress routinely passed six-year surface transportation bills.  To that end,  other bills have been proposed:

  • GROW America Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act) [HR2410] sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  This is the Administration’s long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. Provides a total of $478 billion over six years, a 45 percent increase for highways, bridges, public transportation, highway safety, and rail programs.
  • The DRIVE Act (Developing a Reliable and innovative Vision for the Economy Act) [S1647]  sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  It’s a 6-yr surface transportation  reauthorization bill sporting a “new” freight program to prioritize federal spending.

Food Labeling and GMOs

Currently, the US Department of Agriculture has no authority over labeling food for the presence or absence of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). This week, House will be voting on a bill mandates a national standard for labeling laws related to GMOs and that would nullify any state standards that might exceed the national minimum standard established by this bill:

Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) In his introduction of the bill, Rep. Pompeo indicated this bill “would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.” He went on to say that “under SAFLA, the FDA will conduct a safety review of all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce. This will ensure that consumers get scientifically accurate, and relevant information by allowing the FDA to specify special labeling, if it believes it is necessary to protect health and safety. In order to provide even greater transparency, my legislation includes a provision to allow those who wish to label their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.”

NOTE: The bill, purported by some to have been written by Monsanto, prohibits States from enforcing any bills addressing GMOs that exceed the requirements of HR1599 effectively nullifying existing legislation in a number of states (Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, where foods containing GMOs are required to be labeled).  If passed, the FDA would be the sole authority to require GMO labeling.

Coal Ash Regulations

According to the EPA, “coal combustion residuals are byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants, and includes fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) materials. CCR contain contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic which are associated with cancer and other serious health effects. When improperly managed, CCR can leak into the groundwater, blow into the air as dust, and be released to surface water and to the land in the event of a catastrophic failure.”

The House has scheduled a vote on HR1734, a bill that would set rules governing the management and disposal of coal ash.

  • Sponsor: Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)   According to the House Majority Leader, this bill will “provide job-creators, and over 300,000 workers, with certainty by putting states in charge of the enforcement to implement the standards set by EPA regarding the safe disposal of coal ash,”  It would authorize States to set up permit programs for coal ash, as well as allow the EPA to offer permits in States that don’t establish their own permit programs.

Really?  (1) Not all States have the funding/expertise/organization to provide for enforcement, and (2) we all know how well that worked in North Carolina when they had a massive coal as spill.  In addition, some Democrats in Congress believe that the bill would undermine tougher coal ash rules the EPA finalized in December 2014, which “establishes the first ever nationally applicable minimum criteria providing for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals in landfills and surface impoundments.”

That is a seriously overloaded plate and with only 16 legislative days left in this fiscal year, that doesn’t appear to be near enough time for this unproductive Congress to resolve those issues.

If This is What it Means to be “Conservative” — I’m Proudly a Bleeding Heart Liberal

Clearly, members of the GOP in the House are all about looking for ways to handicap ANY organization tasked with performing regulatory actions that might impede their ideological plans for the future of the United States of Republica.  A case in point is this recent  press release from Representative Amodei’s office.  My comments are in blue italics at various points throughout his release.  Some original text has been highlight in RED for emphasis.

Amodei: Appropriations Financial Services bill reins in IRS, ACA and Dodd Frank

Wednesday June 18, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 Contact:    Brian Baluta, 202-225-6155

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee today passed its fiscal year 2015 bill, which would provide annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies.

The bill totals $21.3 billion in funding for these agencies, which is $566 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $2.3 billion below the president’s request for these programs.The legislation prioritizes programs critical to enforcing laws, maintaining an effective judiciary system and helping small businesses, while targeting lower-priority or poor-performing programs – such as the Internal Revenue Service – for reductions.

Well now, that makes just a ton of sense.  IRS is tasked with collecting revenue necessary for the operation of various government operations … so let’s under fund them so we can then make a scapegoat of them when they can no longer effectively perform their regulatory and tax-collecting functions.

“Every day, I am asked, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ This bill ‘does something’ by removing funding from executive agencies that have become political tools of the administration,” said Amodei.   

Bill highlights:

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)– Included in the bill is $10.95 billion for the IRS – a cut of $341 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $1.5 billion below the President’s budget request. This will bring the agency’s budget below the sequester level and below the level that was in place in fiscal year 2008. This funding level is sufficient for the IRS to perform its core duties, including taxpayer services and the proper collection of funds, but will require the agency to streamline and make better use of its budget.

Interesting! They continually carp about the IRS not providing for an EMAIL BACKUP strategy as part of their business plan. Server BACKUPs are NOT FREE!  How much more will they stop BACKING UP because they no longer have sufficient funding to do their tax collection duties, let alone ancillary functions like BACKUPS, SYSTEM UPDATES, SOFTWARE IMPROVEMENTS, etc.?

In addition, due to the inappropriate actions by the IRS in targeting groups that hold certain political beliefs, as well as its previous improper use of taxpayer funds, the bill includes the following provisions:

Here we go again, perpetuating the falsehood that ONLY right-wing political groups were scrutinized, when it was actually liberal groups that were denied with some that had already been given tax-exempt status seeing that status revoked (e.g., EmergeAmerica affiliated groups).  NO politically-focused groups should be receiving TAX-EXEMPT 501(c)(4) status, PERIOD!

A prohibition on a proposed regulation related to political activities and the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposed regulation could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of many non-profit organizations and inhibit citizens from exercising their right to freedom of speech, simply because they may be involved in political activity.

Sorry, but I don’t get to deduct my “freedom of speech” contributions to political endeavors.  Thus, NO politically-focused organizations should be able to have a free of tax right to free speech at the American Taxpayer’s expense!

A prohibition on funds for bonuses or awards unless employee conduct and tax compliance are given consideration.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.

Congress passed a law that clearly states that to be considered 501(c)(4) organization, your activities must be EXCLUSIVELY-FOCUSED on “Social Welfare” activities.  Politically-focused activities are NOT social-welfare activities and thus, it IS the IRS’s responsibility to scrutinize and deny tax-exempt status to ANY organization (conservative, liberal or otherwise) not meeting that exclusivity provision.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.

More BS related to the previous proviso — the IRS is NOT prohibiting ANYONE from exercising their free speech.  The IRS is merely and rightfully determining whether a group is a group exclusively devoted to providing SOCIAL-WELFARE opportunities/activities and thus, whether that group is entitled to TAX-EXEMPT status!

A prohibition on funding for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences.

Really?  Oh, please, pray tell, what “inappropriate videos” might it be that the IRS is producing?

A prohibition on funding for the White House to order the IRS to determine the tax-exempt status of an organization.

Again, if you want to allow any organization wanting to conduct EXCLUSIVELY politically focused activities to never have to pay taxes, well then, you need to REPEAL the law that PROHIBITS them from being tax exempt!  You cannot have a LAW on the books that says one thing and then prohibit the IRS, which is responsible for administering that section of the law, from enforcing it!

A requirement for extensive reporting on IRS spending.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) –The bill also includes provisions to stop the IRS from further implementing ObamaCare, including a prohibition on any transfers of funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to the IRS for ObamaCare uses, and a prohibition on funding for the IRS to implement an individual insurance mandate on the American people.

Well, let’s see.  We elected President Obama and a Democratic Congress to get health care reform. Then, the Republican propaganda machine bought a Republican House.  Despite their efforts to gerry-rig the system, we still re-elected President Obama. Health care reform is one of the hardest things we’ve ever worked on. But no matter, they just keep trying to either LIE ABOUT REPEAL or DEFUND access to healthcare for the American People despite its need or popularity.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)– Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $300 million below the President’s budget request. The increase in funds is targeted specifically toward critical information technology initiatives. The legislation also includes a prohibition on the SEC spending any money out of its “reserve fund” – essentially a slush fund for the SEC to use without any congressional oversight.

In addition, the legislation contains requirements for the Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act, and a prohibition on funding to require political donation information in SEC filings.

My my, lookie here — looks like an increase in funding.  But wait, isn’t this the organization that’s supposed to regulate Wall Street?  It’s a shame that the increase in funding is just for a bit of information technology so they can determine how their GOP-Donor base is affected by any sort of regulation.  It’s also despicable that they’ve included a proviso that PROHIBITS any reporting of information as to Corporate political donations.  If you and I donate, our freedom of speech is broadcast for all to see … but the Republican Donor-base has a special privileged secreted freedom of speech.  Apparently the Republicans believe their Donors are free to speak with their Dollars, but the general American public is underserving of being able to speak with their dollars in response.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)– The bill includes a provision to change the funding source for the CFPB from the Federal Reserve to the congressional appropriations process, starting in fiscal year 2016. Currently, funding for this agency is provided by mandatory spending and is not subject to annual congressional review. This change will allow for increased accountability and transparency of the agency’s activities and use of tax dollars. The legislation also requires extensive reporting on CFPB activities.

The Republicans have done EVERYTHING conceivably possible to handicap, repeal, defund and decapitate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is yet their latest attempt to defund and cripple any and all Consumer financial protection at the behest of their Donor-base.

Congress is Back from Easter break!

— by Rachna Choudhry — Co-founder, POPVOX.com

todaycongresssketchThe House returns for an early appropriations season — the earliest since at least 1974. Meanwhile, the Senate will consider raising the minimum wage. Here’s the scoop from our Hill Sources:

Appropriations Season Begins!
The annual appropriations process begins this week in the House, as they consider the first two 2015 spending bills. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has set a goal to have the House pass all of the 12 annual spending bills for FY 2015 before the August recess to avoid another omnibus measure after Sept. 30. (To put it in perspective, the first appropriations bill last year didn’t hit the House floor until June.)

  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015 (HR 4486): Provides $71.5 billion in discretionary funding – a cut of $1.8 billion below the FY 2014 level. This reduction will not negatively affect projects or services on which troops and veterans rely. Instead, the bill provides less funding than the previous year for military construction, largely due to a lack of new need for such projects, while increasing funding for veterans programs by $1.5 billion.
  • Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015 (HR 4487): Provides annual funding for the offices of Members of the House of Representatives, the support agencies of Congress (including security), services for visitors, and Capitol operations and maintenance. The total included for the House and joint operations, excluding Senate-only items, is $3.3 billion. This is the same as the FY 2014 level, and it’s $122.5 million below the President’s request. Also includes a provision preventing any pay increases for Members of Congress in FY 2015, which has been in place since 2010.

Government Reporting

The House will consider two bills related to government reporting:

  • Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) (S 994): Requires standardized reporting of federal spending to be posted to a single website, allowing people to track spending in their communities. (This version passed the Senate on April 10, and the House had passed its version on Nov. 18, and is expected to pass the Senate version and send it to the President for his signature.)
  • Government Reports Elimination Act (HR 4194): Would eliminate or modify 321 legislatively mandated reports from 29 Federal agencies.

Increasing the Minimum Wage  

After completing work on nominations, the Senate could begin considering a bill to raise the minimum wage this week:

  • Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S 1737): Would provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage in three stages: $8.20 an hour six months after the bill is enacted, $9.15 an hour a year after enactment and to $10.10 an hour two years after enactment. Would also increase the wage of tipped workers to $3.00 six months after the bill is enacted, and then up to 70% of the minumum wage for other workers.

Democrats see raising the minimum wage as an important issue, particularly during an election year. However, Republicans opposing the bill point to a February Congressional Budget Office study, which found that “once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent.” The study also found that the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Another Obamacare Fix

The House will yet again consider amending the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But this time, it has bipartisan support:

  • Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act (HR 4414): This bipartisan legislation was introduced as a fix to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that would exempt plans from the law’s requirements when they sell policies to individuals who work outside of the United States.  However, some Democrats believe that this bill creates large loopholes that would permit insurance companies to sell inferior insurance policies to American and foreign workers and their families who live in the United States.

The House previously considered this bill on April 9, under suspension of the rules, which required two-thirds of the House to support the bill for passage. However, the bill did not garner two-thirds support and failed by a roll call vote (259 – 159). This time, it will need only a simple majority to pass.

Also in the House… 

The House will also vote on:

  • HR 4192: Allows construction of single-story penthouses of up to 20 feet above the roof level in the District of Columbia.
  • HR 298: Would conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the Mill Springs Battlefield located in Pulaski and Wayne Counties, Kentucky, and the feasibility of its inclusion in the National Park System.
  • North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act (HR 4032): To exempt from Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 certain water transfers by the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority.
  • Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act (HR 3110): To allow for the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Glacier Bay National Park in the State of Alaska.
  • New Philadelphia Study Act (HR 930): To conduct a special resource study of the archeological site and surrounding land of the New Philadelphia town site in the State of Illinois.
  • Law Enforcement Museum Act (HR 4120): To amend the National Law Enforcement Museum Act to extend the termination date.
  • Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument Preservation Act (HR 1501): To direct the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park, in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, as a unit of the National Park System.
  • National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (HR 627): To provide for the issuance of coins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service.
  • Restoring Proven Financing for American Employers Act (HR 4167): Amends the Volcker Rule to exclude certain debt securities of collateralized loan obligations from the prohibition against acquiring or retaining an ownership interest in a hedge fund or private equity fund.


Two Critics Of Government Spending Are Forcing The Army To Build Tanks It Doesn’t Want

By Annie-Rose Strasser on Apr 29, 2013 at 11:45 am

Credit: U.S. Army

Congress is forcing the Army to spend nearly half a billion dollars building tanks that Army officials insist they don’t want, with money they say could be better spent elsewhere, according to a new report from the AP.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) are the two members of congress at the helm of the effort to spend $436 million on upgrading the Abrams tank, “a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.” The reason? Both represent Ohio, home to the nation’s only tank manufacturing plant, which would profit from the money.

The move is contradictory for the two politicians; both are also vocal advocates for fiscal austerity, and have made careers insisting that the government cut what they see as wasteful spending. It would seem that pushing for tank production against the will of the Army — as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno put it, “If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way” — is in direct contradiction to that aim.

Still, Rep. Jordan defended his push for the funding, saying, “The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country.” This is a common line among Republicans. The House GOP’s proposed budget also seeks to restore funding the military says it doesn’t need.

Indeed, Republicans have pushed to maintain defense spending while pushing for cuts to mental health programs, cancer treatment, food safety inspectors, and preschool programs. They have repeatedly ignored or dismissed the assertion from military generals that President Obama’s budget, which would have made targeted cuts to military programs, was an acceptable path to spending reduction.

A cut to one specific program would by no means be a drastic setback for the military; between 2001 and 2011, military spending nearly doubled. American voters, much like the military’s generals, also support scaling back the military’s spending.

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Govt Shutdown Averted As Can Gets Kicked 6 Months Down The Road

The budgeting process for our Federal Government is a convoluted process that doesn’t come close to matching any budgeting process in the private sector.  Since Congress hasn’t actually agreed upon spending and taxing policies, which they can use to create a budget, some means to fund government operations and services must be used.  That’s where a continuing resolution comes in.

A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by Congress (providing they can agree on the continuing resolution) to fund government agencies if a budget (appropriations) bill hasn’t passed both Houses and been signed into law by the end of a Congressional fiscal year (October 1st – September 30 each year).

Two budget bills were voted on this week in Congress … both along partisan lines.  The Republican bill in the House was passed with only Republican votes and is pretty much DOA in the Senate.  The Democratic bill in the Senate passed with votes from Democrats and Independents, but no Republicans. Similarly, the Senate bill is pretty much DOA in the House.  Each bill takes different approaches in building a budget to fund governmental functions and services.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget (HCONRES25)  seeks $4.6 trillion in savings over the next 10 years without raising new taxes. It aims to reach a small surplus by 2023 through deep cuts to health care and social programs that aid the poor. It passed the House on a purely partisan vote with NO Democratic support and 10 Republican defections:

3/15/2013 Introduced in House
3/15/2013 The House Committee on The Budget reported an original measure, H. Rept. 113-17, by Mr. Ryan (WI).
3/21/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On agreeing to the resolution Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 221 – 207 (Roll no. 88). Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in against passage.
3/22/2013 Received in the Senate. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 33.
REPUBLICAN 221 10 0 1
DEMOCRATIC 0 197 0 3
TOTALS 221 207 4

Senator Patty Murray’s budget (SCONRES8) in the Senate aims to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over 10 years through an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts.  Again, this budget was also passed along partisan lines with four Democratic defections: Baucus (MT), Begich (AK), Hagan (NC) and Pryor (AR). Upon passage in the Senate, Sen. Murray (Senate Budget Cmtee Chair) stated, “While it is clear that the policies, values, and priorities of the Senate budget are very different than those articulated in the House budget, I know the American people are expecting us to work together to end the gridlock and find common ground, and I plan to continue doing exactly that.”

3/15/2013 Introduced in Senate
3/15/2013 Committee on the Budget. Original measure reported to Senate by Senator Murray under authority of the order of the Senate of 03/14/2013. Without written report.
3/23/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Resolution agreed to in Senate with amendments by Yea-Nay Vote. 50 – 49. Record Vote Number: 92.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage
  YEA 50 48 0 2
  NAY 49 4 45 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0

Given that Rep. Ryan’s Path to Poverty Version 3.0 budget bill went down in flames as soon as it hit the Senate door, and the Senate’s bill didn’t fair any better in the House, another continuing resolution  to authorize modified levels of spending for the next six months was needed — or as they like to refer to it in Washington — kicking the can down the road for yet another six months.  The Continuing Resolution bill is HR933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.

HR933 was originally introduced as Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.  Since the Senate can’t “originate” an appropriations bill, and since HR933 was an appropriations bill already passed by the House (the only chamber authorized to “originate” appropriations), the Senate commandeered that bill, replaced it’s contents with a continuing resolution, and sent it back to the House for concurrence.  If the Senate were to have created a bill on it’s own, approved it and sent it to the House, it would have been blue-slipped and automatically rejected upon Constitutional grounds.

3/4/2013 Introduced in House
3/6/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: 267 – 151 (Roll no. 62).
3/20/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Passed Senate with an amendment replacing its contents and an amendment to re-Title the bill by Yea-Nay Vote. 73 – 26. Record Vote Number: 44.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage (for shutdown)
3/21/2013 Resolving differences — House actions: On motion that the House agree to the Senate amendments Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 318 – 109 (Roll no. 89).  NOTE:  Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in favor of passage.
  YEA 73 51 20 2
  NAY 26 1 25 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0
  YEA 318 203 115 0
  NAY 109 27 82 0
NOT VOTING 4 1 3 0

It now goes to the President for signature and thus, another kick of the budgetary can.

Budgets are technically, a statement of priorities, as are continuing resolutions.  And, various tidbits and provisos of each party’s policy stances toward governance manage to slip in budgetary bills. Overall, 112 amendments were offered to the HR933. Transparency relative to all 112 amendments is sorely lacking, as most are listed on THOMAS as “Purpose will be available when the amendment is proposed for consideration. See Congressional Record for text.”  It’s clear we need to revisit the issue of “transparency” with our legislators.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that failed:

  • SA 30 introduced by Sen. Cruz (R-TX): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • SA 66 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To temporarily freeze the hiring of nonessential Federal employees.
  • SA 69 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit Urban Area Security Initiative grant recipients from funding projects that do not improve homeland security.
  • SA 93 introduced by Sen. Coburn R-OK): To transfer appropriations from the National Heritage Partnership Program to fund the resumption of public tours of the White House and visitor services and maintenance at national parks and monuments.
  • SA 115 introduced by Sen. Toomey (R-PA): To increase by $25,000,000 the amount appropriated for Operation and Maintenance for the Department of Defense for programs, projects, and activities in the continental United States, and to provide an offset.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that passed:

  • SA 72 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To require the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of the Armed Forces for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
  • SA 29 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To prohibit the expenditure of Federal funds to enforce the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule of the Environmental Protection Agency against farmers.
  • SA 65 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

Here a a few other items that were slipped in to this bill that you might find a bit interesting.

Veteran’s Benefits

Given the GOP’s advertisement of their “autopsy” and their need to be a kinder, gentler, more inclusive party of something other than Greedy Old Patriarchs, plus, given their “support for the troops” and their “Jobs, Job, Jobs” mantra … section 8014 of the bill is a bit counter-intuitive.  Although—it does parallel their tiered benefits approach to Medicare (those older than 55 get the current program, those younger, well they’d get a declining value voucher). Under this proviso, it appears that if you re-enlisted before 10/1/1987 and have this in your enlistment contract, you get it … everyone else … so sad, too bad. The VA can buy your books and pay your tuition, but the government won’t pay you any wages or benefits … but hey … you’re still on the hook for your enlistment.  Good luck supporting yourself and oh, by the way, hope you don’t get sick while you’re at school learning something that you’ll later apply back on the job during the rest of your enlistment.

Sec. 8014. None of the funds appropriated by this Act shall be available for the basic pay and allowances of any member of the Army participating as a full-time student and receiving benefits paid by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from the Department of Defense Education Benefits Fund when time spent as a full-time student is credited toward completion of a service commitment: Provided, That this section shall not apply to those members who have reenlisted with this option prior to October 1, 1987: Provided further, That this section applies only to active components of the Army.

The Long Defunct ACORN organization

Sec. 510. None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors.

Good grief!  ACORN was a collection of community-based organizations that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. The Gang Of Predators (GOP) killed that organization using totally and bogusly false allegations!  It filed for Chapter 7 liquidation on November 2, 2010, effectively closing the organization. The GOP danced with glee … so if they’re trying to become a kinder, gentler, caring GOP, what’s with the paranoia … and the continued assault on any organization that helps the poor?

Restrictions Placed on the ATF — Gives away a KEY requirement for Control of Gun Violence to the NRA

One of the reasons we’ve not been able to get a handle on how to control gun violence is that we have not data from which we can effectively draw conclusions.  That’s because, gun vendors are not required to keep any records whatsoever of gun sales for use in analyzing patterns.  Similarly, police units are prohibited from keeping permanent records associated with background checks and trace data.  In passing the continuing resolution … proviso language included in the bill perpetuate the lack of analysis data.

(b) For fiscal year 2013 and thereafter, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shall include in all such data releases, language similar to the following that would make clear that trace data cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime:

(1) Firearm traces are designed to assist law enforcement authorities in conducting investigations by tracking the sale and possession of specific firearms. Law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, and those reasons are not necessarily reported to the Federal Government. Not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime.

(2) Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes, or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. Firearms are normally traced to the first retail seller, and sources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime.

Too Big to Jail

Ever wonder  why the Attorney General never seeks an indictment and doesn’t prosecute government contractors for the waste, fraud and abuse they regularly commit?  Could it be that if they took some of their egregiously fraudful government contractors to court and actually managed to convict them — well, they wouldn’t be able to let them continue to reap their fraudulent schemes and line all those congressional campaign coffers?

SEC. 540. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract, memorandum of understanding, or cooperative agreement with, make a grant to, or provide a loan or loan guarantee to, any corporation that was convicted of a felony criminal violation under any Federal law within the preceding 24 months, where the awarding agency is aware of the conviction, unless an agency has considered suspension or debarment of the corporation and has made a determination that this further action is not necessary to protect the interests of the Government.

Sec. 8126. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract with any person or other entity listed in the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS)/System for Award Management (SAM) as having been convicted of fraud against the Federal Government.

Those are just a few “policy” or “values”  items I noted as a read through bill, as passed.  You may find others if you take the time to read through the bill.  But, as I said earlier, budgets are a statement of “policy” and “values.”  Those activities and services deemed important by the powers that be (regardless of what ordinary Americans value) are funded, plain and simple.  Watch, read, learn over this next term, and in the 2014 primaries, cast your vote based on the VALUES you espouse for a candidate you believe will uphold them.