House passes bill defending medical marijuana
A bipartisan coalition of House members voted early Friday morning to bar the Drug Enforcement Administration from using federal funds to go after medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal.
The bill, offered by conservative Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), passed by a vote of 219-189. The amendment brought together an interesting coalition of liberal democrats and libertarian Republicans.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) co-sponsored the amendment with Reps. Rohrabacher, Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Paul Broun (R-GA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Five other states – Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin – have legalized CBD oils, a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Under the Obama administration, the DEA has raided marijuana dispensaries in states where it is legal. The DEA still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance with "no currently accepted medical use," and the agency has engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to diminish medical benefits.
The DEA's classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance conflicts with a number of recent studies that have shown the potential medical uses for the drug.
The House action also reflects growing public support for medical marijuana – a recent CBS poll found that 86% of Americans believe doctors should be able to prescribe it to seriously ill individuals.
The return to regular order?
Just a few months ago, after the passage of the two-year budget act, there was a great deal of talk on the Hill about a return to “regular order” regarding the appropriations process. More and more, however, members and staff on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress are beginning to talk about the possibility of a continuing resolution – en lieu of finishing the appropriations process.
The two-year budget deal approved in December laid out the broad parameters, and the Appropriations committees in both the House and Senate are now tasked with filling in the fine print in the form of twelve separate appropriations bills. Unfortunately, to date, only two of those bills have passed the House and none have passed in the Senate. What is even more concerning is that time is running short.
After the Memorial Day break, there are only about 30 legislative days left on the calendar before the August recess. And when lawmakers return after Labor Day, they will already be looking toward adjournment on Oct. 2 for the last month of campaigning before the Nov. 4 elections.
Both chambers and parties are already starting to gauge whether their positioning on budget issues would be strengthened or weakened if the bulk of the spending bills are left for a lame-duck session of Congress. That would mean that a two- or three-month CR would be needed before Oct. 1 to fund agencies not covered in already-passed spending bills.
There is some progress to report in the appropriations process. The House has completed and passed its versions of a 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs spending bill as well as a Legislative Branch spending bill. Those are the two appropriations bills typically regarded as the least controversial or politically charged.
In addition, the House passed the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill, and early Friday morning. The Appropriations committee also approved the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, as well as the Agriculture funding bill and the Department of Homeland Security funding bill.
Over in the Senate, progress is even slower.
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs spending bill and its Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration bill.
Senior House and Senate aides concede it is more likely than not that neither the Senate nor the House completes all 12 bills before the start of the new fiscal year – and certainly not reach two-chamber agreements on them – as tough battles and tough election-year choices could loom on specific spending cuts and other policy matters.
Fights are expected to erupt over a variety of matters, including transportation spending, health care programs, and education issues.
Lawmakers will in the next weeks almost all voice preferences to maintain the regular order, or process, of completing all 12 spending bills individually, members and senior aides predict. But the reality, they say, is there will ultimately be an acknowledgement this summer that not all can get done by Oct. 1.
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Boehner holds fire on VA scandal
While an ever-growing number of Democrats across the country are joining with Republicans in calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, one important GOP leader is keeping his powder dry. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-VA) has not yet called for Shinseki's resignation. "I'm going to continue to reserve judgment on Gen. Shinseki," Boehner said at a press conference on Thursday. "Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what's really going on?" the speaker asked. "The answer I keep getting is no."
Boehner on Thursday shifted the blame to President Obama who, he said, ignored earlier reports from the Government Accountability Office about issues at Veterans Affairs.
Boehner has been relatively cautious about Shinseki's job security, even as many of his colleagues – including his own majority whip – have called on the secretary to step down. Last week, Boehner said he was moving "closer" to calling for Shinseki's resignation, and after the inspector general's preliminary report was released yesterday, the speaker's office said his position was unchanged.
But a huge wave of statements from members of both parties calling for a change of leadership at the VA have helped create a sense of momentum. On Wednesday, after the initial IG report found that veterans waited on average 115 days for care in the Phoenix health care system (as opposed to the recommended 14 days), Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and John Walsh, among many others, said Shinseki should step down. More than a dozen Democrats in both chambers have now called for Shinseki's resignation.
Obama tackles concussions in sports
This week, President Obama convened a group of medical experts, top sports officials, parents, and young athletes at the White House for the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit – the first event of its kind. He used the event to emphasize the importance of sports for young people as well as the need for greater understanding and attention to the risks of head injuries – and he announced a series of new programs and partnerships dedicated to this goal.
The high rate of head injuries and its negative health impact on young athletes is a major concern for the president, both as a parent and a sports enthusiast. He cited a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found young people make about 250,000 visits to emergency rooms each year with sports or recreation-related brain injuries. And this doesn't include those who visited family doctors, or who didn't report the injuries at all.
"We want our kids participating in sports," Obama said. "I'd be much more troubled if young people were shying away from sports. As parents, though, we want to keep them safe, and that means we have to have better information. We have to know what these issues are. And the fact is we don't have solid numbers, and that tells me that at every level we're all still trying to fully grasp what's going on with this issue."
As a result, the White House is announcing new partnerships and commitments to advance research on these injuries. Among those announced Thursday are:
- A collaboration between the NCAA and the Defense Department to commit $30 million for concussion education, and a study including up to 37,000 college athletes. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard are set to support the study as well.
- A dedication by the NFL of $25 million over three years to test various strategies, including holding health and safety forums for parents, and increasing trainers at high school games.
- A partnership between the National Institutes of Health and the NFL, in which NIH will dedicate $16 million of the NFL's previous donation toward clinical trials and studies to look at long-term effects of repeated concussions.
- An investment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of $5 million over five years toward the development of better materials for protective sports gear.
Charts and graphs
Status of 2015 appropriations bills
Transportation in focus
Ending Saturday Postal Service to Pay for Transportation?
House Republican leaders are considering ending Saturday mail delivery as a way to pay-for the infusion of money that will be needed to bailout the Highway Trust Fund. It’s estimated that $5 billion would be needed by the end of July to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that ending Saturday mail delivery would save $13.65 billion in Postal Service outlays over the ten-year 2015-2024 period.
Ending Saturday mail delivery is a very controversial issue that has drawn opposition for a wide variety of interests including postal workers, rural and senior advocates, and poverty advocates. These objections have been enough to stymie efforts within Congress to allow the abolition of Saturday delivery for years. It is far from certain that, even if such a bill can pass the House, that the Senate can get 60 votes to abolish Saturday delivery as a pay-for for a Highway Trust Fund bailout by the end of July.
Nebraska 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), who squeaked out a victory over an underfunded primary opponent, now has a conservative third party challenger – former State Senator Chip Maxwell (I-NE) – who is running as an independent. GOP insiders fear Maxwell could peel off enough Republican votes to flip the race to the Democrat – State Senator Brad Ashford (D-NE).
West Virginia 2nd Congressional District: Alex Mooney (R-WV) has a 10-point lead over Nick Casey (D-WV), according to an internal poll conducted by the Tarrance Group on behalf of Mooney and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mooney leads Casey, 39 percent to 29 percent among 400 likely voters.
Mississippi: Former Presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), a leading social conservative, endorsed State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-MS) who is challenging incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).
Oregon: Monica Wehby (R-OR) trails incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) by double digits according to a new poll. The poll shows Merkley at 50 percent, Wehby at 36 percent and 15 percent undecided.
West Virginia: New polling out of West Virginia gives GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito a double-digit lead over Democrat Natalie Tennant. Capito takes 49 percent in the West Virginia Poll, conducted by R.L. Repass & Partners for the Charleston Daily Mail. Tennant is 11 points behind, with 38 percent; 13 percent of those surveyed said they were undecided.
No hearings scheduled yet.
1,700 – Number of veterans waiting for care who were kept on a second wait-list at a Phoenix VA hospital, according to an inspector general report.
$50 billion – Potential annual cost of the upcoming EPA carbon-emission regulations, according to a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"I have taken no steps toward such a thing, and I've got to tell you, I do not wish that job upon anybody – including myself.” – Ben Carson, on running for president (National Journal)
"Pope Francis will bring a rabbi and a Muslim leader with him when he travels to the Holy Land this week. Or as bartenders put it, 'We've been expecting you.'" – Jimmy Fallon
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