IRS admits to targeting conservative groups
Second terms are notorious for generating scandals – regardless of the partisan political affiliation of the president. This week, President Obama faced a barrage of criticism over three separate dustups; the most significant – at least politically at this point – appears to be the admission of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that they singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny.
The admission by the IRS of the politically motivated targeting of conservative groups brought a landslide of criticism from Republicans, the media, and even many Democratic lawmakers.
On Wednesday, President Obama attempted to tamp down the criticism by forcing out the acting IRS commissioner and by escalating his criticism of the IRS activities. Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have said they will hold hearings to determine exactly what happened and who knew about it.
On Thursday, it was reported that President Obama would appoint Daniel Werfel, as the acting Commissioner of the IRS. Werfel has been the Controller of the Office of Management and Budget since 2009.
Immigration reform update
The Senate Judiciary Committee continued its markup of comprehensive immigration reform, and intends to work through next week and possibly into the weekend to finish work before a recess at the end of the month.
The committee has heard dozens of amendments, and most of the amendments have yet to be considered. Most of the amendments are being offered by opponents of the immigration reform legislation, and so far most are being rejected. Vocal opponents Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have offered 126 amendments between them.
The House’s bipartisan immigration group announced that it plans to release its own bill by June 1st.
Look for a detailed wrap up of the immigration hearings from the team here at McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies early next week.
Justice Department vs. the AP
This week it was revealed that the Justice Department secretly examined two months of phone records of more than 20 lines belonging to the Associated Press and its reporters, including the main news numbers in Washington, New York, Hartford, and the AP’s congressional bureau. The Justice Department was investigating whether any government officials gave the AP classified information about the CIA’s infiltration of an Al-Qaeda cell in Yemen.
The revelation sparked immediate and sharp criticism from media outlets concerned about the perceived encroachment on the freedom of the press. In response, President Obama asked Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to introduce a new Reporter Shield Law that would help reporters protect the identity of their sources from federal officials. President Obama opposed a previous Reporter Shield Law offered by Schumer in 2009.
Senate Agriculture Committee approves Farm Bill
This week, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a 5-year Farm Bill by a vote of 15 to 5. Four Republicans – Roberts (R-KS), Johanns (R-NE), Thune (R-SD), and McConnell – were joined by one Democrat – Gillibrand (D-NY) – in opposing the bill.
The Senate Farm Bill would cost $955 billion over 10 years, but $23 billion less than if the programs in the 2008 Farm Bill were extended, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Senate bill eliminates the $4.9 billion in direct payments that crop farmers have been getting whether prices are high or low; consolidates conservation programs; and makes a $4 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, which is projected to cost more than $700 billion over 10 years.
The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor next week.
The House Agriculture Committee followed the Senate on late Wednesday night approving their own $940 billion Farm Bill in a 36 to 10 vote, showing strong bipartisan support.
The bill, expected on the House floor in June, was approved shortly before midnight after a marathon markup session that began at 10:00 a.m. and which disposed of about 100 amendments.
Overall, the Farm Bill crafted by House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) cuts $20.5 billion from food stamps, while replacing current direct payment farm subsidies with bolstered crop insurance and new revenue and price based supports. No major changes were made in committee to the nutrition or commodity programs.
The food stamp cuts in the House Farm Bill are $16 billion more than are included in the Senate Agriculture Committee bill, which has $4 billion in cuts. The strong opposition by committee Democrats is a sign that the GOP will not be able to count on a large number of minority votes to pass the Farm Bill on the floor.
Farm leaders in the House and Senate are trying to send a Farm Bill to President Obama before September 30, when the current extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires.
On Wednesday, the Obama White House released more than 100 pages of emails relating to the event surrounding the September 11th attacks in Benghazi that led to the death of four Americans. The emails revealed “intensive jostling” among CIA and State Department officials on the talking points used to explain the Benghazi attack to the American people. The administration released the emails after excerpts leaked, and were cited by congressional Republicans as possible evidence of malfeasance.
With the release of the emails, some of the steam was taken out of the talking-points controversy. But the actions taken by the White House will likely do little to pacify Republicans in Congress. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said this week that he intends to hold more hearings on the matter.
Second term Cabinet updates
After multiple delays, President Obama’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez, won approval in a Senate committee on Thursday along a party line vote, 12-10. His nomination will now move to the Senate floor for consideration. Perez still faces a rocky road, with Senate Republicans threatening to hold up his confirmation over concerns about the handling of a deal with St. Paul, Minn., that Perez brokered as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for May 23 on the nomination of Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker to serve as Commerce Secretary.
Earnest Moniz was confirmed, by a vote of 97-0, to be Secretary of Energy by the Senate on Thursday. The MIT physics professor replaces former Secretary of Energy Steve Chu.
Charts and graphs
GA – 1st Congressional District: Republican David Schwarz, a former staffer of current Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) will launch a bid for Kingston’s seat. Kingston is one of several Republicans from the Georgia delegation running for the Senate seat of retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
MA – The National Republican Senatorial Committee will make a “pretty substantial investment” to the campaign of Gabriel Gomez – the Republican nominee seeking to win the Senate seat vacated by John Kerry’s elevation to Secretary of State. Polls have consistently shown Gomez within striking distance of Democratic Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA).
President 2016 – Because it’s never too early
A poll of potential Democratic primary voters in the key primary state of New Hampshire showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a 50 point advantage over current Vice President Joe Biden.
A look ahead:
Monday, May 20 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Health Insurance Premiums Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" at 4:00 p.m. in 2123 Rayburn.
Tuesday, May 21 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on "Cyberthreats and Security Solutions," focusing on steps the federal government and the private sector are taking to bolster the security of America’s critical infrastructure and mitigate exposure to cyberattacks at 10:00 a.m. in 2322 Rayburn.
Tuesday, May 21 – The House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on border and maritime security will hold a hearing on "Visa Security and Overstays: How Secure is America?" at 10:00 a.m. in 311 Cannon.
Wednesday, May 22 – The House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will hold a hearing on "Examining the Regulatory and Enforcement Actions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" at 10:00 a.m. in 2175 Rayburn. EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien is scheduled to testify.
Wednesday, May 22 – The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a markup of H.R. 850, the "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act" at 10:00 a.m. in 2172 Rayburn.
Wednesday, May 22 – The House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on oversight and investigation will hold a hearing on how the Justice Department determines whether a financial institution is “Too Big to Jail” at 2:00 p.m. in 2128 Rayburn.
Tuesday, May 21 – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a forum on "estimates of domestic supply and the potential benefits or unintended consequences caused by expansion of natural gas exports” at 10:00 a.m. in 216 Hart.
Thursday, May 23 – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a meeting on “Committee Forum: Shale Development: Best Practices and Environmental Concerns” at 10:00 a.m. in 216 Hart.
Washington by the numbers:
60 – The number of questions that White House press secretary Jay Carney received on Tuesday about the many scandals the Obama administration is currently facing.
“In an effort to appeal to women, the NRA is highlighting a number of products for women's self-defense, including purses with hidden handgun pockets. Because if there’s one thing women are good at, it's quickly retrieving something from their purse.” – Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers.
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