President Obama delivers State of the Union address
This week, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. In his address he called for a "year of action." The President's inability to work with Congress to pass key pieces of his agenda led Obama to give a speech that outlined a number of policy provisions where he would "go it alone" and use his executive authority.
Republicans and many red state Democrats were sharply critical of the President's decision to by-pass the Congress and use executive orders to change and set policy in a number of key areas.
The official Republican response to the address was delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA). Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) delivered the "Tea Party" response to the State of the Union and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the Senate's leading libertarian voice, delivered his own response.
State of the Union wrap up
On the night of the State of the Union, McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies released a primer covering the key policy components of President Obama's State of the Union address.
Executive action on minimum wage
President Obama announced that he is using his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services.
Executive action on environmental regulations
President Obama announced several key new environmental regulations that he will implement using executive authority - effectively doing an end around Congress. These include:
- New fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty vehicles
- The President will direct the Administration to work with states, cities and tribes to cut carbon pollution through clean energy and energy efficiency
- The administration is developing new environmental standards for oil and gas drilling on public lands
- President Obama will announce new energy efficiency standards
- Establish an Energy Security Trust Fund to fund research and development for advanced vehicle technologies
- New tax credits for biofuels
President Obama offered several policy proposals aimed at tackling income inequality in the U.S. Among those proposals will be:
- The President proposed increasing the federal minimum wage. The President wants to work with Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill that would increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour
- The President called for the extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed. These benefits expired at the end of 2013 and Senate Democrats have been working – unsuccessfully so far – on getting them extended
- The President discussed his efforts aimed at encouraging job creation in low-income communities. This effort is aimed at revitalizing high-poverty communities across the country by attracting private investment, improving affordable housing, expanding educational opportunities, providing tax incentives for hiring workers and investing in these areas, reducing violence, and assisting local leaders in navigating Federal programs and cutting through red tape
- The President announced an effort to increase job-training opportunities particularly for low-income youth, low-income adults and the unemployed
- The President urged Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
- The President urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination
- Removing retirement tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans
Creating a starter savings program for middle class americans
The President announced he is using his executive authority to create "myRA" (my Retirement Account) - a new "simple, safe and affordable" starter retirement savings account that will be available through employers to help Americans save for retirement. This account would be offered through a familiar Roth IRA account and will be backed by the US government.
Energy and the environment
President Obama proposed new incentives for medium and heavy-duty trucks that run on alternative fuels like natural gas.
The President called on Congress to work with the Administration and state and local governments to create Sustainable Shale Gas Growth Zones.
With Republican leadership in the House expected to unveil their principles for immigration reform shortly, President Obama called for a fix to our broken immigration system. He will call for cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and for providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who pay a fine, pay their taxes, learn English and pass a background check.
President Obama called for a "grand bargain" that pairs comprehensive tax reform coupled with new spending on infrastructure — an offering the White House says is an olive branch to Republicans and the business community.
President Obama announced that he is working towards a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and has opened talks towards a comprehensive agreement with the European Union. President Obama will urge Congress to update its guidance and role in trade by passing the Trade Promotion Authority.
Reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
President Obama is seeking to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Working with Congress, President Obama will propose four core principles for reform: 1 - putting private capital at the center of the housing finance system, 2 - end Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's failed business model, 3 - ensure widespread access to safe and affordable mortgages, and 4 - support affordability for creditworthy first-time buyers and access to affordable rental housing for middle class families.
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House Republicans unveil Immigration Reform principles
This week, at their annual retreat, House Republican leadership unveiled their "Standards for Immigration Reform." This highly anticipated proposal was greeted with applause by some immigration reform advocates who hope that an overhaul to the system can still occur before the midterms, it was greeted less warmly by conservatives who oppose any path to legalization for those who are here illegally.
Here are some of the highlights:
Standards for Immigration Reform
The serious problems in our immigration system must be solved, and we are committed to working in a bipartisan manner to solve them. But they cannot be solved with a single, massive piece of legislation that few have read and even fewer understand, and therefore, we will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill.
Border security and interior enforcement must come first
We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future. Faced with a consistent pattern of administrations of both parties only selectively enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, we must enact reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.
Implement Entry-Exit visa tracking system
A fully functioning Entry-Exit system has been mandated by eight separate statutes over the last 17 years. At least three of these laws call for this system to be biometric, using technology to verify identity and prevent fraud. We must implement this system so we can identify and track down visitors who abuse our laws.
Employment verification and workplace enforcement
In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper based system wrought with fraud. It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system.
Reforms to the legal immigration system
For far too long, the United States has emphasized extended family members and pure luck over employment-based immigration. This is inconsistent with nearly every other developed country. Every year thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans. When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries. Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy.
The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.
One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.
Individuals living outside the rule of law
There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.
Farm bill passes House
The long and contentious odyssey of the Farm Bill may finally be over. After months and months of fighting between interests groups, the parties and the chambers, the House passed a new 5-year, nearly $1 trillion, farm bill.
With bipartisan support, the House passed the bill by a vote of 251 to 166. The new farm bill saves roughly $16.6 billion over 10 years - almost half of those savings coming from an $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is more commonly known as the food stamp program.
The most significant change to farm programs in the bill would be the elimination of a subsidy known as direct payments. These payments, about $5 billion a year, are paid to farmers whether or not they grow crops.
The Senate is expected to take up the farm bill today and the bill is expected to pass.
Senate close to short term deal on unemployment benefits
A deal to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months, paid for by reforms to pension policy, is coming together. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is close to securing the 60 votes he would need to advance the legislation.
The shorter-term deal, including the pay-for, represents a retrenchment for Democrats. Reid and his caucus pushed a nearly yearlong, unpaid-for bill on the floor earlier this month, but Republicans blocked it.
Even with a deal in the Senate, the extension of benefits will likely die in the Senate, because House Republicans have been unwilling to take the issue up.
California 33rd Congressional District: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced on Thursday that he would not seek another term in Congress. Waxman, a 20-term Congressman, is considered one of the most influential and outspoken liberal voices in the House.
New Hampshire: Former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), who is considering a run in New Hampshire against Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), is in a dead heat with the incumbent according to a new poll. A Purple Strategies poll released this week showed both Brown and Shaheen tied at 44% in a hypothetical matchup.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – The House Judiciary Committee will hold hearing on Examining Recommendations to Reform FISA Authorities at 10:00 a.m. in 2141 Rayburn.
Wednesday, Feb. 5 – The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on The Foundation for Success: Discussing Early Childhood Education and Care in America at 10:00 a.m. in 2175 Rayburn.
Monday, Feb. 3 - The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee's National Security and International Trade and Finance Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Safeguarding Consumers' Financial Data at 3:00 p.m. in 538 Dirksen.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Examination of the Safety and Security of Drinking Water Supplies Following the Central West Virginia Drinking Water Crisis at 10:00 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Privacy in the Digital Age: Preventing Data Breaches and Combating Cybercrime at 10:15 a.m. in 226 Dirksen.
Washington by the numbers
18.5 - The number of days, on average, it takes to see a physician in any of five specializations, according to a survey in 15 metropolitan areas.
They said what?
"If he wants to move forward with this unilateral activity, he better be prepared for the lawsuit that the United States Congress will bring to him.” -- Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., after Obama’s State of the Union speech (National Journal)
Washington humor"At last night's State of the Union address, President Obama renewed his call for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. Yeah, that was popular. Even more popular, though, was his roadblock to citizenship for Justin Bieber. That went over huge." –Conan O'Brien
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