Lame duck session begins
As the dust continues to settle from the mid-term elections, Congress returned to work this week to begin the lame duck session. While Congress is expected to tackle a number of issues, first and foremost, Congress must pass a spending bill – most likely some type of omnibus – given that the current funding for the government expires on December 11.
The Senate will also begin examining the qualifications of Loretta Lynch, whom President Obama announced Saturday as his pick to be the next Attorney General. Lynch, the current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has so far earned praise and has been confirmed by the Senate twice before. But it is unclear how quickly her confirmation will move, and some Republicans have complained they don't believe senators who were defeated for re-election should have a chance to vote on her nomination.
Other matters facing lawmakers include whether more money should go to address the Ebola outbreak and whether potential use of military force in the Middle East should be authorized.
Given the impending shift in Senate control, some lawmakers—particularly Republicans—are urging that legislative efforts these last lame-duck weeks of the 113th Congress—which are not yet completely scheduled—should be limited to keeping government functioning and other must-pass legislation.
Such items range from renewal of dozens of already-expired tax breaks to extending the soon-to-expire Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, to an Internet sales tax measure. Some of the hoped-for tax extenders would address popular items and those sought by businesses, such as tax breaks for research and development and purchases of equipment, the mortgage interest deduction, and a child-care credit.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) has called for extending more than 50 such tax breaks and credits that lapsed last year through next year, to allow for more time to address a comprehensive tax-code overhaul sought by both parties. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service is prodding Congress to reach a decision on extenders before the end of the year or risk complicating next year's tax-filing season. House Republican aides say a tax-extender package during the lame duck is possible. Democrats may also seek to act on judicial picks while still in control of the Senate, which must confirm such nominations. For now, GOP opposition can still be thwarted, because Democrats changed Senate rules so that a nominee could be confirmed with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber. Previously, it took 60 votes to get past a procedural hurdle.
The extent of legislative action that will occur during this lame-duck period is not yet set in stone. Republicans have scheduled action in the House the week of Nov. 16 on two bills targeting the science behind Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and a third measure dealing with manufacturing.
Obama prepares to act on immigration
It appears President Obama is preparing to unveil a 10-part plan for immigration reform via executive action -- including suspending deportations for millions -- as early as next Friday, according to a report from FOX News.
The draft plan, obtained by FOX News, contains 10 initiatives that span everything from boosting border security to improving pay for immigration officers.
The most controversial part of the plan is what is known as "deferred action" for millions who are subject to deportation. The plan calls for expanding deferred action for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children -- but also for the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Under the changes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE) also would see a pay raise in order to "increase morale" within the ICE workforce.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also is planning to "promote" the new naturalization process by giving a 50 percent discount on the first 10,000 applicants who come forward, with the exception of those who have income levels above 200 percent of the poverty level.
Tech jobs through a State Department immigrant visa program would offer another half-million immigrants a path to citizenship. This would include their spouses as well.
The other measures include calls to revise removal priorities to target serious criminals for deportation and end the program known as "Secure Communities" and start a new program.
Senate to consider Keystone, White House hints at veto
The House is expected to pass legislation approving the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline, and the Senate is also bracing for a close vote on this issue next week. While Congress may send a bill to the President, the White House has begun hinting that President Obama would veto legislation that mandates approval of the Keystone pipeline.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama in Myanmar that the White House is against legislation that forces its hand while the federal review of Keystone is ongoing.
Earnest stopped shy of flatly waving a veto pen on Obama's behalf, but he noted prior threats on earlier legislation.
The White House has not issued a formal "statement of administration policy" on the House bill. Those statements often arrive ahead of votes and state whether Obama would veto a bill if it reaches his desk. However, The Washington Post cited unnamed aides who said Obama is prepared to veto the bill.
The stronger signals follow somewhat vaguer White House responses last week. Obama, asked about a Keystone bill the day after the midterm elections, declined to address the veto question head on, though he said he would allow the State Department process to "play out."
While a Keystone bill may not be able to clear the lame-duck Senate, the legislation will very likely have more than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster when Republicans take over the chamber next year. But it's unclear whether the new Senate could muster the 67 votes necessary to override a presidential veto.
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, “Shakeup in the Senate and a Lame Duck Preview”
Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as House Republicans, held leadership elections this week. Senate Republicans unanimously elected Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the new Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take control in January. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was re-elected as Senate Republican Whip and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) was re-elected as the Chair of the Republican Conference—the third ranking post in leadership. Senate GOPers also tapped Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Despite opposition from at least six Senate Democrats, Harry Reid was elected Minority Leader. In addition to Reid, Senate Democrats re-elected Dick Durbin (D-IL) as Minority Whip and re-elected Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to the number 3 post in leadership.
Democrats also created a leadership post for liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Additionally, Democrats also tapped Sen. John Tester (D-MT) to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Over on the House side, House Republicans re-elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to serve as Speaker of the House - he won't formally become the Speaker for the next session of Congress until the full House votes to elect him in January. House Republicans also re-elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Majority Leader and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as Majority Whip.
House Democrats will hold their leadership elections next week, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is running unopposed for Minority Leader.
Obama pushes net neutrality
President Obama, who has supported the concept of net neutrality since he first ran for president, for the first time this week outlined a specific path for new regulations. Under his plan, the Federal Communications Commission would invoke a controversial authority to essentially treat Internet service like a public utility.
"The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do," Obama said.
The statement thrilled liberals and Internet activists who argue that classifying broadband Internet as a "telecommunications service" under Title II of the Communications Act is the only way to enact net-neutrality rules that can survive legal challenges from industry groups. Obama urged the FCC to use the provision to ban Internet providers from blocking websites, throttling Internet service, or creating any special Internet "fast lanes" for websites that pay more. The rules would apply to home Internet connections and mobile devices.
As expected, Republicans pounced. While most GOP lawmakers are skeptical of net neutrality generally, they are adamantly opposed to utility-style regulation of the Internet under Title II.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who is poised to become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the president's plan would "stifle our nation's dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service." House Speaker John Boehner vowed that Republicans will continue their efforts to "stop this misguided scheme to regulate the Internet."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it "Obamacare for the Internet."
The net-neutrality fight will likely drag on for years. The major broadband providers have threatened to sue the FCC if it invokes Title II, which would mean drawn-out court battles. And Republicans will probably do everything they can to kill the rules, such as passing repeal legislation, trying to defund the FCC, and dragging agency commissioners into oversight hearings.
Democrats aren't worried about a long showdown with Republicans over the issue though. In fact, they appear to be relishing it.
Democrats believe that defending net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, will be a winning issue for them. Republicans are going to put up fierce resistance, warning that the rules will hurt investment in high-speed Internet networks, ultimately meaning higher prices and worse service for everyone. But Democrats believe that the public is on their side, and the fight will make it clear which party is really in favor of an open Internet.
Reid to move NSA reform
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to advance a bill that would usher in sweeping reforms to the government's most controversial domestic-spying program, more than a year after Edward Snowden's leaks exposed it publicly.
Reid filed for cloture on the measure late Wednesday, a surprising move intended to address the National Security Agency's mass-surveillance practices before Republicans take over the Senate next year. To advance further, the legislation would need 60 votes to end debate, and then a majority vote to pass it through the chamber.
The bill, the USA Freedom Act, would effectively end the government's bulk collection of metadata—the numbers and time stamps of phone calls but not their actual content. Phone companies, such as Verizon, would instead retain those records, which intelligence agencies could obtain only after being granted approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The bill would also usher in a host of additional privacy and transparency measures, including a more precise definition of what can be considered a surveillance target.
The measure is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and has earned cosponsors ranging from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to liberal Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). It also boasts support from a wide array of tech companies, privacy and civil-liberties groups, the White House, and senior members of the intelligence community.
The bill is a reworked version of a similar bill that passed the House in May, though that version was accused by privacy advocates and the tech industry of being "watered down" during 11th-hour negotiations.
Leahy spent months working to build consensus around his bill, and he nearly achieved it before debuting the measure in late July. It still faces opposition from some defense hawks, including Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). And two of the loudest critics of NSA spying, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO), have criticized the measure for not going far enough. The two Democrats said they wanted to strengthen the bill to require warrants for "backdoor" searches of Americans' Internet data that can be incidentally collected during foreign-surveillance hauls.
NSA critics have been waiting the entire year to see Congress come to an agreement on how to curtail the government's mass-surveillance activities. In January, President Obama pledged in a major policy speech to reform the NSA, but said he could only do so when Congress sent him a bill that closely matched his recommended changes.
Leahy has insisted for weeks that the Senate take up his bill early in the lame duck. "The American people are wondering whether Congress can get anything done," Leahy said Wednesday night, after Reid filed for cloture. "The answer is yes. Congress can and should take up and pass the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, without delay."
Reid's filing was not expected by many surveillance critics, who had thought the lame-duck session was too packed with other legislative agendas to leave any room for NSA reform. But growing uncertainty about where the issue ranked for Republicans may have forced Reid's hand.
Further complicating negotiations is the June 2015 sunset of the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the law that grants the government much of its legal authority for domestic surveillance. It is widely expected that Congress would not reauthorize the Patriot Act in its current form.
Arizona 2nd Congressional District: Martha McSally (R-AZ) leads Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) by just 161 votes as the state prepares for a recount.
California 7th Congressional District: Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) surged ahead of former Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) by 711 votes with more than 19,000 votes left to be considered.
California 16th Congressional District: Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) leads Johnny Tacherra (R-CA) by just 86 votes with more than 12,000 ballots yet to be counted.
California 26th Congressional District: Rep. Julia Browney (D-CA) defeated Jeff Gorell (R-CA) by 2,400 votes out of more than 157,000 cast.
New York 25th Congressional District: Mark Assini (R-NY) finally conceded to Rep. Louis Slaughter (D-NY) who won by just 700 votes.
Alaska Senate: The Associated Press has called the Alaska Senate race for Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Sullivan defeated Senator Mark Begich (D-AK).
Virginia Senate: Former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie conceded to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) - declining to seek a statewide recount in the race.
A LOOK AHEAD
10:15 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on "Oversight of FCC Budget and Management."
5:00 pm House Rules Committee - Meeting, Full committee meets to formulate a rule on H.R.1422, the "EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013"; H.R.4012, the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014"; and H.R.4795, the "Promoting New Manufacturing Act."
5:00 pm House (Select) Intelligence Committee - Hearing, Full committee closed hearing on "Ongoing Intelligence Activities.'
Tuesday, Nov. 18
10:00 am House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on "Fighting Ebola: A Ground-Level View."
10:00 am House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing, Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee hearing on "Interoperable Communications: Assessing Progress Since 9/11."
10:00 am House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "FAA Reauthorization: Issues in Modernizing and Operating the Nation's Airspace."
1:00 pm House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on "Update on the U.S. Public Health Response to the Ebola Outbreak."
1:30 pm House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - Hearing, House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee joint hearing on "Abuse of USPTO's (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) Telework Program: Ensuring Oversight, Accountability and Quality."
1:30 pm House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "VA's Longstanding Information Security Weaknesses are Increasing Patient Wait Times and Allowing Extensive Data Manipulation."
2:00 pm House Financial Services Committee - Hearing, Housing and Insurance Subcommittee hearing on "The Impact of International Regulatory Standards on the Competitiveness of U.S. Insurers, Part II."
10:00 am House Foreign Affairs Committee - Markup, Full committee markup of H.R.2901, the "Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013"; H.R.5206, to allow Foreign Service and other executive agency employees to designate beneficiaries of their death benefits; and H.R.5685, the "Rewards for Justice Congressional Notification Act of 2014."
10:00 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Health Subcommittee hearing on "Examining Medical Product Development in the Wake of the Ebola Epidemic."
10:00 am House Science, Space, and Technology Committee - Hearing, Oversight Subcommittee hearing on "The Role of the White House Chief Technology Officer in the HealthCare.gov Website Debacle."
10:00 am House Judiciary Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Oversight of the United States Secret Service."10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on "The Role of the State Approving Agencies in Ensuring Quality Education Programs for Veterans."
10:15 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on "Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water," to examine harmful algae blooms in drinking water.
1:00 pm House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing, Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing on "Volcano Hazards: Exploring the National Preparation and Response Strategy."
2:00 pm House Armed Services Committee - Hearing, Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on "Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services."
2:00 pm House Financial Services Committee - Hearing, Housing and Insurance Subcommittee hearing on "Opportunities for a Private and Competitive Sustainable Flood Insurance Market."
2:00 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee - Markup, Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee markup of H.R.5648, to improve defense cooperation between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
2:00 pm House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Health Subcommittee hearing on H.R.4720, the "Medal of Honor Priority Care Act"; H.R.4887, the "Expanding Care for Veterans Act"; H.R.4977, the "Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recovery (COVER) Act"; H.R.5059, the "Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act"; H.R.5474, to improve the care provided by the secretary of Veterans Affairs to newborn children; and H.R.5484, the "Toxic Exposure Research Act."
2:30 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee hearing on "Next Steps for U.S. Foreign Policy on Syria and Iraq."
Thursday, Nov. 20
10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund: Inquiry into the Adequacy of Process in Verifying Eligibility."
10:00 am House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing, Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "Is the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Being Properly Managed?"
1:00 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee hearing on "Examining What a Nuclear Iran Deal Means for Global Security."
Friday, Nov. 21
1:00 pm House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing, Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee field hearing on "Emergency Preparedness: Are We Ready for a 21st Century Hugo?"
Monday, Nov. 17
Senate meets at 2:00 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. the Senate will proceed to four roll call votes on: the adoption of the motion to concur to S.1086, to reauthorize and improve the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990; and cloture on judicial nominations.
2:30 pm Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on the nomination of Gilberto de Jesus to be chief counsel for advocacy at the Small Business Administration.
Tuesday, Nov. 18
At approximately 6:15 p.m., the Senate will vote on the passage of S.2280, to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline Project; on the confirmation of the nominations of Leslie Adams to be district judge for the Middle District of Georgia, Mark Cohen to be district judge for the Northern District of Georgia and Eleanor Ross to be district judge for the Northern District of Georgia; and cloture on the motion to proceed to S.2685, the "USA FREEDOM Act."
10:00 am Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria."
2:30 pm Senate Finance Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Tax Relief after a Disaster: How Individuals, Small Businesses and Communities Recover."
2:30 pm Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on pending nominations.
2:30 pm Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on the nomination of Earl Gay to be deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management.
2:30 pm Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee - Hearing, Full committee closed hearing on intelligence matters.
10:00 am Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Markup, Full committee markup of the "Adding Ebola to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act"; H.R.669, the "Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act".1
10:00 am Senate Rules and Administration Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on veterans' mental health and suicide.
10:00 am Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Veterans' Mental Health and Suicide."
10:00 am Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "The FANS (Furthering Access and Networks for Sports) Act: Are Sports Blackouts and Antitrust Exemptions Harming Fans, Consumers, and the Games Themselves?"
10:00 am Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Preparedness and Response to Public Health Threats: How Ready Are We?
10:00 am Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "The Federal Housing Finance Agency: Balancing Stability, Growth, and Affordability in the Mortgage Market."
2:15 pm Senate (Special Committee on) Aging - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Private Industry's Role in Stemming the Tide of Phone Scams."
2:30 pm Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on the nomination of Anthony Blinken to be deputy secretary of state.
2:30 pm Senate Indian Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Protecting our Children's Mental Health: Preventing and Addressing Childhood Trauma in Indian Country."
Thursday, Nov. 20
9:30 am Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing, Investigations Subcommittee hearing on "Wall Street Bank Involvement With Physical Commodities." (Part One)
10:00 am Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Examining Takata Airbag Defects and the Vehicle Recall Process."
10:00 am Senate Judiciary Committee - Markup, Full committee markup of S.2520, the "FOIA Improvement Act of 2014"; H.R.1447, the "Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013"; and votes on judicial nominations.
10:00 am Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on the nomination of Lauren McFerran to serve as a member of the National Labor Relations Board.
1:00 pm Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing, Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee hearing on "Why Are Some Generic Drugs Skyrocketing In Price?"
Friday, Nov. 21
9:30 am Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing, Investigations Subcommittee hearing on "Wall Street Bank Involvement With Physical Commodities." (Part Two)
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
602,320 - Miles traveled by Secretary of State John Kerry through Nov. 7—putting him on pace to surpass Condoleezza Rice’s record of 1,059,247.
$88 billion - Subsidies provided by G-20 governments to oil, gas, and coal companies in 2013 to fund fossil-fuel exploration, according to a report from the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"We threw an election and nobody came." -- Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, on the 21.4 percent turnout among eligible voters in California’s gubernatorial race (Al Jazeera)
"The Republican Party had a big day in yesterday's midterm elections and now controls the House and Senate. And don't ask me how this happened, but the Republican Party also gained control of three seats in our show's band." – Conan O'Brien
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