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Senate debates climate change

The question of climate change has been a contentious one - at least among politicians - which is why it is surprising whenever you can get a vote on the issue to garner the support of 98 of the Senate's 100 members. This week, however, during the debate on the Keystone XL pipeline, that's exactly what happened.
In the first floor vote on the facts of climate science in years, an amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that stated that climate change is real and not a hoax passed with an astounding 98-1 tally. Even more shocking was that Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the Environment and Public Works Committee chair who relishes challenging climate scientists at every turn, signed on as a cosponsor.

Democrats brought up a second amendment from Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), which said that climate change was real and that humans were significantly contributing, taking language from the Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans turned against that one, defeating it by a 50-49 vote. Amendments were subject to a 60-vote threshold.

Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska urged her colleagues to vote down the amendment for one specific reason: the amendment says that human activity "significantly" contributes to climate change. That word was a matter of "degrees," she said on the floor.

"The inclusion of that word is sufficient to merit a no vote," she said.

Several Republicans did cross over to vote for the amendment: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

State of the Union Address

This week, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address. Here is a quick look at what the key components of the speech were:

Tax Reform

The president is proposing tax code changes that would raise $320 billion in revenue from wealthy Americans and businesses, while cutting middle class taxes by $175 billion. The plan would eliminate the so-called “trust-fund loophole,” taxing inheritances of high-income Americans. President Obama is also proposing to raise capital-gains tax to 28 percent from 23.8 percent for those making over $500,000 and impose a new fee on big banks. For families, the changes would include a $500 credit for working parents, increased child and education tax credits, and new retirement savings incentives.

Community College Program

President Obama unveiled a $60 billion plan over 10 years to provide free community college tuition to students who attend at least half-time and maintain good grades. Schools would also have to meet certain requirements to qualify, and states would have to cover a quarter of the cost. The White House estimates up to 9 million students could save an average of $3,800 per year if every state participates.

Boosting the capital-gains tax and imposing the fee on financial firms would raise an estimated $320 billion over 10 years to cover the estimated $235 billion cost of the tax credits and the community-college plan.

Executive Action on Environment

By executive authority, President Obama imposed new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane. The administration says the goal will be a 45 percent cut in 2012 emission levels in 10 years.

Defending Executive Action on Immigration Reform

President Obama used this speech to defend his executive action on immigration reform, threatening to veto legislation that passed in the House that seeks to curtail his efforts and to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Infrastructure Investment

President Obama frequently mentions infrastructure investment as a potential area of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. Obama used the State of the Union to highlight initiatives at several federal agencies aimed at promoting greater private sector capital investment in infrastructure projects. The efforts will help expand access to existing federal grant and loan programs to speed application and approval, officials say.

Despite increasing talk about the possibility of a gas tax increase, President Obama did not push for such a move.

Cybersecurity

President Obama talked extensively about cybersecurity – particularly in light of several high profile cybersecurity breaches over the last few months.

Obama proposed a 30-day notification law mandating companies to inform consumers promptly after a data breach has been identified. President Obama also renewed his call for consumer privacy "bill of rights" legislation and voice support for proposed legislation of putting new nationwide limits on mining of student data from devices used in K-12 classroom settings.

Additionally, President Obama proposed legislation to promote greater information sharing between the government and private sector businesses, including liability protection for data they share. He proposed new tools for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cybercrime.

Lower Mortgage Insurance Premiums

Obama highlighted the recent announcement that the Federal Housing Administration would cut insurance rates from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent. The agency estimates that 2 million U.S. borrowers will save an average of $900 a year if they purchase or refinance homes.

Fast Track Authority on Trade

In what was the only drama of the night, President Obama surprised many by using his State of the Union address to call for fast-track trade negotiating authority – something that many Democrats oppose.

Family and Medical Leave

Obama called on Congress to pass a bill that would require all U.S. companies to give employees seven days of paid sick leave a year. He also asked for $2 billion to help states start their own paid family and medical leave programs. President Obama also highlighted a presidential memorandum that he signed last week to make it easier for federal employees to take up to six weeks of “maternity” leave by advancing paid sick leave.

Cheaper and Faster Access to the Internet

President Obama repeated his call that the Federal Communications Commission should fight state laws that limit broadband service competition. In essence, the president wants the Internet treated like a public utility. The President also highlighted $40 to $50 million in new loans and grants through the Agriculture Department aimed at encouraging rural Internet providers.

Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, “State of the Union Wrap Up with Congressman LaTourette.”

Moderates force leadership to pull abortion bill

It has been a rocky start for House GOP leadership, and the rocky start got a little rockier this week over the contentious issue of abortion. Bowing to the wishes of several moderates and women members, House Republican leaders pulled a controversial antiabortion bill from consideration late Wednesday night, a move sure to enrage antiabortion activists, who descended on Capitol Hill Thursday for their annual March for Life.

House Republican women and moderates had battled against their leaders on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, exhibiting the deepening rift between centrists and conservatives who are at cross-purposes on which issues the party should be highlighting.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Republican leaders were insistent they would move ahead with legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks, but the Rules Committee announced an emergency meeting Wednesday night and sources said the bill would be pulled in favor of the less controversial alternative.

Some Republicans worried that the 20-week abortion measure might alienate millennials and female voters. But many female lawmakers were also furious over its clause stating that women can be exempt from the ban in cases of rape only if they reported the rape to authorities.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told his conference at a closed-door meeting Wednesday that the bill was controversial, but that the plan was to move it anyway. That drew dissent from rank-and-file women, who were concerned that the bill's rape clause would have a chilling effect on women reporting rapes and livid that they were not consulted before the objectionable clause concerning the rape exception was added into the base text of the bill.

Proponents of the bill argued that the same rape clause was included in the version that passed the House with just six GOP defections last Congress. Yet, women in the conference said privately that they felt blindsided then, because it was included in the text during a meeting of the Rules Committee mere hours before the bill came to the floor. They held their fire at the time, but warned leaders not to include it in the base text of the bill this year.

A broader cross-section of Republican members also questioned why the House was spending time on legislation that was unlikely to overcome the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, let alone be signed into law by the president.

Attorney General confirmation hearings a proxy fight over immigration

It is unlikely that President Obama's Attorney General nominee - Loretta Lynch - won't be confirmed by the Senate. That doesn't mean, however, that her nomination won't be without fireworks. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has already made it clear that he intends to have exhaustive hearings with a special focus on President Obama's executive action on immigration reform.

Senate Republicans continue to grapple with a response to the executive actions on immigration taken by President Obama. When Obama's Justice Department pick gets her moment before the committee next Wednesday, members will get their first opportunity to go on record venting their frustrations and grill the administration.

Currently, Republican senators are mired in debate over how to stop the administration from moving forward on changes to the nation's immigration policy that the party has repeatedly called "illegal" and "unconstitutional"—all while preventing a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February. The House sent over a bill last week that the Senate is expected to take up in the near future, but few believe it will pass the upper chamber.

This has conservatives concerned that their leadership will cave, sending a clean funding bill back to the House and allowing Obama to move forward on immigration with nothing but a rhetorical slap on the wrist from Republicans. So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been silent on the issue.

Grassley, whose committee will have a major influence on any immigration debate in Congress this year, said that if they cannot pass the House bill, Republicans in both chambers will need to use every weapon in their constitutional arsenal to respond to the president's immigration action.

For Grassley, the Lynch nomination will be the first of many tests of his chairmanship. The farmer from Iowa is the first nonlawyer to head the Judiciary Committee, an honor that he feels gives him a unique perspective on the panel's issues and makes him more relatable to the average American than some of the legal scholars of the past.

With no direction yet from Senate leadership and deep uncertainty about the House bill's prospects for passage, many members will be left with the Lynch hearing as their best opportunity to take the president to task on immigration.

Despite member concerns over immigration, Lynch is widely expected to be confirmed by both the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate as soon as next month. Lynch has already been approved by the Senate twice for her two stints as U.S. attorney and has been subject to previous congressional scrutiny, including by Grassley, who has served on the panel for more than three decades.

Transportation in focus

Bipartisan transportation bill in the works

The age old axiom "politics often makes strange bedfellows" seems so right after the announcement of an expected bipartisan transportation bill. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Barbara Boxers (D-CA) come from very different ends of the political spectrum, but they are expected to soon unveil a transportation bill that will use revenue from a tax on companies' overseas earnings to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.

Paul first proposed the idea last year when he introduced the Emergency Transportation Safety Fund Act.

Last year's bill funded the Highway Trust Fund by repatriating overseas capital back to the United States at a rate of 5 percent. Paul said by reducing the existing repatriation rate, which can be as high as 35 percent, U.S. companies would have a greater incentive to bring funds back to the United States.

Political bits                        

Senate

California: Billionaire climate change advocate Tom Steyer (D-CA) announced this week that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to succeed Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Ohio:  30 year-old Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced he would seek the Democratic nomination to take on Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) in 2016.

Pennsylvania:  Former Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA), a former centrist Congressman who represented a very conservative House district, is considering running for the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2016.

President

Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE):  Vice President Biden left the doors open this week to a potential run for President in 2016.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC):  In somewhat of a surprise, foreign policy hawk Lindsey Graham announced this week that he is considering a run for President in 2016.

A LOOK AHEAD

House

Monday, January 26th

The House meets at noon for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

5:00 p.m. House Rules Committee - Full committee meets to formulate a rule on H.R.399, the "Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015"; and H.R.351, the "LNG (liquefied natural gas) Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act."

Tuesday, January 27th

10:00 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing-Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee hearing on "What are the Elements of Sound Data Breach Legislation?"

10:00 a.m. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee - Hearing- Research and Technology Subcommittee hearing on "The Expanding Cyber Threat."

10:00 a.m. House Financial Services Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Sustainable Housing Finance: An Update from the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency."

10:00 a.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Iran Nuclear Negotiations After the Second Extension: Where Are They Going?"

10:00 a.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Full committee meets to organize for the 114th Congress.

10:15 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing-Health Subcommittee hearing on "Examining Public Health Legislation to Help Patients and Local Communities," including the "Ensuring Patient Access to Effective Drug Enforcement Act"; the "Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act"; the "Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act"; the "Trauma Systems and Regionalization of Emergency Care Reauthorization Act"; a bill to reauthorize language from the Public Health Service Act to fund trauma care centers; and the "National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) Reauthorization Act."

10:30 a.m. House Budget Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "The Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) Budget and Economic Outlook."

10:30 a.m. House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Status Review of Outstanding Requests."

10:30 a.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing-Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee hearing on "Rebuilding After the Storm: Lessening Impacts and Speeding Recovery."

10:30 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on H.R.189, the "Servicemember Foreclosure Protections Extension Act of 2015"; H.R.216, the "Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015"; H.R.245, to amend Title 38, U.S. Code, to codify certain existing provisions of law relating to effective dates for claims under the laws administered by the secretary of Veterans Affairs; H.R.280, to authorize the secretary of Veterans Affairs to recoup bonuses and awards paid to employees of the Veterans Affairs Department; and H.R.294, to amend Title 38, U.S. Code, to authorize the secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts and agreements for the transfer of veterans to non-department medical foster homes for certain veterans who are unable to live independently.

2:00 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing-Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on "A Review of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)."

2:00 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing-Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on "Nigeria on the Brink?"

2:00 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing-Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee hearing on "The Evolution of Terrorist Propaganda: The Paris Attack and Social Media."

2:00 p.m. House Ways and Means Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "U.S. Trade Policy Agenda."

2:00 p.m. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - Full committee meets to organize for the 114th Congress.

Wednesday, January 28th

9:00 a.m. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee - Hearing-Energy Subcommittee hearing on "Supercomputing and American Technology Leadership."

9:45 a.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Full committee meets to organize for the 114th Congress.

10:00 a.m. House Armed Services Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "A Case for Reform: Improving DOD's Ability to Respond to the Pace of Technological Change."

10:00 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing-Health Subcommittee hearing on "Examining the Quality and Cost of VA Health Care."

Senate

Tuesday, January 27th

9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on global challenges and U.S. national security strategy.

10:00 a.m. Senate Finance Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "President Obama's 2015 Trade Policy Agenda."

10:00 a.m. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions."

10:00 a.m. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders."

10:00 a.m. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Full committee meeting to organize for the 114th Congress.

Wednesday, January 28th

TBA Senate Environment and Public Works Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on the highway funding bill.

9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Impact of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and Sequestration on National Security."

9:30 a.m. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Full committee meeting to adopt committee rules and subcommittee assignments; and to markup S.192, the "Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015"; and the "Strengthening Education Through Research Act."

10:00 a.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "The National Interest: Articulating The Case For American Leadership In The World."

10:00 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general.

10:00 a.m. Senate Budget Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on budget and economic outlook.

10:00 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on freight rail transportation.

10:30 a.m. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee - Full committee meeting to organize for the 114th Congress.

2:15 p.m. Senate (Special Committee on) Aging - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Seniors.

2:30 p.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing."

2:30 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on "Indian Country Priorities for the 114th Congress."

2:30 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee - Full committee meeting to organize for the 114th Congress.

4:00 p.m. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee - Full committee meeting to organize for the 114th Congress.

Thursday, January 29th

9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on global challenges and U.S. national security strategy.

10:00 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general.

10:00 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing-Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on improving the performance of transportation networks.

10:00 a.m. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on employer wellness programs.

10:00 a.m. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Full committee markup of the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015."

10:00 a.m. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee - Hearing-Full committee hearing on S.33, the "LNG (liquefied natural gas) Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act."

12:00 p.m. Senate Rules and Administration Committee - Full committee meeting to organize for the 114th Congress.       

WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS

$11.40 - Approximate hourly wage of a state bank chief in India—slightly more than the $11.03 hourly minimum wage for fast-food workers at Los Angeles International Airport, though the former includes such perks as housing, a car and driver.

154 - Number of candidates who have formally registered with the FEC to run for president in 2016.

THEY SAID WHAT?

“Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits - but no.” -- Pope Francis, explaining that despite its ban on contraception, the Church promotes “responsible parenthood” (Reuters)

WASHINGTON HUMOR                                    

"Mitt Romney will reportedly address the Republican National Committee on Friday to talk about a possible third presidential run. It's never a good sign when you have to start your speech with 'Hear me out.'" – Seth Meyers

 

 

 Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.559.2600

McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC
101 Constitution Avenue NW, Suite 600 East, Washington, D.C. 20001 

www.mcdonaldhopkinsgs.com

IMPORTANT NOTICE:

Although McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC is owned by the law firm McDonald Hopkins LLC, McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies is not a law firm and does not provide legal services. Accordingly, the retention of McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies does not create a client-lawyer relationship and the protections of the client-lawyer relationship, such as attorney-client privilege and the ethics rules pertaining to conduct by lawyers, do not apply.

 

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