Fast-track back on track
Last week, opponents of President Obama's trade agenda thought they had scored a decisive victory when they brought down the legislative package in the House. This week, however, trade proponents gave the trade effort new life.
On Thursday, by a 218-208 vote, the House approved Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), better known as fast-track, on its own, decoupled from Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), an aid measure that Democrats struck down last week to block TPA. The bill was backed by 28 Democrats on Thursday, while 50 Republicans voted against it. The Senate is expected to take it up next week with the goal—supporters hope—of delivering the whole package to Obama's desk before the July 4 recess.
Still, it might only take a handful of less-convinced pro-trade Democrats to derail TPA before it gets there. They have received assurances from House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that TAA will get a quick vote. But there has been no indication from the 14 Senate Democrats who backed the TPA/TAA package that they're on board with the plan.
Whatever happens in the Senate, some trade supporters believe this is Obama's last chance to pass TPA.
Meanwhile, pressure has yet to relent off the Hill. Outside groups on both sides have blasted members who support TPA. "Republicans weren't given majorities so they could cede control to Democrats," said Michael Needham, the CEO of the conservative group Heritage Action. "They need to listen to the people, stop passing the same policies that are failing our country, and embrace an agenda built on the principle of opportunity for all and favoritism to none."
Progressives are equally combative. "Any Democrat in Congress who trusts John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance, that will actually help working families, deserves to lose their job," Democracy for America Chair Jim Dean said.
But the conservative economic group Club for Growth backs TPA and announced it would score Thursday's tally as a "key vote."
Regardless of the result, some House Democrats were unhappy with the process and the way it has divided the party.
The Senate vs. the EPA
President Obama has been unable to persuade a Republican-controlled Congress to advance almost any of his legislative priorities. As a result, the president has relied heavily on executive action— an end around Congress. Now Congress is fighting back.
The fiscal 2016 spending bill passed by the Senate Interior and Environment Subcommittee on Tuesday includes language that would bar federal enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rules limiting greenhouse-gas emissions for existing power plants. That would allow states to opt out of the rule without fear of the EPA stepping in with a federal implementation plan.
The rider on the EPA's power-plant rule is a significant push back to President Obama's climate plan by giving states the opportunity to sit out rather than crafting an individual plan to clean up its power plants and improve energy efficiency.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this year wrote to all 50 governors telling them to sit out the EPA rule, saying the plan was "already on shaky legal grounds" and that the EPA was out of bounds in requiring states to write plans to cut their emissions. So far only one governor, Oklahoma's Mary Fallin, has said publicly she would opt out, although Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an expected presidential candidate, has indicated he would opt out as well.
Overall, the $30.01 billion bill would cut $539 million from the EPA compared to the fiscal 2015 enacted levels, for a total funding level of $7.6 billion. That's also well below President Obama's request of $8.6 billion.
The bill seeks to cut $75 million as well from EPA clean-air and clean-water programs and cuts $7.5 million from civil and criminal enforcement at the agency.
The spending bill also looks to block several other landmark EPA rules, like the agency's clarification of its Clean Water Act authority. Republicans have long argued that the so-called Waters of the United States rule is a regulatory overreach and would give the EPA too much power over agriculture and construction interests.
Another rider would bar the EPA from lowering the standard for ground-level ozone, or smog, until 85 percent of counties that currently do not meet the standard come into compliance. It would also block EPA from regulating lead fishing and tackle, and block a rule requiring companies to make financial plans to clean up hazardous-waste contaminations, which Democrats say would leave taxpayers on the hook.
Another rider in the bill would stop a White House guidance instructing federal agencies to consider climate-change impacts when they conduct National Environmental Policy Act reviews for major infrastructure projects.
The bill also contains a provision that would block a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule setting rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands.
Overall, the bill would provide $11.05 billion for the Interior Department, $1.18 billion for BLM (a $65.5 million increase over fiscal 2015), and $2.73 billion for the National Park Service (a $112 million increase).
Heading into what's projected to be an above-average fire season, the bill also offers $3.61 billion overall to fight wildfires, reflecting the average amount spent over the last 10 years. The spending bill includes $1.05 billion in emergency spending and lifts the fire cap adjustment, ensuring that extra spending on wildfires does not come out of other federal programs.
The House moved its own environment and interior spending bill Tuesday, with the Appropriations Committee voting through its $30.17 billion spending bill along party lines. Democrats were unsuccessful in stripping the riders from that chamber's bill, which largely lined up with what was included in the Senate bill.
House GOP leadership cracks down
Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are cracking down on House Republicans who defied leadership last week during a contentious trade debate.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis, Steve Pearce, and Trent Franks have been removed from the whip team after they sided with GOP rebels to vote against a rule governing debate on a trade bill, according to sources close to the team.
Lummis, a deputy whip and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was perhaps the whip team's highest-ranking bridge to the conference's most intransigent members. Pearce and Franks also are very close to House conservatives.
But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said earlier in the year that he would not tolerate members voting against rules and already has removed two other members close to the conservative movement.
"In the beginning of the year," Scalise spokesman Chris Bond said, "Whip Scalise reaffirmed the long-standing policy, also held by his predecessors, that while whip team members are free to vote their conscience on underlying bills, they are expected to vote as a team on procedural matters such as last week's rule vote."
The behind-the-scenes GOP infighting is playing out as Republicans place the blame on the failure to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance on President Obama and the House Democrats who abandoned him. But it makes clear that Republicans have their own problems, which are hampering their ability to legislate.
Those close to Speaker John Boehner have long pushed their leaders to drop the hammer on members who do not act as team players, a fight that has gone back to the beginning of the year, when two dozen members voted against Boehner for speaker.
But Boehner has by and large shied away from public displays of disunity, choosing instead to exact subtle retribution behind closed doors. Those members say they have found it harder to get their bills considered and have received less fundraising help from the party infrastructure.
Conservative members in the House are angry that Boehner negotiated with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rather than acquiescing to demands from the Freedom Caucus, who wanted some assurances on the trade-bill process and others relating to an upcoming vote on the Export-Import Bank in exchange for their votes on Trade Promotion Authority.
A leadership aide said that GOP leaders met and tried to work with members of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, but found their demands unworkable.
Members have pushed committee chairs to remove the disloyal members from subcommittee chairmanships as well. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with his chairmen and the topic came up, but as of yet, no members have been stripped of their gavels.
Latest on the federal-employee data breach
The federal-employee data breach is now even larger than the scope of the first—and second—reports, ensnaring some legislative-branch staffers in its net.
Current and former House and Senate staffers received notice from the Office of Personnel Management stating their personnel records are among the millions of current and former federal employees whose information may have been compromised.
Many congressional aides' personal information isn't handled by OPM. But when a staffer stops working in the House or Senate, OPM is forwarded their individual retirement records.
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta defended the office's expanded cybersecurity and partly punted the blame on the lack of funding for information technology at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Congressional members said cybersecurity is of the utmost concern—especially because the House and Senate are obvious targets.
House looks to increase funding for CDC
In this era of lean budgets, few agencies are enjoying the increase in funding that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) appears headed for.
House appropriators are proposing to give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an additional $108 million next fiscal year for outbreak preparation and response and for other medical emergencies.
Last year's Ebola crisis was the largest in history and left more than 11,000 people dead worldwide. The vast majority of those were in western Africa, but it was the four Ebola cases—and one death—in the United States that caused many to ask whether the federal government was doing enough. The CDC's funding was cut by almost $600 million from 2010 to 2014, and its leaders warned that the cuts had "eroded our ability to respond" to the epidemic.
Now, it appears lawmakers want to reverse the trend. The House appropriations bill released Tuesday would give the CDC $7 billion in funding in fiscal 2016, a $150 million boost from 2015 and the amount that Obama had requested. It injects an additional $108 billion into the agency's Public Health Preparedness and Response office, which is tasked with planning for and reacting to pandemics and bioterror attacks. That would be a 7.2 percent increase, which would give the office nearly $1.6 billion to do its work next year.
Obama's budget had requested an almost identical figure—$110 million—to better prepare the country for health emergencies, citing Ebola as one of the rationales. The CDC didn't respond to a request for comment on the House bill.
There is likely to still be plenty of division between the parties over the House's proposed appropriations for the entire Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC money. Republicans want to defund the Affordable Care Act and place restrictions on the National Labor Relations Board, both of which are sure to draw Democratic opposition.
But the CDC funding plan is expected to enjoy broad support—from Democrats as well as fiscal conservatives who ordinarily might bristle at new government spending.
FDA moves to ban artificial trans fats
Executive action has become the most important weapon in President Obama's policy arsenal, and not just when it comes to issues like immigration or the environment. This week the Obama administration's healthy lifestyle initiatives, led by First Lady Michelle Obama, got a boost from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA announced that it will require companies to phase out the partially hydrogenated oils almost entirely over the course of three years, calling them not "generally recognized as safe." The action comes a year and a half after the FDA first made that determination, in 2013.
"The FDA's action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency's commitment to the heart health of all Americans," Stephen Ostroff, the agency's acting commissioner, said. "This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year."
Though most trans fats have already been replaced by other oils over the past 10 years, the FDA said the ones that remain are a serious public health concern. This latest action will lower heart disease and prevent thousands of heart attacks each year, the administration said.
The fats, which are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, are often used by food companies to improve texture, shelf life, and flavor. But they can raise cholesterol levels and cause heart disease, and scientists say there are no health benefits to their use.
Transportation in Focus
Senate Pushing for Long-Term Highway Bill
Over the last year and a half, the highway trust fund has operated on a series of short-term extensions - the latest extension bought legislators until July 31 to come up with a fix. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, hopes that this time they can craft a long-term legislative fix, saying that a six-year transportation funding bill was a "great goal" and that he is "committed to working to get us as close to that goal as possible."
Even though a long-term funding bill is widely supported by almost all of the interest groups, the challenges to actually getting one to the president's desk are immense, which is why Congress hasn't passed more than a two-year highway bill since 2005.
First and foremost among those challenges is how to pay for what is estimated to be a $16 billion per year shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. The longer the length of the extension, the higher the overall cost.
The transportation funding bill has traditionally been paid for by the federal gas tax. Unfortunately for lawmakers, the 18.4 cents per gallon tax, which hasn't been raised since 1993, brings in only $34 billion per year in revenue. Outlays from the transportation bill are closer to $50 billion per year.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will take an additional $100 million to fully pay for a six-year extension, and increasing the gas tax has been a political non-starter for many in Washington including most Congressional Republicans and the Obama White House.
Florida 6th Congressional District: Former Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) announced in an email to supporters that she will run for Rep. Ron DeSantis's (R-FL) seat. The email included praise from Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC).
Florida 9th Congressional District: Political consultant William Phillips (D-FL) has been talking to donors about running for Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-FL) seat if Grayson runs for Senate. Others interested in the seat: state Sen. Darren Soto (D-FL), Grayson adviser Susannah Randolph (D-FL), and Dena Minning (D-FL), a biotech entrepreneur who is Grayson's girlfriend.
California Senate: Air Force veteran Tom Palzer (R-CA) is the fourth Republican to announce their intention to run for the open California Senate seat. So far, none of the four announced candidates are considered top-tier challengers in deeply blue California.
Indiana: Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) announced he would run for re-election. Opinion polls have shown the once popular governor is likely to face a stiff challenge from Democrats in 2016.
West Virginia: State Attorney General Patrick Morrissey (R-WV) announced he would not run for Governor, clearing the field for State Senator Bill Cole (R-WV).
Donald Trump (R-NY): Businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump announced he was running for president in a meandering 51-minute speech on Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City.
Jeb Bush (R-FL): Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made his run for the GOP nomination official this week. Bush starts the race with significant financial advantages and nearly universal name ID.
Joe Biden (D-DE): Vice President Joe Biden has said he will make a decision about whether or not to run for president by August 1.
Chris Christie (R-NJ): In the latest move that indicates it is likely that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will enter the race for president, his long-time communications director, Maria Comella, is moving to the governor's political action committee.
Scott Walker (R-WI): Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) said he would consider picking his rival Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) as his running mate if he were to run and win the GOP nomination.
Carly Fiorina (R-CA): The super PAC supporting Carly Fiorina's bid for president finally agreed to change its name this week. The FEC had sent a formal letter of reprimand to the group previously known as "Carly for America" earlier this year. Federal rules prohibit a candidates name from being included in the name of a legally unaffiliated super PAC.
Iowa Straw Poll: The governing body of the Iowa Republican Party voted to cancel the once powerful Iowa Straw Poll. The Iowa Straw Poll, traditionally held in Ames, Iowa, was once seen as a critical early test of strength in the Hawkeye state, but more and more candidates have shown a willingness to skip the event.
Virginia: Virginia Republicans are grappling with a decision over how to hold their nominating process for president. Tea Party types are pushing for a nominating convention, while more establishment and main stream Republicans are urging a primary.
Florida: A new Quinnipiac University poll of likely Florida GOP primary voters shows that former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) leads the pack with 20 percent, followed closely by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at 18 percent.
A LOOK AHEAD
Tuesday, June 23
4 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Small Business Committee - Hearing. House Veterans' Affairs Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and House Small Business Committee Investigations, Oversight and Regulations Subcommittee joint hearing on "Manipulation and Fraud in the Reporting of VA Small Business Goals."
Wednesday, June 24
10 a.m. House Agriculture Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Review of the U.S. International Food Aid Programs."
10 a.m. House Education and the Workforce Committee - Hearing. Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee hearing on "Child Nutrition Assistance: Looking at the Cost of Compliance for States and Schools."
10 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing. Health Subcommittee hearing on "Examining the Administration's Approval of Medicaid Demonstration Projects."
10 a.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing. Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee hearing on "The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States."
10 a.m. House Ways and Means Committee - Hearing. Oversight Subcommittee hearing on "Rising Health Insurance Premiums Under Obamacare."
10 a.m. House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing. Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on "Admitting Syrian Refugees: The Intelligence Void and the Emerging Homeland Security Threat."
10 a.m. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee - Hearing. Environment Subcommittee and Energy Subcommittee hearing on "U.S. Energy Information Administration Report: Analysis of the Impacts of the EPA's Clean Power Plan."
10:30 a.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on "GAO Report Documents BLM's Chronic Mismanagement of Wind and Solar Reclamation Bonds."
2 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee hearing on H.R.2214, the "Disabled Veterans' Access to Medical Exams Improvement Act"; H.R.1380, to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the eligibility for a medallion furnished by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to signify the veteran status of a deceased individual; H.R.2001, the "Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act"; H.R.2706, the "Veterans National Remembrance Act"; H.R.2691, the "Veterans' Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act of 2015"; H.R.303, the "Retired Pay Restoration Act"; H.R.1338, the "Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2015"; H.R.1302, the "VA Appeals Backlog Relief Act"; H.R.2605, the "Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2015"; and H.R.1384, the "Honor America's Guard-Reserve Retirees Act."
2 p.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing. Highways and Transit Subcommittee hearing on "Meeting the Transportation Needs of Rural America."
2 p.m. House Ways and Means Committee - Hearing. Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee hearing on "Repatriation of Foreign Earnings as a Source of Funding for the Highway Trust Fund."
2 p.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "Examining procedures regarding Puerto Rico's political status and economic outlook."
2 p.m. House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing. Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee hearing on "DHS' Efforts to Secure .Gov."
2 p.m. House Financial Services Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing - Evaluating the Security of the U.S. Financial Sector."
Thursday, June 25
10 a.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee hearing on H.R.1107, the "Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act"; H.R.1406, the "New Mexico Navajo Water Settlement Technical Corrections Act"; H.R.2273, to amend the Colorado River Storage Project Act to authorize the use of the active capacity of the Fontenelle Reservoir; and H.R.2749, the "Dam Authorization, Maintenance, and Safety Act of 2015."
10:30 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "The State of the VA's FY2015 Budget."
1:30 p.m. House Agriculture Committee - Hearing. Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee hearing on food labeling legislation.
2 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Markup. Economic Opportunity Subcommittee markup of pending legislation.
Tuesday, June 23
10 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Markup. Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee markup of the "Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016."
10 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee - Hearing. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee joint hearing on "Measuring the True Cost of Regulations: Lessons from Great Britain and Canada on Implementing Regulatory Reforms."
10 a.m. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Review of the National Flood Insurance Program."
10 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Update on the Recalls of Defective Takata Air Bags and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Vehicle Safety Efforts."
11 a.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on the nominations of Atul Keshap to be ambassador to Sri Lanka and to the Maldives; and Alaina Teplitz to be ambassador to Nepal.
2 p.m. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee - Hearing. Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee hearing on "The Impacts of the EPA's Proposed Carbon Regulations on Electricity Costs for American Businesses, Rural Communities and Families," including S.1324, to require the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill certain requirements before regulating standards of performance for new, modified and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired electric utility generating units.
2:30 p.m. Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing. Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on "Cyber Crime: Modernizing our Legal Framework for the Information Age."
3 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Markup. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee markup of the "Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016."
Wednesday, June 24
10 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Markup. Full committee markup of S.742, the "Stop Wasteful Federal Bonuses Act of 2015"; S.1411, the "Presidential Allowance Modernization Act of 2015"; S.1550, to amend title 31, United States Code, to establish entities tasked with improving program and project management in certain Federal agencies; S.1073, the "Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act"; S.1580, to allow additional appointing authorities to select individuals from competitive service certificates, S.1090, the "Emergency Information Improvement Act of 2015"; S.1115, the "Grants Oversight and New Efficiency Act"; S.779, the "Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act of 2015"; S.310, the "Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act"; S.991, the "Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015"; H.R.1626, the "DHS IT Duplication Reduction Act of 2015"; H.R.1640, the "Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act of 2015"; postal facility naming bills H.R.728, H.R.891, H.R.1326 and H.R.1350; the "District of Columbia Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency Act of 2015"; the "EINSTEIN Act of 2015"; the "Representative Payee Fraud Prevention Act of 2015"; the "Saving Federal Dollars Through Better Use of Government Purchase and Travel Cards Act of 2015"; legislation to actively recruit members of the Armed Forces who are separating from military service to serve as Customs and Border Protection Officers; and vote the nominations of Carol Ochoa to be inspector general of the General Services Administration; and Steven Wellner and William Ward Nooter, both to be an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
2:15 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Demanding Results to End Native Youth Suicides."
2:30 p.m. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on pending health care and benefits legislation.
Thursday, June 25
9:30 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Under Attack: Federal Cybersecurity and the OPM Data Breach."
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
14.5% – The federal tax rate called for in Senator Rand Paul's (R-KY) new flat tax proposal.
10 – The percentage points behind Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is in New Hampshire according to a new poll. The Suffolk poll of 500 likely Democratic voters in the Granite State shows former Secretary Clinton leading with 41 percent, followed by Sanders at 31 percent, Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) at seven percent, and former Governor Martin O'Malley (D-MD) at just three percent..
1,000,000 - The dollar amount of the donation that the Club for Growth requested from new GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump (R-NY) just two weeks before attacking Trump.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"The reason I think we need to seal our borders completely, all our borders - north, south, east, west - is not so much because I'm afraid of somebody from Honduras... I'm afraid of someone from Syria that wants to bomb us and wants to do bad things." - GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson (R-MD) at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference (National Journal)
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