Senate punts on cybersecurity
Well you can’t say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t try. Despite his best efforts, however, the Senate finally recessed on Wednesday afternoon – a week after the House did – without a vote on the cybersecurity bill.
The cybersecurity bill, authored by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would offer incentives to the private sector to share information regarding potential cybersecurity threats with the government.
Supporters, including senators from both parties and many in the private sector, say the information sharing legislation would make for stronger cyberdefenses against hackers. But privacy advocates in and out of the Senate have raised flags about the bill's treatment of Americans' sensitive information, saying it will violate personal privacy, and security experts have questioned the bill's effectiveness.
Senators from both sides of the aisle have called for changes to the Cyber Information Sharing Act and have put forward dozens of proposals. The amendments included offerings from the Senate's privacy advocates—Democrats Leahy (VT) and Ron Wyden (OR), and Republicans Rand Paul (KY) and Mike Lee (UT)—as well as efforts to increase the cybersecurity of federal agencies from Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).
But not all the proposed amendments were on-topic. Paul proposed three changes that have nothing to do with cybersecurity: one to allow the government to audit the fed, another about immigration policy, and a third that would allow servicemen and servicewomen to carry weapons onto military bases.
Paul's unrelated amendments were among the bigger hurdles that the Republican caucus had to deal with in reaching an agreement amongst themselves, a GOP Senate aide said Wednesday.
Under the deal senators struck Wednesday afternoon, the cyber bill will come up again in September after recess, and 21 Democratic and Republican amendments will receive votes.
Iran deal likely to face scrutiny over August
August is a quiet time in Washington, DC, but it’s an absolutely critical time for the future of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. As both chambers head home for a month, groups both for and against the deal are ramping up their efforts – and undecided members will come under increasing pressure to take a public stance on the controversial deal.
It was an up and down week for the supporters of the deal. Early this week, several key Democratic Senators— including Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Tim Kaine (D-VA)— announced their support for the deal.
But it wasn’t all good news for the Obama administration, who is lobbying furiously on the deal. Some high profile Democrats announced their opposition to the bill this week—including Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), the House’s highest-ranking Jewish Democrat. Israel not only announced his opposition to the deal, he went further, saying he would lobby against it. Israel was joined on Tuesday by fellow New Yorker Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who announced her opposition to the deal.
Thursday, two more high profile Democrats— Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) —also came out against the deal.
In order to block the nuclear deal, Democratic opponents and Republicans still have a lot of work ahead of them. They need to amass a congressional supermajority to override the president's expected veto. The White House just has to keep all but about a dozen Senate Democrats.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has launched a massive lobbying effort, inundating members with emails, meetings, and calls. The group has established a special 501(c)(4) specifically to stop the Iran deal. Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran is stacked with former policymakers, including Sens. Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Begich. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the group planned to launch ads in 18 states to convince voters that the Iran nuclear deal still leaves some things to be desired.
And there are plenty of Democrats who remain conflicted. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who will in all likelihood rise to become the Senate's Democratic leader when Harry Reid retires, is coming up against one of the most contentious votes of his Senate tenure. Even the foreign relations committee's ranking member, Ben Cardin of Maryland, has not issued a statement of unflinching support.
Effort to defund Planned Parenthood falls short
After a series of videos were released that purported to show executives from Planned Parenthood discussing the selling of fetal tissue, the question about whether or not federal tax dollars should go to the organization has become a hot topic on Capitol Hill. Opponents of Planned Parenthood sought to defund the group this week in the Senate, but came up short. The 53-46 vote was seven votes shy of the 60 votes needed to move forward.
Republicans, however, say that the Monday vote was just the beginning of the fight over this issue.
The legislation resulted from an effort led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and backed by presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and several other members of the GOP. It would stop the flow of more than $500 million from the federal government to Planned Parenthood, but promised this money would still be used in support of women's health.
But not all those who voted in favor of the motion to proceed support the legislation itself. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she wanted it to be subject to debate, particularly so she could offer up a substitute defunding only the Planned Parenthood clinics found to procure and sell fetal tissue, a much narrower range.
She also said it is not true that women currently utilizing Planned Parenthood's services could transition to other health care providers. If her substitute was not adopted during the amendment process, she said she would vote against the legislation in its current form.
After the release of the first undercover video, Congress acted quickly, with several committees launching investigations into the videos and Planned Parenthood. The discussion then escalated; it did not take long for conservative members of both the House and the Senate to start talking about removing Planned Parenthood funding from spending bills, and, ultimately, taking the fight all the way to a government shutdown if need be.
Democrats are by and large standing by Planned Parenthood, dismissing attacks against it as yet another example of Republicans being anti-women. But some, including Hillary Clinton, have denounced the videos themselves. Clinton described the images as "disturbing," although continues to pledge her support of the organization.
In both parties, this might be a risky fight for members from purple states, particularly those up for reelection next year.
GOP begins to push back against Obama EPA regs
President Obama has relied heavily on executive action to push his environmental agenda— trying an end-around a Republican controlled Congress. Congress, however, is doing its best to stop President Obama's efforts.
After a messy markup that saw Democrats walking out, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee cleared a bill from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) that would force the Environmental Protection Agency to scrap the power-plant rules and rewrite them under much more narrow conditions.
The bill passed with only Republican votes; Democrats, led by ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), walked out of a markup because the committee was voting on a separate pesticides bill that had not been through a hearing, leaving the committee without a quorum. As a result, Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) was forced to suspend the markup and finish it off the floor in the afternoon, with no Democrats participating.
Capito's bill is just one of the vehicles that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to use to fight the climate change rules. McConnell has said that Republicans will use the Capito bill, appropriations riders, and Congressional Review Act resolutions to strike back at the climate rules.
That means the Senate, at some point this fall, will have a floor debate over the climate rules.
And Democrats, desperate to preserve President Obama's climate change agenda, seem to have a strategy in mind: a slew of amendments that would keep forcing their Republican colleagues to go on the record about the impact of climate change and discuss a plan to fight it.
The power-plant rules unveiled Monday are the linchpin of President Obama's climate agenda. They would cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, while also boosting the share of renewables in the grid.
If this week is any indication, a long and divisive fight in both chambers can be expected. Committee Democrats came armed with dozens of amendments (Sen. Edward Markey came with 16 himself), all of them designed to highlight the scientific consensus or the impact of climate change. Among them were familiar pieces that simply tried to put members on record as saying that climate change is real and caused by human activity.
Democrats first began offering such amendments during a January floor debate on a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, a strategy to brand Republicans as anti-science and out of touch.
Other amendments were written to scale back or stall Capito's bill unless it was shown that reversing the rules would not have impacts like increasing sea-level rise or causing adverse health effects. And Democrats frequently used the debate over the amendments to nudge Republicans to offer their own solution to climate change if the power-plant regulations weren't acceptable.
All told, the committee spent more than two hours with a debate over climate change that touched on familiar themes: the health risks and sea-level rise from Hurricane Sandy on the Left, unsettled science and higher electricity bills on the Right.
August recess special "back to school" series
Since we are embarking on the August recess— the time when both chambers are out of session— we thought it might be a good time to take the opportunity to explain a little bit more about some of the more complex processes on the Hill. Think of it as a “back to school” primer on how Washington works. This week, we explore how the “reconciliation” process works. There has been a lot of talk of how Hill Republicans might use reconciliation to go after the president’s healthcare law or his immigration executive orders or for comprehensive tax reform, but exactly how does reconciliation work and what are the limitations?
The budget "reconciliation" process
The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 lays out a formal framework for developing and enforcing a “budget resolution.” An optional procedure, which Congress has employed from time to time, is known as “reconciliation.”
Originally, reconciliation was designed as a deficit-reduction tool. However, it was used to enact tax cuts several times during the George W. Bush Administration, thereby increasing projected deficits. Senate rules now prohibit using reconciliation to consider legislation that would increase the deficit; House rules prohibit using it to increase mandatory spending.
A reconciliation bill is a single piece of legislation that typically includes multiple provisions (generally developed by several committees), all of which affect the federal budget — whether on the mandatory spending side, the tax side, or both. A reconciliation bill, like the budget resolution, cannot be filibustered by the Senate, so it only requires a majority vote (51) to pass, rather than the traditional 60 votes.
If Congress decides to use the reconciliation process, language known as a "reconciliation directive" must be included in the budget resolution. The reconciliation directive instructs committees to produce legislation by a specific date that meets certain spending or tax targets. The Budget Committee then packages all of these bills together into one bill that goes to the floor for an up-or-down vote, with limited opportunity for amendment. After the House and Senate resolve the differences between their competing bills, a final conference report is considered on the floor of each house and then goes to the president for his signature or veto.
There are limitations to using reconciliation. In particular, the so-called "Byrd rule" provides a point of order against any provision of a reconciliation bill that is “extraneous” to the purpose of altering entitlement or tax law. If a point of order is raised under the Byrd rule, the offending provision is automatically stripped from the bill unless at least 60 senators vote to waive the rule. This makes it difficult, for example, to include any policy changes in a reconciliation bill unless they have direct fiscal implications. Changes to Social Security also are not permitted under the Byrd rule, even if they are budgetary.
In addition, the Byrd rule bars any entitlement increases or tax cuts that cost money beyond the five (or more) years covered by the reconciliation directive, unless other provisions in the bill fully offset these costs.
Arizona 1st Congressional District: Former state Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ), previously a Republican and independent, announced he will run for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's (D-AZ) seat.
New Hampshire 1st Congressional District: Test-prep executive Shawn O'Connor (D-NH) is the only Democrat currently running against Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) and has seeded his own campaign with $1 million.
Arizona Senate: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has told numerous Democrats that she will not run for Senate unless Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) doesn't run.
Indiana: Tom Sugar (D-IN), former chief of staff and campaign manager for then-Gov. Evan Bayh (D-IN), said he is considering running for governor and will decide in about a month.
Mississippi: Robert Gray, a truck driver, on Tuesday became the Democratic nominee for governor. A newspaper in Mississippi described it as, "perhaps the most unlikely political victory in modern Mississippi history."
Utah: Overstock Chairman Jonathan Johnson (R-UT) acknowledged he's planning for a primary challenge against Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT), calling it "the worst-kept secret in the state."
FOX News Debate: Last night, FOX News held the first Republican presidential primary debate in Cleveland, Ohio. The first debate, which aired at 5 P.M., included Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), former New York Governor George Pataki (R-NY), former CEO Carly Fiorina (R-CA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX). The main event, reserved for the top 10 candidates according to national polling, included businessman Donald Trump (R-NY), former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R-MD), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), and Governor John Kasich (R-OH).
Rand Paul (R-KY): Jesse Benton, who runs the pro-Rand Paul America's Liberty PAC, has been indicted on conspiracy charges. John Tate, the founder of the super PAC, and Dimitrios Kesari, who worked for Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign, were also indicted. According to the Department of Justice, Tate, Benton and Kesari all engaged in a pay-for-endorsement scheme during Ron Paul's 2012 presidential run.
A LOOK AHEAD
The House and Senate are in Recess
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
40 – That's the percentage of New Hampshire GOP primary voters who hold an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump (R-NY), according to a WMUR poll. Trump still leads the Republican field in the state with 24%.
2.9 million – The amount of money raised by super PACs supporting the presidential bid of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the first half of this year. More than 60 percent of that money came from donors who gave at least as much to back another candidate.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
"The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them. This will be the ultimate screwing." -- Secretary of State John Kerry, on the possibility of Congress rejecting the Iran nuclear deal.
"I've known Scott Walker and admired Scott Walker, and I've known Jeb Bush and admired Jeb Bush. … I didn't feel bound, as you are with marriage vows, to forsake all others and make a single choice." -- Chicago-area investor Sandy Stuart, who donated $50,000 to a pro-Bush outside group and $25,000 to a pro-Walker one in the first half of the year. At least 130 Republican donors have contributed over $42 million to two or more presidential super PACs, according to a National Journal analysis of FEC and IRS filings.
"Well, I mean, if people donate, that'd be fine. … You know, a little gas here and there, that's all that's needed." -- Robert Gray (D-MS), who won the Democratic nomination for Governor of Mississippi this week after reporting spending no money on the effort.
"Well, I don't know. I didn't get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped into the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn't. Maybe it's because I hadn't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife's Senate campaign." -- former CEO Carly Fiorina, Republican candidate for president, on Thursday night when asked about GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
"I want to collect more records from terrorists but less from records everyday Americans." -- Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in a heated exchange with Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) about balancing civil liberties and safety on Thursday night.
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