Articles of Interest

GOP Unified Control Still Means Divided Congress

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law put an exclamation point on what has become obvious in Washington: The GOP, for all its enthusiasm following its election win last year, is too riven with dissension to meet ambitious goals it set out for itself.

And President Donald Trump seems to have oversold his skills as a deal-maker.

“On delivering on their campaign promises, it’s hard to pat them on the back and tell them they’ve done a good job,” said Sam Geduldig, a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, now a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm.

That said, the downfall of the Senate health care effort has obscured the achievements Congress has had.

History shows that “it is a mistake to expect big-ticket legislative accomplishments during the early months of presidents newly elected to the office,” said David Mayhew, the Yale political scientist who is perhaps America’s foremost student of congressional productivity.

The exceptions come in moments of crisis, such as early 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed landmark legislation to regulate the sale of stock in response to the Great Depression, or early 2009, when President Barack Obama got his stimulus bill to revive an ailing economy.

Obama didn’t sign his health care law or his financial regulatory overhaul, Dodd-Frank, until his second year in office. President George W. Bush got a tax cut across the finish line in June of his first year but didn’t sign the biggest policy victory of his first Congress, the No Child Left Behind law, until January of the following year.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have set ambitious goals to overhaul the 2010 health care law and revamp the tax code. Prospects for both look bleak — GOP leaders announced last week they were throwing out their initial tax plan — but who knows?

It’s easy to foresee the 115th Congress setting a record for futility. But there have been achievements.

So far, the biggest GOP win was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, gained by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm him — as well as hold the seat open more than year after Antonin Scalia’s death, depriving Obama of the chance at so much as a hearing for his nominee to succeed Scalia, Merrick G. Garland.

The Senate has confirmed every Trump Cabinet appointee it considered. Trump’s only loss on that front, his first Labor Department nominee Andrew Puzder, dropped out after acknowledging that he’d hired an unauthorized immigrant as a housekeeper.

Trump trails his three most recent predecessors, Obama, Bush and Bill Clinton, in the pace of his nominations and confirmations.

On the productive side of the ledger, this Congress did make innovative use of the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law allowing it to rescind recently finalized regulations.

It had been used successfully once before, in 2001, when Bush signed a resolution revoking a rule by the Clinton Labor Department requiring employers to protect their workers from repetitive stress injuries: the ergonomics rule.

This year, Congress rescinded 14 Obama-era regulations to keep pollution out of streams and guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, among other things. Such CRA resolutions make up nearly a third of its legislative output.

It also sets a precedent future Congresses will surely mimic.

In May, Congress finalized fiscal 2017 spending. It came seven months after the fiscal year began, but was done without shutdown brinkmanship.

In June, Trump signed a law that marks a bipartisan win: a measure responding to the scandal at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals, where dying veterans were left waiting for appointments. The law makes it easier to fire VA employees for poor performance and for whistleblowers to come forward.

Still, Congress hasn’t made much progress on basic obligations. Fiscal 2018 appropriations bills have only begun to move, with no indication Republican leaders can, as promised, restore an orderly budget process.

The House passed a “minibus” spending bill Thursday covering four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for defense, military construction and veterans’ benefits, energy, and the legislative branch. It included $1.57 billion for barriers along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

There’s little likelihood it will be enacted in its current form. Because Democrats can block appropriations bills in the Senate, given the 60-vote threshold there, the two parties need to reach a deal to raise limits on defense and nondefense spending enacted in 2011.

Democrats don’t plan to go along with the wall funding, or the defense spending increase in the House bill if there are not comparable nondefense increases. Congress must raise the debt limit, too, this fall — always a fraught vote.

House Republicans hope to move a fiscal 2018 budget resolution when they return in September that would allow them to move forward with a tax overhaul using the fast-track budget reconciliation procedure. Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass measures that have budgetary effects such as taxes, spending and the deficit with only a simple majority.

But disagreements among Republicans over the centerpiece of the House GOP leaders’ initial tax proposal, a border adjustment tax that would have hit imports, prompted leadership on Thursday to ask the tax-writing committees to start over.

Meanwhile, Congress is making progress on other must-pass bills. The House has passed measures reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration’s system of user fees — which help fund the agency — and a defense authorization bill. They await Senate action.

Both chambers are moving forward with legislation, due by Sept. 30, to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Progress is slow because of Trump’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system. The House has incorporated the proposal into its bill, but the Senate has rejected it. Republicans are divided over the idea, with rural members most likely to oppose it for fear it could hurt small airports.

And work has begun on reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program, also set to expire this year.

Another issue is what to do about surveillance authority granted to the National Security Agency in 2008 to collect emails of foreign terrorist suspects. The NSA’s dragnet at one time captured messages written by Americans who were not suspects but merely mentioned people who were, prompting an outcry from civil libertarians. The agency earlier this year said it was now only collecting emails to or from suspects.

Even so, the expiration of the authority at the end of this year will prompt a fight between security hawks who want to renew it, and civil liberties advocates who want to let it expire, or curtail it. Congress has made no progress on a resolution.

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Hill Flounders on Kids’ Care
Congress’ failure to extend a popular insurance program leaves millions of children at risk of losing health care

A girl is examined by a physician’s assistant in Aurora, Colo. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Minnesota officials knew they would exhaust Children’s Health Insurance Program money by the end of this year. Then they discovered the news was worse: The state would likely be out of money for coverage of low-income children and pregnant women by the end of September. And it became increasingly clear that Congress was probably not going to meet a deadline to help.

The state will have “to take extraordinary measures to ensure that coverage continues beyond October 1, 2017, if Congress does not act,” warned Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper in a Sept. 13 letter pleading with lawmakers for “urgent” action.

Democrats May Sink FAA Extension, Hurricane Tax Relief Package
Minority support needed to pass measure under fast track procedure

Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., oppose a GOP package to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for six months and provide tax relief for hurricane victims. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Legislation that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for six months and provide tax relief to victims of recent hurricanes could fail on the House floor Monday evening amid Democratic opposition. 

The minority party’s support is needed to pass the measure under a fast-track procedure known as suspension of the rules. Two-thirds support is required for passage on the suspension calendar, meaning at least 50 Democrats would need to vote “yes” if all 240 Republicans support the legislation. 

Candidates to Rally Supporters Ahead of Alabama Senate Race
Each campaign will host a rally ahead Tuesday's election

Vice President Mike Pence will head to Alabama on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Both Republican candidates in the Alabama Senate race are bringing in heavy hitters to rally their supporters on the eve of the GOP runoff.

Republican voters head to the polls Tuesday to choose between former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat after former Sen. Jeff Sessions became attorney general. Both candidates will hold rallies on the eve of the election, highlighting outside forces that are backing their campaigns.

Gohmert Calls for McCain’s Recall
Texas Republican suggests way to support senator and get health care repeal

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert says Arizona Sen. John McCain should be recalled while he undergoes cancer treatment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert believes Arizona Sen. John McCain should be recalled while he undergoes treatment for cancer so that Republicans can replace him with someone who will support the party’s latest effort to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

“He’s got cancer, it’s a tough battle,” the GOP congressman told “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning. “But stress is a real inhibitor to getting over cancer.”

Updated Senate Health Bill Seeks to Sway Holdout Republicans

From left, Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Thune, R-S.D., are pushing on the latest iteration of a far-reaching health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans are circulating an updated version of their latest proposal to overhaul the 2010 health care law. The new draft bill was obtained by CQ Roll Call.

The updated bill, from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., would overhaul the 2010 health care law. It appears to seek to address concerns of senators who haven’t supported the plan.

Pelosi Calls Out Trump for War on NFL, NBA
Sports are ‘where we put our differences aside,’ minority leader says

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said President Donald Trump should have used the controversy surrounding NFL national anthem protests as an opportunity to "bring people together.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As President Donald Trump uninvited the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their White House visit and called any NFL player who kneels during the national anthem before games a “son of a bitch” over the weekend, Rep. Nancy Pelosi struck a different tone about the interplay between sports and politics.

“I have always said sports and the arts will bring America together,” the House minority leader said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s where we put our differences aside.”

Poll: Slight Majority of Americans Disapprove of Graham-Cassidy
Only 18 percent of independents approve of latest GOP effort to replace 2010 health care law

From left, Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Thune, R-S.D., talk with reporters in the Capitol after the Senate policy luncheons last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A new poll shows that a majority of Americans disapprove of the latest Republican legislation to replace the 2010 health care law.

The CBS News poll released Monday found that 52 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the law being proposed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Dean Heller of Nevada.

Weiner Sentenced to 21 Months in Prison
Former congressman pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to 15-year-old girl

Former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner exits federal court in Manhattan after pleading guilty in his sexting case in May. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images file photo)

Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was sentenced Monday to 21 months in prison in a sexting scandal that scuttled his career and might have implications on the 2016 presidential election.

In court Monday, Weiner called the crime his “rock bottom,” The Associated Press reported.

Meet the 10 Members of House Republicans’ DACA Task Force
Group holds varying immigration views, making road to compromise difficult

House Republicans want to ensure any legislation replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, would have the support of the majority of their conference before it goes to the floor.

That’s why Speaker Paul D. Ryan formed a task force featuring a cross section of Republicans who serve on committees with jurisdiction over immigration and border security to come up with a plan the conference can support.

McConnell Avoided Making a Promise He Couldn’t Keep
McCain’s health care announcement showed value of majority leader’s caution

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had intended to turn back to health care this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never quite guaranteed a floor vote on the latest Republican effort to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law as the clock ticked toward an end-of-September deadline.

The Kentucky Republican’s office was measured last week when asked about the prospects for floor action, with the majority leader saying through multiple spokespersons that it was “the Leader’s intention to consider” the legislation drafted by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

CHIP, FAA Face Deadlines This Week
Even with typical drama absent, funding cliffs still loom

South Dakota Sen. John Thune chairs the Commerce Committee, which approved an FAA authorization bill earlier this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress is spared the usual end-of-the-fiscal-year drama this month, with normal fights over government spending punted until December, but lawmakers still face several deadlines before the Sept. 30 cutoff for fiscal 2017.

With the Republicans’ last-gasp effort to undo the 2010 health care law fizzling, Congress may now try to pass short-term extensions to avoid running aground on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Aviation Administration and community health centers, authorizations for which expire at the end of the month. 

On North Korea, Some Lawmakers See Scattershot Trump Approach
‘It’s hard to figure out what the consistent message or the priority is’

People at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, watch a television showing President Donald Trump on Aug. 9. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

One day, aggressively enforcing sanctions is the key to solving the North Korea issue. The next, President Donald Trump threatens to “totally destroy” the country. And some senior lawmakers are troubled by what they see as a lack of consistency from the commander in chief.

As the president vacillates between a sanctions-based approach that presses North Korea’s allies to do more and threats to take down the Kim Jong Un government along with its nuclear and missile programs, some top Democrats want Trump and his team to settle on a consistent strategy. But it appears there is little they can do to bring that about.

Opinion: Another Health Care Bill, Another Health Care Cliff
Major rewrites of policy deserve more than partisan signoff

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer conducts a news conference in the Capitol on Sept. 18 to oppose the Graham-Cassidy legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Maybe we have finally established a lasting legislative principle for both parties: Don’t ever again try to pass major health care legislation using parliamentary gimmicks to avoid a filibuster.

The Democrats, under Barack Obama, followed this route in 2010 after they lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority when Republican Scott Brown unexpectedly won the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. As a result, final tinkering and technical improvements could not be made in the Obamacare legislation using a House-Senate conference.

New Democrats’ PAC Adds 12 Challengers to Candidate Watch List
Moderate Democratic group is stepping into races earlier this cycle

Harley Rouda is one of two Democratic challengers to GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that the NewDemPAC is adding to its candidate watch list. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call File Photo).

The political arm of the moderate New Democrat Coalition is adding 12 House challengers to its list of candidates to watch in 2018. 

NewDemPAC’s recognition comes with a $1,000 contribution this quarter and guidance about messaging and strategy. The watch list is a way for the group to get involved in races earlier than it previously has. Last cycle, the PAC contributed about $1 million to federal candidates and it expects to give out at least that much this cycle. 

Trump Issues Revised Travel Restrictions on Eight Countries
Targeted nations are not satisfying new vetting standards, president says

The new restrictions on travelers from eight countries go into effect Oct. 18. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a revised travel ban targeting citizens of eight countries, adding North Korea, Venezuela and Chad to a list of nations the administration says pose a threat to national security.

Restrictions will remain on the majority-Muslim countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Sudan was dropped from the list of countries originally targeted by sections of a March 6 executive order that expired Sunday.