Kellie Mejdrich

Trump’s Trade Policies Get a Senate Slapdown
Lawmakers support congressional authority over tariff decisions

Senators delivered a bipartisan, if nonbinding, rebuke to President Donald Trump’s trade policies on the floor Wednesday, voting 88-11 to express support for congressional authority over presidential decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

The motion, offered by GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, would instruct conferees on an unrelated $147 billion spending bill covering the Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to “include language providing a role for Congress in making a determination” under a law enabling presidents to impose trade restrictions on security grounds.

House Passes ‘Minibus’ Over Democratic Objections
Sen. Shelby: ‘The sooner the better’

The House passed a roughly $147 billion three-bill fiscal 2019 spending package on a partisan 235-179 vote Friday, overcoming Democratic objections to environmental policy riders and funding priorities in the GOP-drafted Energy-Water title.

The “minibus,” which also carries the Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch measures, is the first of what House GOP leaders expect to be a series of three-bill packages to try to expedite passage of at least a few of the 12 annual spending bills before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

EPA’s Pruitt Faces Bipartisan Criticism at Senate Spending Panel
Discussion of agency’s budget takes back seat to scandals

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faced a bipartisan lashing at a Senate Interior-Environment Appropriation Subcommittee hearing where agency scandals largely eclipsed discussion of the fiscal 2019 budget.

“I am concerned that many of the important policy efforts that you are engaged in are being overshadowed because of a series of issues related to you and your management of the agency,” Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said as she kicked off a hearing on the EPA’s fiscal 2019 budget.

Election Year History Belies Ambitious Talk on Appropriations
Lawmakers’ spending goals could run right into midterm hex

November might seem far away, but the midterm elections’ impact on spending bills is already on display, amplified by internal Republican jockeying for leadership positions in the House.

Election years tend to chill swift movement on appropriations bills — especially when there’s potential turnover in leadership of one or both chambers. That’s in part because lawmakers want to focus on campaigning and are back home more than usual, and party leaders tend to want to shield vulnerable members from tough votes.

House GOP Renews ‘Holman Rule’ Targeting Federal Pay
Provision allows cuts to individual employee salaries

House Republican leaders on Tuesday re-upped a rule that lets lawmakers slash the salaries of individual federal employees, in a move that some Democrats condemned as an attempt to dismantle the federal workforce.

Tucked into a floor rule that teed up consideration of two unrelated bills on financial services and health policy is a provision that extends the “Holman rule,” a standing order whose revival has sparked controversy in recent years. 

Lawmakers Push for Sexual Harassment Bill in Spending Package
Bipartisan coalition, Speaker want legislation included in omnibus

House Republicans and Democrats are making a last-minute bid to add legislation that would address the sexual harassment of staffers by members of Congress on the omnibus appropriations bill.

With dozens of policy issues still in flux as part of the full-year fiscal 2018 spending package, some lawmakers are upset by indications a bill that would implement robust sexual harassment policies in Congress is currently not part of the omnibus. The House passed the anti-sexual harassment measure, as well as sweeping rules changes aimed at protecting staffers, by voice vote on Feb. 6.

Departing Appropriations Chairmen Set to Reap Omnibus Bounty
Fiscal 2018 spending bill a swan song for Cochran, Frelinghuysen

The outgoing chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are set up for a bountiful swan song as a sprawling $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill comes to fruition this week.

For Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, resigning April 1, it’s a “mic drop” moment as the ailing 80-year-old Mississippi Republican will walk off the stage just after the omnibus measure is expected to become law. Cochran’s departure leaves his state with an enormous loss of clout that he will be anxious to ameliorate in his final go-round.

Porn Still Turning Up in the Federal Workplace Despite Ban
Congress made rules to block employees from watching porn. But will it act to enforce them?

It’s been six years since Congress began banning federal employees from watching pornography in the workplace. But even though lawmakers have gradually added the rule to spending bills, implementing it agency by agency, some workers are still pulling up porn — and some departments still aren’t covered.

As the spotlight on sexual exploitation intensifies in Washington and around the nation, it’s clear that the problem of online porn in the federal workplace hasn’t gone away.

Mike Pence Breaks Another Tie Senate Vote
With veep help, Senate confirms Vought for deputy OMB director slot

Senators voted to confirm Russell Vought as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, after Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote Wednesday with the chamber deadlocked at 49-49. It was the ninth time Pence has broken a tie since he took office last January. 

GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mike Rounds of South Dakota were absent, necessitating Pence’s drive down Pennsylvania Avenue as the Senate split along party lines on the vote.

In Budget Talks, the ‘Dreamer’ Tail Wags the Spending Caps Dog
Immigration has been a major drag on wrapping up appropriations bills, members say

Lawmakers are hurtling toward a Feb. 8 spending deadline, when the fourth stopgap of fiscal 2018 expires, with little demonstrable progress toward agreement on new spending caps they have known would be necessary since the last two-year budget deal was reached in October 2015.

“Anybody would be very, very optimistic or unrealistic — take your choice — if they said by next Tuesday we’re going to have a global agreement. As a matter of fact, we appear to be moving in the opposite direction, which is sad,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.

Return of the Earmark? If Trump Gets His Way, Yes
President tells lawmakers they could help get things done

Congress should consider reviving geographically directed spending known as earmarks, President Donald Trump unexpectedly told a group of Republicans and Democrats at Tuesday’s White House meeting on immigration policy.

“You know our system lends itself to not getting things done. And I hear so much about earmarks, the old earmark system, how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks but of course they had other problems with earmarks,” Trump said. “But maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks,” he added to a boom of laughter in the room and a few strong yells of “yeah!” and “no!” from individual lawmakers.

Covering the Capitol: Adjusting to New Realities
 

Getting quickly from one part of the sprawling Capitol Building to another has always meant negotiating a labyrinth of stairwells and hallways, but these days more places tend to be off-limits due to security concerns at a moment’s notice. Four CQ and Roll Call journalists talk about how critical access to lawmakers is becoming more of a challenge....
Limiting Sexual Harassment Payouts ‘Complicated,’ Lawmakers Say
Funding limitation could be one response to sexual misconduct scandals roiling Capitol Hill

Updated, 4:05 p.m. | Lawmakers have been quick to express their disgust with sexual harassment payments that come out of federal coffers to cover the cost of elected officials’ behavior. But members are more guarded when asked whether they would take action by attaching a funding limitation to a spending bill — a common instrument used by lawmakers in appropriations.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a top Republican appropriator, sounded cautious after last week’s revelation that the Office of Compliance has doled out tens of thousands of dollars since 2013.

CBO: Tax Plan Could Cut Medicare By $25 Billion
OMB would be required to order sequestration 15 days from end of session

Some members are concerned the GOP tax overhaul would lead to mandatory multi-billion dollar cuts to programs such as Medicare.

There’s not enough mandatory spending up for grabs under current law to execute the full automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to entitlement programs that would be triggered if Republicans push through deficit-increasing tax cuts by year’s end.

Disaster Program Issues Loom Over Future Aid
As lawmakers dole out millions for Texas and Puerto Rico, oversight problems remain

As lawmakers shuttle multiple supplemental spending packages through Congress to address the devastation from one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, federal audit reports show major ongoing problems with federal agencies’ ability to ensure money is spent correctly.

Tens of billions of dollars are expected to flow from two major sources: the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But multiple federal watchdog reports demonstrate that lawmakers are in some cases funding repairs with little ability to ensure the work complies with federal law.

Rand Paul Has a Problem With ‘Quails on Cocaine’ Study

Everyone knows Sen. Rand Paul has a problem with government spending, and at a subcommittee hearing he chaired last month the Kentucky Republican dwelled on some government-funded research that sought to determine an age-old question: Whether quails want to have more sex once they’ve given cocaine. CQ reporter Kellie Mejdrich explains what’s going on and the study’s scientific purpose....
Watchdog Probes Postal Service ‘Insider Threat’ Program
Pushing back, the USPS said it is making strides on cybersecurity

The U.S. Postal Service lacks a working “insider threat” program to assess the potential for release of sensitive material by postal workers, the agency’s inspector general said in an audit released Tuesday.

The report adds another wrinkle to the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over the debt-ridden Postal Service, which has encountered financial difficulties as consumers increasingly “go paperless.” 

Lawmakers Seek to Crack Down on Veterans Affairs Budget Requests
VA would be required to provide a spending plan and justification

Following repeated last-minute requests from the Department of Veterans Affairs for billions of dollars to keep a private care access program running, lawmakers have introduced legislation to crack down on how the agency comes calling for more money.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., John McCain, R-Ariz., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., introduced legislation that would require the VA to make additional funding requests outside the regular budget process 45 days before a veteran could lose health care or benefits, according to a press release late last week.

For Congress, Extraordinary Measures on Debt are Ordinary
Treasury Department tactics to avoid debt breach bring many costs

The use of extraordinary measures has become such a routine Treasury Department response every time the federal government approaches its borrowing limit that it’s clear the phrase has done little to persuade Congress to avoid the practice.

The measures nevertheless can have a cost even when Congress passes legislation to raise the debt limit and avoid a default on government obligations. Lawmakers are again approaching a debt limit deadline, this one on Sept. 29. And the Treasury has once again implemented extraordinary measures to marshal funds without hitting the ceiling.