Kellie Mejdrich

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.

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.

House Sends Veterans' Appeals Bill to Trump's Desk
Measure aims to pare down backlog appeals for disability benefits

The House during a pro forma session Friday cleared a bipartisan bill aimed at paring down a massive backlog of appeals for veterans’ disability benefits.

Passage of the measure brings to three the number of major veterans’ bills that now await President Donald Trump’s signature. In addition to the appeals bill, Congress before leaving for the August recess cleared a $2.1 billion funding patch for a private medical care access program, and the “Forever GI Bill,” which extends education benefits to future veterans for an entire lifetime instead of the current 15-year window.

D.C. Law Banning Wet Wipes Could Clog Appropriations
Fatbergs: An amalgamation of sewer waste made worse by pre-moistened wipes

By KELLIE MEJDRICH and DOUG SWORD

District of Columbia leaders on Monday warned Congress to stay out of local issues and keep policy riders aimed at D.C. laws away from spending bills, a battle the District fights annually.

Shutdown Under GOP Control Could Be Historic
Federal funding gaps rare under unified government

If the Republican majorities in the House and Senate are unable to get legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk to keep the government running beyond an April 28 deadline, it could be a fairly historic political moment.

Not since President Jimmy Carter’s administration have a Congress and an executive branch unified under one party seen government funding gaps occur, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Poll: Border Wall Fight Should Not Prompt Government Shutdown
Majority say it’s more important to keep the government running

A new Economist Group/YouGov poll found that a majority of Americans think it’s most important for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, even if it means leaving behind a proposal to start construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The opt-in, online poll found that 19 percent of those surveyed want Congress to come up with the $3 billion requested by President Donald Trump for a border wall, even if it prompts a government shutdown. But 60 percent think it’s more important to keep the government running past an April 28 deadline when a continuing resolution runs out. Another 22 percent are unsure.

Group Strives to ‘Make Congress Great Again’
Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group has a bipartisan following

Its name is a mouthful, but the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group has gained a following for its mission to strengthen a polarized and unpopular Congress.

The founders come from think tanks in different positions on the political spectrum. Kevin Kosar spent 11 years at the Congressional Research Service before leaving for the “free market” R Street Institute. Lee Drutman is a senior fellow at the more liberal New America.

Trump Defense Boost Would Mean Big Gains for Some States
Democrats likely to hold line for parity with nondefense programs

A request from the Trump administration for a double-digit increase in defense spending could be largely decided by lawmakers whose states are far from equal players when it comes to the benefits of a bigger military budget.

That’s long been the case, as geographic, historic and strategic differences across the country result in more of an economic boost in certain states. But the differences are even more starkly displayed in a new Pew Charitable Trusts analysis that shows the funding split across all 50 states and the District of Columbia on a per-capita basis.

GOP Leaps on Congressional Review Act to Kill Obama Rules
Little-used law now wielded to tremendous effect, but could see legal challenges

A law that’s been successfully used only once until now is the conduit for a whole lot of action on Capitol Hill.

Republicans in Congress are expected to send a stream of bills — most of which require a single sentence — to President Donald Trump’s desk, using a process known as the Congressional Review Act to repeal agency rules. The act was tucked into 1996 legislation tied to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s famous “Contract with America.”

The Quieter Assault Against Obamacare
Democrats fault GOP tactic for problems

The Republican drive to deliver a death blow to President Barack Obama’s health care law has overshadowed a quieter assault using annual government funding bills that’s gone on for years. 

It’s not as glamorous or high-decibel as the news conferences and floor debates surrounding the repeal of the law, but it certainly has proved controversial. What’s more, the law’s supporters see this GOP tactic as partly responsible for many of the failures in the law that Republicans now say they must fix.

Deadline for Presidential Budget Request Often Missed
Obama, Bush and Clinton submitted budgets late in their inaugural years

Recent history suggests President Donald Trump may miss a deadline set in law for submitting a budget request to Congress. This could in turn hold up work on spending bills and again send Congress into a spiral of delay when it comes to funding the government. 

Trump wouldn’t be alone. Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all submitted budgets late during their first years as president. The deadline is the first Monday in February pursuant to a 1990 budget law, though there’s no penalty for missing it.

Obamacare Replacement Preoccupies GOP as Budget Votes Near
McHenry: House has enough GOP votes to adopt resolution triggering repeal

Congressional Republicans’ struggle to take the first step toward repealing and replacing the health care law using a fiscal 2017 budget resolution intensified Wednesday, as they debated how soon to roll out a replacement and defended their coordination with their incoming president.

President-elect Donald Trump suggested in a press conference Wednesday that the repeal and replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law will occur simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. While that timetable appears to defy what Republicans in the House and Senate have set out to do, top Republicans and their aides insisted that the incoming president and Congress are not at odds and that repeal and replacement will succeed.

VA Health Chief Shulkin Picked by Trump for VA Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday he will tap David J. Shulkin, who is now head of the Veterans Health Administration, to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The president-elect said “at least” 100 interviews were conducted for the top job to lead the troubled agency that has struggled to deliver care to veterans at a time of increased demand and budgetary pressure.

Spending Bill Could Allow Trump to Fulfill Border Wall Promise
2006 law authorized, but didn’t fully fund, border infrastructure

President-elect Donald Trump might quickly make good on a campaign promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico if Republicans in Congress agree to include the money in a fiscal 2017 spending package, according to media reports.

Trump early Friday said that Congress would have to appropriate money so construction could get underway but it would be paid back, tweeting: “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!”

Sarah Palin Said to Be Mulled by Trump for VA Secretary
Would take helm of an agency marred by scandal and crisis

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, with a post on her public Facebook account, appeared Wednesday to confirm a report that she’s under consideration by President-elect Donald Trump to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The post included a highly stylized video produced by SarahPAC, her political action committee, about the former Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas on how to fix the troubled agency, and a link to the ABC News report that first broke the news of her vetting by the Trump transition team. ABC News said that both a Palin aide and the Trump transition team confirmed she’s under consideration to run the VA.

Pence: Obamacare Repeal Comes First for Trump
Immigration, taxes, infrastructure to follow on envisioned agenda

Repeal of the 2010 health care law is a top priority as soon as Donald Trump takes office in January, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said in a Sunday television interview.

“Decisions have been made, that, by the president-elect, that he wants to focus out of the gate on repealing Obamacare and beginning the process of replacing Obamacare with the kind of free-market solutions that he campaigned on,” Pence said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Trump Economic Adviser Parts Ways With Candidate on NAFTA
'I don't fully agree with him on trade,' says Heritage scholar

One of Donald Trump’s top advisers split with the Republican presidential nominee on the North American Free Trade Agreement during a debate Thursday in Washington on economic policy.

Trump's adviser Stephen Moore and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s economic adviser Gene Sperling also presented drastically different visions of how to stimulate economic growth and tackle the deficit and debt, though the discussion was light on specifics. The debate between the advisers was sponsored by the nonpartisan National Association for Business Economics.

House Easily Passes 10-Week Stopgap Spending Bill
Measure extends government funding through Dec. 9

The House on a 342-85 vote easily passed a 10-week stopgap spending bill late Wednesday, clearing the measure for President Barack Obama’s signature with two days to spare before a government shutdown.

The Obama administration voiced support for passage of the continuing resolution in a statement of administration policy. The House was expected to adjourn later Wednesday and not return until after the November elections.