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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Hatch Deals Blow To Bipartisan Health Care Bill
Prospects dim after opposition from Finance Committee chairman

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is opposed to an emerging bipartisan measure to stabilize the health insurance markets. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, has dealt an emerging bipartisan health care bill a body blow.

President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages on his stance on the legislation from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel, saying he opposed it on Wednesday after saying he supported it Tuesday

Sessions: ‘Dreamers’ Fix Must Drive Down Illegal Immigration
AG has long opposed efforts to grant undocumented childhood immigrants legal status

Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed immigration issues in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told senators Wednesday they could work with President Donald Trump to protect undocumented childhood immigrants from deportation as long as “amnesty” is coupled with efforts to reduce illegal immigration overall.

“The president has said he wants to work with Congress. He has a heart for young people,” Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a wide-ranging Justice Department oversight hearing.

Greg Pence Files Papers to Run for Congress in Indiana
VP’s brother is finance chairman for Rep. Luke Messer’s Senate bid

Greg Pence, here with his wife Denise at this year’s presidential inauguration, filed paperwork Wednesday to run for Congress. (Courtesy Denise Pence/Facebook)

Greg Pence, the oldest brother of Vice President Mike Pence, has filed tax paperwork indicating he plans to run for Congress, The Associated Press reported.

He formed the Greg Pence for Congress Committee on Monday, according to an IRS filing obtained by The AP.

Trump Flip-Flops on Senate Health Care Deal
President opposes bipartisan deal he supported the day before

President Donald Trump expressed his doubts on a tentative, bipartisan deal reached by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, right, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray that would change the 2010 health care law. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)

President Donald Trump reversed gears on a bipartisan Senate health care deal Wednesday, saying he would not sign the pact reached by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray less than 24 hours after he signaled support for it in a public appearance in the Rose Garden.

Trump “supports the process” of trying to find a short-term fix to the 2010 health care law, but he “doesn’t support the result,” a White House official said of the efforts by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Poll: Most Americans Disapprove of Trump’s Subsidy Slash
Two senators reached bipartisan deal Tuesday to fund cost-reducing subsidies

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., reached an agreement Tuesday to fund cost-sharing reduction payments the president axed from the executive schedule last week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Most Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s decision to end Obama-era federal subsidies to insurers that lower costs for low- and middle-income families, a new poll found.

Fifty-three percent of respondents to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted Oct. 15 and 16 said they disapproved of the executive move, compared to 31 percent who were in favor. Sixteen percent declined to give an opinion.

Trump Claims Proof Rep. Wilson Fabricated Words to Military Widow
President’s warning harkens back to initial Comey tapes claim

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson says President Trump told a military widow her killed-in-action husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump calls Wilson’s story “totally fabricated.” (Tom Williams/Roll Call)

A Democratic Florida congresswoman became the latest target of a morning presidential twitter attack, with Donald Trump alleging Rep. Frederica S. Wilson “totally fabricated” details of his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.

Trump called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson on Tuesday afternoon, shortly before his body was returned to the United States during a ceremony at Miami International Airport. Wilson told several media outlets she was traveling with his widow, Myeshia Johnson, who took the call on her car’s sound system, allowing all passengers to overhear it.

Trump Twists Judiciary Leaders’ Findings on Comey Actions
President says Clinton ‘not interviewed’ despite July 2016 session with FBI

A school group from Illinois touring the Newseum in Washington pauses in June to watch former FBI Director James Comey testify before senators. President Trump again attacked him Wednesday morning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump started Wednesday by twisting the findings of two senior Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, tweeting that Hillary Clinton was among “people not interviewed” by the FBI in an investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of State.

The FBI released documents Monday that show then-FBI Director James Comey began writing a statement exonerating Clinton before he concluded his investigation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of Judiciary’s Crime and Terrorism subcommittee, first revealed Comey’s actions Aug. 31.

Meet the Challengers Who Outraised House Incumbents
Some Democrats raised two to three times more than GOP lawmakers in third quarter

Democrat Anthony Brindisi raised more money during the third quarter than GOP freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd District. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Nearly one year out from the 2018 midterms, challengers outraised nearly 30 percent of the incumbents in competitive races during the third quarter.

Sixteen Republican incumbents in competitive races raised less than their Democratic challengers during the third quarter. One Democratic incumbent was outraised by a GOP challenger.

Hatch Has High Hopes for Medical Marijuana Bill
83-year-old Mormon Republican emerges as unlikely champion

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, has emerged as an unlikely champion of medical marijuana. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is an unlikely advocate for a medical marijuana bill.

An 83-year-old Utah Republican and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hatch says he is staunchly against recreational drug use. But as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage states across the country, the Senate’s president pro tempore sees an opportunity in advancing the use of cannabis for pain management.

Senators Ready to Confront Sessions at Oversight Hearing
Attorney General likely to face contentious questions about his leadership

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions returns to face his former Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues Wednesday in an oversight hearing likely to include contentious questions about Justice Department actions since he took on the role eight months ago.

“The attorney general will earn his money that day,” said committee member John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.

Opinion: The Short Life Span of the Trump-McConnell Buddy Movie
Quest for lower taxes brings unlikely pair together

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House on Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dating back to the days of Walter Winchell, there was a standard photo display that newspapers used when celebrity couples headed to Splitsville. Tabloids would feature an earlier picture of the couple frolicking on a beach or walking down the aisle with the caption, “In Happier Days.”

The odds are high that Monday’s buddy-movie Rose Garden press conference with the odd couple of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell will soon invite similar “In Happier Days” nostalgia. For did anyone believe Trump’s hyperbolic claims that the two men are “closer than ever” and that “the Republican Party is very, very unified”?

Contrary to Rhetoric, Military Mishaps Have Been Declining
The Pentagon’s deadly accident-filled summer bucked a larger trend

The destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a chemical tanker in August, one of several deadly military accidents this year. Such incidents are on the decline, according to a Roll Call analysis. (Courtesy U.S. Navy)

Hawks in Congress have said military mishaps are up because the defense budget is down, but the data says otherwise.

The summer of 2017 saw a rash of fatal military accidents — ships colliding at sea, planes crashing and vehicles catching fire — that were deadlier than attacks from America’s enemies.

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Johnson to Press OPM on Congressional Health Care Benefits
Homeland Security chairman wants documents on how Obama-era ruling came to be

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is chairman of the committee that oversees the federal workforce. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Lawmakers and congressional staff might want to pay attention Wednesday morning when President Donald Trump’s nominees for the top two spots at the government’s personnel office face a Senate committee.

Most of the day’s attention will be on the Senate Judiciary hearing featuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson is focused on the Office of Personnel Management, and the agency’s treatment of health insurance benefits for lawmakers and congressional aides.

Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal on Health Care
Alexander, Murray have an agreement on stabilizing insurance marketplaces

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray have a tentative deal on legislation to stabilize the insurance marketplaces. (Tom Williams/Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said he has reached an agreement with Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the panel’s ranking Democrat, on a limited deal to stabilize the individual health insurance markets.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, briefed GOP senators on that deal during their weekly policy lunch Tuesday.