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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Sitting NYC Democrats Under Fire From Their Own
Four Democrats are facing spirited primary challenges — a rarity this cycle

New York Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley is facing a primary challenge for the first time since 2004. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Outsize Democratic energy has been directed at unseating Republicans this election cycle, but in New York City, Democrats are taking aim at their own. Four veteran lawmakers are unloading their campaign war chests to fend off intraparty opponents. 

These Democrats aren’t worried about losing their primaries Tuesday. They say they’re simply taking their races seriously. But it’s a new experience for some incumbents, who have rarely faced contested primaries. 

House GOP ‘Uphill Fight’ on Immigration About More Than Trump
President’s tweets not helping, but Republicans still have major policy divisions

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., leaves the Capitol in the rain after the final vote of the week on Friday. He plans to spend his weekend continuing negotiations over immigration legislation, striving to reach an agreement on changes before a rescheduled vote next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump is certainly not helping House Republicans by deeming their immigration negotiations a waste of time, but he’s far from the only issue they face in what one GOP leader called an “uphill fight” to pass legislation.

The House Republican Conference is still struggling internally to coalesce around a bill that members from the various GOP factions negotiated in recent weeks, dubbed the compromise bill. Republican leaders had initially scheduled a vote on the measure for Thursday, and then thought about Friday. Ultimately, they decided to push it off into the next week to negotiate further changes

Louise Slaughter’s Legacy Looms Large in New York Primary
Democrat Joe Morelle is the presumptive favorite for the open upstate seat

Democrats in New York’s 25th District will pick their nominee Tuesday to succeed the late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, center. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For the first time in three decades, voters in a small corner of upstate New York are about to choose someone new to send to Congress.

The 25th District, which includes Rochester and its suburbs, had appeared set to re-elect Democrat Louise M. Slaughter to her 17th consecutive term in November, until the iconic congresswoman’s unexpected death in March.

Opinion: Enough of Border Crackdowns. Try Staffing Up the Courts
Untenable backlog in our immigration court system is prompting tough choices

Immigrants and their supporters gather outside an immigration court in New York in 2017. Staffing up such courts would cost much less and accomplish much more than the Trump administration’s slow-moving approach, Ramón and Brown write. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)

It was a week of recriminations as lawmakers, civil society organizations and the public slammed the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” criminal prosecution policy that split families apart at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The outcry caught the administration flat-footed, leading to a new executive order that supposedly keeps children with their parents. But the fix still requires families to be detained (possibly in violation of an existing court order), and it doesn’t address the key issue that is prompting these hard choices in the first place — the untenable backlog in our immigration court system.

Opinion: 3 Ways to Defeat Dysfunction on the Hill
Recent bipartisan moves offer hope for a return to traditional legislating

The Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform must advance some recommendations for change, even if they do not address every issue, Daschle and Lott write. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Four years ago this month, we joined with 27 other Americans to release recommendations to reform how our government works, improve the management of our elections, and promote more civic engagement.

At the time, the Commission on Political Reform, or CPR, was grappling with how to enable our institutions to better function in an era marked by hyperpartisanship. We did not think the tone and dysfunction in Washington could get worse — and yet it has.

Opinion: To Keep Drug Costs Low, Think Competition, Not Price Controls
A robust, competitive market is the best way to promote innovation and reduce prices

If we truly want to reduce drug costs and make life-changing medications accessible to all Americans, we must increase competition among prescription drugs, Hatch writes. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

Even in today’s highly partisan environment, there’s one thing nearly all Americans agree on: The soaring cost of prescription drugs is alarming.

In fact, 80 percent of Americans consider the cost of prescription drugs unreasonable. At the same time, a majority of Americans recognize that prescription drugs have improved countless lives. The president’s recently unveiled comprehensive blueprint to lower prescription drug costs has many ideas worthy of exploration. However, if we truly want to reduce costs and make life-changing and life-saving medications accessible to all Americans, we must increase competition among prescription drugs — particularly new drugs that have the ability to cure diseases, but face limited competition.

From a Scream to a Whisper: Rescissions Push Goes Dark
Clock runs out on GOP effort to assuage Trump’s omnibus displeasure

Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., arrives in the Capitol on May 15. His decisive vote last week effectively drove a final dagger in a rescissions effort the president had sought. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After much sound and fury, President Donald Trump’s push to cut nearly $15 billion in unspent funds sitting in federal coffers ended with a whimper last week.

The House-passed rescissions plan was unceremoniously scuttled in the Senate on Wednesday when Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina cast the decisive vote against a discharge petition to advance the measure. With a 45-day clock expiring Friday — and senators long gone for the weekend — Republicans could no longer take advantage of filibuster protections under the 1974 budget law to advance the measure with a simple majority in the Senate.

South Carolina’s Katie Arrington Seriously Injured in Car Crash
Democrat Joe Cunningham has suspended campaign activities

South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington, seen here after voting on June 12, has had surgery for her injuries and is recovering  in a Charleston-area hospital after she was involved in a fatal car wreck. (Kathryn Ziesig/The Post And Courier via AP file photo)

South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington, the GOP nominee in the 1st District, was seriously injured in a car accident Friday night and remained in critical but stable condition Saturday afternoon. 

Arrington defeated GOP Rep. Mark Sanford in a primary earlier this month. Her Democratic opponent, Joe Cunningham, tweeted Saturday morning that he's suspending campaign activities until further notice.

Walden Won’t Give Odds on Horse Racing Bill Leaving the Gate
Barr urges colleagues not to mix betting and horse doping with amendments to his bill

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Greg Walden says he’s open to advancing a proposal to regulate parts of the horse racing industry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said Friday he remained open to advancing a bipartisan proposal that would establish a national authority for regulating doping and medication in horse racing.

But after a raucous Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing that revealed an industry divided over how to address the issue, the Oregon Republican was unwilling to commit to moving a proposal from GOP Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky. Barr’s bill has 125 co-sponsors, 75 of them Democrats.

Analysis: Donald Trump’s No Good, Very Bad Week
‘I cannot think ... of a similar terrible week’ for any POTUS, veteran Republican says

President Donald Trump makes a remark to the media as he arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The self-created child migrant crisis was bad enough for Donald Trump, but then he insulted a well-respected House Republican and refused to help leaders pass an immigration overhaul bill many feel is key to their re-election. Republicans reacted angrily, with one party veteran declaring this is Trump’s “Katrina moment.”

The president was riding high as Air Force One ferried him back from his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last week. Top aides planned a quiet Friday, wanting to ride the perceived momentum into the weekend. Then Trump, without the input of aides, walked out to the North Lawn to talk to Fox News anchor Steve Doocy and then other reporters.

Parkland Students Still Getting Pressed on ‘Genuine’ Activism
Deutch: ‘There is nothing more happening here than people who experienced something … and decided to do something about it’

Protesters gather in front of the Capitol before joining the student-led March for Our Lives on March 24. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rain Valladares wiped tears from her eyes this week as she recounted the hours before a gunman invaded the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 and killed 17.

But she was in Washington to talk about the future of activism, not the past.

House Passes Bipartisan Opioid Bill Package
Bill ‘does not adequately deal with the magnitude of the crisis,’ Pallone says

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon helped put together the opioids package that passed Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Friday passed a bill that will serve as the legislative vehicle for many of the 55 other House-passed bills designed to curb opioid addiction, ending two weeks of floor votes on opioids measures.

The catchall bill, which advanced 396-14, would incorporate a number of proposals from the Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means committees relating to Medicaid, Medicare, and public health. A group of 161 patient advocacy groups wrote to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week in support of the legislation.

Supreme Court Dials Up Privacy Rights on Cellphone Records
Government must get a warrant to access a cellphone user’s location data

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the location information collected by companies is “an entirely different species of business record.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday boosted protections for cellphone records that reveal a user’s location and movements over extended periods of time, in a major privacy decision for the internet age.

The majority, in a 5-4 opinion, required the government in most cases to obtain a warrant to get a cellphone user’s location data from phone providers because it is a search under the Fourth Amendment. The decision highlights modern-day concerns about how much personal information can be gleaned from such data.

Photos of the Week: Immigration Protests and the Congressional Women’s Softball Game
Photos of the week of June 18 as captured by Roll Call's photographers

Aruna Miller, who is running for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, talks with citizens during early voting at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg, Md., on Monday. She stands behind the electioneering line which prevents a candidate from being too close to a voting site. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As always, it was a busy week in Washington as the summer heat hits in full force. The issue of families being separated at the border dominated Hill hearings and led to several protests throughout the capital city.

The Congressional Women’s Softball Game took place on Wednesday with the press team defeating the Congress team 5-0 in a five-inning victory that was called due to rain.

Trump Endorses Higgins While Giuliani Campaigns for Challenger
Giuliani’s girlfriend works for Louisiana Republican’s primary opponent

A Louisiana politician described the dueling endorsements in Rep. Clay Higgins ’ re-election race as a “National Enquirer-type situation.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump and his lawyer are split on the Republican primary for Louisiana’s 3rd District.

The president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who serves as a senior adviser to his campaign, announced Trump’s endorsement of incumbent Rep. Clay Higgins in a statement on Thursday.