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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Trump, House Republicans meet to line up support for new NAFTA
The USMCA would replace NAFTA, if simple majorities in the House and Senate approve it.

President Donald Trump, flanked from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S. Dak., Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stops to speak to the cameras following his lunch with Senate Republicans in the Capitol on Wed. Jan. 9, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with a number of House Republicans later Tuesday as the White House steps up efforts to increase support for the proposed trade agreement to replace NAFTA.

The afternoon meeting comes after Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer courted House Democrats earlier this month with closed-door meetings on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. It would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement if simple majorities in the House and Senate approve it.

Chicago mayor candidate has ‘alliance with the devil,’ Rep. Bobby Rush says
Chicago Democrat and longtime civil rights activist accused fellow Democrat Lori Lightfoot of protecting rogue police officers

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., flanked by then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, speaks about his family's experience with gun violence in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Bobby Rush has vociferously denounced one of the two candidates in a runoff election for Chicago mayor as the pro-police option who has not done enough to curb police brutality in the city.

Rush, a civil rights leader and longtime Chicago Democrat in the U.S. House, reignited the conversation surrounding police brutality over the weekend when he accused Democrat Lori Lightfoot, one of the two candidates to emerge for the run-off, of protecting rogue police officers who use excessive force.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Mueller discovering collusion could have ‘led to civil war’
Hawaii congresswoman has centered her 2020 campaign on her anti-war views

The presidential campaign of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, has not gained traction in early polls since her February kickoff event. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard appeared relieved that Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation did not establish a case that the Donald Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election and urged her Democratic colleagues to move on.

The Hawaii congresswoman, who has centered her fledgling 2020 campaign on her anti-war views, raised the possibility that the discovery of collusion could have set in motion a “terribly divisive crisis,” and even a civil war.

Kamala Harris details plan to boost teacher pay by an average of $13,500
California Democrat’s proposal would provide an abundance of federal funding

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has a new campaign proposal that would boost teacher pay. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced details of her plan to boost salaries for teachers across the country.

The junior senator from California talked about the plan over the weekend at a campaign event in Houston, saying it would represent “the largest federal investment in teachers’ salaries in the history of the United States.”

Mueller report isn’t changing 2020 campaign dynamics — yet
Conclusions have emboldened some Republicans, but Democrats still aren’t talking about Russia

While some Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham used the Mueller report to double down on defending Trump, Democrats signaled they’d continue their 2018 focus on economic issues  — and not the Russia investigation — heading into 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As news of the just-completed Russia investigation engulfs Washington, not much has changed on the campaign trail — for either party.

The full report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has yet to see the light of day. And with the 2020 elections more than a year and a half away, plenty could change between now and then. But so far, the calculation on both sides isn’t too different from the past two years.

Nancy Pelosi: the Democratic Party’s undisputed leader
Speaker keeps her party together and Trump back on his heels

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday March 14, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

OPINION — For most of the last campaign cycle, Republican ad-makers treated then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi like a piñata.

They used her name and image in thousands of GOP television spots around the country, trying to turn the midterm election into a referendum on her liberalism and “San Francisco values.” That effort failed, of course, because midterms are never about the minority party’s congressional leadership, at least not when the president is someone as controversial and polarizing as Donald Trump.

How ‘Medicare for All’ went from pipe dream to mainstream
Universal health care debates could shape the 2020 election — and the future of the Democratic Party

Sen. Bernie Sanders may have been among the first to nudge Democrats toward universal health care, but he wasn’t the last. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Political candidates and activists in Maine, especially in rural areas, often got a sharp reaction five years ago when they knocked on doors to promote universal health care.

“The reaction was, ‘Oh, you’re a commie,’” said Phil Bailey, who back then advocated for various Democratic causes.

Even congressmen can’t pump their own gas in New Jersey
Gottheimer manned the squeegee at recent ‘Josh on the Job’ tour

New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer washes windshields as part of his “Josh on the Job” tour at a gas station over recess. (Courtesy Gottheimer’s office.)

Even a congressman can’t pump gas in New Jersey — the last state in the country where drivers can’t fuel up their own vehicles. 

Although the advisory for Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s March 16 “Josh on the Job” event at a Rochelle Park Amoco station said he’d be pumping gas for Jersey drivers, the sophomore Democrat was resigned to squeegeeing windshields.

Hunting money launderers? There’s AI for that
Banks explore artificial intelligence to better detect fraud after go-ahead from federal regulators

Last December, federal regulators issued a joint statement encouraging bankers to consider “innovative approaches” to rooting out money laundering. Above, a man walks by the headquarters of the Federal Reserve System in D.C. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Encouraged by a recent green light from regulators, the financial services industry is exploring new ways of using artificial intelligence to help them comply with banking regulations and to better detect fraudulent transactions used by criminals and terrorists.

This move toward new approaches to banking compliance comes despite growing concern that more government scrutiny could force the United States to fall behind similar efforts already underway overseas.

When it comes to younger voters, watch the margin of victory
Republicans haven’t carried 18-to-29-year-olds in an election cycle since 1994

Louisiana Republican John Kennedy, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, greets fans at a tailgate party before an Alabama-LSU football game in Baton Rouge, La., in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There’s really no question Democrats are going to win younger voters in 2020. But what matters for them is the size of their margin of victory. 

Republicans haven’t carried 18-to-29-year-olds in an election cycle since 1994, when exit polling showed them besting Democrats in this age group, 51 percent to 49 percent. They broke even with Democrats among younger voters in the 1998 midterms, but it’s been at least 30 years since Republicans carried 18-to-29-year-olds in a presidential cycle.

In a volatile crypto market, stable coins find increasing appeal
Banks, regulators mull virtual currency with less risk

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has introduced a JPM Coin, a stable coin linked to the dollar. Such a form of virtual currency has the potential to speed up payments and cut money transfer costs for consumers, advocates say. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images file photo)

The cryptocurrency rollercoaster, with its price peaks and valleys, has financial technology proponents looking to a new type of virtual currency that promises the benefits of being virtual while limiting the risk.

Banks, regulators and industry leaders are studying, or have already started to implement, so-called stable coins. They tout the potential to speed up payments, cut money transfer costs for consumers, and help citizens of foreign countries whose currencies are under duress.

Should Congress spend more on itself to avoid deterioration?
Former lawmakers and groups think crisis is brewing if investments not made

Civil society organizations and former lawmakers are calling on appropriators to boost funding for Congress itself to avoid a “crisis.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Civil society groups and former lawmakers are calling on appropriators to boost funding for Congress itself to stem what they call a “significant loss of institutional capacity.”

Ten former lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, joined more than three dozen groups to pen letters to House and Senate appropriators asking that the Legislative Branch slice of the federal funding pie get a bit larger. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Eva M. Clayton of North Carolina were among the former members to sign the letter, which was led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress. 

House Democrats zip lips on Mueller report, want to see it for themselves
Committee chairs give Barr an April 2 deadline to turn into full findings

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined on Monday to speculate on the Mueller report other than that she wants to see it in its entirety. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats on Monday mostly avoided talking about Robert S. Mueller III’s report or what comes next, a day after Attorney General William P. Barr informed Congress that the special counsel “did not establish” a case that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and five other House Democratic chairs sent a letter to the attorney general on Monday demanding that he deliver Mueller’s full report to Congress by next Tuesday, April 2.

Ruben Gallego passes on Arizona Senate run
Democrat Mark Kelly is already in the race to take on GOP Sen. Martha McSally

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is passing on a run for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has decided not to run for Senate against appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally.

A spokeswoman for the Phoenix congressman confirmed his decision to Roll Call, and Gallego told The Arizona Republic he was passing on the race to avoid a divisive primary.