Don Wolfensbergergerwilsoncenter

GOP Rebels Orchestrate Ex-Im Bank Job | Procedural Politics

Last year in this space, I wrote about House discharge petitions as “useful minority tools,” even though they seldom gain the requisite 218 signatures to force floor consideration of the targeted legislation. The subject of that column was the Democrats’ attempt to force consideration of a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That effort had stalled at 197 signatures (all Democrats) when the clock ran out on the 113th Congress.  

In this Congress, a different phenomenon is unfolding: A discharge petition launched by 42 majority party members on Oct. 9 hit the 218 signature mark that same day, thanks to 176 Democratic co-signers. This year, the subject of the discharge petition is a five-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. (On July 1, it lost its authority to make new loans to companies to finance the export of U.S. products abroad.)  

Why the Senate Plays Legislative Bait-and-Switch | Procedural Politics

Very few people take the time to follow major legislation as it wends its way through the congressional maze. For those who do, Congress’ two online bill tracking services, THOMAS and, make that easy to do, at least most of the time. Nevertheless, those who track the big bills sometimes find themselves ensnared in what appears to be a legislative bait-and-switch, with no public explanation of when or why the trap was laid. The hapless citizen is left stuck in a web of diversion — be-switched, bothered and bewildered.  

On two major occasions this year, language from Senate-numbered bills has been transplanted into totally different (and minor) House-numbered bills: the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and the Bipartisan Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (aka trade promotion authority). Two other instances of bait-and-switch occurred on lesser bills passed as bargaining chips for the trade bill’s passage (Procedural Politics, “Senate Trade Bill, ” June 4).  

Congress Has an Overriding Problem With Iran Deal | Procedural Politics

This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act introduced by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. The bill requires the president to submit the final agreement to Congress for a 60-day review period. The administration strongly opposes the legislation on grounds the pact is an executive agreement between the U.S., Iran and the five other nations and does not require congressional approval.  

Contrary to some shorthand press reports, the bill does not require Congress to approve the nuclear agreement for the sanctions relief to take effect, nor does it force Congress even to vote on the matter. It simply provides that any sanctions relief contained in the plan may go forward if Congress enacts a joint resolution favoring the agreement or fails to enact a joint resolution disapproving the plan during the review period. There are no action-forcing mechanisms or expedited procedures to require either a vote of approval or disapproval.  

Cotton Balls Up Diplomatic Protocol With Letter | Procedural Politics

Senator Tom Cotton’s “open letter” to the leaders of Iran on negotiations over its nuclear program ran into a buzzsaw of criticism from the president, vice president, our negotiating partners and members of Congress from both parties. The main criticism: Senators should not thrust themselves directly into the middle of ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and other countries.  

The Arkansas Republican and his 46 Senate Republican co-signers have been accused of everything from trying to blow up the negotiations and undermining the president to giving aid and comfort to the enemy and betraying the national interest. The critics have the first part right: It is impolitic, inappropriate and undiplomatic for members of Congress to insert themselves into delicate multilateral talks by directly communicating with any foreign parties to the negotiations.  

Keystone Process Tells Tale of Two Houses | Procedural Politics

Do you remember Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California promising last fall to return the new Congress to the regular order? The initial test came on the first major bill in the well of both houses, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Whereas the Senate produced a veritable gusher of amendments with all hands at the wellhead, the House reverted to a narrowly-constricted flow tube controlled by a few valve masters.  

Identical House and Senate pipeline bills were introduced on the opening day of the new Congress by two North Dakota Republicans, Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven. Both measures were placed on a fast track to the floor the first week of the session. But that’s where the similarities ended. McConnell promised an open amendment process, and that’s the way it began. Unlike his predecessor, he turned floor control over to the energy committee’s chairman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. What followed was a free-for-all with 274 amendments filed – enough to keep the Senate working until Easter. After a few days of debate on amendments, the process was winnowed by cloture votes and a unanimous consent agreement.  

New Congresses Lead With Legislative Blitzes | Procedural Politics

Most Americans prejudged the new Congress a failure before it even began. According to a CNN/ORC poll taken in mid-December, only 37 percent think the 114th Congress will get more done than its predecessor while 62 percent think it will get less done or be no different. But they could be wrong.  

Such negative assessments are understandable given divided party control of government and early pronouncements by the president and congressional leaders drawing lines in the sand over their differences. Oh, there will still be occasional rhetorical nods to the need to work together. But the three Cs of conciliation, cooperation and compromise have yielded for now to cold calculation, calcification and confrontation. Veto pens are being brandished quicker than bills inviting them can be introduced.  

Opening Day Hoopla Sets Optimistic Tone | Procedural Politics

If the tone set on opening day could determine the success of Congress over the next two years, the scaffolding now encasing the Capitol dome would become a magical power grid of peace and harmony generating a steady source of national policy solutions.  

When the opening bell summons the new Congress into session at noon, the House chamber vibrates with electricity as multitudes of members meld in a frenzy of hugs, handshakes, backslaps and laughter. The camaraderie and exchange of verbal olive branches between the speaker and minority leader can only instill hope in the scores of constituents cramming the galleries to watch their newly elected representatives be sworn in. Surely, they think, this portends a new day in our nation’s history. And they’re right: Each new Congress is a blank slate on which it can write its own history of successes and failures.  

Cruz Move Misses Its Constitutional Mark | Procedural Politics

On Saturday, Dec. 13, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attempted to block funding for the president’s executive order on immigration by raising what he called “constitutional point of order” against the homeland security portion of the cromnibus appropriations bill. It was a clever eleventh hour gambit to dramatize the issue. However, it completely missed the mark as a credible point of order because it did not cite any provision of the bill as directly violating the Constitution.  

Instead, Cruz reeled off provisions he said the president’s executive order contravened. The bill itself neither authorized, condoned or condemned the president’s action. The Homeland Security portion targeted by Cruz simply funds the department and its myriad of activities and responsibilities through next February. Whether the president uses the funds to implement his order is a future contingency beyond the immediate reach of the Senate absent an amendment prohibiting their use for that purpose. That option was precluded by the majority leader’s filling the amendment tree, thereby blocking any amendments to the cromnibus.