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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Democrats detail drug price negotiation bill
The big question is whether the bill would appeal to one Republican in particular — President Donald Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House committee leaders started briefing members on Democrats’ drug pricing plan this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats on Thursday released the outline of a long-awaited drug price proposal, taking a step toward fulfilling one of the party’s signature campaign promises: requiring Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

The text of the bill is expected later in the day.

State and local tax cap rollback included in year-end tax talks
Democrats leading SALT discussions say they hope to have legislation ready for markup in October

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., and House Democrats are looking to roll back the cap on annual state and local tax deductions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A senior House Ways and Means Democrat said Wednesday that a full, though temporary, elimination of the current $10,000 cap on annual state and local tax deductions is among the proposals being discussed for a possible markup in the coming weeks.

Committee Democrats also discussed in a Wednesday caucus meeting how a “SALT” rollback and a raft of other tax legislation the committee has advanced or will soon consider might fit into a deal later this year with Senate Republicans, and what offsets might be offered as part of any package, said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-New Jersey.

New national security adviser faces personality test with Trump’s inner circle
Robert O’Brien is largely a blank slate on policy, which could help him manage internal disagreements

Robert C. OBrien, serving as special envoy for President Donald Trump, arrives at a courthouse in Stockholm during the rapper A$AP Rocky assault trial in August. (Michael Campanella/Getty Images file photo)

Internal debates during President Donald Trump’s first two and a half years in office have been marked by acrimony, tension and high-stakes negotiations. So perhaps it was no surprise that Trump named as his fourth national security adviser the State Department’s lead hostage negotiator, Robert C. O’Brien.

No president has had so many national security advisers in his first term. However long O’Brien lasts in the job, his tenure will be defined less by his policy views and more by how he manages disagreements within Trump’s inner circle.

Gun laws may not be changing, but the gun debate certainly is
Fewer and fewer elected Democrats fret much anymore about taking on the NRA

Students march to the Capitol in April 2018, calling on Congress to act on gun violence prevention. Gun control groups have spent more than $1.2 million on federal lobbying so far this year, keeping them on pace to spend the most they ever have. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — That almost nothing has changed in federal gun policy since Newtown or Parkland or any mass shooting before or after belies the enormous transformation underway in the lobbying and political landscapes of the issue.

Gun safety groups now operate a lot more like their opponents: amassing a national network of grassroots activists that descend on Capitol Hill and show up in lawmakers’ districts; spending big on political campaigns; and retaining some of the biggest names on K Street, firms that also represent the likes of Amazon and Goldman Sachs.

Bashful base: Pollsters say Trump closer to Dems than early 2020 surveys suggest
Political pros see his true support higher with some of president's backers ‘afraid’ to admit it

A family awaits President Donald Trump’s arrival for a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa., on May 20. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Professional pollsters say President Donald Trump and senior White House officials are rightly confident heading into his reelection bid because early 2020 surveys are likely flawed.

“We are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning,” Trump told supporters this week during a campaign rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “We’re going to win like never before. … I’ll tell you what: We're going to win the state of New Mexico.”

When members of Congress seek county office instead
Rep. Paul Cook cites broader powers of California supervisors, but GOP’s minority status also a factor

California Rep. Paul Cook announced Tuesday that he is retiring from Congress to run for county office. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Republican Paul Cook’s decision to run for county office next year rather than a fifth House term might have raised a few eyebrows, especially since more than five dozen of his colleagues have used county positions as stepping stones to Washington.

But what seems like a downward move is not unheard of, particularly in California, where county supervisors wield a fair amount of power. Influencing local policy can also be more appealing than a weekly cross-country commute, especially when working in the nation’s capital means governing in the minority.

Democrats say they want to prioritize legislation over impeachment. Here’s their chance
Thursday release of prescription drug pricing bill provides opportunity for messaging shift

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine M. Clark and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries say House Democrats are most successful in communicating their policy messages directly to constituents in their districts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders’ plan to release a top-priority prescription drug pricing bill on Thursday presents the caucus with an opportunity to refocus its messaging on legislating over investigating — one that many Democrats say is desperately needed.

Moderate Democrats in particular are concerned that the caucus’s policy work isn’t breaking through the impeachment cloud that has overshadowed the 116th Congress.

House stopgap bill would fund farm payments, health programs
The bill could move to the full House for floor consideration as early as Thursday

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., walks down the House steps after a vote on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. House Democrats unveiled a stopgap spending bill after ironing out last-minute disagreements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats unveiled a stopgap spending bill late Wednesday that runs through Nov. 21 after ironing out last-minute disagreements about payments to farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs.

The measure would reimburse the Commodity Credit Corporation for trade relief and other payments as of Sept. 17, so the agency doesn't breach its $30 billion borrowing cap as it continues to send checks to farmers and ranchers.

Kennedy plans to launch challenge to Markey for Massachusetts Senate seat
Grandson of RFK, serving fourth House term, is last member of political dynasty in Congress

Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III plans to launch a challenge to Sen. Edward J. Markey (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III will challenge Sen. Edward J. Markey in a primary, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday evening. Kennedy plans to announce his Senate bid on Saturday, the Globe reported.

Kennedy's decision comes after weeks of speculation that the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy would challenge fellow Democrat Markey, who is serving his the first term. Kennedy had filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in late August.

Chief Standing Bear statue welcomed in Capitol, replacing William Jennings Bryan
McCarthy: ‘as the tours are given, I promise you: you will stop here’

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., speaks during a ceremony unveiling a statue of Chief Standing Bear, a Native American civil rights icon from Nebraska. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The prominent placement of Nebraska’s new statue of the legendary Chief Standing Bear in Statuary Hall was quite intentional.

So said Sen. Roy Blunt at an unveiling ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. The Missouri senator was introduced as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, but it was in one of his other capacities that he had shown Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., where he thought the statue should be positioned.

AG Barr takes temperature of Senate GOP on gun background checks
But there's still confusion about what President Donald Trump will ultimately support

Attorney General William Barr spent a second day on Capitol Hill speaking with Congressional members about gun legislation. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Attorney General William Barr continued to take the temperature of Republican senators on expanding background checks Wednesday after a working document started circulating publicly.

“As the president has made clear he’s interested in exploring meaningful solutions that will actually protect people, make people safer,” the attorney general said. “And I’m up here just kicking around some ideas, getting perspectives, so I can be in a better position to advise the president. The president has made no decision yet on these issues.”

Business fishing for USMCA support from pool of 100 Democrats
The Business Roundtable and other supporters are focusing on about 100 House Democrats in their search for bipartisan approval

Josh Bolten, right, CEO of the Business Roundtable, talks with Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled “Tariffs: Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy and the International Economy,” in July of 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Business Roundtable and other corporate supporters of the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade pact are focusing on a pool of about 100 House Democrats in their search for votes for bipartisan approval of the agreement.

“We think there’s as many as 100 gettable Democratic votes. A very substantial minority we think can and should vote for it,” Business Roundtable President and CEO Joshua Bolten said Wednesday after a briefing on its quarterly survey of business confidence.

Youth climate activists on climate change: Listen to the scientists

Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center right, sits with other youth climate activists at a press conference to discuss climate change in Washington on Tuesday September 17, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

A panel of four youth climate activists appeared before a joint hearing on climate leadership Wednesday, urging members to take action on climate change.

Farm payment disclosure language delaying stopgap funds
Disagreement remains on how to information on payments made under Trump’s trade mitigation assistance program

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., talks with reporters after a news conference in the Capitol on August 13, 2019. On Wednesday, Hoyer said he hopes a stopgap funding bill would be filed as soon as lawmakers can iron out final details, including on language that would let the White House keep making payments to farmers and ranchers under President Donald Trump’s trade mitigation assistance. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Disputes over language that would let the White House keep making payments to farmers and ranchers under President Donald Trump’s trade war mitigation program were delaying release of a stopgap appropriations measure needed to keep the government open beyond the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

“Almost ready,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Wednesday afternoon. She said outstanding issues include how to draft language that would provide adequate reimbursement to the Commodity Credit Corporation for payments made under Trump’s tariff relief program. The CCC is approaching its $30 billion borrowing cap and without the appropriations “anomaly” White House officials say they’d have to stop making payments to eligible farmers and ranchers.

Trump chastises ally Lindsey Graham, teases Thursday ‘announcement’ on Iran
POTUS: ‘Ask Lindsey how did going into the Middle East, how did that work out?’

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., holds a press conference in the Capitol on March 25. He and President Trump are feuding over Iran. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday teased an “announcement” on Iran over its alleged missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities and chastised a leading Senate ally over the volatile matter.

Since the weekend attack took 6 percent of the world’s oil supply offline, the president has indicated his team sees Iran as responsible, tweeted that he has the U.S. military “locked and loaded,” but also said he does not want a shooting conflict with Tehran.