James Lankford

Appropriators feel the squeeze of budget caps as veterans health funding grows
Nondefense programs could soon see spending cuts unless Congress makes adjustments

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Appropriators and stakeholders have begun coming to grips with the reality of narrow funding increases under next year’s budget caps, as politically sacrosanct veterans health care spending continues to grow and eat into what’s left for all other nondefense programs.

Last summer’s two-year budget deal front-loaded its spending cap increases into the first year, allowing about 4 percent more for discretionary spending in fiscal 2020. In fiscal 2021, increases are capped at less than 0.4 percent, or $5 billion, despite fixed costs for veterans health care that are likely to require substantially more.

After a busy week, Congress is ready for the holidays: Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of Dec. 16, 2019

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney speaks with reporters as she passes the holiday sign in the basement of the Capitol as she leaves the House Democrats caucus meeting on Dec. 17. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate clears final spending package, wraps for the year
The bills now head to Trump's desk for his signature

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the Senate chamber in the Capitol after making remarks on the House’s impeachment of President Donald Trump on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate cleared two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion Thursday, sending the measures to President Donald Trump ahead of a Friday deadline.

Debate over the massive packages was tucked in between floor speeches about the House's Wednesday vote to impeach Trump — making for a strange mix of bitter partisanship over the impeachment process and broad bipartisan support for a wide-ranging year-end appropriations package.

James Lankford to chair Senate Ethics Committee
Oklahoma Republican will take over for Johnny Isakson, who is resigning at the end of the year

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., will lead the ethics panel. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Lankford will take over as chairman of the Ethics Committee, succeeding Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, who will retire at the end of the year, according to a senior Republican aide.

The Oklahoma Republican will lead a six-member, bipartisan committee charged with investigating violations of Senate rules. The committee’s most recent actions were in April 2018, when it published a public letter of admonition to Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Schumer outlines Democratic demands on spending bills
Aside from border wall issue, Schumer brings up opioids, infrastructure, VAWA

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Democrats “oppose the president stealing money from our military families” for a border wall. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The top Senate Democrat laid down some benchmarks Monday for his party’s support of final fiscal 2020 appropriations bills.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the Senate floor that the bills will need to include “significant resources” for programs intended to combat the opioid epidemic and gun violence; infrastructure and child care spending; increased or at least level funding for Violence Against Women Act programs; and additional funds for election security.

Senate holds off on vote avoiding shutdown, keeps stopgap funding vehicle
Sen. David Perdue announced the Senate would instead vote at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to send the stopgap bill directly to the president’s desk

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., exits the Senate subway in May. Lankford and other senators are working to pass a continuing resolution, averting a Thursday shutdown and giving the House and Senate more time to come up with compromise versions of fiscal 2020 spending bills to the president’s desk next month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate no longer plans to change the legislative vehicle for a monthlong stopgap spending bill, following hours of back-and-forth discussions Wednesday.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hoped to change the legislative vehicle and approve the temporary funding bill by the end of the day.

The three places where senators can ‘actually’ talk
Sen. Chris Coons’ favorite places to reach across the aisle

From left, Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D.N.Y., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Coons, D-Del., share a laugh after a markup hearing on judicial nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“We’re real people. We’re not just two-dimensional targets,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told a lecture hall of law students at Notre Dame last week.Flanked by former Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Coons talked about the hyperpartisan environment on Capitol Hill and the intention required to cut through it and work. For the Delaware senator, this means talking to his colleagues “in the three settings [he has] found where there [are] no lobbyists, no staff and no press.”

Joking that Flake spent more time in the gym than he did, Coons told the students about the senators-only gym — a place “you can actually chat as you’re working out.” While little information is publicly available about the gym, Roll Call learned more about the facility in 2013 by standing in the hallway outside it for several hours. 

Election officials want security money, flexible standards
After 2016 Russian intrusion, slow progress seen toward securing rolls and paper ballots

Voters line up at a temporary voting location in a trailer in the Arroyo Market Square shopping center in Las Vegas on the first day of early voting in Nevada in October of 2016. Louisiana and Connecticut officials requested more money and clear standards from the federal government before voters head to the polls in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

State officials from Louisiana and Connecticut on Thursday asked for more money and clear standards from the federal government to help secure voting systems before the 2020 elections.

But the officials, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, stressed the differences between their election systems and asked for leeway from the federal government in deciding how to spend any future funding.

Trade Office works through tariff exclusions as requests mount
Rejection rate on the 10,829 exclusion requests on first tranche of imports was 62 percent

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has processed approximately 700 requests for exclusions on the first $34 billion tranche of imports. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The U.S. Trade Representative’s process for doling out exclusions to Section 301 tariffs on imports from China has slowed to a painful crawl.

Only approximately 700 requests for exclusions on the first $34 billion tranche of imports were decided over the past month, with half of those denied over concerns that product characteristics were not sufficiently narrow to prevent unrelated products from slipping through customs. The overall rejection rate on the 10,829 exclusion requests on the tranche increased to 62 percent.

Election infrastructure bill remains stalled as Senate Intelligence panel releases first volume of Russia report
Sen. James Lankford still wants to work on paper trail legislation

The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Richard M. Burr, right, and Mark Warner, released an election security report on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the Senate Intelligence Committee was releasing the first volume of its comprehensive report into Russian election interference in 2016, a Republican senator was making clear that he still wants to get support for encouraging states to have paper audit trails and to boost the ability of election officials to get timely security clearances.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who has been working with Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, told reporters Thursday that with the 2020 primaries and caucuses just around the corner, security enhancements would be meant for the next midterms.