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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Yes, you can ride in a bow tie, and other lessons from Bike to Work Day
Rep. Earl Blumenauer joined packs of cyclists for the annual commute and free T-shirt frenzy

(Ed Felker/CQ Roll Call)

We caught up with Rep. Earl Blumenauer as he whizzed down the street during his Friday commute to Capitol Hill.

(And by “we” I mean my colleague and cycling enthusiast Ed Felker, who puts the pedal to the pavement rain or shine and kindly wore a GoPro for the occasion.)

Mnuchin refuses to comply with subpoenas for Trump tax returns
The treasury secretary’s refusal sets up a court battle, which could begin as early as next week

Ways and Means chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., stops to speak to reporters as he walks down the House steps after the final votes of the week on Friday, May 17, 2019. Neal told reporters he believes the fight over Donald Trump’s tax returns is headed to court as early as next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House urges judge to block Trump’s border wall spending
‘As I think everybody in this courtroom knows, the executive branch can’t build this wall without Congress,’ the attorney said

A car drives along the U.S.-Mexico border fence on February 22, 2019 in Otay Mesa, California. An attorney for the House urged a federal judge in California on Friday to block the Trump administration from moving federal funds around to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

An attorney for the House urged a federal judge in California on Friday to block the Trump administration from moving federal funds around to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, calling the move “statutory sleight of hand, or, more accurately, three-card monte.”

Douglas N. Letter, the House general counsel, told U.S. District Court Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. that the government can’t claim the authority to divert billions of dollars for wall construction when Congress had just denied President Donald Trump’s demands to appropriate those funds.

Pentagon knew peace-talks fund would ‘likely’ benefit Taliban
Document suggests some money would give ‘material support to terrorists’

Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Pentagon leaders formally asked Congress in writing earlier this year for a $30 million fund to support peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban, even though, the Defense Department officials wrote, it was “likely” some of the money would materially support terrorists.

The legislative proposal, obtained by CQ Roll Call, suggests that the fiscal 2020 money to cover logistics involved in the negotiations may directly or indirectly provide financial support to violent groups in Afghanistan that have been fighting Americans and their own countrymen, including in targeted attacks on civilians, for nearly 18 years.

House Democrats seek details of Trump ethics waivers
Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings launched investigation earlier this week

House Oversight Chairman Eijah E. Cummings has launched an investigation into the Trump administration’s use of ethics waivers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, wants a status update on the state of the swamp in the Trump administration.

The Maryland Democrat launched an investigation late this week into the administration’s use of ethics waivers, which allow former lobbyists to work on matters they handled in their previous private sector jobs. Cummings sent letters to the White House and 24 agencies and Cabinet departments requesting copies of their ethics pledges and details of any waivers that could expose “potential conflicts of interest.”

These 8 Republicans voted for the Equality Act
3 House Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination did not vote

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., shown applauding during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February, was one of eight House Republicans to vote for the Equality Act on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Eight House Republicans voted Friday with their Democratic counterparts for the Equality Act, which would broaden the definition of protected classes to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill, a Democratic priority, passed 236-173 amid passionate speeches from both Republicans and Democrats. Debate over the bill was partisan, and at times, tense. 

Lawmakers seek solutions in Venezuela, Iran
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 153

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) shakes hands with Carlos Vecchio (3rd L), a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, outside the West Wing of the White House after a meeting January 29, 2019, in Washington, DC. The Trump Administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil company in order to put pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to give up his power and step down. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Photos of the Week: Protests, celebrities and even some cute ducklings
The week of May 13 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

A protester with the group By The People is arrested by U.S. Capitol Police in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda on Tuesday. About 20 protesters gathered to occupy the rotunda to call for the House to initiate Impeachment hearings. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Trump‘s car import move is getting panned
The decision to set an 180-day clock ticking on possible trade action has drawn criticism from industry, lawmakers and the EU

Brand new cars sit on a truck that is leaving a lot at the Auto Warehousing Company near the Port of Richmond on May 24, 2018 in Richmond, California. U.S. president Donald Trump has set a clock on possible trade action or tariffs against car imports from Japan and Europe. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The White House announcement Friday that President Donald Trump has set a 180-day clock ticking on possible trade action against imports of cars and car parts from Japan and Europe brought strong pushback from the private sector.

The president’s implied threat to use Section 232 authorities to impose tariffs or other trade measures if negotiations to limit imports are not successful cited national security and, in particular, the need to protect research and development by U.S. automakers.

‘Mr. President will correct the record:’ Trouble with names, speakers and Roman numerals — Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of May 12, 2019

Workers begin setting up the stage for the annual Memorial Day Concert on the West Front of the Capitol on May 16. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress was abuzz this week with flip phones, mispronunciations and confusion over who’s turn it was to speak.

A Census worker’s arrest for child sex assault raises hiring concerns in Congress
Commerce Department report: ‘The Bureau’s background check office is not fully prepared for the 2020 Census’

In this photo provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, tabulators in Washington record the information from the more than 120,000 enumerators who gathered data for the 1940 U.S. Census. (AP Photo/National Archives and Records Administration)

Some members of the North Carolina delegation have called for an investigation into the U.S. Census Bureau’s hiring practices following the arrest of a bureau manager in Charlotte on charges of sexually assaulting a child.

The employee already appeared on the sex offender registry when he was hired by the bureau because of a prior conviction involving a child, Fox 46 reported.

Air Force secretary: send disaster money ASAP
Officials say it will cost nearly $10 billion to repair recent storm damage at military bases

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testifies during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support hearing in Russell Building titled “United States Air Force Readiness,” on October 10, 2018. On Thurday Wilson said the Defense Department needs money to fix nearly $10 billion in damage to military bases.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Heather Wilson, the outgoing Air Force secretary, said Thursday that the Defense Department desperately needs Congress to quickly bankroll recovery from recent storm damage at military bases, which officials say will cost nearly $10 billion to fix.

Senate leaders are drafting a disaster aid supplemental bill that may contain a down payment in aid for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The House passed its own version last week with $1.5 billion to help military installations recover from hurricanes.

LGBTQ Equality Act passes House, pushing back on Trump’s religious freedom policies
Democrats and advocacy groups are attempting to counteract these policies through the courts and legislation

Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., poses with a rainbow flag at the House steps after the vote to pass the Equality Act on Friday, May 17, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Growing tensions over the Trump administration’s policies that aim to strengthen religious freedom protections for health care workers have led to a partisan tug-of-war playing out in the House.

The Trump administration has tried to strengthen religious liberty protections through numerous policies over the past several months. Those include providing federal funds to religiously affiliated foster agencies who don’t allow LGBT people to adopt children and broadening religious and moral exemptions for employers who do not want to cover birth control.

Trump lobbies for Dem support of immigration plan even while using hardline rhetoric
Can POTUS have it both ways on a proposal that appears mostly about his re-election campaign?

President Donald Trump, here with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Rose Garden in June 2017, unveiled his latest immigration overhaul plan on Thursday. Not even GOP lawmakers voiced support, however. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump on Friday lobbied for Democratic votes for an immigration plan that appears to have no traction while also throwing the kind of red-meat rhetoric toward his base that turns off those very Democrats.

In a morning tweet during a rare overnight stay at Trump Tower in New York, the president appeared be referring to polls like an April Washington Post-ABC News survey that showed a 17 percent jump in the number of Democrats who view the spike in migrant families showing at the U.S.-Mexico border as a crisis. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials say they made 100,000 apprehensions at the border in March, the biggest number in 12 years.

Grassley, Wyden want to end uncertainty over temporary tax breaks
Five task forces charged with coming up with solutions for so-called tax extenders

Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, right, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are seen at a hearing in February. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley announced the creation of five task forces charged with delving into what to do about 42 myriad tax breaks that continually get turned on and off by Congress, ranging from an incentive to sell cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel for trucks to a deduction for mortgage insurance premiums.

The joint announcement by the Iowa Republican and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, the committee’s ranking member, comes 16 and a half months after 26 tax “extenders” expired at the end of 2017. Grassley said the task force is charged with coming up with solutions by the end of June, including whether to consolidate or change certain provisions, make them permanent or allow them to lapse.