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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Shutdown Ended, but Democrats Still Have Leverage Over Budget Caps
Sequester-mandated cuts still have to be resolved

From left, Colorado Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons talk in Russell Building on Monday after the Senate voted to end debate on a continuing resolution to reopen the government. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Even though Congress has voted to reopen the government after a brief shutdown, House Democratic leaders, who didn’t sign off on the deal their Senate counterparts helped negotiate, plan to continue their push on immigration and spending issues with a key leverage point: the budget caps.

The House on Monday evening quickly passed a stopgap funding bill that will reopen the government through Feb. 8 by a 266-150 vote, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Senate Passes Three-Week CR to Reopen Federal Government

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the Senate floor in the Capitol after the chamber passed a continuing resolution to reopen the government on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate voted 81-18 to pass a continuing resolution running through Feb. 8 on Monday afternoon, sending it back to the House as Day Three of the partial government shutdown dragged on.

The House is expected to clear the stopgap for President Donald Trump’s signature, ending the shutdown in time for federal workers to return to their offices Tuesday morning. A number of House Democrats appear likely to back the measure after opposing a previous version last week, and top Democrats predicted the CR would be passed this time.

Group Backed by Liberal George Soros Posts Uptick in Lobbying
Open Society Policy Center spent record $16.1 million in 2017

Billionaire George Soros, left, attends a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in November 2008. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Open Society Policy Center, the lobbying arm of liberal billionaire George Soros’ philanthropic network, reported spending a record sum to influence federal issues during the first year of the Trump administration.

The group disclosed spending a total of $16.1 million on federal lobbying in 2017, with the majority of that coming in the last three months of the year, according to a report filed with Congress. The Soros group disclosed spending $10.3 million in the fourth quarter.

PA Supreme Court Throws Out Congressional Map
Justices want a new map before the 2018 elections

GOP Rep. Ryan Costello’s district was named in the Pennsylvania redistricting lawsuit.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state’s congressional map violated the state constitution and a new map must be in place for the 2018 elections.

The plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, argued the current map was improperly drawn to benefit Republicans. They alleged Democrats were largely packed into five congressional districts and the remaining Democrats were spread out among the rest. Republicans currently hold 12 of the state’s 18 House seats, with one GOP seat vacant.

Scalise Back in Action After Successful Surgery
‘I’m feeling real good’

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., center, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrive for a news conference after a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise returned to the Capitol Monday after surgery and a 12-day hospital stay to cast a “yes” vote on a stopgap spending bill that will reopen the government through Feb. 8.

“I’m feeling real good,” the Louisiana Republican said of his health after what he called a “major surgery” he had 12 days ago. “It was very successful but it took a long recovery. But I’m feeling great.”

Republican Senators Look to Get Out Front on Immigration

Dreamers protest outside of the Capitol calling for passage of the Dream Act as Congress works to find a way to end the government shutdown on Sunday evening, Jan. 21, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A coalition of Senate Republicans huddled at the White House on Monday to try to persuade the administration to publicly back a new bill to address the pending expiration of a program that covers immigrants who come to the country as children, according to lawmakers and aides.

President Donald Trump met with six Senate Republicans on Monday about the next steps in the push for an immigration overhaul bill, according to a senior White House official.

Montana’s Jon Tester Breaks With 2018 Red-State Democrats
Senator was only Democrat from Trump state to oppose stopgap funding measure

Montana Sen. Jon Tester is running for a third term in a state President Donald Trump won by 20 points. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 5:10 p.m. | Montana Sen. Jon Tester was the only red-state Democrat up for re-election this year to vote against a stopgap funding measure Monday to end the three-day government shutdown. 

And his vote, along with an earlier one to oppose advancing debate on the short-term continuing resolution, is already opening him up to Republican attacks that he sided with his party’s most liberal senators, including many 2020 hopefuls. 

House Democrats Not Whipping Shutdown Vote
Despite opposition from some in minority, enough votes are likely there in chamber

The Capitol Visitor Center, usually full of tourists, sits empty on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, as negotiations to reopen the government continue. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders are not whipping the stopgap spending bill to reopen the government through Feb. 8, freeing members to vote how they wish, members and aides said Monday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier Monday she’ll be voting “no” and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., was expected to follow suit. Their opposition is not likely to change the outcome, though, barring a mass change of heart from Republicans. 

Schumer: Trump On 'Sidelines' As Shutdown-Ending Deal Forged
President has been 'managing' shutdown and calling members, spox says

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer confer after recent Senate policy lunches in the Capitol. Both have been critical of White House adviser Stephen Miller and other top Trump aides in recent days. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate’s top Democrat and White House aides on Monday offered contrasting assessments of President Donald Trump’s involvement in talks to end a government shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, while announcing his Democratic caucus would vote on a three-week stopgap agreed to by Senate GOP leaders along with a vow to hold a floor debate on the DACA program and other immigration measures in coming weeks, described Trump as uninvolved over the weekend.

Senate Breaks Shutdown Logjam and Advances Three-Week CR
Chamber votes 81-18 to end debate on short-term stopgap measure

Hill staffers and others wait in a long line to enter the Dirksen Building on Monday. Only certain doors to office buildings were open while Congress worked to end the government shutdown. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Monday cleared a key procedural hurdle to advance a three-week stopgap funding measure, signaling a likely end to the three-day government shutdown.

The chamber voted 81-18 to end debate on the short-term continuing resolution.

Life on the Hill Was a Bit Complicated Monday Morning: Photos of the Shutdown
Jan. 22 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

The Capitol Visitor Center, usually full of tourists, sits empty Monday as negotiations to reopen the government continued throughout the morning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate has reached a deal to reopen the government after a partial shutdown over the weekend turned into a full shutdown Monday morning, causing headaches for Hill staffers who had to wait in longer-than-usual lines to get to work. And any tourists who had Capitol tours slated for the morning were out of luck.

Liberal Groups Urge Democrats ‘Stand Strong’ on Shutdown
Ahead of vote to reopen the government, Democrats take heat from base

Supporters of the so-called DREAM Act protest outside the Capitol on Sunday evening as the Senate was working to find a way to end the government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A coalition of liberal groups urged Democrats to reject a proposal to reopen the government Monday, calling on them to “stand strong” and insist that a spending deal include an array of demands, rather than a promise to address issues like immigration at a later date.

Senators are scheduled to vote at noon Monday on a three-week continuing resolution that includes a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but not protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a commitment Sunday night that he would take up immigration legislation if there is no action by the end of those three weeks on Feb. 8.

Rating Change: Meehan Seat More Vulnerable for GOP
Pennsylvania Republican faces sexual misconduct allegations

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan’s swing district is even more risk of a Democratic takeover, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania is the latest lawmaker hit with allegations of sexual misconduct, putting his suburban Philadelphia seat at even more risk of a Democratic takeover.

GOP leadership removed Meehan from the House Ethics Committee within hours of the initial New York Times report that he used funds from his personal office to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former member of his staff. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

Here’s What Members Are Doing With Their Salary During Shutdown
Withholding, returning and donating, lawmakers say they’re refusing salary while government is shut down

Signs are posted outside of the Library of Congress in Washington on Sunday notifying visitors that all Library of Congress buildings will be closed to the public during the government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A government shutdown always unleashes a cascade of political histrionics, and chief among those is lawmakers “refusing” their salaries.

Scores of senators and House members sent out news releases over the weekend defiantly proclaiming what they would do with their salaries while the government remains shuttered.

White House Not Shooting Down Possible Shutdown-Ending Deal
Sanders sharply attacks Schumer after ‘Jell-O’ remark about Trump

A "Restricted Area Do Not Enter" sign is on the barricades in front of the White House fence to help deter fence jumpers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

White House officials on Monday did not signal opposition to a possible deal among senators that could lead to the end of a government shutdown that has bled into the workweek.

After negotiating all day with a bipartisan group of 20 senators, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late Sunday night announced a commitment to take up legislation related to the legal status of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Immigrants, or DACA, program as well as border security after the expiry of the next stopgap spending bill (assuming there’s not another shutdown). That came as he pushed back from 1 a.m. to noon Monday a vote on a three-week government funding bill.