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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Exclusive: Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims
Email undermines veracity of president’s statement about Gold Star contacts

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly waits to speak as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduces him during a White House briefing October 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In the hours after President Donald Trump said on an Oct. 17 radio broadcast that he had contacted nearly every family that had lost a military servicemember this year, the White House was hustling to learn from the Pentagon the identities and contact information for those families, according to an internal Defense Department email.

The email exchange, which has not been previously reported, shows that senior White House aides were aware on the day the president made the statement that it was not accurate — but that they should try to make it accurate as soon as possible, given the gathering controversy.

White House Shifts Stance on Kelly Criticism of Wilson
Press secretary: 'Many people' heard 2015 remarks not captured on video

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., admires the high school projects hanging in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel. She is locked in a feud with President Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that she says has turned  “personal.“  (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House shifted its stance again Friday in its latest feud, this one with a Florida Democratic congresswoman stemming from her criticism of President Donald Trump’s words to a military widow.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday sharply criticized Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, who says she overheard a Tuesday call from Trump to the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. Wilson and Johnson family members contend Trump said the late soldier “knew what he signed up for.”

White House Considering Bipartisan Drug Price Task Force 
Announcement could come as early as next week as part of an executive action on opioids 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member, and Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., greet witnesses during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "The Cost of Prescription Drugs: How the Drug Delivery System Affects What Patients Pay, Part II," on October 17, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump is considering launching a bipartisan task force to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs, sources with knowledge of the discussion say.

The announcement could come as early as next week, but the sources caution that discussions remain in the early stages and are still fluid. They say it could be part of an expected announcement on the opioid crisis that Trump hinted at earlier this week.  

Paul Perry Drops Out of Primary in Pennsylvania Race
Perry had garnered attention with a campaign video

Perry had been running in Pennsylvania's 7th District. (D.A. Banks/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrat Paul Perry is dropping out of the crowded primary against Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Pat Meehan, even after garnering attention for a campaign video highlighting his personal story. 

Perry had a background in education and worked for a nonprofit supporting children of LGBT parents. Perry was raised by gay fathers, both veterans (in his campaign video, Perry joked, “I had gay parents before it was cool”).

Photos of the Week: Senate Grills Sessions and Adopts Budget
The week of Oct. 16 as captured by Roll Call's photographers

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes a selfie on Tuesday outside of Dirksen Building along Constitution Avenue NE. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate was the only congressional chamber in session this week as the House recessed for members to spend time in their districts. On the list of what the Senate tackled this week — a hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the adoption of a budget resolution that's another step in the path toward a tax overhaul.

Uninsured Up 3.5 Million Amid Health Care Uncertainty, Survey Finds
After reaching record low in 2016, uninsured rate has steadily crept up as 2010 health law’s future remains uncertain

President Donald Trump announced last week his administration is ending cost-sharing reduction payments that help insurance companies pay part of lower- and middle-income people's coverage costs. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Roughly 3.5 million more Americans are uninsured compared to the last quarter of 2016, a new survey found.

An ongoing Gallup-Sharecare survey that has asked at least 500 randomly sampled people each day since 2008 whether they have insurance shared its 2017 third-quarter results Friday.

Ryan Takes Jabs at Trump at New York Fundraiser
House speaker does not spare Schumer, Weiner or Bannon in his standup delivery

President Donald Trump greets Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after addressing a joint session of Congress in the Capitol's House Chamber in February. On Thursday, Ryan had a little fun at the president’s expense. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan jumped at the opportunity Thursday to poke a little fun at President Donald Trump’s expense.

The Wisconsin Republican delivered a series of jokes, many aimed at the president’s tweeting habits, ego, and former chief political strategist Steve Bannon at a formal charity dinner in New York.

Graham Pitches Minimum Wage Hike as Part of Tax Overhaul Effort
Suggests raising the wage to $10.10 with business tax cuts

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,wants to cut taxes and raise the minimum wage. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One Republican senator has an unusual idea for ensuring that the effort to overhaul the tax code benefits among the poorest working Americans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham plans to propose tying an increase in the federal minimum wage to the tax overhaul package.

Tax Bill Will Include 4th Tax Bracket on High-Income Earners, Ryan Says
Republicans’ tax framework had left the possibility open, but speaker suggests decision is to add one

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the tax overhaul bill  will include a fourth income tax bracket for high-income earners. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Friday that an upcoming tax overhaul bill will include a fourth income tax bracket for high-income earners, but he declined to reveal what the tax rate for that bracket will be. 

“The fourth bracket that the president and others are talking about that we’re going to do, we’re working on those numbers,” the Wisconsin Republican said on “CBS This Morning.” He added later in the interview that numbers “are going to be finalized in a matter of days.”

Johnson Backs Away From Sexual Harassment Remarks
Texas congresswoman said she remembered when ‘it was as much the woman’s responsibility as the man’s’

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, walked back her comments about sexual assault. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson walked back comments she made about women sharing responsibility in sexual harassment and assault.

The Texas Democrat’s remarks were initially in response to allegations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulting numerous women.

Wilson on Kelly Criticism: ‘He Can't Lie on Me’
Florida Democrat says she has received threatening calls from white nationalists

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., stood by her criticism of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson said Friday that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly lied Thursday about her involvement in funding for an FBI building in her district.

“He can’t just go on TV and lie on me,” Wilson told CNN Friday morning.

Trump Predicts Paul Will Vote for Tax Cut Bill
Senator and president trade tweets, with Paul endorsing 'boldest' cuts possible

President Trump says Sen. Rand Paul will vote for the coming tax overhaul bill despite being the only Republican who voted against a GOP budget resolution on Thursday night . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated at 8:42 a.m. | While celebrating Senate passage of a fiscal 2018 budget resolution, President Donald Trump on Friday predicted the GOP holdout on that bill will vote for a follow-on tax measure.

The Senate on Thursday night adopted a budget measure altered as the final vote approached to allow House Republicans to adopt it and avoid a conference committee. The move is an attempt to get a final package of tax cuts and code changes to Trump’s desk faster.

Don’t Hike Deficits With Tax Package, Ads Warn GOP Senators
Collins, Corker among lawmakers targeted

A new group launched ads this week urging Republicans in 20 states, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, not to raise deficits as they seek to revise the tax code. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold are bankrolling a new lobbying effort aimed at leading lawmakers away from the temptation of a tax overhaul that would increase deficits. 

Citizens for Responsible Tax Reform launched print advertisements targeting Republicans in 20 states Thursday, including Kentucky, the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul. The group plans additional television and online ad buys as Congress and the White House debate an overhaul of the nation’s tax code, spokesman Blake Gober said.

Contentious N.C. Judicial Nominee Advances to Senate Floor
Eastern District of North Carolina seat has been open for 12 years

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of Thomas Farr to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. (Screenshot C-SPAN)

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a controversial nominee to fill the longest vacancy in the federal court system as well as a top Justice Department official.

The committee voted 11-9 along party lines to advance Thomas Farr to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The spot has been open for 12 years and has long been caught up in the politics of the state and U.S. Senate. Since judicial nominees can’t be filibustered, Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Farr’s lifetime appointment without help from Republicans.

Senate Adopts Budget With House-Backed Changes
Late amendment expected to help speed up consideration of a tax overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives for lunch with Senate Republicans in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate adopted a fiscal 2018 budget resolution Thursday night that was amended at the 11th hour with the aim of making it acceptable enough to House Republicans to avoid a conference committee and speed the consideration of a tax overhaul.

The budget was adopted 51-49.