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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Republicans Look to Make Up Loss of House Women
Nearly a quarter of women in GOP conference aren’t seeking re-election

South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem isn’t seeking re-election, but the state’s secretary of state, a woman, is running for her seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nearly a fourth of the Republican women in the House aren’t coming back next term.

And another handful could lose competitive re-elections next fall.

Trump Fatigue? GOP Senators to Hear Directly From President, Again
Former aide: 'No such thing as too much coordination' between Hill, president

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — flanked from left by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Barrasso, R-Wyo.,  John Thune, R-S. D., Bill Cassidy, R-La., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. —  and the rest of the GOP conference will hear directly from President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Republicans hear from President Donald Trump frequently — on the phone, on the golf course and on Twitter. They will hear from him in person Tuesday when he joins them for lunch at the Capitol.

Perhaps more than recent past presidents, the 45th chief executive lets members know just how he feels about both policy and politics. And frequently, Trump’s public displays of honesty can throw confusion into members’ attempts to reach consensus on legislation that requires his signature.

Opinion: Avoiding Another ‘Brownbackistan’
Tax cuts in Kansas led to an economic train wreck

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts are a cautionary tale for Washington lawmakers who are hitting the gas to get a tax reform package completed by the end of the year without paying much attention to details, Patricia Murphy writes. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

“Economic gold rush? Or fiscal wreck?” That was the question the Kansas City Star asked on May 23, 2012, the day after Gov. Sam Brownback signed a sweeping series of state tax cuts into law. Five years later, the Kansas tax cuts are looking a lot more train wreck than gold rush, with a $900 million deficit and Brownback’s fellow Republicans stepping in to reverse the cuts he pushed.

Kansas also offers an awfully timely cautionary tale for Washington lawmakers, who are hitting the gas on getting a tax reform package — any tax reform package — done by the end of the year in order to chalk at least one win on the board for 2017, but who don’t seem to be sweating the details just yet.

Gold Star Families Getting Rushed Condolence Letters
The White House tried to quickly make the president’s overstatement accurate

Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, during his burial service in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A substantial number of families who have lost military servicemembers during the Trump presidency had not been contacted as of this weekend by President Donald Trump, despite his claim to the contrary several days earlier, according to news accounts.

And some of the families that the White House did contact were reached only in recent days by apparently rushed condolence letters that were sent in some cases months after the families lost their loved ones, the reports said.

Lobbyists Get Boost From Fiscal, Defense, Immigration Fights
Third quarter disclosures show business is still booming

Health care, taxes, immigration and defense are among the top drivers of policy work for lobbying groups, according to recently released third quarter disclosures. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Stalemate in Congress over mega-ticket agenda items, such as a replacement for the Obama-era health care law, hasn’t upended K Street business this year.

The once-raging health care debate has yet to produce an enacted law as a replacement. But it has fueled business along the lobbying corridor, just as a tax overhaul is taking the spotlight in the final quarter of the year. Republicans in Congress may unveil their tax bill as early as next week.

Garrett’s Jabs at Export-Import Bank May Stop His Bid to Lead It
The former N.J. congressman once voted against reauthorizing the bank

Former New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, center — shown here at a 2015 House Financial Services hearing — has been nominated to head the Export-Import Bank, an organization he once said “embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett faces an unusual combination of Democrats and business groups opposing his nomination to lead the Export-Import Bank as the Senate hearing on his confirmation approaches.

Garrett, who lost his bid for re-election in 2016, is part of the wing of the Republican Party that sees the Ex-Im Bank’s loan, insurance and guarantee programs as corporate welfare that mainly benefits large companies. He was a founding member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus. 

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Rep. Jim Jordan: House GOP Tax Bill Expected to Be Released Next Week
Former Freedom Caucus chairman says caucus members support accelerated timetable

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, here walking down the House steps in the rain earlier this month, said a House GOP tax bill is expected to be released next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A House Republican tax bill is expected to be released next week, marked up the following week and brought to the floor the week after that, Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan said Monday night.

The former Freedom Caucus chairman said he and other members of the hard-line conservative caucus will support the Senate budget resolution that the House is expected to vote on Thursday, thanks to assurances that the tax bill will move under that accelerated timetable.

Senate Rules Chairman Is Cool to Campaign Ad Bill
‘A lot of that is being investigated,’ Sen. Richard C. Shelby says

Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby is not yet ready to back the bipartisan legislation on online campaign ads. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Richard C. Shelby gave a cool reception Thursday to a bipartisan draft bill disclosed the same day that would require large online platforms to collect and disclose data about the buyers of political advertising.

“We will look at everything; right now, a lot of that is being investigated,” the Alabama Republican said about a proposal from Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Asked whether he would be open to backing the bill in the future or other legislation to deal with the issue, Shelby said, “Not yet.”

Trump Told the Senate About Niger Actions in June
Is Congress reading what they’re sent?

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is among the lawmakers who were not familiar with U.S. action in Niger. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As senators say they didn’t know about the presence of U.S. troops (or the number of them) in Niger, some are calling for a review of how Congress gets notified of such actions.

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is among the lawmakers who in recent days have said on television they were unaware of the activity in Niger, despite a formal letter about U.S. forces in the region that went to Capitol Hill months ago.

Congress Should Revise Base Closure Rules, Report Recommends
Heritage Foundation says lawmakers should authorize a new round

Congress should revise its rules on base closures, a new report from the Heritage Foundation recommends. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Congress should revise the rules guiding base realignment and closure and authorize a new round, a new paper from a conservative think tank recommended.

Done properly, a round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC, is a good example of federal efficiency, wrote Frederico Bartels, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

McSally Outraises All Her Democratic Opponents Combined
The two-term Arizona rep raked in nearly $1 million in the third filing quarter

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., raised nearly $1 million in campaign donations from July through September. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Martha McSally’s campaign team may need to find a bigger piggy bank after registering a blistering fundraising quarter.

The two-term Republican raised nearly $1 million from July through September for her re-election campaign in Arizona’s 2nd District. That’s more cash than her five Democratic opponents managed to raise combined.

Gold Star Widow Confirms Wilson’s Account of Phone Call With Trump
Myeshia Johnson says Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of the call is ‘100 percent correct’

Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson attends the burial service for U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In her first public appearance since her husband’s death, Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson confirmed Rep. Frederica Wilson’s assertions last week about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Johnson.

[Exclusive: Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims]

Trump Breaks With GOP Over 401(k) Changes in Tax Bill
President to Twitter followers: ‘NO change to your 401(k)’

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing from the White House last month. On Monday, he put down a marker on tax reform, and again broke with his fellow Republicans. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump further complicated Republicans’ quest to find agreement on a package of tax rate cuts and code changes, breaking with his party by tweeting Monday that he wants the 401(k) system left unchanged.

The popular retirement program allows employees to save a slice of their paychecks before taxes are withdrawn; taxes are eventually paid, but not for years until the money is withdrawn, typically after that employee has reached retirement age.

Female Democratic Senators Share Harassment Stories
Part of the #MeToo campaign incited by Harvey Weinstein scandal

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was one of four senators who spoke about her experiences being sexually harassed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Four female Democratic senators described their experiences being sexually harassed as part of the #MeToo campaign to highlight how common it is for women.

Democrats Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii all spoke to “Meet the Press” about their experiences.