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New Rule Gives Federal Contractors More Leeway on Religious-Based Hiring

Religious-based organizations and companies that contract with the federal government may soon be able to make more business decisions based on their religious beliefs. The Trump Administration has proposed a new rule that would relax federal restrictions on whom these organizations can hire and fire.

 

Under the rule, company owners with sincere religious beliefs would be allowed to make hiring decisions consistent with those beliefs and still be federal contractors. The practical effect would be that some federal contractors could refuse to hire people of certain religions or sexual orientations. This rule reverses previous policy that required federal contractors to disregard religious views in hiring or firing when it came to certain people.

 

Critics say that the rule will allow companies to discriminate against gays, lesbian, and transgender individuals using taxpayer dollars. They contend this is a way for President Trump to repay religious supporters who have an anti-gay bias. Supporters counter that this rule will widen the field for federal contracting by allowing contractors to serve the public without violating their religious beliefs.

 

The Department of Labor has announced this as a proposed rule. This means that the public can comment on it for the next two months, then the rule will be finalized. Once that happens, it is certain to face legal challenges.

 

Do you think that the federal government should allow contractors to make hiring decisions that are informed by the contractor’s religious beliefs?

Tennessee Considering Abortion Ban

In a move sure to spark a court challenge, Tennessee legislators are considering passing a bill that would amount to a ban on abortion in the state.

 

Under the proposed bill, abortions would be banned at the moment a viable pregnancy is presume to exist or has been confirmed to exist. This means that as soon as a pregnancy can be detected by a test, usually within a couple weeks of conception, no abortion could be performed. This ban goes further than bans in other states that prohibit abortions when the fetus develops a heartbeat.

 

A similar bill was considered but not passed earlier this year in Tennessee. While Republicans control the legislature, not all of them support an abortion ban bill that goes this far. The lieutenant governor also opposes it.

 

Critics of the bill say that it goes much further to ban abortion that the Supreme Court allows. The high court’s decisions permit abortion bans when a fetus is viable outside of the womb. This bill bans abortion far earlier than this standard. Supporters recognize that passage of such a bill will involve court challenges, but say this would be a vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the court does this, it would end the national legalization of abortion and allow states to set their own rules for the procedure.

 

Legislators considered the bill during a special “study session” of the legislature. No bill can be passed during such a session, but this step does ready a bill for consideration when the regular session of the legislature occurs in January.

 

Do you think that states should be able to ban abortion?

Mayor Pushes for Mandatory Gun Insurance

While Democrats and Republican politicians debate whether to enact new gun laws on a national level, one local elected official wants to act. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is proposing a mandate that gun owners must carry liability insurance, a move he says will help the city deal with the cost associated with gun violence.

 

Under Mayor Liccardo’s plan, gun owners would be forced to carry insurance that would cover the accidental discharge of their firearm or the intentional acts of someone who steals that person’s firearm. He has also proposed a new tax on guns and ammunition to fund gun safety courses.

 

Liccardo has acknowledged that it would not stop gun violence, but he says it would relieve taxpayers of some of the cost of dealing with the results of gun violence. This proposal comes in the wake of a shooting at the Gilroy garlic festival.

 

Gun owners argue that this is simply another burden on law-abiding gun owners. They point out that criminals are unlikely to carry this mandatory insurance, so it will have little effect. Groups representing gun owners have vowed to fight the idea in court.

 

This insurance mandate would be the first in the nation if approved by the city council.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that gun owners carry liability insurance?

Trump Rule Targets Immigrants Receiving Public Assistance

If you are an immigrant who is a recipient of a government assistance program, you may find it more difficult to become a permanent resident or a citizen under a new rule announced by the Trump Administration.

 

Current law allows the federal government to deny permanent residency or citizenship to immigrants who are public charges or likely to become public charges. Under the Trump Administration, proposal, the term “public charge” is broadened to include anyone who uses benefit programs like Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance. Under current regulations, a public charge is defined as someone who is primarily dependent on the government programs. Immigrants who are in the U.S. for five years can apply for most government assistance programs under federal law.

 

Critics see this is a way to rewrite immigration law to prioritize high-skilled immigrants over migrants from areas like Central America. They say that this will prevent immigrants who need government assistance from applying for it. Supporters counter that immigration law should encourage immigrants who will contribute to the U.S., not be dependent on taxpayers for support. They say that the law already prohibits permanent residency for immigrants who would drain government resources, and that this rule merely clarifies that standard.

 

The new regulation will go into effect in two months barring any court challenges. Immigrant rights groups are vowing to file lawsuits to stop it, however.

 

Should immigrants to receive government assistance be denied permanent residency in the U.S.?

Sanders Backs Pot Legalization via Executive Order

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has long backed legalizing marijuana. Now, during his second campaign for the presidency, he is saying that he could get this done through executive order.

 

Running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Sanders facing a crowded field of rivals. Many of these contenders support legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, but Sen. Sanders is the only one saying this does not need to occur through legislation. Instead, in a recent interview he said that he thinks the president has power to do this unilaterally.


Currently marijuana is on the list of federal controlled drugs. It is classified the same as heroin and other hard drugs, a situation that Sen. Sanders says is absurd. He is proposing that the president could act to take the drug off this list and remove federal penalties for possession and use. State laws regarding marijuana would be unaffected by such a move, however.

 

Other candidates running for the Democratic nomination also support reclassifying marijuana on the federal controlled substances list. Some have also introduced legislation that would relax federal prohibitions in states that have laws allowing recreational or medicinal use of marijuana. President Trump has also signaled support for a legal approach that allows states more leeway on marijuana policy, but he has not championed legislation to accomplish this.

 

Do you think that the federal government should end its blanket prohibition of marijuana use and possession? Should the president change federal marijuana policy by executive order?

Trump Considering Backing Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

In the wake of three recent mass shootings, there are increased calls for new gun control measures. President Trump has signaled his support for universal background checks, something that has put him at odds with some in the Republican Party.

 

Currently, federal law requires that any gun sales from federally-licensed firearms dealers must first go through a background check. Sales between private individuals do not have to complete a background check under federal law, although some states require this. President Trump is considering supporting legislation that would expand this mandate nationally.

 

Supporters of such a requirement say that it is necessary to close a "loophole" that allows people who are prohibited from owning firearms from buying them. They say that this will help stop dangerous people from owning guns. Opponents point out that the vast majority of gun sales already go through background checks, and this would only burden individuals who are looking to sell a gun from their private collection or pass along guns to family members.

 

While President Trump has signaled he supports legislation to require universal background checks, many in the Republican Party do not. The National Rifle Association has also come out against such a mandate. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have introduced a bill that would put this requirement into law, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to schedule it for a Senate vote. It remains to be seen if President Trump will try to persuade Republicans to back this bill and expand the federal background check requirement.

 

Do you think that all gun sales, including private sales between individuals, should go through the federal background check system?

 

Deep Dive: The Debt Limit

President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have reached a deal on a two-year budget proposal that increases spending and suspends the federal debt limit for two years. Within the past decade, there have been bitter political fights over raising the debt limit. Now, however, there is bipartisan agreement to suspend it altogether.

 

What Is the Debt Limit?

 

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” Using this authority, Congress sets a limit on how much the federal government can borrow. This is called the “debt limit.”

 

Federal spending includes both discretionary spending through the appropriations process and spending that has been authorized by law to happen automatically through federal entitlement programs. If this federal spending exceeds federal revenue, then there is a deficit and the government must borrow money to finance this spending. The debt limit sets a cap on how much borrowing can occur. That number is whatever the members of the House of Representatives and the President agree it will be.

 

The debt limit covers several different types of government debt issuance:

  • Debt to finance budget deficits
  • Debt to pay for intergovernmental borrowing
  • Debt incurred by federal lending, such as student loans

 

When federal borrowing is approaching the debt limit, Congress has four options:

  • Vote to raise the debt limit
  • Keep the current debt limit in place and not allow future borrowing
  • Keep the current debt limit in place but take steps to postpone the limit from being breached
  • Vote to suspend or eliminate the debt limit

 

Under “extraordinary circumstances,” the Treasury Secretary can suspend the debt limit. This occurred in March when Secretary Steven Mnuchin suspended the debt limit to allow time for the president and Congress to negotiate a new one.

 

Controversy Surrounding Raising the Debt Limit

 

Congressional action to increase the debt limit was relatively uncontroversial until 2011. In that year, congressional Republicans refused to increase the debt limit without budget concessions from President Obama. Two days before the debt limit would expire, the president and Congress agreed to a package of items designed to control future spending in return for a debt limit increase.

 

In 2013, there was another fight between Congress and the president over the debt limit. Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in return for an increase in the debt limit. This issue became tied up with the yearly government funding legislation, and a resolution occurred that raised the debt limit and ended a government shutdown.

 

Both of these disputes over the debt limit increase caused significant alarm in some quarters. Observers pointed out that that annual spending bills and entitlement programs had authorized spending that, in the absence of enough revenue, must be paid for by borrowing. Failing to raise the debt limit would impair the federal government’s ability to borrow money to engage in the activities that members of Congress and the president had already agreed to do. This could lead to the U.S. being in default, or in lenders penalizing the federal government with less favorable terms for borrowing.

 

The Future of the Debt Limit

 

Under the current deal reached by the president and congressional leaders, there would be a two-year suspension of the debt limit. This follows a one-year suspension of the debt limit that expired earlier this year. A suspension does not raise the debt limit by a set amount; instead, it allows the limit to lapse for a defined period of time, after which the debt limit is re-imposed at a level that takes into account the borrowing that occurred in the interim.

 

While there was controversy over raising the debt limit earlier in the decade, this may signal that there is little political will to have such a fight in the future. For two years, at least, there will be no disputes between Congress and the president over the debt limit, which pushes the issue past the 2020 election.

 

What Does This Mean for You?

 

According to some observers, past fights over the debt limit have led to volatile financial markets and reduced economic growth. If these analysts are correct, this means that removing further uncertainty about the debt limit will remove a barrier to economic growth. However, not all experts agree that the economy suffers due to disagreements about the debt limit.

 

However, members of Congress used agreeing to the 2011 debt limit increase as a way to enact a measure of budget discipline. Since the debt limit increase is seen as one of the few “must pass” pieces of legislation, using it as leverage is a way to force votes on other issues. For individuals concerned about budget deficits and federal spending, a two-year deal on the debt limit means one less method to enforce a measure of fiscal discipline.

Biden Wants Buyback, Ban of Assault Weapons

Former Vice President Joe Biden has unveiled his proposal to deal with mass shootings. He said that he wants to reinstitute the federal ban on assault weapons and couple that with a buyback program for these guns.

 

Biden announced his proposals in the wake of three recent mass shootings. He joins his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in pursuing stricter controls on who can own guns and what types of guns can be sold.

 

Assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms that have cosmetic features resembling military rifles. They have been used by many of the individuals who have committed mass shootings in recent years. From 1994-2004, there was a federal ban on their sale, though not the possession of them. This ban expired and Congress did not move to reauthorize it.

 

Under Biden’s plan, that ban would once again be put in place. In addition, the federal government would buy assault weapons that are currently legal to own. He did not commit to confiscating these guns, but that is what some activists are pushing to do.

 

Biden justified his plan on the grounds that it would improve public safety. He noted that the government already restricts some types of weapons from the public, so it could do so with these weapons that he considers especially dangerous. Critics of targeting assault rifles point out that they differ only cosmetically from other firearms. They also note that studies have shown that the previous assault weapons ban had little to no effect on crime.

 

Any such ban and buyback program would not only need the president’s signature, but also must pass Congress.

 

Do you think that assault weapons should be banned? Should the federal government institute a buyback program for these types of guns?

Recent Shootings Prompt Calls for Gun Control

After three recent mass shootings, Democrats are renewing their calls for more federal gun control laws. However, congressional Republicans and President Trump are pushing back, saying instead that the focus should be on mental illness.

 

Dozens were killed and wounded by shooters in California, Texas, and Ohio in recent days. This has led some to say that such shootings could be prevented with stronger laws restricting the sales of guns and what types of guns can be possessed. Among the measures being proposed is a ban on so-called “assault rifles” and expanded background checks. Some state lawmakers are also supporting “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to seize guns from individuals suspected of posing an immediate threat.

 

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would mandate that private sales and transfers of guns go through background checks. Currently anyone who has a federal firearms license must conduct a background check, but private sales between individuals do not require such checks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not scheduled this bill for a vote in the Senate, and is unlikely to do so.

 

Supporters of these gun control measures say that they are necessary to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who commit mass shootings. Opponents argue that these measures will only hurt law-abiding gun owners. They point out that the vast majority of gun owners do not commit crimes, so the focus should be on the small number of individuals who misuse them. President Trump tweeted his support for looking at mental health issues after these shootings.

 

Do you think that there should be stronger gun control laws? Or is the problem related to mental health, not guns?

House Passes Bill to Prop Up Insolvent Pension Funds

Many union-managed pension funds are in big financial trouble. Under a bill approved by the House of Representatives, these funds may be headed for a federal bailout.

 

By a vote of 264-169, the House passed H.R. 397 on July 24. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To authorize government "loans" that would be "forgivable" to massively underfunded and insolvent multi-employer pension funds, which are usually managed by labor unions.

 

This bill affects pension funds that are sponsored by multiple employers but managed by unions. Numerous plans do not have enough funding to pay full benefits in the years to come. Supporters say that the bill is necessary to ensure that people who were promised pension benefits actually receive them. They argue that without this bill, people would be left without the retirement funds they were promised.

 

Opponents counter that this bill is special interest legislation that benefits the unions who have mismanaged these pension funds. They say that taxpayers will be bearing the burden of propping up the funds and paying for the mistakes of union officials.

 

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to schedule it for floor action.

 

Do you think that the federal government should provide forgivable loans to union-sponsored pension plans to keep them from going insolvent?

Biden Opposes Decriminalizing Unauthorized Border Crossings

Immigration has already been a big issue during the 2020 presidential race, and it will continue to feature prominently in the campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden is seeking to distinguish himself from the field of Democratic candidates by coming out in opposition to decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing.

 

Biden made his stance on this issue known during last night’s CNN Democratic debate. He said that he opposed changing the law that makes it a misdemeanor to cross the U.S. border without authorization. He was responding to the stance of some Democratic candidates who had said that having such a law on the books has led to family separation at the U.S.-Mexican border.

 

Other Democrats on the stage attacked Biden’s immigration stance, saying that he shares blame for the Obama Administration’s large number of deportations. Biden said that he does not support returning to the deportation policy of those years.

 

With President Trump’s actions to restrict immigration and impose more border control, the Democratic candidates running for president are seeking to outline how they would differ from the president on these issues. Biden is staking out a less liberal plan than some in the party, although his ideas are far more liberal than those of President Trump.

 

Do you think that it should be a crime to cross the border without authorization? Or should it be a civil citation that does not require detention?

California Mandates Release of Presidential Candidate Tax Returns

When he ran for president, Donald Trump broke with decades of tradition when he refused to release his tax returns. Under a new California law, he will be unable to appear on the 2020 primary election ballot in that state unless he does so.

 

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill yesterday that requires anyone whose name appears on the California primary ballot to submit five years of tax returns to the state. Those returns will then be posted online. The state’s previous governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill when he was in office.

 

New York’s law to require that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns to the state legislature is tied up in court. No other state has such a requirement. When he vetoed the previous California bill, then-Gov. Brown said that he was concerned about its constitutionality. Many observers think mandating the disclosure of presidential tax returns places an additional requirement for president, which the Constitution does not allow.

 

From Richard Nixon onward, presidential candidates have released their tax returns to the public. Supporters of this practice say that it gives voters information to see if there are any conflicts of interest. President Trump was the first candidate not to do this in recent times, citing a variety of concerns.

 

Candidates wishing to compete in California’s primary election have until November to submit their tax returns. There will likely be a legal challenge to the law, however, which will almost certainly mean that it will not be in effect for next year’s election.

 

Should states mandate that presidential candidates release their tax returns? Or does this requirement violate the Constitution?

Senator Targets “Addictive” Social Media

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) thinks that social media companies addict users, and he wants the federal government to do something about it.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Hawley, social media companies would be banned from offering more content than a user requested in ways that try to keep the user engaged with the platform. This would end things such as YouTube’s autoplay feature and Facebook’s infinite scroll.

 

According to Sen. Hawley, these are features designed to addict people and psychologically trick them to use social media more than they want. He says it is proper for government to step in to protect people from these predatory practices. Opponents of this legislation say that companies should be free to innovate, and that the federal government would stifle such innovation with laws like Hawley’s.

 

This legislation comes in the midst of attacks on technology companies from both liberals and conservatives. Criticisms range from charges of censorship of conservative ideas to exploitation of users. Sen. Hawley has introduced other legislation targeting technology companies in response to these charges.

 

The enforcement of this legislation would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. They could sue technology companies that continue to use what Hawley terms as “addictive” features.

 

Do social media companies design their products to “addict” users? Do you think that the federal government should ban features that regulators deem to be “addictive”?

Washington State Fracking Ban Takes Effect

On Sunday, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, became illegal in Washington State.

 

Supporters of the ban say it’s a victory for the environment. Opponents say that it’s a meaningless gesture that betrays a lack of knowledge about how fracking works.

 

During the past fifteen years, the use of hydraulic fracturing to access oil and natural gas has skyrocketed. This technique involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals far into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas or oil. It is largely responsible for the increased production of these energy sources in the U.S.

 

The technique has its critics, however. Some say that it pollutes groundwater and also diverts water from other sources. Others argue that by making it cheaper to access oil and natural gas, fracking is contributing to climate change.

 

Fracking has its supporters, however. They argue that fracking has reduce the price of natural gas, which has allowed gas to displace coal for energy production. That, they point out, has reduced U.S. carbon emissions. These supporters also point to studies that show that fracking does not pollute water sources.

 

This debate was largely symbolic in Washington, however. That state does not have a large oil and natural gas industry, and fracking was not used there. With the passage of the fracking ban, this process cannot be used in the future, either.

 

Do you think that fracking should be banned?

Senate Continuing to Focus on Confirming Trump Nominees

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made no secret that he wants to see the Senate confirm as many of President Trump’s nominees as possible. This has become a top priority for the upper chamber, with far more votes occurring on nominations than on legislation.

 

Many of the nominees being confirmed are federal judges. When Democrats controlled the Senate, they had eliminated the filibuster for some judges; under Sen. McConnell’s leadership, the Senate ended the filibuster entirely for judges and other nominees. The majority leader also reduced the time necessary to consider nominees.

 

The result has been numerous nominee votes during 2019. In recent weeks, these have included some confirmation votes that were broadly bipartisan. The Senate confirmed General Mark Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a vote of 89-1 and Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 90-8.

 

Some confirmation votes split the Democratic caucus, with a sizable number of Democrats supporting President Trump’s nominee. These include Donald Tapia’s nomination to be ambassador to Jamaica (confirmed 66-26), Thomas Barber’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Middle District of Florida (confirmed 77-19), and Rodney Smith’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida (confirmed 78-18).

 

Most confirmation votes fall largely on partisan lines, however. The Senate confirmed Brian Buescher as federal judge for the District of Nebraska by a vote of 51-40, Wendy Williams Berger as federal judge for the Southern District of Florida by a vote of 54-37, Stephen Dickson to be Federal Aviation Administration Administrator by a vote of 52-40, and Daniel Bess to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 53-45.

 

These votes fall in line with the pattern of other confirmations during the Trump Administration. A few nominations receive widespread bipartisan support, but most only attract a handful of Democratic votes. Supporters of the president say that this is an example of Democratic obstructionism, in which they will do anything to stymie the president. Critics of the president counter that he is nominating radical or unqualified people for these posts, and senators are only doing their duty in opposing them.

 

Do you think that President Trump’s nominees should receive wider bipartisan support? Or are Democratic senators right in opposing many of them?

Federal Government to Resume Executions

After a hiatus of 16 years, the federal government is set to resume executing prisoners on death row.

 

Attorney General Bill Barr announced this week that the Bureau of Prisons had set dates for the execution of five men who had exhausted their appeals. These executions will take place in December and January.

 

Supporters of the death penalty argue that some crimes deserve the most severe punishment. The five prisoners who are scheduled to be executed by the federal government each committed multiple murders and other serious crimes.

 

Opponents of the death penalty point to the growing number of people who have been exonerated. They also note that there is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime. States have increasingly been repealing the death penalty or scaling back its use.

 

The last time that the federal government executed someone was 2003. The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, and has only been used 3 times since that time. There are currently 62 federal prisoners on death row.

 

Since these men have used all the appeals available to them in federal court, it appears there is no further impediment to their executions proceeding.

 

Do you support resuming executions for federal prisoners on death row?

House Passes Resolution Condemning Boycotts of Israel

Bipartisanship is rare in the House of Representatives these days, but it is not dead – Democrats and Republicans joined together this week to pass a resolution that condemns the efforts to boycott Israel and force companies to divest from that nation.

 

House Resolution 246 spells out some of the problems that these House members see with this boycott and divestment movement:

 

Whereas the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel is a campaign that does not favor a two-state solution and that seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination;

 

The resolution concludes by saying that the House of Representatives:

 

opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;

 

…affirms that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure;

 

… reaffirms its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states—a democratic Jewish State of Israel, and a viable, democratic Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

 

While the vote was overwhelming in favor of this resolution, it was not unanimous. The House passed it 389-17, with 5 members voting “present.” Sixteen Democrats and 1 Republican voted against it.

 

Those who supported the resolution said it was necessary to show support for Israel, a strong American ally. Opponents countered that the House of Representatives should not be interfering with peaceful movements to make political change. They said that those pushing for a boycott of Israel are exercising their First Amendment rights.

 

This is a non-binding resolution, so it will have no legal effect on the organizations and individuals who are pushing to boycott Israel.

 

Do you agree that efforts to boycott Israel should be condemned?

Trump, Pelosi Agree on Spending Increase, Debt Limit

While President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have their differences, they have found common ground in at least two areas: an increase in federal spending and a suspension of the debt limit.

 

The president and the Speaker of the House, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that they have come to a budget agreement that includes $320 billion in new spending and a two-year suspension of the debt limit.

 

Some see this as a victory for responsible government, as it averts a government shutdown this year and the possibility that the federal government would default on its debt payments. During both the Trump and Obama Administrations, there have been numerous government shutdowns due to differences over federal spending or threats of a shutdown. There have also been repeated attempts to stop the debt limit from increasing, which would end the capacity of the federal government to borrow money to cover the budget deficit. President Trump praised the new spending as a way to revive American military strength.

 

However, this deal has drawn strong criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Liberals do not like that this agreement precludes them from using the spending process to stop the Trump Administration’s actions at the border. They argue that Congress is giving up a prime way to counter the president’s moves. Conservatives, on the other hand, decry the increased spending and government borrowing that will come from this agreement. They note that the president ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and that this deal is the opposite of that.


When President Trump entered office, the budget deficit was $516 billion. It will likely top $1 trillion this year. Government debt was $19 billion when the president was sworn in; today, it is $22 trillion.

 

Congress must pass this budget deal. While party leaders in both the House and Senate support it, there will be strong opposition from some members.

 

Do you support the budget deal that President Trump and Nancy Pelosi negotiated? Do you agree that the federal government should spend an additional $320 billion? Is it a good idea to suspend the debt limit?

House to Consider Bill to Raise Immigration Detention Standards

The situation at the U.S.-Mexican border continues to be the center of attention for many elected officials. Both President Trump and Democrats in Congress are focusing on this issue, though with widely different ideas on how to solve the problems on the southern border. This week the House of Representatives will vote on one idea put forward by Democrats – increasing the standards of care for those detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

 

Some observers have criticized the CBP for detaining individuals under inhumane conditions. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) has introduced H.R. 3239, the “Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act.” This bill would require that CBP provide the following services to those in its custody:

  • A health screening
  • Emergency medical care
  • Access to drinking water and hygiene facilities
  • Adequate meals

 

The legislation also sets standards for the buildings housing detainees and forbids unaccompanied minors from being housed with adults. In addition, the bill would require that members of Congress have access to these facilities.

 

Following visits to CBP facilities, some members of Congress have decried the conditions there and have complained about their treatment by CBP staff. Some have even labeled such facilities as “concentration camps.” This charges have met pushbacks by Trump Administration officials, who say that detainees are being treated as well as possible under the circumstances of a rising tide of illegal immigration.


The House is expected to pass H.R. 3239 this week. However, it is unlikely to receive a vote in the Senate.

 

Do you think that Congress should pass legislation to mandate certain standards of care for immigration detention facilities?

 

 

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


Supporters of the “Fight for 15” achieved a victory yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

 

By a vote of 231-199, the House passed H.R. 582. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. This legislation would also end the ability of nonprofits to offer work paying below the minimum wage to people with disabilities and end the different minimum wage rates for tipped and newly-hired employees.

 

This legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over 7 years. Ever year during that time, the minimum wage would automatically go up. Then, after the seventh year, the Department of Labor would increase the minimum wage based on the increase in the median hourly wage for all employees.

 

In addition, this bill would end the ability of employers to pay lower waged to tipped workers and younger workers who are new hires. The federal program that allows some nonprofits to pay wages that are based on productivity but are below the minimum wage to people with disabilities would also end.

 

Supporters of this proposal say that workers should be paid a “living wage,” and that $15 an hour will help accomplish this. They also argue that this boost in wages will put more money into the economy, helping businesses. Opponents counter that this higher minimum wage will boost the pay of some workers, but will destroy the jobs of others. They contend that businesses will be hurt with the new burden of paying higher wages, since they will face the choice of raising prices or letting people go.

 

A recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $15 minimum wage would increase the wages of 17 million workers while eliminating the jobs of 1.3 million workers and reducing business income.

 

This legislation now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unlikely to schedule it for a vote.

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

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