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Deep Dive: Congressional Recess

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate will not be found in Washington, D.C., this week. They are on what the Senate calls a “state work period” – more commonly known as a congressional recess. These are weeks when Congress is not in session, giving members time away from Washington.

 

State or District Work Periods

 

 In the Senate, they are called “state work periods.” In the House of Representatives, they are “district work periods.” The public and media generally call them “recesses.” Whatever term is being used, they are the extended periods of time when the House and Senate are not in session. Here is a list of the work sessions remaining this year:

 

April 15 - April 26                               

May 27 - May 31              

July 1 - July 5     

August 5 - September 6               

September 30 - October 14        

November 11                   

November 25 - November 29    

December 16 - December 31

 

Many of these work periods come around holidays, both religious and national. The current recess is surrounding Easter and Passover. The August recess is mandated by law.

 

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days…” Each chamber must pass a concurrent resolution allowing the other chamber to recess for an extended period of time.

 

Congress can adjourn for shorter times, too. Often neither house meets on Fridays, for instance. This allows members to travel back to their states or districts for the weekend more easily. You can track how many days that Congress has been in this year session with this calendar.

 

What Happens During Recess

 

When the House and Senate are not in session, it does not necessarily mean that members of Congress are on “vacation.” These members are not obligated to do anything related to work during the recess, but they are usually busy. For instance, during the current recess some House committees are holding hearings in California, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio.

 

Other activities that members of Congress undertake during this time are town hall meetings, tours of facilities in local areas, overseas trips on congressional business. Their staff in Washington, D.C., usually continue working during these periods.

 

What This Means for You

 

Unless you live near Washington, D.C., congressional recesses are the best times for you to see your federal legislators. Many of them publish notices on their official websites about the events they are attending in their districts or states. Checking their calendars or looking for notices in the local media will provide an idea of what they are doing.

 

There may be a town hall meeting or other event that you could attend. Or, if you cannot find information about events that your members of Congress are attending during recess, this could indicate that they are avoiding public interaction during this time (there are media reports that some members of Congress are holding fewer town halls in recent years). The House and Senate have renamed these times “work periods” for members to return to their states or districts; however, it remains up to each member to determine how much work gets done during these periods.

High Court Takes up Census Citizenship Question

The Trump Administration wants to ask whether or not someone is a citizen during the 2020 census. New York and other states do not want the federal government to do this. The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in an attempt to determine who will prevail.

 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has ordered that the 2020 census include a question about respondents’ citizenship status. While census forms used to ask this question, they have not done so for decades. Secretary Ross justified this change as a way to help the federal government enforce the Voting Rights Act.

 

New York and other states have sued to stop this question from being included. They argue that Secretary Ross violated various federal laws in ordering the question put on census forms. They also say that this question will lead to an undercount of non-citizen residents, something that would negatively affect their states.

 

During Supreme Court arguments, some justices appeared sympathetic to the states’ arguments against the Trump Administration. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, noted that the Constitution requires the census to count residents, not citizens. She also agreed that a citizenship question would indeed lead to an undercount of these residents.

 

Other justices, however, said that the law gives the Commerce Secretary power to determine what questions are included on census forms. They also pointed out that historically the census has asked this question, so there seems to be little reason why it could not ask it again.

 

The census is set to begin soon, so this case was handled under an expedited review. Lower courts had ruled against the Trump Administration on this issue. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine if the census forms that are set to go out within months will contain this citizenship question or not.

 

Do you think that a question about citizenship status should be included in the 2020 census?

 

Pelosi Not Embracing Impeachment

In the wake of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, some House Democrats are pushing for the impeachment of President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, does not think that impeachment is the best path forward at this time.

 

The Democrats who want to begin impeachment proceedings argue that the Mueller report shows ample evidence that President Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation. They say the American people expect them to hold the president accountable, and they would be failing in this duty if they did not vote on articles of impeachment.

 

Other Democrats, such as Speaker Pelosi, are pushing back against this idea. They note that impeachment is bound to fail without Republican support. They also point out that Congress has many ways to investigate the president. They say that talk of impeachment should wait until these investigations, which could possibly turn up new evidence of wrongdoing by the president, are complete.

 

The House of Representatives is responsible for impeaching the president. This involves bringing charges against the president that could result in his removal from office. If the House passes such articles, the Senate then must vote on removal. The last time this this happened was in 1998, when the House impeached President Bill Clinton but the Senate did not vote to remove him from office.

 

Do you support impeaching President Trump and removing him from office?

Warren Proposes Wiping out Student Debt with Wealth Tax

Senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to separate herself from a crowded field of Democratic candidates for president. Today she announced a plan that pairs two ideas that cause excitement for progressive activists: canceling student loan debt and a tax on wealthier Americans.

 

Under Sen. Warren’s plan, she would take revenue from her proposed annual tax on those who have more than $50 million in wealth and cancel student loans for millions of Americans. She calls for forgiveness of up to $50,000 of debt for people in households with an income under $100,000, and a partial cancelation of debt for those in households with incomes up to $250,000.

 

In addition, Sen. Warren has also proposed other reforms that she said would make college more affordable. These include elimination of tuition and fees at two-year and four-year institutions, expanding what federal Pell Grants can pay for, increase aid to historically black colleges and universities, and ban colleges from considering an applicant’s criminal history or citizenship status.

 

Supporter of Sen. Warren’s plan argue that student loan debt is overwhelming for many people. They say that this debt harms the economy by limiting the decisions that graduates can make. Opponents counter that those with debt should have the skills necessary to repay the debt, so taxpayers should not shoulder the burden. They also note that canceling this debt would disproportionately benefit the middle class and wealthier Americans.

 

Do you support canceling student loan debt? Should the government forbid colleges and universities from charging tuition?

Buttigieg Touts National Service Plan

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is getting a lot of interest from the media and public in his long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now he’s floating an idea that others have proposed, but which has never been enacted – a national service program for young Americans.

 

Buttigieg discussed the idea recently with MSNBC television host Rachel Maddow. He did not get into specifics on how the program would work, but the general idea he suggested was a program for young adults to serve their nation. This could either be through military or civilian service.

 

Touting what he saw as the military draft’s positive effects in past generations, Buttigieg said that a national service program could help bring Americans together. He said that people of differing races and backgrounds could work side-by-side, bringing more social cohesion to the nation. He declined to say whether this would be a mandatory program, but did say that it would be a theme of his campaign.

 

Opponents of this idea say that the government should not coerce people into national service. They point out the many problems caused by the draft, including the ability of people with connections to avoid it.

 

It remains to be seen what exactly Buttigieg will proposes for his national service plan, and whether other Democratic candidates will back it.

 

Should young Americans be required to serve in the military or a civilian national service program? Should the military draft be re-instituted? Do you think the nation was more united when the military draft was in effect?

Trump Vetoes Yemen War Resolution

A bloody civil war is raging in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia backing one side and Iran the other. The U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia in this conflict, and will continue to do so thanks to a veto issued by President Trump on Tuesday.

 

The House and Senate both passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, which directs the president to stop U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni civil war. President Trump vetoed the resolution, arguing that the U.S. is not involved in the Yemeni hostilities. However, the military does provide technical assistance and refueling for Saudi forces that are battling rebels in the country.

 

Proponents of military assistance to Saudi Arabia argue that this is necessary to prevent the Iranian-backed rebels from taking over Yemen. Opponents counter that the U.S. should not involve itself in a Yemeni civil war that has led to atrocities and a high civilian death count.

 

The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of the resolution, while the House voted 247-175 to support it. Neither votes reached the 2/3 majority to overcome a presidential veto.

 

Do you think that the U.S. military should be involved in the Yemeni civil war?

“Born Alive” Bill Advancing in North Carolina

Measures to tighten restrictions on abortion have been debated in states across the nation during this year’s legislative sessions. The North Carolina Senate became the most recent legislative body to advance a bill on this controversial subject with the passage of the “Born Alive Act.” However, this legislation may not survive a veto threat from that state’s governor.

 

Under the Born Alive Act, doctors and nurses must provide protection to any child born after a failed late-term abortion attempt. Failing to do this could result in jail time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

 

Supporters of this legislation say that it is necessary to ensure that proper medical care is provided to children who survive abortion attempts. Opponents, however, say that it is aimed at a non-existent problem. They contend that the law already provides protection for infants in these situations, so this bill is aimed at scoring political points.

 

The North Carolina Senate passed the legislation on Monday. Now it heads to the House of Representatives for a vote. Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has criticized the bill. He is expected to veto it if it is presented to him.

 

Do you support the “Born Alive” bill? Is such legislation necessary to protect the lives of infants who survive abortion? Or are such bills simply political grandstanding?

Congress Faces Big Issues When It Returns in 2 Weeks

Easter is approaching, and that means that legislative work in Washington, D.C., is on hold for two weeks. While Congress has left many big issues unaddressed when it left town on its recess, it has also scored some notable accomplishments in the year so far.


Here are some of the big items that Congress has worked on during this legislative session:

 

Rebuking President Trump’s border wall emergency: When the president declared an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to spend money for a wall, he set up a showdown with Congress. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to terminate the president’s emergency declaration. President Trump vetoed this termination resolution, and the House failed to override the veto. Congress can revisit this issue again in a few months.

 

Approving President Trump’s nominees: Frustrated with what he perceived as Democratic obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered a rule change to speed up consideration of presidential nominees. Much of the Senate’s work this year has focused on getting these nominees confirmed.

 

 Net neutrality: The House of Representatives passed a bill that would re-instate “net neutrality” rules. The Federal Communications Commission had instituted regulations in 2015 that imposed restrictions on how Internet service providers price services, provide content, and manage their networks. The FCC removed those rules in 2017.

 

Election reform: In March, the H.R. 1 passed the House of Representatives with only Democratic support. This legislation would mandate that certain nonprofit corporations engaging in political speech report their donors to the government, mandate that social media companies report the names of those who pay for political ads to the government, require states to same-day voter registration, and mandate how states remove ineligible voters from the rolls, among other things. The Senate is unlikely to take up this bill, however.

 

And here is what we can expect the House and Senate to address once members return in late April:

 

Disaster relief: President Trump, congressional Republicans, and Congressional Democrats cannot agree on what a disaster relief package should look like. The president contends that Puerto Rico is mismanaging federal funds, and that has left a disaster aid package for the island’s hurricane recovery, as well as other disasters around the nation, in the lurch. There are indications that Republicans and Democrats in Congress could come to an agreement after the Easter recess, but it is unclear if that agreement would have presidential support.

 

Yearly spending: If the government is going to avoid shutting down at the end of the year, Congress must pass spending bills to keep it open. The appropriations process will begin after Congress returns from recess and go until at least October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

 

Marijuana legislation: With an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, more businesses are profiting from marijuana sales. Since the federal government continues to enforce its marijuana prohibition, however, this puts banks and credit unions in a tough position. HR 1595 is a bipartisan bill that would give these financial institutions a safe harbor when they deal with marijuana businesses that comply with state laws. The Financial Services committee passed this legislation in March. The Judiciary is currently considering it. The full House could take up the bill within the next few months if it emerges from this committee.

 

 

What do you think Congress should focus on once members come back from their 2-week recess? Should they provide disaster relief to Puerto Rico? Should they ease rules on banks dealing with marijuana businesses? What should happen with federal spending?

Senators Speeding up Confirmations after Rule Change

Confirming President Trump’s nominees has been a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last week he engineered a step that speeds up Senate confirmation, and this week the Senate moved quickly to approve numerous nominees put forward by the president.

 

Senate rules have traditionally given senators numerous ways to block or delay consideration of legislation or nominees. In recent years, however, when the president’s party controls the Senate, the majority leader has taken steps to limit the minority’s power when he perceives it as being obstructionist. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid thought that Republicans were blocking too many of President Obama’s nominees. He ended the judicial filibuster for lower court nominees, allowing them to be confirmed with a majority vote instead of a supermajority.

 

Since President Trump has been elected, Senator Mitch McConnell has eliminated the judicial filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Last week he also eliminated the 30-hour rule for consideration of nominees, limiting debate time to 2 hours. Senate Democrats had been using that rule to delay many of President Trump’s nominees, even though they could not ultimately stop them.

 

While it takes a supermajority to change Senate rules, it only takes a majority to change how the Senate interprets these rules. Both Senators Reid and McConnell have used this “nuclear option” to make their rule changes. By a vote of 48-51, senators on April 3 voted against sustaining the ruling of the parliamentarian who said that debate over nominees must last 30 hours.


The Senate has moved 9 nominees under this expedited consideration process:

  • David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, 56-41
  • Steven Morales, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas, 56-41
  • Holly Brady, District Judge for the Northern District of Indiana, 56-42
  • John Abizaid, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 92-7
  • Cheryl Marie Stanton, Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, 53-45
  • Patrick Wyrick, Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, 53-47
  • Daniel Domenico, Judge for the District of Colorado, 57-42
  • Mark Calabria, Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, 52-44
  • Kalman Altman, Judge for the Southern District of Florida, 66-33

 

Do you support Majority Leader McConnell’s move to speed up consideration of presidential nominees? Do you think that Senate Democrats are right to use 30 hours of debate on President Trump’s nominees?

GOP Senators Float Social Media Regulation

Facebook and Twitter came under fire during a Senate hearing this week. Some senators even floated ideas to impose more government oversight on these social media companies.

 

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Ted Cruz and other Republicans grilled officials from Facebook and Twitter regarding what they perceive as anti-conservative bias. While saying they did not want to see the government begin regulating these companies, they did float ideas that would increase government oversight of the platforms or open the door for more lawsuits by users.

 

Likening these companies to public utilities or the “town square,” some Republican senators said that the government had a role to ensure that the companies were not discriminating against certain viewpoints. Bringing up instances that these senators said proved Twitter or Facebook removed conservative content, they said that the government may be needed to preserve fairness.

 

These companies, as well as Democrats on the committee, pushed back against the idea that conservatives faced systematic discrimination on social media. Democrats pressed the officials to do more to police their content, especially when it comes to hate speech.

 

Senator Cruz said that no one wanted the government to be the “speech police.” However, he did suggest that the federal government could apply antitrust law to larger social media companies. He also said that Congress could change the law to make the companies liable for users who post libelous content.

 

Do you think that the federal government should regulate social media companies? Do Facebook and Twitter discriminate against conservatives? Should these companies do more to police hate speech?

AG Says Feds Shouldn’t Interfere with State Weed Laws

Federal law bans marijuana while state laws are increasingly legalizing its use. Now the attorney general is saying that the federal government should not interfere in states where marijuana is legal.

 

During testimony before a Senate committee, Attorney General Bill Barr said that he would prefer that the U.S. has a uniform law making marijuana illegal. That does not exist today, with states allowing medicinal and even recreational use of the drug. This sets up a situation where the federal government could enforce its anti-marijuana law in places where marijuana use is legal according to state law. The attorney general acknowledges this leads to federal law being ignored, which he does not like.

 

Attorney General Barr’s answer came in response to a question about his views on S. 1028, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. This bill, sponsored by Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Cory Gardner, would stop federal enforcement of marijuana law in states where it has been legalized. The attorney general stopped short of endorsing this legislation, but did indicate that he thought federal law should be changed to recognize state legalization efforts.

 

Should the federal government stop enforcing its anti-marijuana laws against businesses and individuals in states that have legalized marijuana? Do you support state efforts to end bans on marijuana use?

House Takes Up Net Neutrality

How strictly the federal government should regulate Internet service providers is the question that the House of Representatives will take up today. The House is set to vote on legislation that would overturn a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote that invalidated net neutrality rules.

 

In December 2017, the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal “net neutrality” regulations. The regulations in question date to 2015, when the FCC decided to regulate Internet service providers more stringently. In essence, the agency at that time classified the services they provide as a public utility, largely forcing providers not to discriminate in pricing, content, and the management of the network.

 

H.R. 1644, the bill that the House will vote on, would overturn the 2017 vote and re-impose the 2015 rules. That has been a goal of Democrats in Congress and liberal activists around the nation since the FCC vote occurred.

 

Not surprisingly, Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast opposed the 2015 net neutrality rules and the House legislation. They do not like the fact that these regulations constrain them from treating different types of customers differently when it came to pricing or network management. Internet content companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, however, are strongly lobbying for the imposition of net neutrality regulations, seeing an advantage in being protected from higher charges when they use far more bandwidth than other websites or apps.

 

This 2017 FCC rule change did not remove federal oversight from the Internet. In fact, the rule mandates transparency for network management practices. The Federal Trade Commission also regulates Internet service providers. But it did lessen the ability of the government to set rules proactively that constrain Internet service providers.

 

Do you support legislation to re-impose net neutrality regulations? Should the Internet be treated as a public utility, subject to government rules on pricing and usage?

Judge Strikes Down Ban on Unvaccinated Kids in Public

On Friday a state judge ruled that a New York county could not ban unvaccinated children from public gathering places in light of a measles outbreak there.

 

In late March, Rockland County Executive Ed Day issued an emergency declaration prohibiting children who had not received a vaccination against measles from attending schools, daycare centers, malls, or other enclosed places where the public gathers. The ban would last for 30 days.

 

Executive Day issued this ban due to a high number of measles cases confirmed in the county. He said it was necessary to stop the spread of the disease. Last week a judge disagreed, placing an injunction on the order, stopping it for now. Families opposed to the ban argued that it was an improper use of the executive’s emergency power.

 

Do you think that unvaccinated children should be banned from public places during disease outbreaks?

House Pushes Trump to Defend Obamacare in Court

The legal fight over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is currently raging in court. This week, the House of Representatives condemned the Trump Administration’s efforts to see this law invalidated by court order.

                                 

On April 3, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 271, which condemns the Trump Administration’s legal actions against the ACA. That resolution calls on the Trump Administration to reverse its course and defend the law from legal challenges. It passed by a vote of 240-186, with 8 Republicans joining all but one Democrat in backing it.

 

In February 2018, attorneys general and governors from 20 states filed a lawsuit arguing that a portion of the ACA was unconstitutional and the entire law should be invalidated because of that. Initially the Trump Administration took a stance that the portion of the law in question, the minimum essential coverage mandate, was indeed unconstitutional, but that this portion could be ruled so without overturning the entire law. A federal judge in December 2018 agreed with the plaintiffs, finding this part of the law unconstitutional and saying that the entire law had to go because of it.

 

After that ruling, the Department of Justice changed course, saying that this ruling should be upheld and that the entire ACA was unconstitutional. The case is still being litigated, but this new position from the Trump Administration weakens the argument in favor of the law. In most cases, the Justice Department defends federal law when they are being challenged in court.

 

While the resolution passed by the House of Representatives urges the Trump Administration to once again defend the ACA, this is unlikely to have any effect. The Department of Justice is expected to continue arguing that the law should be invalidated. It remains to be seen how the courts will decide, especially since this case is likely to make it to the Supreme Court.

 

Do you think that the Trump Administration should defend Obamacare in court?

Time to End Prescriptions for the Pill?

Birth control has emerged as a contentious issue in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Now two senators want women to be able to buy birth control pills without a prescription.

 

Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, have introduced S. 930. This legislation would not directly remove the current Food and Drug Administration rule requiring a prescription to access the drug, since Congress does not have the power to do this. It would, however, expedite the process of moving the drug to over-the-counter usage.

 

Currently, the process could take up to five years. There is some interest among drug companies for applying to petition the FDA to do this. If this legislation becomes law, it would give priority to such applications.

 

Some states currently allow pharmacists, rather than doctors, to write a prescription for birth control pills. That makes them easier to get, but not as easy as if they were approved for over-the-counter sales.

 

Do you think that the federal government should allow birth control pills to be sold over the counter?

Trump Threatens to Close the Border

President Trump this week continues his focus on illegal immigration, threatening to close the border with Mexico if that nation does not curtail the flow of migrants north. This has met pushback from Republicans as well as Democrats, who point out the large economic damage it could cause.

 

On Wednesday morning he tweeted, “Congress must get together and immediately eliminate the loopholes at the Border! If no action, Border, or large sections of Border, will close. This is a National Emergency!” This follows earlier statements calling for Mexico to do more to stem illegal immigration or the border would close.

 

It is unclear how the border would be closed under the president’s scenario. He has floated both a complete closure and a closure of key ports of entry. Either way, say business leaders and elected officials, this would impose a heavy cost on the economy. With significant trade between the U.S. and Mexico, a border closure would impede U.S. exports south and Mexican exports north. Both businesses and consumers would be affected quickly if such an action is taken.

 

The president and his allies say that shutting down border crossing is the best way to deal with an increasing number of illegal immigrants. Many disagree, however. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said, “Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country, and I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing.”

 

Do you think that President Trump should shut down the U.S.-Mexican border?

“Equal Pay Day” Brings Debate

It’s “Equal Pay Day,” and you’ll probably be seeing statistics about how women are paid less than men and statistics debunking that stat. Regardless of how you interpret these statistics, one thing that may be overlooked today is that the House of Representatives passed a bill last week aimed at addressing this issue.

 

By a vote of 242-187, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, on March 27. This bill has a variety of provisions that are aimed at reducing what the sponsors view as a gender wage gap. It would:

  • Narrow the factors by which employers can justify gender-based pay disparities to only apply to “bona fide” factors such as education, training, or experience
  • Prohibit employers from punishing employees who discuss their pay
  • Ban employers from considering salary history when considering hiring someone

 

Sponsors of this bill have been trying for years to see it pass the House. With the Democrats now in charge, they finally succeeded. No Democrats voted against it, while 7 Republicans voted for it.

 

Those supporting this bill say it is necessary to address persistent discrimination against women in the workforce, as evidenced by the gender pay gap. Opponents say that the pay gap is not due to discrimination, but to personal choices made by women – such as leaving the workforce for motherhood. They argue that this bill will only tie up businesses in more red tape.

 

The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration, where it is unlikely to receive a vote.

 

Do you think that the gender pay gap is due to discrimination that needs to be addressed by stronger federal laws? Or is the gender pay gap due to choices that individual men and women make in the workforce?

Tuition-Free Community College Debated in Michigan

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants state taxpayers to fund community college tuition for the state’s high school graduates. But critics are pushing back, citing the plan’s high cost, among other things.

 

Gov. Whitmer unveiled the “Michigan Opportunity Scholarship” plan as part of her state budget last month. This scholarship would pay for high school graduates to attend community college full time without paying tuition or fees. It would also provide money for students who attend four-year colleges and universities in the state.

 

Proponents of this idea contend that it will help increase higher education rates. They say that today’s workforce requires higher education, so it makes sense for taxpayers to provide funding for students to obtain that education. Opponents note that this plan would cost up to $100 million a year. They also contend that this program would benefit middle income and higher-income Michiganders, who can already afford community college tuition. Lower-income students already qualify for Pell Grants, which cover community college tuition.

 

The fate of this idea now rests with legislators.

 

Do you think that state governments should pay for students’ community college tuition and fees?

House Rebukes Trump on Transgender Military Ban

By a vote of 238-185, this week the House of Representatives expressed its opposition to the Trump Administration’s ban on openly transgender troops serving in the Armed Forces.

 

House Resolution 124 states that the House of Representatives:

 

(1) strongly opposes President Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces;

 

(2) rejects the flawed scientific and medical claims upon which it is based; and

 

(3) strongly urges the Department of Defense to not reinstate President Trump’s ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces and to maintain an inclusive policy allowing qualified transgender Americans to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces.

 

Every Democratic member of the House who voted supported this resolution, and they were joined by 5 Republicans.

 

In 2017, President Trump issued a memorandum that prohibited openly transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces. This reversed a 2016 action by the Obama Administration which allowed such individuals to serve. President Trump’s ban has been tied up with legal challenges, although the Supreme Court did rule 5-4 in January to lift one of the injunctions against it.

 

This resolution does not have the force of law, but it does signal the disagreement of the House of Representatives with the president's action.

 

Do you think openly transgender individuals should be allowed to serve in the military?

Deep Dive: Entitlement Programs

Congress is in the thick of budget season, determining how the federal government will spend dollars both borrowed and taxed. A big part of total federal spending is for entitlement programs. With the House of Representatives now controlled by Democrats and the Senate and presidency controlled by Republicans, we may see a more contentious budget process than we have seen in the past two years. Entitlement programs make up a large portion of federal spending. That means there may be a spirited discussion about the future of programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security.

 

What’s A Federal Entitlement?

 

The Office of Management and Budget defines an entitlement program as “a program in which the Federal Government is legally obligated to make payments or provide aid to any person who, or State or local government that, meets the legal criteria for eligibility.”

 

In other words, if someone meets certain conditions, that person can receive benefits from a federal entitlement program. This could be a program like Social Security, which has an age qualification and a requirement to have paid into the program, or Medicaid, which requires a medical condition and a low income to qualify for benefits.

 

Here are some of the major entitlement programs:

  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Federal and civilian employee retirement benefits
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • Student loans
  • Deposit insurance

 

The design of these programs also create a legal obligation on the federal government to provide benefits to everyone who qualifies. If someone is turned down but still thinks that he or she meets the qualifications outlined in the law, that person can go to court to obtain the benefit. This does not mean that the federal government cannot change eligibility or even end entitlement programs, but such changes must happen through the legislative process.

 

How Entitlement Programs Are Funded

 

As discussed in another Deep Dive, many government programs are funded by the appropriations process. Every year, Congress passes and the president signs spending bills that pay for federal government operations. Appropriated entitlements are funded through this process. These include Medicaid and some veterans’ programs.

 

Most entitlement programs are funded through mandatory spending, however. This is when the law authorizing the program sets the spending for the program on an ongoing basis. Programs authorized in such ways do not have to go through the yearly spending process, and continue to operate even when there are government shutdowns.

 

While there are some entitlement programs that are funded through the appropriations process, and there are some non-entitlement programs that are funded through mandatory spending, in general mandatory spending is used for entitlement programs.

 

To pay for this spending, Congress and the president can raise taxes or borrow money. If they want to slow down spending increases for entitlement programs, they could also change the eligibility requirements. That would reduce the amount of money being spent every year on these programs. Some of these options include raising the age at which someone could receive Medicare or Social Security, reducing the benefits offered by Medicaid, adjusting how the inflation increase for federal retirement benefits is calculated.

 

What This Means for You

 

As discussed in a previous Deep Dive, the federal budget deficit is growing. It is expected to continue growing substantially in the future as federal spending rises. The Congressional Budget Office projects that mandatory spending for entitlement programs is a large part of this projected spending growth.


The projected growth of the deficit will mean, at some point in the future, that Congress and the president will face hard choices about what to do regarding entitlement programs. If enacted, these changes would affect current people who receive benefits from these programs or those who are anticipating receiving benefits.

 

 

 

 

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