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Senate Focuses on Nominees, not Legislation

The Senate has been busy casting numerous votes in recent weeks. But the overwhelming majority of these votes are not on legislation. Instead, senators are concentrating on confirming a host of President Trump’s nominees to executive branch posts and the federal judiciary.

 

Since the Senate returned from its two-week recess on April 29, there have been 51 roll call votes. Of those, only 4 concern legislative matters. The rest are either votes to cut off debate over President Trump’s nominees or votes on these nominees.

 

Some of these nominations pass easily. For instance, Clarke Cooper’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of State received a lopsided vote of 90-8 in favor. The nomination of Raul M. Arias-Marxuach to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico also passed easily, 95-3.

 

Most nomination votes are much closer, however. The president’s nomination of Michael J. Truncale to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas only prevailed by 3 votes, 49-46. Wendy Vitter’s nomination to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana passed the Senate 52-45.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his desire to see as many of President Trump’s nominees confirmed as possible. He continued the process started under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, in weakening and then eliminating senators’ ability to filibuster judicial nominees. He also engineered a rule change that reduced the time for consideration of these nominees after Democrats began insisting on lengthy debate over them.

 

There has been some criticism that the Senate should be working on legislative matters, not just on confirmations. But with the House of Representatives in Democratic control, and with Democratic senators still able to filibuster legislation, it is unlikely that there are many bills that could receive enough bipartisan support to emerge from Congress. It appears that Senator McConnell will continue to prioritize confirmation throughout this year.

 

Do you think that the Senate should do more work on legislation and less on confirming the president’s nominees? Or is it important for the Senate to concentrate on putting the president's nominees in office?

Senators Want Tobacco Age to be 21

States across the nation are increasing the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. Now the U.S. Senate may act to prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco nationwide.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, have teamed up on legislation that would raise the federal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Both senators are from major tobacco-producing states, but they say that public health concerns are foremost in their mind.

 

The bill, if enacted, would make it a crime for a retailer to sell tobacco products or vaping products to anyone under 21. It would also cut off some federal funds to states that do not set their tobacco purchasing age at 21.

 

These senators, and others who want to see the age increased, argue that it is a vital way to stop teenagers from starting smoking. They point out that most smokers start in their teen years, so this would prevent older teens from supplying cigarettes to younger teens. Backers of the proposal also contend it is necessary to combat the rise in teen vaping. Critics say that the law establishes adulthood at 18, so the tobacco purchase age should not be higher.

 

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws setting the tobacco purchase age at 21. Some of these state laws exempt military personnel from the higher purchase age, but the federal legislation would not.

 

With the majority leader’s backing, this bill is likely to receive consideration by the full Senate.

 

Do you think that the federal government should prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco or vaping products?

Harris Wants Business Fines over Equal Pay

Sen. Kamala Harris has a plan for what she perceives as the gender pay gap – big fines for corporations. And if she’s elected president, she says she will implement these fines with or without legislation from Congress.

 

Under Sen. Harris’s plan, companies must receive an “Equal Pay Certification” from the federal government or face fines. This certification would come only after these companies submit data to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission proving that they are paying male and female employees comparable pay for comparable work. The Harris plan would also force companies to provide information about how they hire workers and the racial and gender diversity of their workplaces.

 

If companies do not receive “Equal Pay Certification,” Sen. Harris would like to see them fined 1% of their profits for every 1% of the wage gap. Sen. Harris said she would seek legislation from Congress to authorize such a program, but would implement it regardless of whether Congress acts.

 

Current federal law already prohibits paying men and women different wages for doing the same work. Senator Harris’s legislation would go further by targeting different pay for what she calls “comparable” work, which would be determined by the federal government. She says that her proposal would stop discrimination. Critics contend that the pay gap she cites is not caused by discrimination but can be explained by differing education and experience levels as well as individual choices made by workers.

 

This proposal is one of the many laid out by the freshman senator from California in an attempt to distinguish her from the rest of the candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

Do you think that companies should be fined if they are not certified by the federal government as paying men and women the same for comparable work? What do you think about the gender pay gap?

House Wants to Mandate More Obamacare Outreach

It’s no secret that the Trump Administration is not enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have noticed this, and they recently passed a bill to force the federal government to do more to promote this law.

 

On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 987, the Marketing and Outreach Restoration to Empower (MORE) Health Education Act of 2019. Here’s how VoteSpotter describes it:

 

To require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct marketing for the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act that are operated by the federal government. The bill mandates that such outreach must be in “culturally and linguistically appropriate formats.”

 

The vote was 234-183, with 5 Republicans joining the Democrats in supporting it.

 

Under the ACA, states can set up their own health insurance exchanges or, if they don’t, the federal government will operate one in the state. This legislation concerns those federally-operated exchanges. Supporters of this legislation say it is necessary to counteract efforts by the Trump Administration to reduce outreach and education for these exchanges. Opponents of the bill counter that this is just an effort to prop up a failing health care law.

 

The legislation now advances to the Senate, which is unlikely to bring it up for a vote.

 

Do you think that the Trump Administration should be doing more education and outreach for Obamacare insurance?

Trump Unveils New Immigration Plan

Immigration has been one of the defining issues of President Trump’s time in office. Today the president unveiled a proposal that would reshape the nation’s immigration laws, bringing them more in line with the president’s views.

 

Under the Trump plan, overall immigration numbers would not change. Instead, policies would shift from family-based immigration to skills-based immigration. The president’s proposal would limit the immediate family members whom a U.S. resident could sponsor for entry into the nation. It would also prioritize immigration for individuals with certain skills.

 

Other aspects of the plan include making it tougher for individuals to seek asylum, modernizing ports of entry in an attempt to stop more drug trafficking, and finishing the border wall. There is no proposal to deal with the millions of “Dreamers,” or individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, already in the nation.

 

The president has outlined an immigration plan, but has not prepared legislation to move this plan through Congress. Any such proposal would likely face Democratic opposition. There are also some grumblings of opposition from the president’s base, with some immigration restrictionists upset that the president is not calling for a reduction in immigration numbers.

 

Should U.S. immigration policy focus more on family reunification or economic skills? Do you support placing more restrictions on who can seek asylum here? Should overall immigration numbers be reduced, kept the same, or increased?

Booker Outlines Gun Control Plan

Cory Booker wants to move from the Senate to the White House. The New Jersey senator is one in a crowded field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination. Today he released a gun control plan that aims to separate him from his rivals.

 

Under the Booker plan, the federal government would impose these new restrictions on gun ownership and purchasing:

  • Individuals must purchase a license before being able to buy a gun. This license would last for five years, and would only be able to be purchased by someone who has completed a gun safety course and passed a background course.
  • Private firearms sales would be subject to background checks.
  • Gun buyers could only purchase one handgun a month.
  • There would be a federal ban on “assault weapons,” high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.
  • Firearms would be subject safety regulations under the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Work to repeal he federal law prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers for the misuse of their products.
  • Mandate that new handguns must have microstamp technology.
  • Public health studies on gun violence would receive funding.
  • States would receive incentives to pass legislation institution extreme risk prevention orders, which allow police to seize the firearms of people suspected of causing imminent harm.
  • The IRS would investigate the National Rifle Association’s tax exempt status.

 

Sen. Booker says that these things are necessary to fight gun violence. In announcing this agenda, he said he would work from his first day in office to enact it.

 

Critics, however, say that this is a huge expansion of federal power over the purchase and possession of firearms. They argue that many of these proposals would be ineffective, merely infringing up on lawful firearms owners’ rights without doing much to stop violence.

 

As president, Booker could enact some of these items through executive action. Most of the proposals require legislation, however. It remains to be seen if Booker would have a Congress friendly to these ideas if he were elected president.

 

Do you think that all gun sales or transfers should go through a background check? Should the federal government ban “assault weapons”? Should the government prohibit people from purchasing more than one handgun a month?

House Calls for Action on Climate Change

President Trump is not a big fan of the Paris climate change agreement, which requires countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. He has pledged to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. This week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent him from doing so.

 

HR 9 would require the president to develop a plan that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28%, based on 2005 levels. It would also prohibit the use of federal funding to withdraw from the Paris agreement. This bill passed 231-190, with 3 Republicans voting for it and no Democrats opposing it. An amendment by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) that would have stripped the prohibition from withdrawing from the Paris agreement failed by a vote of 189-234.

 

President Obama signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. He argued that it was not a treaty that required ratification. President Trump has pledged to withdraw from the treaty by 2020.

 

The treaty, signed by more than 190 countries, requires the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and commit money to assist climate change efforts in developing countries.

 

Supporters say such an agreement is necessary to stop climate change. They say that if the U.S. does not participate it will hurt efforts to slow down global warming. Critics say that it would kill jobs and hurt U.S. economic growth.

 

HR 9 now goes to the Senate, where it is unlikely to be brought for a vote.

 

Should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? What do you think should be done about climate change, if anything?

Gillibrand Touts “Democracy Dollars”

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand wants to be president. The junior senator from New York is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, hoping that ideas like “Democracy Dollars” will propel her to the front of the pack.

 

Sen. Gillibrand has proposed that the federal government give ever voter $600 to donate to federal candidates. Under her plan, this money could be given in $200 increments to candidates for president, the House of Representatives, or the Senate.

 

According to Sen. Gillibrand, this will help remove the influence of the wealthy and corporations on the political process. To pay for this plan, Sen. Gillibrand has proposed increasing taxes on CEOs who earn high salaries.

 

While Sen. Gillibrand argues that this plan would help reduce what she calls the corrupting influence on elections, opponents counter that it will not do much. They point to a similar program in Seattle that does not have large public participation nor does it seem to have much of an impact on election results.


Do you think that the federal government should provide voters with money to contribute to candidates?

Congress Considers Equal Rights Amendment

Congress sent the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification in 1972. Yesterday, a House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing on the ERA for the first time in 36 years, as advocates continue to push for it.

 

The ERA states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” When it was initially sent to the states, Congress placed a deadline for ratification. That deadline expired in 1982 without approval from the necessary 38 states to be added to the Constitution.

 

Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced House Joint Resolution 38, which would eliminate the deadline for state ratification of the ERA. If both houses of Congress pass this resolution, it would ensure that when 38 states ratify it. Some observers say that this resolution is not necessary, since the initial deadline placed for ratification is invalid.

 

Thirty-seven states have taken such action so far. Most of these occurred in the 1970s, but two states (Illinois and Nevada) ratified it since 2017. However, 4 states have rescinded their ratification. The legality of whether states can rescind ratification is an open question. If a 38th state does ratify the ERA, there will be legal wrangling about whether Congress had the power to limit the time for ratification and whether states can rescind ratification.

 

During yesterday’s hearing, actresses Alyssa Milano and Patricia Arquette joined scholars and other experts in testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Supporters said that the ERA is necessary to ensure that women are protected from discrimination. Opponents say the amendment would be a way to strike down restrictions on abortion.

 

Do you support adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution?

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.

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?

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?

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?

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?

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