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Should Congress Have a Role in Authorizing Military Force?



When four American soldiers were killed in Niger recently, many people were surprised to know that the U.S. military was operating in that country. Even though it is not widely publicized, there are U.S. troops conducting military operations in a variety of countries around the globe. Some members of Congress think that these operations call for a blessing from the legislative branch. The Trump Administration, however, rejects calls for Congress to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

 

The president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but only Congress can declare war. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed an AUMF that led to military operations in Afghanistan. Congress also passed an AUMF prior to the invasion of Iraq. Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have used these authorizations of force to expand the U.S. military role far beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, however.

 

The presidential use of an AUMF to justify military action in numerous nations rankles some in Congress. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are pushing for a new AUMF to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This AUMF would have a five-year sunset and would require congressional oversight if fighting occurs outside Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, or Somalia. Those pushing for a new AUMF contend that the original authorization passed in 2001 only targeted those who planned or aided the 9-11 attacks. As such, they say, it cannot also authorize the use of force against ISIS or other terrorist organizations.

 

There was debate in 2015 over an AUMF to fight ISIS (or ISIL) after President Obama had already committed military forces against that group. The president submitted a resolution for new authorization, and many members of Congress (including Sens. Kaine and Flake) pushed for consideration. However, Congress never passed an authorization and the president did not stop military action against ISIS.

 

President Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, rejects calls to pass a new AUMF. Testifying before Congress, he said, “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force, or AUMF, remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat.” In general, presidents have opposed efforts by Congress to interfere with or place limits on the executive branch’s power to deploy military forces.

 

Do you think that Congress should vote on a new authorization to use military force against terrorist groups? Or does the 2001 authorization of force provide justification for President Trump’s military actions? 

 

Trump Puts Pressure on Iran

 

President Donald Trump is not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under President Obama. He has spent years criticizing it. Now he is saying that he won’t certify that Iran is complying with the agreement. What does that mean for the U.S.?

 

While President Trump can play a key role in determining the future of U.S. policy toward Iran, there are other nations involved in the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities. The “Iran Deal,” as many call it, also involves China, France, Russia, the U.K., and Germany. These nations, in essence, negotiated with Iran to limit its program to acquire nuclear arms in exchange for the relaxation of sanctions. If the president and Congress both want the U.S. to act alone to ramp up these sanctions, however, that could do a lot of damage to this multi-party agreement.

 

By itself, the president’s announcement does not do anything to derail the deal. Under a 2015 U.S. law passed after the Iran deal was negotiated, the U.S. has the power to re-impose its sanctions only if Congress and the president agree. Under this law, every 90 days the president must certify that Iran is complying with its part of the bargain. If the president does not do this, Congress has 60 days within which it can re-impose sanctions on Iran.

 

President Trump’s announcement that he would not certify Iran as in compliance with the deal triggers that 60-day window in which Congress can choose to act. However, Congress does not have any obligation to re-impose sanctions. The Trump Administration has even said that it does not want to see sanctions put back in place; instead, it is calling for Congress to set forth new conditions under which these sanctions would be re-instated in the future.

 

There are a few vocal members of Congress who have long urged a harder line on Iran. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), for instance, is pushing legislation that would set in place a system for automatically re-imposing sanctions on Iran for noncompliance. It is unclear if this type of proposal has enough support in Congress to pass. There is also a chance that, once legislation is introduced, Congress could amend it to re-impose sanctions immediately.

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is dismantling its nuclear program in response to this agreement. If Congress and President Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, many observers think that Iran would view this act as freeing it from the conditions of the multi-party agreement.

 

Do you think the U.S. should continue to be part of the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Or is President Trump right that this deal is bad for the U.S.?

 

Congress Unlikely to Take up Gun Control

 

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, some politicians are calling on Congress to pass new laws restricting access to firearms. They say that it is time for strict gun control aimed at stopping these events. Opponents of this idea push back on the claim that new laws will be effective. Given the makeup of Congress and the limited time period left for work, gun control proponents face a lot of obstacles in D.C.

 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has perhaps been the most vocal member of Congress in calling for new gun laws. In a statement made after the Las Vegas shooting, he said:

 

This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren't public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.

 

A White House spokesperson has said it is premature to discuss gun control, and congressional Republican leadership have not given any indication that they support such a debate.

 

After other shooting events, Democrats have attempted and failed to enact new firearms restrictions at the national level. Congress has a limited time before the end of this year to work on issues such as tax reform, so it appears unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Speaker Paul Ryan will give Democrats an opportunity to advance their proposals this time, either.

 

In fact, if any firearms legislation were to move through Congress yet this year, it may actually loosen federal laws. One proposal that was on the verge of being considered before the Las Vegas shooting was a bill to repeal the $200 federal tax on silencers and make it easier to buy them. Proponents of the bill say that silencers can be useful in preventing hearing damage during hunting or sport shooting. Opponents say that silencers would make mass shootings more deadly by masking the sound of gunshots.

 

If Congress does not act, there is the possibility that state legislators could do something. In 2016, voters and legislators in a few states took action on gun laws. Some of these states (including Nevada) enacted stricter laws, but many others loosened their restrictions.

 

Should gun control be a top priority in Congress? Or do you oppose new restrictions on gun ownership?

 

Congress Set to Tackle Tax Cuts

 

One of President Trump’s major legislative priorities is set for introduction in Congress: tax reform. While details are not yet finalized, there appears to be agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans on general changes to the tax code. What remains to be seen is if any legislative package this complex can emerge from Capitol Hill to be sent for the president’s signature.

 

Once details are finalized, we could see a tax reform bill introduced this week. Here is what may be in such a bill:

  • Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%
  • Cut the top individual income tax rate from 39.5% to 35%
  • Reduce the number of tax brackets from 7 to 3

 

While the president and congressional Republicans appear to agree on these aspects of the bill, they could change. President Trump, for instance, has repeatedly said that he would like to see the corporate income tax rate lowered to 15%.

 

There is also the issue of what, if any, changes to the tax code will be made to offset the effect of cuts on the federal deficit. There has been talk about reducing the number of tax breaks, but each deduction or credit in the tax code has a constituency that will fight very hard to keep that provision. If no offsets are made, tax cuts threaten to increase the budget deficit.

 

Whatever the final version, tax reform legislation will be complex and will face a difficult fight on Capitol Hill. Democrats have shown little willingness to embrace these kinds of changes to the tax code. If they are unified in their opposition, it could be difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass anything out of the Senate.

 

Do you support cutting the corporate income tax rate and the individual income tax rate? Or would you rather see other reforms made in the tax code?

 

Republicans Renew Push to Repeal Obamacare

 

Senate Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in July, but failed to gain 50 votes. Now they are making one last effort to undo President Obama’s signature health care law. It is unclear if they will have more success this time than they did previously.

 

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have sponsored the bill being considered now. This legislation differs in some key ways from the earlier repeal bill, but it would still have the effect of rolling back much of Obamacare.

 

Among its provisions, the Graham-Cassidy legislation would:

  • Turn Medicaid into a per-person block grant program, giving states more authority to determine how the program is administered and who receives services
  • Take the funds currently being spent by the federal government on health insurance subsidies, premium tax-credits, and Medicaid expansion and give that money to states in the form of grants to provide health care coverage
  • Loosen restrictions on what types of insurance must be sold

 

Critics of the bill are concerned that it will lead to less coverage than exists today. They point out that the formula for Medicaid block grants excludes many able-bodied adults who are currently covered under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They also contend that unless the federal government mandates what insurance policies must contain, companies will skimp on benefits to save money.

 

Proponents say that Medicaid block grants will give states incentives to tailor their program to meet their needs, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all mandate from D.C. They also say that putting some limits on spending is the only way to control the ballooning cost of the program at both the state and federal level. In addition, loosening restrictions on insurance, according to them, helps to ensure that people can buy a policy that meets their needs, not a policy that pleases a federal bureaucrat.

 

For the Cassidy-Graham bill to proceed under special budget reconciliation rules that allow it to bypass a filibuster threat, the Senate most vote on it by September 30. Many observers are watching Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who voted against the last repeal bill. He has indicated he may support it if Arizona Governor Doug Ducey backs the bill, something Gov. Ducey did earlier this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would only bring the bill up for a vote if he has enough senators lined up to pass it.

 

Do you think this legislation is a good way to reform health care? Or do you want to see Obamacare left in place?

 

Trump Deals with Democrats on Immigration

 

Fresh off working with congressional Democrats on the debt ceiling, President Trump has signaled he is on the verge of partnering with them again on an unexpected issue: immigration. For some conservatives, this potential deal is causing a lot of concern.

 

Both the president and Democrats confirmed they were close to an agreement that would protect “Dreamers” (illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) coupled with stricter border enforcement. The deal would not include funding for a border wall, although the president said that would come later. This legislative package is necessary because President Trump rescinded an Obama Administration policy, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that protected Dreamers.

 

The president discussed the issue with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prior to reaching out to the Republican leadership in Congress. While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seem supportive of this type of legislative package, there is concern about the president undercutting his own party in Congress.

 

There is also consternation in conservative circles about the president’s moves. Campaigning as a hardliner on Immigration, President Trump now appears to be softening his views on the issue in the minds of some supporters. From conservatives in Congress to talk radio hosts, the president has received significant pushback from his base for a perceived reversal on an issue they deem highly important.

 

On Thursday morning, President Trump used Twitter to reassure his followers that he was not giving up on the border wall. However, Democrats will not accept funding for a border wall as a quid pro quo for the president accepting a deal on Dreamer legislation. All indications point to bipartisan legislation on DACA and then further negotiations on the border wall.

 

Do you think that the president is right to work with Democrats on immigration issues? Or has the president betrayed his supporters who want him to take a hard line on immigration?

 

Congress Reining In Asset Forfeiture

 

How much leeway should the government have to take the property of someone suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?

 

That is the debate surrounding civil asset seizure and forfeiture, a process where the government takes property from someone based on the belief that the property was used in a crime. Under civil forfeiture, no conviction is necessary for the government to take ownership of this property.

 

This practice has come under increasing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Legislators across the country have passed bills to restrict it. The Obama Administration also enacted a policy that prevents state and local law enforcement from using the federal government to bypass these restrictions.

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not among those who support reform. In July, he rescinded the Obama Administration restrictions, saying “we will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”

 

The attorney general’s actions did not sit well with members of Congress. This week, the House of Representatives passed on a voice vote three amendments that would roll back his attempt to weaken asset forfeiture reform. Amendments offered by Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Justin Amash (R-MI) would limit or prohibit funding to implement the attorney general’s asset forfeiture policy.

 

Generally, VoteSpotter publishes links to congressional votes so individuals can see how their member of Congress voted on bills or amendments. However, in this case the votes were voice votes, which means they were not recorded. It also suggests that there was overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for these amendments. If a voice vote is close, generally opponents of a measure will call for a recorded vote.

 

The bill containing these amendments must still be considered by the Senate. Regardless of the final outcome, it seems clear that there is strong congressional support in both parties to restrict civil asset forfeiture.

 

Do you think that civil asset forfeiture is an abusive practice that needs to end? Or is it a necessary tool to fight crime?

 

Time for the Government to Take Over Health Care?

 

Medicare for all. Single Payer. Government-run health care. Socialized medicine.

 

The concept may go by a few different names, but the idea is the same – the federal government providing health care to everyone, with private providers either being banned or strictly limited.

 

That is an idea that is growing in popularity among Democratic lawmakers. Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing legislation that would enact “Medicare for all.” He is expected to release it this week. Although he is not a Democrat, he does caucus with the party. Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said they support this bill. Democratic Senators Corey Booker of New Jersey and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are also expected to cosponsor it.

 

While Senator Sanders has yet to introduce his bill, there is legislation in the House of Representatives that would accomplish the same goal. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has 117 cosponsors for HR 676. That bill would, among other things:

  • Establish the Medicare for All Program, which would provide all “medically necessary care” to U.S. residents at no cost to them
  • Ban private health insurance that duplicates the government-provided care
  • Dictate how doctors and health care providers would be paid by the government
  • Increase the income tax on the top 5% of earners, impose a new payroll tax and a tax unearned income, and institute a tax on stock and bond income

 

Proponents see this type of system as a fair way to provide health care to every American. Opponents contend that government-run health care will be expensive and lead to denials of service.

 

Regardless of its merits or defects, this type of health care plan is unlikely to be instituted in the U.S. any time soon. During the debate over Obamacare, there was little support for anything resembling single-payer. While there are more Democratic politicians embracing the idea now, a government-run health system is not being discussed in congressional debates over the replacement for Obamacare.

 

Do you support a single-payer system? Or do you think that such a system will be harmful for Americans who need health care services?

 

Trump Works with Democrats to Raise Debt Limit

 

President Donald Trump has found new allies in Congress – Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The president bypassed Republican leadership to work with Democrats on an agreement that raises the debt ceiling for three months.

 

What is unclear is if this event heralds a new era of bipartisanship between the president and congressional Democrats, or whether it is merely a one-time deal. Regardless, this move stunned Republicans in Congress, undercutting conservative efforts to tie raising the debt ceiling to limiting spending.

 

With the Trump-backed deal in place, Congress quickly passed legislation that provided over $15 billion in disaster-related spending along with the debt ceiling increase. This will allow the federal government to continue borrowing money for the next three months. Mere hours before the president and congressional Democrats agreed to do so, House Speaker Paul Ryan had panned efforts to tie the two issues together in one bill.

 

In both the House and Senate, opposition votes to this legislation came from conservatives. The Senate rejected efforts by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to remove the debt limit provisions from the bill. Senators also turned back efforts by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to pay for disaster-related spending by cutting foreign aid.

 

Do you support President Trump working with congressional Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase without tying the measure to spending limits? Do you think it’s a good idea for Congress to pass a bill that contains both disaster aid and an increase in the debt limit? Or was this a bad deal that hurts efforts to control federal spending?

 

What will Happen to the “Dreamers”?



Congress has six months to act to clarify the legal status of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors.

 

These illegal immigrants, sometimes labeled “Dreamers,” are at the center of President Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama Administration’s policy known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This policy allowed some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to be shielded from deportation.

 

On September 5, the president withdrew the guidance letter from 2012 that established this program, but deferred implementation for six months. During that time, President Trump said he would like to see Congress act on this issue.

 

What’s next for the people who were eligible for the program?

Some state attorneys general have said they will sue the Trump Administration to stop the president. However, President Obama established DACA through executive authority. President Trump merely reversed President Obama’s action. Regardless of the merits of his action, many legal scholars think that the president is on solid legal ground.

 

That leaves the legislative branch. There is bipartisan support in Congress to do something. Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, has said he will introduce a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some Dreamers as long as they have no criminal record and are working, in college, or in the military. There are also other members of Congress considering legislation that would codify protection for these individuals in the law.

 

While President Trump has called on Congress to act, he has not been clear about the details. His spokesperson also hinted that such action may need to be part of comprehensive immigration reform to get the president’s backing.

 

Senators have a busy agenda through the rest of the year. This includes finalizing spending for the next fiscal year, providing disaster relief, and raising the debt ceiling. President Trump has also said that he wants Congress to focus on tax reform. Whether lawmakers can agree on DACA legislation amongst all these other issues remains to be seen.

 

What do you think should happen to Dreamers? Should they be protected from deportation? Or should they be treated the same as other illegal immigrants in the U.S.?

 

Congress Has Full Agenda upon Return

 

Members of Congress are on their August recess, leaving D.C. behind to go back to their home states. But their departure from Washington left a lot of work undone. When they return in September, they will be facing numerous unresolved issues.

 

Among these issues are:

 

Federal Spending

As is the usual case for Congress, the annual appropriations, or spending, bills are far behind schedule. These bills fund what is known as discretionary federal spending, such as for the military, national parks, and the operation of Congress. To avoid a government shutdown, the House and the Senate will probably pass a temporary funding measure prior to October 1. A longer-term spending deal may revolve around the question of how much money President Trump will receive for a border wall.

 

Debt Ceiling

If Congress does not act, the federal government will soon come up against a limit on how much it can borrow. Conservatives have been reluctant in past years to raise the debt ceiling without receiving some concessions on spending. It is unclear what will happen this year, but the White House has set September 29 as the deadline for action.

 

Defense Authorization

Defense authorization legislation stalled due to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s health issues. Once he returns to work, there will be a push to finish a bill that maps out the nation’s military strategy.

 

Taxes

President Trump and members of Congress have made tax reform a top priority. However, there has been little substantive work in either the House or Senate on this issue. It is difficult to see how a significant overhaul of the tax code could be completed given the limited amount of time left on this year’s congressional calendar.

 

Health Care

Republican efforts to repeal and replace portions of Obamacare failed in the Senate. President Trump has pressured senators to make health care a priority, but there is little consensus on how to proceed. There may be efforts to revive legislation during the fall, but senators may also decide that they have other matters that take priority. One of the items that will need to be addressed separately from Obamacare is reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which (as its name suggests) subsidizes health insurance for children.

 

Judges

President Trump has given the Senate a slate of new nominees to fill federal judicial vacancies. For many conservatives, confirmation of these judges is a top priority.

 

What do you think Congress should be focusing on? Is there anything not on the congressional agenda that our elected officials should be working on?

 

Nominee May Set Up Fight over Export Subsidies

 

A Senate fight may be brewing over one of President Trump’s nominees. But this fight may be different from the usual partisan wrangling we see in Congress.

 

The nominee is former U.S. Representative Scott Garrett. The agency is the Export-Import Bank. Garrett is an unconventional pick to head the Export-Import Bank because of his past opposition to the bank’s operation.

 

The Export-Import Bank is an independent federal agency that loans money to foreign companies that are making purchases of products made in the U.S. The former president of the bank, Fred Hochberg, left office in January.

 

Arrayed against Garrett’s nomination are Republican-friendly entities like the National Association of Manufacturers and Boeing, the aircraft maker. They contend that the Export-Import bank is essential for the competitiveness of American companies abroad and should not be led by someone who fought against it while in Congress.

 

Export-Import Bank opponents say that the institution is a way to steer corporate subsidies to big businesses that could operate fine without them. They note that Garrett cannot shut down operations of the bank if he is confirmed, but could bring a critical eye to ensure that the bank is run better.

 

Over the past two years, conservatives in Congress have tried various ways to shut down or hobble the bank’s operation. They refused to renew the bank’s charter for five months, effectively shuttering it. They have also refused to confirm members to its board, which makes it impossible for the bank to make loans in excess of $10 million.

Garrett’s nomination could result in a Senate vote that has not yet been seen in the Trump presidency. If pro-business interests succeed in persuading Republicans to oppose Garrett, this could be the first instance of large-scale GOP defections on a Trump nomination. There is also criticism about the Export-Import Bank from liberals, so Garrett may find some support from the more liberal Senate Democrats. Generally these liberals have been steadfast in their opposition to Trump nominees.

 

Do you think that Scott Garrett should be confirmed as the president of the Export-Import Bank? Or do you think that someone who is a strong supporter of the agency should be leading it?

 

Opposition to Trump’s Nominees Continues

 

 Is consistently voting “no” on President Trump’s nominees obstructionism or is it principled opposition?

 

That is a question being asked about votes on executive branch nominations. As we noted in a previous blog, some senators were voting against almost all of President Trump’s cabinet nominations.

 

This trend has continued with even lower-level nominees, which are generally far less controversial than cabinet picks. Consider some of the recent tallies for these nominees:

 

  • Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration – 95 to 4
  • Scott Brown, Ambassador to New Zealand – 94 to 4
  • Courtney Elwood, General Counsel to the CIA – 67 to 33
  • John Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State – 93 to 6
  • Terry Branstad, Ambassador to China – 86 to 12
  • Rachel Brand, Associate Attorney General – 52 to 46
  • Jay Clayton, Security and Exchange Commission – 60 to 36

 

Unlike Ben Carson or Jeff Sessions, none of these nominees has a divisive public record. And yet all received votes in opposition.

 

There are a handful of senators who vote “no” on almost every nominee put forward by President Trump. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), and Kamala Harris (CA) are generally consistent votes in opposition to any Trump nominee. This includes the nomination of Scott Brown, a former senator, to be ambassador to New Zealand. Other senators, however, save their “no” votes for only select nominees.

 

There are some questions if senators are opposing these nominees for political reasons or policy reasons. Rachel Brand, for instance, has a fairly standard record for an appointment to the Justice Department – Supreme Court clerkship, private firm work, and Justice Department experience. But she received the opposition of 46 senators. Patrick Leahy, senator from Vermont, said that Brand “carries a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence.” Few senators made statements opposing the nomination of Courtney Elwood to be the CIA’s general counsel, but 33 of them voted against her.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, defends his vote against a large number of Trump nominees as being about policy, not politics:

 

“Lost in all of the obvious concern about Russia is the fact that Trump is pushing an extremely, extremely right-wing, reactionary agenda: tax breaks for billionaires, throwing 24 million people off health insurance, and massive cuts to programs that working people need. And many of his appointees are pushing exactly that agenda, and I’m not going to support that.”

 

Republicans aren’t buying it. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell points out the similarities to votes in the past by senators who eventually ran for president:

 

“When President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton were in the Senate, they often voted against nominees — even though those nominees had wide bipartisan support — as a means of protecting themselves from their base and setting themselves up for a primary.”

 

What do you think? Are Democrats who are consistently opposing President Trump’s nominees playing politics? Or are they offering principled opposition to a dangerous policy agenda?

 

Senate Fails to Repeal Obamacare

 

After considerable debate and intense media attention, efforts in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, failed last week. This represents a huge blow to President Trump’s agenda, a pillar of which was to kill Obamacare. It is also a defeat for Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader who could not marshal enough votes to pass a repeal bill.

 

Here are some of the votes taken during Senate debate on Obamacare:

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Consider legislation to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare: Passed 50 to 50 To proceed with consideration of legislation that would repeal and modify portions of the Affordable Care Act. This motion passed because Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of it.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Donnelly amendment to send Obamacare repeal to committee: Failed 48 to 52 To end consideration of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and instead allow the bill to be considered in a Senate committee.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Heller amendment to repeal the tax on expensive health insurance: Passed 52 to 48

To repeal the 40% tax on some employer-sponsored health insurance plans that offer benefits exceeding a certain amount. This tax is also known as the “Cadillac tax.”

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Amendment to express support for Medicaid expansion: Failed 10 to 90

To express the sense of the Senate that expanding Medicaid is important and that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, should be improved.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Daines amendment to mandate government-run health insurance: Failed 0 to 57

To expand the Medicare program to cover all Americans, or alternatively to create a “single payer” health insurance system. This would be paid for by increasing income taxes, imposing a new payroll tax, and creating a tax on stock and bond transactions. The amendment would prohibit private health insurance that competes with government insurance. Forty-three Senate Democrats voted “present” instead of “yes” or “no” on this amendment.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Paul amendment to repeal most of Obamacare: Failed 45 to 55

To repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the expansion of Medicaid and the mandate on individuals to buy health insurance. This amendment would also end the health insurance exchanges and repeal taxes imposed to fund the ACA. It would take effect in two years.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Partially repeal and replace Obamacare: Passed 43 to 57

To repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act. This amendment would end the Medicaid expansion, increase Medicaid spending by $100 billion, and restructure Medicaid so that states are given a capped amount of federal dollars per recipient. It would also reduce subsidies for health insurance purchases, allow health insurance to be sold without as many government mandates, and end the mandates requiring individuals to purchase health insurance and employers to provide health insurance.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Amendment to repeal parts of Obamacare but leave Medicaid portion: Failed 49 to 51

To repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, including the mandates that individuals purchase health insurance and employers provide health insurance, as well as the tax on manufacturing medical devices. The amendment would also end Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year. This amendment would leave in place the ACA's Medicaid expansion, subsidies for the purchase of health insurance, and mandates on what types of health insurance can be sold. This amendment was known as “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.

 

 

Are you glad that the Senate failed to uproot the Affordable Care Act? Or do you think that keeping Obamacare in place is the wrong move?

 

U.S. Senate Bill 722

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 722, Impose sanctions on Iran: Passed 98 to 2 in the U.S. Senate on June 15, 2017

 

To impose sanctions blocking the assets of individuals who contribute to Iran’s ballistic missile program or who sell military equipment to Iran. The bill also gives the president authority to impose sanctions on anyone in Iran who engages in torture or extrajudicial killings.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Bill 722!

 

What Congress Has Left Undone

 

Members of Congress are leaving for a one-week recess to celebrate Independence Day. When they return to Washington, they will have three weeks in July before their August recess. If they aim to tackle all the big items on their agenda, this will be a very busy time.

 

One of the issues that Congress must deal with is raising the debt ceiling. This has been an ongoing fight in recent years, with conservatives asking for a number of concessions for them to go along with increasing the government’s ability to borrow. Conservatives are pressing for more spending cuts in order for them to go along with increasing the debt ceiling, which plays into both unresolved budget issues as well as the start of the annual passage of appropriation, or spending, bills. There are calls from Democrats and the president to exceed spending caps that currently exist, but the House Freedom Caucus members may demand more fiscal discipline.

 

The Senate has yet to pass a budget resolution that will serve as a guide for the appropriations bills that must be passed to keep the government running. In the House, efforts to craft a budget resolution have stalled in the Budget Committee. Conservatives want large cuts in entitlement programs, such as food stamps. More moderate members oppose these efforts. It is unclear whether Chairman Diane Black will be able to find a way to satisfy both wings of the party, or whether this will be another year without a budget resolution.

 

Efforts to deal with the government’s spending will be paramount during July, but some members of Congress also want to work on the issues of tax reform and infrastructure spending. There is no consensus in either body (or in either party) on how to approach those, but the president and Congress have made these issues a priority. That gives both branches of government an incentive to start work on them soon if they want to have legislative victories prior to the end of President Trump’s first year in office. However, failure to pass a budget resolution makes tax reform much more difficult.

 

What do you think the focus of Congress should be in July? Do you want to see the debt ceiling raised? What should federal spending look like? How important is it that work on tax reform and infrastructure spending be started?

 

Senate Unveils its Answer to Obamacare

 

After weeks of bill drafting behind closed doors, Republicans in the Senate have released their proposal to partially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.


The bill departs from Obamacare in some key ways:

 

  • No government mandate to purchase health insurance.
  • No government mandate on employers to provide health insurance.
  • It would create a $112 billion fund to reimburse insurance companies who suffer losses.
  • Medicaid would be turned into a per capita block grant.
  • Funding would be frozen for Planned Parenthood.

 

However, the bill also keeps some key aspects of Obamacare in place:

 

  • It retains the mandate that insurance companies allow children to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26.
  • It retains the mandates on insurance companies that they may not deny insurance to someone due to pre-existing conditions.
  • It also continues the mandate that insurance companies cover certain conditions, although states could alter what is defined as an “essential health benefit.”

 

No Democrats have signaled that they would support this legislation. In fact, there are some questions on whether there are enough Republican votes for this bill to pass the Senate.

 

Do you think this health care legislation is an improvement over Obamacare? Or do you think senators should oppose these changes?

 

U.S. House Bill 10

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 10, Repeal portions of Dodd-Frank financial regulations: Passed 233 to 186 in the U.S. House on June 8, 2017

 

To repeal a ban on banks investing in securities and derivatives, end limits on fees charged to retailers for debit card transactions, exempt banks from some regulations if they maintain certain capital-to-asset ratios, remove the Financial Stability Oversight Council's authority to regulate non-bank financial institutions under “too big to fail” rules, and expand congressional oversight over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, among other things.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 10!

 

More Offshore Drilling May be Coming

 

 

In late April, President Trump signed an executive order that could open up more areas in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic to offshore drilling. This move comes in sharp contrast to President Obama, whose actions sought to place more areas off-limits to oil and gas exploration off of America’s coastline.

 

President Trump’s order does not mean that offshore drilling in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf or other areas will happen; instead, it begins a regulatory process that could eventually lead to oil and gas production in these areas. This would take years, perhaps over a decade, to happen.

 

Reaction from energy companies has been supportive, while environmental groups have expressed their displeasure. Politicians from the affected states are falling on both sides of this issue.

 

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats, support offshore drilling as long as Virginia receives a share of the revenue from it. Republican Representative Barbara Comstock from that state has introduced legislation that would provide this revenue-sharing for the commonwealth. Other Republican members of that state’s delegation support offshore drilling, while Democratic members from the House delegation oppose it.

 

Alaska’s elected officials, such as Republican Rep. Don Young, are strongly in favor of expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. At the opposite end of the country, Florida Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz have vowed to fight the president on this issue.

 

North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has expressed concerns about offshore drilling but has not stated that he opposes the President’s action. GOP Congressman Richard Hudson has praised the president for his move.

 

Do you support offshore oil and gas exploration? Or do you think that drilling for oil and gas off of our nation’s coast is the wrong direction for our energy policy?

 

U.S. House Bill 1039

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in D.C., check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 1039: Allow probation officers to make arrests with no warrants: Passed 220 to 177 in the U.S. House on May 19, 2017

 

To allow a probation officer to arrest someone without a warrant if there is probable cause that the person assaulted or obstructed a probation officer.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 1039!

 

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