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Congress Approves Short-Term Government Spending Bill

The federal government has money to operate for one more week. The Senate today voted to approve legislation that extends federal spending until December 18. The House approved the same bill on Wednesday.


The fiscal year ended on October 1. As described in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive, Congress must pass and the president sign spending bills every year to fund the government for the next fiscal year. However, this rarely happens. This year was no exception. In September, Congress passed legislation that provided this funding through December 11. However, this two-month extension was not long enough for members of Congress and the president to agree to a spending plan. Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration think they can find common ground within a week.


If they do not, there are two options: another short-term funding bill or a partial government shutdown. Some senators are saying they will not vote for another funding bill unless Congress also approves a coronavirus aid bill with direct payments to Americans. Senators Josh Hawley (R-IN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are spearheading that effort. Congressional Democrats largely support this idea, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stood firm against it. If either House rejects a spending bill, then parts of the federal government labeled "non-essential" will shut down on December 19.


Do you think that members of Congress should refuse to fund the federal government until a coronavirus aid bill is passed with direct payments to Americans?


Judge Strikes Down L.A. Dining Ban

The Los Angeles Public Health Department’s desire to shut down outdoor dining has run into legal trouble. This week a state judge says the agency erred in issuing the ban.


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said that the department did not have the authority to issue such a ban. He went on to say that the ban “is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic.” The health department had shut down outdoor dining two weeks ago in response to rising coronavirus cases. An association of restaurant owners sued.


While the county said that such a ban was necessary to combat the coronavirus, Judge Chalfant disagreed. His ruling finds that the county did not rely on science in imposing the ban. The restaurant association leading the lawsuit noted that only a small percentage of coronavirus cases are linked to restaurants and that the federal government ranks outdoor dining as a less-risky activity.


The judge’s decision also pointed out that this ban would have severe consequences on restaurants. He noted that many of these restaurants would likely go bankrupt under such a ban. He said the county should have weighed not only the potential health benefits of a ban but also the economic consequences of it.


While this case invalidates the L.A. County ban on outdoor dining, the state of California has its own outdoor dining ban. 


Do you agree with banning outdoor dining as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus?


NC Governor Imposes 10 p.m. Curfew to Stem Coronavirus Spread

Most North Carolina businesses will be closing at 10 p.m. under a new order imposed by Gov. Roy Cooper.


Under Gov. Cooper's order, only a few businesses will be exempt from the closing order. These include grocery stores, gas stations, and health care facilities. Restaurants can continue serving take-out food after 10 p.m., but cannot allow customers to eat inside. Individuals must stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they meet certain exceptions. 


Coronavirus cases are rising in North Carolina, with many counties being considered as having critical community spread. The governor says that this justifies restricting businesses and public gatherings. He said that as the evening goes on, crowds increase and there is more chance of spreading the coronavirus. Critics push back against this logic, however, saying there is nothing particularly dangerous about late-night dining or drinking as opposed to doing the same activities earlier in the day. They contend that the governor's order will harm businesses that are already struggling.


Coronavirus cases are rising in states around the nation. Other governors are imposing or considering similar measures in an attempt to stop community spread of the virus.


Gov. Cooper said that if these restrictions do not work, he will consider imposing even stricter rules.


Do you think that states should impose curfews to stop the spread of the coronavirus?

Deep Dive: Year-End Spending

Members of Congress are negotiating this week on a package of bills that will, among other things, keep the federal government from partially shutting down. These government shutdowns have become a quasi-routine experience in recent years, the result of Congress and the president failing to agree on a spending package that will fund the federal government for an entire fiscal year. The current spending legislation to keep all parts of the federal government open expires on Friday.


A previous Deep Dive examined the budget process that talks about the overall spending blueprint for the federal government. This Deep Dive will discuss the specific part affecting spending – the appropriations process. This is key to understanding when and why the federal government shuts down.


The Status of Federal Spending


The 2020 fiscal year ended on September 30. A new fiscal year started on October 1, which means that Congress needed to approve a new round of spending to keep the federal governments (or parts of the federal government) operating. If it failed to do so, this would lead to a government shutdown. These shutdowns occur when either Congress fails to pass spending bills to keep parts of the government open or the president vetoes these spending bills.


While Congress did not pass legislation to fund the federal government for the entire 2021 fiscal year, it did pass HR 8337, which continued federal funding at the Fiscal Year 2020 level. This continuing resolution keeps the federal government operating through December 11. Members of Congress and the Trump Administration have been negotiating during this time to come to an agreement on spending for the current fiscal year. 


With no agreement likely this week, Congress will vote on another short-term continuing resolution to prevent a government. Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration are close to finalizing a spending package for the rest of the fiscal year that includes a new coronavirus relief package as well and possibly defense authorization legislation.


The new continuing resolution will fund the federal government through December 18.


The Appropriations Process


Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”


Federal government spending is divided into two categories:

  • Mandatory: Programs authorized by Congress that operate outside the regular spending process are entitlement programs, and their spending is deemed “mandatory.” For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, anyone who meets certain qualification is entitled to benefits. Funding for these programs does not have to be authorized yearly by Congress, although the eligibility and payment rules can be changed.
  • Discretionary: To pay for other government activities, ranging from military operations undertaken by the Defense Department to operating national parks to paying congressional staff, Congress must pass 12 appropriations, or spending, bills. These bills operate on a fiscal year basis. If they do not become law, funds cannot be drawn from the U.S. Treasury to pay for the government operations they cover.


Appropriations Bills


The 12 appropriations bills that should be passed by Congress every fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce/Justice/Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans
  • State/Foreign Operations
  • Transportation/Urban Development


You can see the progress of the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bills through Congress here.


The number and title of these bills can be changed by Congress. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress re-organized the appropriations process, which at that time had operated with 13 appropriations bills.


Consolidated Appropriations/Continuing Appropriations/Omnibus Appropriations


While the spending process is supposed to proceed with the 12 bills being passed separately and signed into law by October 1 of each year, this almost never happens. In fact, since 1977 (when the current spending system was put in place), Congress has passed all of the appropriations bills on time in only four years. The last time it did this was 1997. The usual pattern is that Congress passes some, but not all, of the bills to be signed into law by October 1.


When this happens, Congress can take a variety of steps to avoid a government shutdown. It can pass a resolution for continuing appropriations, which fund the government for a specified period of time at the level of the previous fiscal year. During this time, it can then pass a consolidated appropriations act, which combines two or more appropriations bills. An omnibus appropriations bill generally wraps all the outstanding appropriations bills into a single act for the rest of the fiscal year.


If special spending needs arise during the fiscal year, Congress can also pass a supplemental appropriations bill, which provides funding more money than what was contained in the original spending bill.


The Previous Government Shutdown


There have been a handful of government shutdowns since the mid-1990s, with the latest ending in January 2019. While called “shutdowns,” in reality much of the government keeps operating during these times. Government employees working in capacities deemed “essential” had to work. Those in “non-essential” positions could not do any work.

Prior to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019 (which began on October 1, 2018), Congress had only passed these appropriations bills:

  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans


Continuing resolutions funded the government agencies covered by the other appropriations bills through December 21. President Trump signaled his opposition to signing any spending bills that did not contain funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. As a consequence, the agencies not covered by the already-passed appropriations bills were shut down on that date.


The parts of the government that were covered by these spending bills could continue to operate as normal, however. Since the Legislative Branch appropriations bill was signed into law, congressional staffers could continue to be paid their salary. So could employees of the Energy Department, Defense Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Education Department.


When President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 31 in January, it funded the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019. There was no government shutdown for Fiscal Year 2020.


What This Means for You


A government shutdown can disrupt a variety of federal activities, from passport processing to the use of national parks. It also leads to disruptions in the pay of federal employees. It is possible that if Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration fail to come to an agreement by December 18, there could be another partial government shutdown. That is unlikely, since many details of the funding package appear to be agreeable to both sides. However, the Fiscal Year 2021 spending bill will also likely contain coronavirus relief legislation. Many have been urging Congress to pass a new coronavirus aid bill, so they are watching this closely to see what it will contain. The new or extended programs in this bill could have a significant effect on millions of Americans, but it will also come with a significant price tag.

House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end federal laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana.


By a vote of 228-164, the House approved H.R. 1380. Here is how VoteSpotter describes that bill:

To remove marijuana from the federal controlled substances list. This would end the federal criminalization of marijuana possession and leave it to states to restrict or regulate marijuana. The legislation would also impose a 5% federal tax on legal marijuana sales.


Only 6 Democrats opposed the bill and only 5 Republicans supported it. The House's sole Libertarian member, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted "aye."


Never before had the House of Representatives considered legislation that would completely repeal federal marijuana law. This follows votes in numerous states to legalize marijuana use for medicinal or recreational purposes. While states can remove their prohibitions against marijuana use or possession, it still remains illegal under federal law. The House vote would end that federal restriction and leave the matter of marijuana's legal status up to states.


Supporters of ending federal marijuana prohibition argue that this should be a matter for states to decide. If state residents want marijuana to be legal there, a federal law should not overrule it. They say that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug and that law enforcement action against marijuana possession causes more problems than it solves. Opponents, however, say that the federal government has an interest in preventing people from using a drug that causes numerous health and societal issues. They contend that this vote sends the wrong message to children.


This legislation now moves to the Senate, where it is unlikely to receive a vote. This action by the House follows a House vote earlier this year when that body approved ending the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have approved state-level marijuana legalization.


Do you support ending federal laws against marijuana use and possession?

Biden Urged to Forgive Student Loan Debt

When they ran for president, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren make forgiving student loan debt a major piece of their campaign platforms. Now they, along with other members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are urging Joe Biden to cancel student debt once he becomes president.


Under Warren's plan, the president would immediately begin canceling up to $50,000 in debt for 42 million Americans. This would cover about 95% of those who have borrowed money from the federal government. Others have suggested other ideas, such as focusing on borrowers who have incomes under $100,000. 


While student loan debt forgiveness is not a new idea, those supporting it now argue that it would help stimulate the economy. They contend that borrowers would see an immediate economic boost from seeing their debt wiped away. Historically, debt forgiveness proponents argue that student loan debt is crushing middle class families and holding them back from achieving the American Dream.


Critics say these views are wrong. They note that any student loan debt plan will be an expensive taxpayer giveaway to people who can afford to pay the money they borrowed, since they have an education that should lead to higher-paid work. They point out that people with higher incomes will benefit far more than those with lower incomes. In addition, they dismiss the economic stimulus arguments, contending that this idea would be one of the least efficient ways to provide more money to the economy.


Sen. Warren has promoted the idea that the Secretary of Education can unilaterally forgive student loan debt. Others disagree, saying that such a move requires an act of Congress. 


Do you support the federal government forgiving student loan debt?

Trump Issues Defense Bill Veto Threat over Social Media Protections

President Donald Trump tweeted that he is set to veto defense authorization legislation. The subject of his ire is not anything in the bill or anything related to the military. Instead, he said that the legislation should include a repeal of a federal law that provides some liability protection for social media platforms.


On Tuesday night, President Trump tweeted:


Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to “Big Tech” (the only companies in America that have it - corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand....Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!


Many congressional Republicans and Democrats also have issues with Section 230. This provision dates to a 1996 law concerning federal regulation of online services. The section states, in part, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." in essence, this means that services like Facebook and Twitter cannot be sued for moderating content in good faith. 


President Trump and some Republicans have accused social media platforms and Google of liberal bias in moderating content. Democrats, on the other hand, say that these companies have not gone far enough to remove false or hateful speech. Congress has held hearings with officials from these companies where both Democratic and Republican members have criticized them for how they operate their businesses.


Repealing Section 230 would make it easier to sue social media companies for their moderating activities. President Trump has grown increasingly angry over what he perceives as unfair treatment from the platforms, and has made repeal a high priority. While there is bipartisan support for some sort of Section 230 reform in Congress, there is no agreement on what form that should take. Critics of repeal argue that easing civil suits would have a negative effect on free speech. 


Currently Congress is meeting in a lame duck session to finish work on a variety of legislation. One of the bills under consideration would authorize U.S. defense operations. While there are disagreements on the details of this bill, there is bipartisan agreement that it needs to pass this year. Congressional leadership reacted to the president's tweet by pointing out that technology policy is not relevant to the defense bill. They contend that this matter should be dealt with in separate legislation.


If the president vetoes the defense authorization legislation, a supermajority of Congress could override that veto.

Do you think that Congress should include repeal of Section 230 in the defense authorization legislation?

House Voting on Big Cat Bill This Week

The hit Netflix show "Tiger King" has raised the profile of big cat sanctuaries and the people who own lions and tigers. Now the House of Representatives is considering legislation that would tighten federal restrictions on the ownership and exhibition of these cats.


Under H.R. 1380, only individuals or businesses licensed by the Department of Agriculture could possess big cats such as lions, tigers, and leopards. For any business or organization that wants to exhibit these animals to the public, this legislation would prohibit them from allowing people to have access to the cats.


H.R. 1380 is a bipartisan bill with 230 cosponsors and it likely to pass this week with overwhelming support in the House. This differs from past years, when similar legislation languished without a vote. Advocates have been trying to pass tighter big cat restrictions for five years but have failed.


Sponsors of the legislation credit the "Tiger King" series for bringing attention to the issues raised by this legislation. They say this show, which focuses on big cat sanctuary owners, illustrates the dangers that loose federal laws have caused. They contend that many of these sanctuaries abuse cats and endanger the people who visit them. Opponents of the bill push back, saying that tougher federal laws will infringe upon the rights of people and organizations who care for endangered cats. 


The House and Senate are both meeting in lame duck sessions in order to finish work on spending bills and other matters. If the House passes HR 1380 this week, the Senate could act on it before adjourning for the year.


Do you support prohibiting people from interacting with big cats at cat sanctuaries?

Biden Could Pursue Gun Control upon Inauguration

When Joe Biden takes office on January 20, many progressives are pushing him to enact a variety of policies that break with the Trump Administration's actions over the past four years. One high-profile area where Biden will likely act is on gun laws. His proposals to place more federal restrictions on gun ownership will meet sharp opposition from Republicans in Congress, however.


 During his time in the U.S. Senate and as vice president, Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of gun control. During the 2020 campaign, he outlined a variety of proposals that he says would help stem gun violence. These include:

  • Ban online sales of guns and gun parts
  • Ban the sale of certain types of semi-automatic guns known as "assault weapons"
  • Ban the sale of high-capacity magazines
  • Mandate a background check for all transfers of guns, including those between private individuals
  • Repeal a federal law that prevents gun manufacturers from being sued for the misuse of their products
  • Prohibit individuals from purchasing multiple guns in a month
  • Require gun owners to lock up their guns, report them if stolen, and be held legally liable if minors have access to them


Biden contends that these ideas are necessary to reduce murder and suicide rates. He and his supporters argue that these stricter laws will deter crime while still preserving firearm access to those who want them for hunting. Opponents, however, point out that there is little evidence that gun control laws actually reduce crime rates. They note that many criminals already evade current gun laws so these new proposals would simply infringe upon the rights of legitimate gun owners.


To enact these proposals, however, Congress must act. The last time a major gun control package passed Congress was in the mid-1990s. If Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, none of these proposals is likely to even come to a vote in that chamber. As president, Biden can pursue some gun control measures through executive orders, but his ability to do so is limited.


Do you think the federal government should impose new restrictions on gun ownership?

Pharma Company Pleads Guilty to Federal Opioid Charges

Purdue Pharma has pled guilty to three federal criminal charges related to the opioid epidemic.


Steve Miller, who chairs Purdue's board of directors, pled guilty this week on behalf of the company to charges that the company had not effectively tried to stop illegal diversions of its opioid drugs, that it misled the Drug Enforcement Administration, and that it stonewalled efforts by the DEA to investigate the opioid epidemic.


These charges are part of broader legal fights trying to place responsibility for the nation's opioid crisis onto drug companies. States, local governments, and the federal government have filed suits alleging that Purdue and other companies pushed doctors to prescribe heavy doses of the drug even after it knew the dangers it posed. Many of these suits are seeking money from these companies for these governments’ expenses in dealing with the opioid crisis.


According to the legal theory being put forward in these suits, opioid manufacturers made and marketed these drugs knowing that they were addictive and dangerous. They encouraged doctors to prescribe the drugs regardless of the harm it would cause to users. They say that the high rates of opioid addition and overdoses we are seeing today is a direct result of these companies’ actions. The guilty plea by Purdue bolsters these cases.


This legal argument is not universally accepted, however. Critics of these cases note that opioids are tightly controlled by the federal government. They said that the companies complied with federal laws and regulations regarding opioids, and should not be blamed for people who misuse their products. They point out that the vast majority of overdoses are due to heroin or fentanyl, not prescription opioids.


Do you think that drug companies contributed to the opioid crisis?

Court Rules States Can Defund Planned Parenthood

States do not have to allow Planned Parenthood to participate in the Medicaid program, a federal appeals court ruled today.


The case involved efforts by Texas and Louisiana to label Planned Parenthood affiliates as "unqualified" to participate in the Medicaid program, which would remove the ability of women who go there to have their services paid for by the government. Planned Parenthood supported women who wanted to use Planned Parenthood in those states. The federal court held that these women did not have the ability under federal law to sue over the state's actions to end Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.


Some states have received permission from the federal government to offer certain reproductive services through their Medicaid program but exclude Planned Parenthood from participating. The Trump Administration has supported these efforts. This is part of the wider efforts to remove state and federal funding from Planned Parenthood.


Those who oppose this funding argue that taxpayer dollars should not go to an organization that provides abortion. They contend that women have other alternatives for their health care. Supporters of government funding for Planned Parenthood say that the organization offers a range of services beyond abortion, and that cutting off funding hurts poor women. They also point out that no federal dollars can go to pay for abortions.


Planned Parenthood has vowed to appeal this case.


Do you think that state governments should cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood?

Los Angeles Bans Outdoor Dining to Stem Coronavirus Surge

Coronavirus cases are rising in Los Angeles County. The local health department thinks that ending outdoor dining will help stem the tide.


Under this order, restaurants and other establishments that serve food can only offer take out. Both indoor and outdoor dining are prohibited. Outdoor dining has been allowed since May, under the rationale that being outdoors provides less exposure to the coronavirus than being indoors. However, with cases increasing in the county, health officials contend that even outdoor seating is too dangerous.


States, counties, and cities around the nation are taking new steps and re-imposing old bans in order to curb the increase in coronavirus cases. In Los Angeles County, the five-day average of cases has surpassed 4,000, which was the threshold set by the health department for new restrictions.


These measures have proven controversial in many areas. Business owners argue that they are an extreme response that is killing jobs and the economy. They say that business shutdowns are an overreaction that do more harm than good. The officials imposing these restrictions counter that they are essential to keep the virus and the harm it causes at bay.


The Los Angeles order lasts for three weeks, although it can be extended.


Do you think that health officials should prohibit outdoor dining as a way to combat the coronavirus?

House Passes Veterans Bills

Members of Congress are meeting during a lame duck session, working on a variety of bills before the session ends. They are even putting aside some of their partisan disagreements. This week, the House of Representatives passed two veterans-related bills with no dissenting votes.


While the Republicans, Democrats, and one Libertarian member of the House have strong disagreements, these disagreements were not on display during debate over veterans legislation. On November 16, the House unanimously passed two bills:


  • S 3147: To require the Veterans Affairs Administration to report on the policies and procedures it changed to improve care.
  • S 327: To allow veterans with a service-connected disability to enter national parks with no charge.


The passage of these bills was timed to occur near Veterans Day, which was on November 11.


The House will move on to debating more contentious legislation soon, however. Funding to keep the federal government open will expire on December 11. Congress and President Trump must agree on legislation to fund federal activities for the rest of the fiscal year when members return to the capitol after Thanksgiving.


What do you think Congress should do to honor veterans?

Senate Focusing on Judges During Lame Duck Session

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made confirming President Trump’s judges a high priority during the last four years. The focus on the judiciary is continuing during this week’s lame duck session.


Since the Senate reconvened on November 9, it has held 14 votes. All but one of those votes involved a judicial confirmation. Senators must go through a two-vote process in order to approve judges. One vote is for cloture, or to close off debate on a nominee. Previously, it took 60 votes to invoke cloture. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid changed Senate rules so that a cloture vote can pass by a majority vote.


During this month, the Senate has approved these Trump-nominated judges:

  • Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida -- 49-41
  • Stephen A. Vaden to be a Judge of the United States Court of International Trade -- 49-43
  • Toby Crouse to be United States District Judge for the District of Kansas -- 50-43
  • Benjamin Joel Beaton to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky -- 52-44
  • Kristi Haskins Johnson to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi -- 53-43
  • Aileen Mercedes Cannon to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida -- 56-21
  • James Ray Knepp II to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio -- 64-24


As these vote totals show, most of these judges are confirmed along party-line votes or votes that have just a few Democrats joining the Republicans. Judicial nominations have become especially partisan over the past twenty years, and this has intensified under President Trump's term in office. Democratic senators have consistently opposed Sen. McConnell's efforts to confirm judges. 


This opposition is especially pronounced during the lame duck session. Democrats see Sen. McConnell's efforts as a way to ram through federal judges with life tenure before President Trump leaves office. They also worry that the Republican majority will approve few federal judges nominated by incoming President Joe Biden.


Do you support Senate Republicans focusing on the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees?

Coronavirus-Related Unemployment Benefits Set to Expire

When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it made self-employed workers and freelance workers eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time. That eligibility will expire on December 26 unless Congress acts during the lame duck session to extend it.


Congress included these workers in the CARES Act when it passed in March. The rationale was that in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, workers who had not been previously eligible for benefits should be included. Unlike traditional employees, people who are self-employed or who do freelance work do not pay into the unemployment system. Under the CARES Act, however, they could also receive payments similar to other workers.


This expanded eligibility ends in December, however. 


Congress convened a lame duck session this week to pass legislation to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year and pass a handful of other bills. While coronavirus aid bills were largely bipartisan when Congress passed them in the spring, that cross-party agreement has broken down. Differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as differences between Congress and the president, are currently hampering efforts to craft new legislation. 


If congressional leaders can work out their differences, Congress could pass another round of coronavirus aid in late November or early December. However, some Democrats want to wait until Joe Biden takes office, which they think will give them a stronger hand during negotiations.


Do you support extending the eligibility for unemployment benefits to people who are self-employed?

Trump Drawing Down Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq

More American troops will be coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, the Trump Administration announced today.


The president ordered a reduction in U.S. military personnel for both nations by mid-January. In Afghanistan, troops will be reduced from 4,500 to 2,500. In Iraq, the reduction will be from 3,000 to 2,500. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller made the announcement of this policy change today.


Trump Administration officials contend that these reductions in force will not affect the U.S. mission in either nation. They say that this was a collaborative decision supported by military officers in the Pentagon. Some military officials disagree, however, and argue that such reductions will hurt efforts to keep the peace in Iraq and curb the Taliban in Afghanistan.


President Trump ran for office on a platform of disengaging from military actions overseas. In some cases he has removed U.S. troops, but in other nations he has sustained or expanded forces. The president has long argued that the U.S. is doing too much militarily in foreign countries. His critics see his views as being shortsighted and emboldening nations like Russia and China.


Do you support removing some U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Governors Re-impose Coronavirus-Related Restrictions

Across the nation, coronavirus cases are increasing. This is prompting some governors to re-impose restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. This has made some of their states' residents unhappy.


In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee re-imposed lockdown restrictions that had been lifted months ago. These include limiting how many people can attend funerals, curbing indoor dining, and banning some youth sports activities. In Oregon, indoor gatherings for more than a handful of people are banned. Michigan is prohibiting schools from meeting in person.


These orders come as over 60,000 people are hospitalized from the coronavirus. Some hospitals say they are reaching a critical situation, and may not be able to offer necessary services if cases continue to climb. Governors argue that restricting business activities and requiring masks are the best way to blunt the impact of the coronavirus until a vaccine is developed. 


Some residents of these states are unhappy with the restrictions. They argue that the coronavirus is not very deadly, so it is an overreaction to impose severe government controls in response. They also contend that these lockdowns do more harm than good, as people are losing their businesses and people are being put out of work.


Not all states are implementing new restrictions. Florida's governor, for instance, recently lifted lockdown orders.


Do you support governors placing restrictions on individual gatherings and business activities in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus?

Biden Advisor Says No National Lockdown Coming

With coronavirus cases increasing, there is heated discussion about what will be done under a Joe Biden presidency to combat the spread. His coronavirus taskforce advisor has ruled out a national lockdown.


Dr. Vivek Murthy said in interviews that there is no strategy to place restrictions on the entire U.S. economy. Instead, Murthy said that such restrictions should be targeted to locations that have a high incidence of the disease. Dr. Murthy is a former U.S. Surgeon General whom Joe Biden has selected to lead his task force on coronavirus issues. Other Biden advisors have said the same thing.


Around the nation, governors are taking various steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus. With numbers increasing in many states, governors are putting in place a variety of restrictions. These include limits on non-family gatherings, business shutdowns, and mask mandates. In-person schooling is being discontinued in some areas, too.


Proponents of coronavirus-related restrictions argue that they are vital to stop the spread of the disease. They contend that without them, many people will die or become sick, overwhelming the health care system. Opponents contend that the restrictions are going overboard and are hurting people and businesses. They argue that this is a prime example of government overreacting to the virus.


There is disagreement on how many restrictions the federal government can put in place to deal with coronavirus spread. The Trump Administration has embraced some policies, such as a national moratorium on some evictions, that have proven controversial and are being challenged in court. Many legal observers note that while states have broad powers to deal with pandemics, the federal government does not. A national lockdown would certainly face lawsuits.


Do you support a national lockdown to deal with the coronavirus?

Florida Governor Wants to Allow More Force Against Rioters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not been shy about expressing his dislike of rioting, looting, and demonstrations that block roads. Now he wants legislators to change state law to allow state residents to use more force against people in these situations.


Under DeSantis's proposal, the state would expand the number of situations in which people could use lethal force in self-defense. These would include looting and the "interruption or impairment" of a business. The law would also impose harsher penalties for blocking roads and give drivers immunity if they struck protestors unintentionally. In addition, the governor has proposed cutting state funding for local governments that defund police departments.


These proposed changes to state law come in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and racial discrimination. in some cities, these protests have turned violent, leading to looting. Many times protestors will also block traffic in an attempt to bring attention to their cause. Many elected officials have deplored the protests and rioting, saying that law enforcement should do more to stop them.


Critics of Gov. DeSantis's proposals say that this would empower vigilantes to kill protestors and run over demonstrators. They argue that the punishment for these actions should not be death. DeSantis says these changes are necessary in order to stop protestors from destroying businesses and blocking traffic. 


The Florida legislature may consider this legislation when it convenes in January.


Do you think there should be tougher laws for looters and demonstrators who block traffic?

Supreme Court Hears New Obamacare Case

Supreme Court justices today heard arguments in one more case seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). From their questions to lawyers on both sides of the case, it appears unlikely that they will do so.


Eighteen states and two individuals brought the case to the high court. They argued that when Congress removed penalties for the individual mandate to obtain health insurance, it rendered the entire law unworkable. They say that this mandate is the key to the entire law, and it that part is effectively repealed, then the law should be overturned. 


Justices seemed skeptical about that argument. They pointed out that Congress could have repealed the ACA when it eliminated the individual mandate penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts appeared skeptical that the Supreme Court should be doing the job of Congress. Others noted that it the mandate penalty were zero, then no one was harmed by the mandate and thus did not have standing to bring the case.


Another argument hinged on what is called "severability." That is the idea that if one section of a law is found to be illegal or unconstitutional, then the rest of the law can stand. Plaintiffs in this case argued against that idea for the ACA, saying that the individual mandate is the key to the entire law. Justice Brett Kavanaugh disagreed, however, saying that the individual mandate could be ruled unconstitutional but that this decision would not affect the rest of the law.


The justices will likely issue an opinion in this case next year.


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