Posted by 17 July 2020
With another coronavirus relief bill likely to move through the House and Senate in August, members of Congress are considering what should be in such legislation. President Trump wants it to have a payroll tax cut.
The desire for a payroll tax cut has been a consistent theme with President Trump. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has not included it, however.
In a statement this week, a White House spokesman said:
As he has done since the beginning of this pandemic, President Trump wants to provide relief to hardworking Americans who have been impacted by this virus and one way of doing that is with a payroll tax holiday. He’s called on Congress to pass this before and he believes it must be part of any phase four package.
Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.
Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Others argue that there are more effective ways to stimulate the economy, such as direct payments to individuals. Some critics are also concerned about the long-term effect of cutting payroll taxes on Medicare and Social Security.
Do you think the new coronavirus relief bill should include a payroll tax cut?
Posted by 16 July 2020
President Trump has long complained that federal regulations make it difficult to build big infrastructure projects in a timely manner. This week, his administration is taking steps to revise federal environmental rules to speed up infrastructure construction.
The changes concern the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates an environmental review for large infrastructure projects. Critics say this process is often too complex and costly, and that it takes far too long. They have urged the federal government to streamline environmental reviews and assessments in order to make it easier to construct infrastructure.
The Trump Administration has finalized revisions to NEPA that will exclude some projects from mandatory reviews, narrow the scope of the reviews in ways that will likely end consideration of climate change, and place a time limit on these reviews.
Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers blasted the rule change as a giveaway to industry at the expense of the environment. They also claimed that this will hurt minorities, since they are disproportionately affected by construction of large infrastructure projects.
Do you support streamlining the environmental reviews required for major construction projects?
Posted by 15 July 2020
This week, the Trump Administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to support an Arkansas program requiring some able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work.
Under the Arkansas Works program, individuals newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must meet certain work requirements. These include engaging in work or work-related activities for 80 hours a month. Only those in the Medicaid expansion population – able-bodied adults without children who are between 18 and 62 – face this requirement. There are also exceptions for people who are unable to work.
While the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama had not approved Arkansas’s work requirement (or similar requirements in other states), the Trump Administration did. However, federal judges have blocked many of these requirements from going into effect. The Trump Administration’s legal filing urges the Supreme Court to overturn these rulings.
The legal issues center on whether federal law permits states to add a work requirement to Medicaid recipients. Medicaid is funded in part by the federal government, but states opt into it and have some leeway to design their programs. The Trump Administration and states say that states have the authority to require work for some able-bodied recipients, but courts have ruled that Congress must amend the program to allow this.
Supporters of work requirements argue that they are helping Medicaid recipients by giving them an incentive to go to work, where they may be able to obtain private health insurance eventually. They also argue that childless, able-bodied adults -- the group covered by the work requirement -- should be working. Opponents, however, see these requirements as a way to limit participating in Medicaid, noting that 18,000 people lost eligibility once Arkansas put its requirement in place. They also contend that the work verification rules under Arkansas Works are too difficult for many to comply with.
Do you support requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or seek work?
Posted by 14 July 2020
Lawmakers in two states passed strict abortion laws, but federal judges put them both on hold this week.
In Georgia, a judge issued a permanent injunction against a law that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detectable. This law, passed last year, has been the center of legal squabbles. And in Tennessee, another judge issued a temporary injunction against enforcing a law that would have the effect of banning nearly every abortion in the state.
These two laws are similar to other states’ laws that are aimed at curbing abortions. Sponsors of these bills say they are necessary to protect the lives of unborn children. They argue that once a heartbeat is present, a fetus should be considered a viable human. Opponents, however, say these laws infringe upon a woman’s constitutional right to privacy.
Federal judges have largely agreed with those who are fighting these laws. These judges have concluded that the laws do indeed go further than Supreme Court decisions, such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, allow. The judges in these two cases point to other successful challenges of similar laws in their injunctions.
Some supporters of these stricter abortion laws also admit to a strategy of passing laws they know will set up a judicial showdown over whether the laws are constitutional or not. Their hope is to use the court fights over the new abortion laws as an avenue to have the Supreme Court get involved an issue a ruling that is more favorable to abortion opponents.
Do you support stricter abortion laws?
Posted by 13 July 2020
The Trump Administration’s movement to resume federal executions has once again been put on hold by a federal judge.
On Monday, the federal government planned to execute Daniel Lewis Lee, who was convicted of three murders in 1996. There have been ongoing legal challenges to his execution, but an appeals court had ruled on Sunday that it could proceed. However, hours after this ruling, another federal judge placed an injunction on any federal executions.
That judge, Tanya Chutkan, said that the courts still needed to sort out the legal challenges from four inmates on death row. These cases concern whether federal execution protocols are cruel and unusual, and are therefore banned by the Constitution. Some analysts argue that the drugs used for lethal injection cause significant pain and distress to those being executed.
Chutkan’s ruling contends that there is sufficient evidence that these drugs do indeed constitute cruel and unusual punishment, so there should be a definitive ruling by federal courts before executions resume. The Trump Administration has aggressively fought to begin using the death penalty again.
The last person executed by the federal government was Louis Jones in 2003.
Do you support the federal government resuming use of the death penalty?
Posted by 09 July 2020
President Trump has claimed that he has absolute immunity from criminal investigation while in office. Today, the Supreme Court said that was not the case.
In a 7-2 decision, the high court ruled that the president could not block subpoenas for his financial information. New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking his tax records to look into whether Trump violated New York law when paying money to two women who claim he had sex with them. Vance wants to present this evidence to a grand jury to consider criminal charges against Trump.
The president and his lawyers argued that these records should not turned over to the district attorney while Trump is in office. Their claim was that the president has a broad grant of immunity to criminal investigations, and violating this would open him up to politically-motivated prosecution.
Seven Supreme Court justices disagreed, however. They pointed out that no one is above the law, including the president, and shielding him from investigation would go against centuries of precedent. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
President Trump said that this decision was political and that he was being unfairly targeted. District Attorney Vance called it a victory for justice.
Do you think the president should be immune from criminal investigations?
Posted by 07 July 2020
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that states have the power to punish or remove electors who break their pledges to support specific candidates.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote for 7 fellow justices, saying that the Constitution’s text and the history of the Electoral College demonstrate that states have latitude to punish or replace faithless electors. Justice Clarence Thomas came to the same conclusion, although he said that the Tenth Amendment protects states’ power to set limits on electors.
When voters cast their ballot for president, they vote for electors who then make the binding vote for president. Electors take a pledge to support a certain candidate for office. Occasionally, electors vote for different candidates than the ones they are pledged to support. In 2016, there were more faithless electors than in any previous election, with ten electors in five states. Two more electors tried to vote for someone other than their pledged candidate, but were replaced.
The Supreme Court concerned three of these electors from Washington and one in Colorado. After they cast their votes for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won their states’ popular vote, the Washington electors were fined and the Colorado elector was replaced. The justices ruled in the case concerning the Colorado elector, but the reasoning applies to the Washington case, too.
While not directly affecting other efforts to change the way the Electoral College works, this ruling does appear to confirm that states can reform how they assign electoral votes. Some states want to require electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, for instance.
What do you think about the Electoral College?
Posted by 03 July 2020
With little Republican support, the House of Representatives passed an infrastructure bill with a price tag of $1.5 trillion.
By a vote of 233-188, House members approved H.R. 2, which reauthorizes federal transportation and infrastructure programs through Fiscal Year 2025. The bill deals with traditional transportation issues, such as highway funding and public transit, but it also contains a number of measures related to renewable energy and climate change.
Initially, the House of Representatives was considering an infrastructure bill that would cost roughly $500 billion. However, under pressure from some in the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party, House leadership instead put forward a much more expensive bill that contained many environmental priorities.
Those who supported H.R. 2 said that it is necessary for the federal government to concentrate on moving America towards a greener energy structure. They say that doing so will both combat climate change and give the U.S. an economic advantage over other nations. To make this happen, H.R. 2 contained items such as providing federal money to electric vehicle charging stations and setting up a grant fund for local initiatives to fight greenhouse gases.
Republicans opposed the bill on the grounds that it was too expensive and contained a wish list of ineffective ideas from the Green New Deal. They argued that the bill should be focused on transportation, not liberal environmental ideas. Only three members of the GOP caucus supported the legislation.
There is broad agreement with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and with President Trump that they should advance an infrastructure bill this year. The current transportation authorization expires in September. However, the Senate is unlikely to consider the infrastructure bill passed by the House this week.
Do you support spending $1.5 trillion on transportation infrastructure and projects to fight climate change?
Posted by 02 July 2020
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Tom Udall (D-NM) want to see American troops gone from Afghanistan within a year. A majority of their Senate colleagues do not agree.
By a vote of 60-33, the Senate voted to table the Paul-Udall amendment to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Tabling a measure effectively kills it. The amendment would have also paid those troops a $2,500 bonus and repealed the 2001 use of force authorization that began the Afghanistan war.
Senators Paul and Udall argued that a 19-year war was long enough. They said it was time to end the unpopular military activities in Afghanistan and bring the troops home. Senators in opposition, though, said that military action should end when certain objectives are met, not on a specific date.
The Trump Administration has negotiated with the Taliban to reduce U.S. troop strength in the country. Under a deal struck earlier this year, the U.S. will draw down its number of military personnel to 8,600 in mid-July.
The support and opposition for this amendment crossed party lines. Republican Senate leadership joined with Democrats to table it, while Democrats, Republicans, and independent Senator Bernie Sanders voted against tabling it.
This amendment was part of a larger defense authorization bill currently being considered by the Senate.
Do you think that the U.S. should remove troops from Afghanistan within a year?
Posted by 01 July 2020
Voters in Oklahoma cast their ballots yesterday, and by a very narrow margin approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
With a 1% margin of victory, voters supported State Question 802. This ballot measure amends the Oklahoma constitution to provide Medicaid coverage for more lower-income state residents. Medicaid is a joint federal-state health coverage program. Under the Affordable Care Act, states could provide coverage for lower-income adults without disabilities who did not have children.
Medicaid expansion has been a controversial topic in many states, especially ones where Republicans have the majority in the legislature. These states have largely been reluctant to expand the program, fearing long-run costs. Skeptics of expansion note that while the federal government funds 90% of the new enrollees, it still leaves state with a financial burden that will grow over time. They argue that health policy should be focused on placing people on private insurance, not enrolling them in a government program.
Backers of expansion counter that Medicaid expansion is an effective way of helping those who cannot afford insurance. They say that it will save lives and reduce the use of emergency rooms. In some states where legislators refuse to vote in favor of expanding Medicaid, these advocates have gone directly to voters through ballot initiatives.
These ballot initiatives have been successful in Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, and Utah. Oklahoma’s expansion is different, however, since the initiative amends the state constitution, while the other states have only amended statutes. A constitutional amendment change prevents legislators from reversing the outcome or changing the program eligibility.
Do you support extending Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults who have no children?
Posted by 30 June 2020
On a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that if states pay private school tuition, they cannot refuse to pay tuition at religious private schools.
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a Montana parent who was using a state-funded scholarship program to pay for tuition at a private religious school. However, this arrangement ended when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program violated a constitutional ban on state money going to religious schools. The parent sued, saying that this ruling violated the First Amendment by singling out religious schools for discrimination.
The Supreme Court agreed that Montana’s prohibition on state aid to private schools did indeed amount to religious discrimination. Many states have similar prohibitions, known as “Blaine Amendments.” They originated in the late 1900s, when there was growing concern about Catholic private schools. The high court held that Montana is not obligated to pay for private school tuition, but if it does it cannot allow funding to go to some private schools but not religious schools.
The four dissenting justices pointed out that the Montana Supreme Court had ended that state’s program, so it was treating all schools equally. Some also said that the court’s majority was overturning hundreds of years of precedent by allowing state money to go to religious education.
Thirty-seven states had constitutional prohibitions on government money going towards religious education that could potentially be affected by this decision.
Do you think it is constitutional for states to fund secular private schools but not religious private schools?
Posted by 25 June 2020
With minimal GOP support, the House of Representatives this week passed legislation that would mandate changes to how state and local police operate.
By a vote of 236-181, the House passed HR 7120, legislation named after the late George Floyd. Among the things this bill would do are:
- Banning the use of police chokeholds
- Removing immunity from lawsuits for police officers
- Requiring the use of body cameras
- Prohibiting the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
- Establishing a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints
House Democrats argued these measures were necessary to stop law enforcement abuses that led to the death of George Floyd and other people in police custody. They contended that systemic racism is plaguing police departments nationwide, and their reforms can help alleviate some of the negative effects of heavy-handed law enforcement. No Democrats voted against the bill.
Republicans were not buying these arguments, however. Only three GOP House members supported HR 7120. They noted that this was a huge federal imposition on what is typically a state or local issue. They noted that the federal government has no constitutional role to mandate how non-federal law enforcement operates. They also said that at a time of rioting and looting, it was counterproductive to impose new restrictions on police.
The Senate is unlikely to consider this legislation, but Senate Republicans have introduced their own police reform bill.
Do you think Congress should pass a federal law to change the way state and local police departments operate?
Posted by 25 June 2020
From Washington to Florida, governments across the nation are mandating that residents wear masks in public to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
As governors ease shutdown requirements that were aimed at stopping coronavirus cases from climbing, they are considering other ways to stop the pandemic. In some states and counties with cases that are climbing, the answer they are settling on is mandatory mask wearing in public. With rising coronavirus infections in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee this week mandated mask use statewide. Those refusing to wear masks in public could face a misdemeanor charge.
Officials say that as people return to more densely-packed places, social distancing and mask-wearing can help prevent the coronavirus’s spread. They point to studies indicating that widespread use of masks help keeps coronavirus cases at bay. While medical experts were mixed on the efficacy of masks early in the coronavirus crisis, most now embrace them as a useful way to be safe in public.
These mask mandates have met with opposition, however. Critics contend that it is government overreach to require masks. They say that people should be free to wear them, but not forced to do so by the government.
Some governors have considered a mask mandate but are so far refusing calls to impose one. Idaho has a lower coronavirus rate than many states, but with the relaxation of a shutdown imposed by Gov. Brad Little, cases are rising. Gov. Little is urging state residents to wear masks, but told reporters that he is unlikely to require their use.
Do you think wearing face masks in public should be mandatory?
Posted by 24 June 2020
Senate Democrats want to see the Department of Defense act on bases with Confederate names within the year.
Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and 35 other senators introduced legislation this week that will require the Department of Defense to remove any names, symbols, or monuments that are associated with the Confederate States of America within one year. Grave markers could remain. This is similar to a proposal that the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously adopted earlier this month, except that the new bill has a 1-year timeframe instead of a 3-year timeframe.
Those supporting Sen. Warren’s bill argue that U.S. military bases should not honor a cause that tried to destroy the union in order to protect slavery. Some of them call Confederate army officers traitors and say these people should not be honored by the federal government.
Republicans are split on this issue. Some, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are supportive. Others, such as President Donald Trump, are firmly opposed. There are also some in the Senate who want to explore different options. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wants to establish a commission to study the issue of renaming military bases. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) would like to see all military bases renamed to honor Medal of Honor recipients.
The Senate is likely to consider the Defense Authorization bill this summer, and discussion about military base renaming will be part of these efforts.
Do you think that the Defense Department should remove any names, symbols, and monuments that honor the Confederacy?
Posted by 23 June 2020
Earlier this year, President Trump said that the coronavirus made it necessary to halt much of the immigration coming into the United States. This week, he extended and expanded that immigration ban.
This move affects a variety of visas that foreign workers use to come into the U.S. and fill jobs. In March, the President issued a temporary suspension of some of these work visas as a part of his coronavirus response policy. He said it was necessary to protect the U.S. from the coronavirus and to help American workers.
This week’s action extends this suspension until the end of the year. It also adds more worker categories to the suspension, including high-tech workers.
Even before being elected president, Trump was a critic of immigration. Since he has taken office, Trump has pursued policies to limit legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration. The current restrictions fit within his broader framework of reducing the number of people coming into the U.S.
Critics of this action say it has nothing to do with helping American workers. They note that this are jobs that are filled by workers with specific skills, and that they require companies to attempt to hire U.S. workers prior to hiring any foreign employees. These critics allege that President Trump is using the coronavirus crisis to advance his anti-immigration agenda.
Do you support suspending some immigrant work visas for the rest of the year?
Posted by 22 June 2020
For the first time in 27 years, the House of Representatives will vote on whether the District of Columbia should become the 51st state.
This week, the House will consider HR 51, sponsored by DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. This bill would make most of the District of Columbia into a new state. Major federal buildings, such as the Capitol and White House, along with many federal monuments, would still be left in a federal district. The rest of the city, however, would become a state with two U.S. senators and a member of the House of Representatives. Currently, Del. Holmes Norton represents D.C. in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges.
The last time the House of Representatives voted on D.C. statehood was 1993. In that year, bipartisan opposition defeated the bill. There has long been reluctance by both Democrats and Republicans to granting the district the status of a state. But in the wake of the protests over the killing of George Floyd, House Democrats are now seeing this vote as one of racial justice.
Supporters of statehood argue that the residents of D.C. should not be deprived of a voice in Congress. They note that Wyoming has fewer people in it than does D.C., but that state has full representation. They say that it is racist that a majority-minority city like D.C. is being held under control by the federal government. Opponents of this move argue that it is just pure politics. They point out that the new state will be overwhelmingly Democratic, so this is just a way to get more Democrats in the Senate and House. They also say that there may be constitutional issues with a move towards statehood.
With its Democratic majority, the House will likely pass H.R. 51. The Senate, however, has no plans on considering the bill, and President Trump says he will veto it.
Do you support statehood for the District of Columbia?
Posted by 19 June 2020
In the wake of protests over law enforcement tactics, Colorado legislators have passed a bill that will overhaul how police in that state operate.
This week, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law SB 217, which both houses of the legislature quickly passed this month. Among other things, this new law will:
- Mandate the use of body cameras in many instances, and penalize officers who turn off cameras to obstruct justice
- Allow police to be sued and be personally liable if they violate someone’s civil rights or do not step in to prevent another officer from violating someone’s civil rights
- Ban police from firing rubber bullets at protestors
- Establish a use-of-force database
- Create an oversight board to monitor police actions
Supporters of this bill say that it will help address many of the troubling law enforcement practices that have led to the deaths and injury of suspects. They argue that these reforms will help ensure police protect the rights of people while also upholding the law. Opponents, however, contend that the bill was hastily written and will handicap efforts to protect the public.
Other states are considering similar reform legislation. Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that will enact some of these measures at a federal level.
Do you think that police officers should be personally liable if they violate someone’s civil rights? Should police be prohibited from firing rubber bullets at protestors?
Posted by 18 June 2020
Today the Supreme Court has ended the Trump Administration's efforts to strip legal protection from "Dreamers" -- children who were brought to the U.S. illegally.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court said that the Trump Administration did not follow the proper procedures to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program gave legal protection to some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Those in this program had to meet certain qualifications, such as having a clean criminal record.
President Trump had said that Congress should enact a law to protect these individuals, but that President Obama did not have the authority to protect them by executive action. He ordered the program to be phased out, which set up a legal fight that eventually ended up before the Supreme Court.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that this case was not about the merits of the president's actions. Instead, he said it concerned the procedure the Trump Administration followed to undo DACA. His opinion leaves open the possibility that the Trump Administration could once again try to end DACA.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the dissenting minority, arguing that the president's actions were indeed legal. He said that it is up to Congress, not the courts, to settle this issue.
Do you think the Trump Administration should continue trying to end legal protection for Dreamers?
Posted by 17 June 2020
This week congressional Republicans outlined police reform legislation in the wake of demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd. Democrats say it does not go far enough.
This bill would, among other things:
- Mandate federal reports on use-of-force incidents and no-knock raids
- Provide federal incentives for local and state police departments to ban the use of chokeholds and require the use of body cameras
- Develop use-of-force training by the Justice Department for local law enforcement
- Reauthorize federal law enforcement grant programs for five years
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) took the lead on developing this legislation, and there is a companion bill in the House of Representatives. He and other Republicans say these steps are good ways for the federal government to respond to calls for police reform. Democrats, however, say that this bill leaves out many important provisions.
Congressional Democrats introduced their version of reform legislation last week. It went much further than the Republican bill, imposing new rules on state and local law enforcement as well as removing legal immunity that protects police officers from many lawsuits. Republicans argue that the Democratic bill goes too far, and intrudes upon state and local government functions.
The Senate will consider the Republican police reform legislation next week.
How far do you think the federal government should go in forcing state and local police departments to change their practices?
Posted by 16 June 2020
Ten military installations in the United States are named after Confederate officers. A move in Congress to rename these installations is gaining support from both Democrats and Republicans.
A debate over how the U.S. should honor those who fought for the Confederacy has grown more intense due to the demonstrations resulting from the police killing of George Floyd. States and local governments are taking down statues honoring Confederates, saying that these men were traitors to the U.S. and fought to preserve slavery. Many activists are now calling on the federal government to rename those bases carrying the names of Confederate officers.
Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would create a commission to examine this issue. The panel did so by voice vote with no opposition. This week, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, also said this is something the federal government should consider. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also said he would be open to this idea.
That view, however, does not have support in the White House. President Trump has taken to Twitter to denounce attempts to rename military bases. He said this would dishonor the millions of soldiers who have been stationed at these places. His spokesperson said he would veto any legislation that would lead to the removal of Confederate officers’ names from bases.
The Senate will consider the National Defense Authorization Act in the coming weeks. The issue of renaming military bases will likely be part of the debate.
Do you think that military bases should be named for Confederate officers?