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Second Amendment Sanctuary Cities Come to Virginia

Virginia legislators are gearing up to pass a number of new gun control bills starting January. While it is unclear exactly what will be proposed in the legislature, local officials are already fighting back. They are passing resolutions declaring their counties “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” saying that they want to stand up for gun rights in the face of unconstitutional laws.

 

Gun control legislation has stalled for years in the Virginia legislature. Democratic governors have pushed for a variety of bills to restrict the sale and ownership of firearms, but Republican legislative leaders have rejected these proposals. But last year, Democrats took control of the legislature. Many of the new members have vowed to enact gun bills, something that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam supports.

 

This has prompted city and county governments across Virginia to pass resolutions declaring that they will support the Second Amendment and refuse to enforce what they see as unconstitutional gun laws. These resolutions are similar to what is being done by some local governments in other states in response to gun laws.

 

While a local government can express opposition to state gun laws, it has no authority to prevent such laws from being enforced within its jurisdiction. State law overrides local law. Law enforcement have a duty to enforce state law, although they do have discretion on how they conduct such enforcement.

 

While this movement echoes the label of the sanctuary policies that cities, counties, and states have declared regarding immigration, there is one key difference. Those policies affected local and state cooperation with federal immigration laws. The federal government has no power to compel these law enforcement entities to enforce federal law. States do have the power to compel local police and sheriffs to enforce state law.

 

Gov. Northam has been vague about what he will do in reaction to these sanctuary policies. There have been no new state gun control laws enacted, so it remains to be seen what will happen once these laws go into effect. Gov. Northam has said there could be repercussions for local law enforcement officials who do not comply with state law.

 

Do you think that local governments should declare they will not enforce state gun control laws they view as unconstitutional?

Judiciary Committee Debates Impeachment Articles

The testimony has been taken, and now it’s time for the House Judiciary Committee members to decide the fate of impeachment.

 

For only the fourth time in our nation’s history, the members of this committee will deliberate on whether they should recommend that the president of the U.S. be removed from office.

 

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced House Resolution 755, which lays out two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

 

Article I contends that President Trump is guilty of abuse of power by holding up the release of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden. The resolution states:

 

In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the Presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.

 

Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Article II contends that President Trump has obstructed justice by directing White House officials to defy subpoenas and not cooperate with the Congressional impeachment investigation. The resolution states:

 

Through these actions, President Trump sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own conduct, as well as the unilateral prerogative to deny any and all information to the House of Representatives in the exercise of its “sole Power of Impeachment”. In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.

 

In all of this, President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

 

The impeachment resolution concludes with this call to remove the president from office:

 

Wherefore, President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Given the partisan makeup of the committee, it is nearly certain that the Judiciary Committee will pass this resolution. That will set up a vote on the House floor, which will likely occur next week. If the House passes one or both articles of impeachment, the Senate will then hold a trial to remove President Trump from office.

 

You can read more about the impeachment process in our Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that President Trump abused his power in his actions regarding Ukrainian foreign aid and asking for an investigation of Hunter Biden? Do you think the president has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry?

House Tackles Drug Prices This Week

There has long been a move to do something about the price of drugs. This week, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that its sponsors claim will help make pharmaceuticals more affordable.

 

The House will debate H.R. 3 this week. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices that the Medicare program will pay for certain drugs, such as insulin. The maximum price for such drugs could not exceed 120% of the average price of such drugs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. This set price would also be applicable to private insurance companies unless those companies opted out.

 

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices has long been a goal of liberal lawmakers and interest groups. They say that the federal government should be able to work with drug companies to bring down the price that Medicare pays for the drugs it covers. Not being able to do so, they claim, forces taxpayers to pay whatever price drug companies demand.

 

Opponents of this legislation point out that it is not about negotiating. They argue that the federal government is such a large player in the field of drug purchases that it will set rates, not negotiate them. They note that the legislation forbids paying prices above certain rates. This bill is about imposing price controls, not allowing negotiation. This, they argue, will lead to fewer drugs being developed in the U.S.

 

Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives, this legislation is likely to pass. However, the chances for Senate consideration are slim.

 

Do you think the federal government should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs it covers through Medicare, and set a cap on prices it deems too high?

House Endorses Two-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict

Since Israel became independent in 1948, there has been conflict about its existence. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state in order to quell the latest round of violence in the region.

 

By a vote of 226-188, the House passed a House Resolution 326, a nonbinding measure that supports U.S. efforts to negotiate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The text of the resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas the United States remains unwavering in its commitment to help Israel address the myriad challenges it faces, including terrorism, regional instability, horrifying violence in neighboring states, and hostile regimes that call for its destruction;

 

Whereas the United States has long sought a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and offers Israel long-term security and full normalization with its neighbors;

 

It then concludes:

 

only the outcome of a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own…

 

And a United States proposal to achieve a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should expressly endorse a two-state solution as its objective and discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

 

The idea of forming a separate Palestinian state out of Israel has long been a topic of discussion. Palestinians have demanded their own state, free from Israeli rule. However, Israel has demanded that Palestinians and other Arab states recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel says it cannot cede any territory as long as its existence is threatened. Palestinians and many Arab leaders view Israel as an illegitimate nation that obtained its territory through theft of land.

 

Negotiations to end the violence that continues to plague this region are ongoing. 

 

Do you support creating a separate state for Palestinians? Should Arab nations and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for such a state?

Bloomberg Backs Federal Permits for Gun Owners

Michael Bloomberg has long championed gun control policies, both as a private citizen and as mayor of New York. Now that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has unveiled a sweeping package of proposals that would enact a variety of new restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.

 

These are a few of the initiatives being proposed by Bloomberg:

  • Mandate a federal license prior to any individual purchasing a gun
  • Require every gun purchase complete a background check
  • Enact a federal “red flag” law that allows police to seize guns from individuals who are suspected of being a threat
  • Prohibit individuals from publishing plans for 3-D guns online
  • Raise the federal age to purchase guns to 21
  • Ban “assault weapons”
  • Enact a law that sets federal rules on how individuals store their guns
  • Increase funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as funding for gun violence research
  • Mandate a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases
  • Require gun owners to report if their guns are lost or stolen within 3 days
  • Repeal the federal law that restricts lawsuits against gun manufacturers

 

Many of these proposals are also backed by other candidates running for the Democratic nomination. However, Bloomberg has a long history of gun control advocacy. He has donated significant sums of money to organizations and candidates who has pushed this issue, and he’s making it a centerpiece of his campaign.

 

According to Bloomberg, these new federal restrictions are necessary to stem the tide of gun violence. He sees them as a way to reduce gun deaths and make our communities safer. Opponents, however, say that they will only infringe upon the rights of lawful gun owners. They also argue that many of these ideas infringe upon the Second Amendment.

 

Do you support requiring a federal license for someone who wants to purchase a gun? Should there be a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases?

States Ask Supreme Court to Resume Federal Executions

A federal court order has put federal executions on hold. Now, fourteen states and the Trump Administration are urging the Supreme Court to lift this court order and allow four executions to proceed.

 

Last month, a federal judge temporarily stopped federal executions from occurring in order to let a legal challenge to lethal injection procedures be resolved. There has been ongoing controversy over the types of drugs used for lethal injections. Some states have had to switch their procedures in response to court cases.

 

Attorney General William Barr recently announced that the federal government would use a new drug for its executions. Inmates who had been sentenced to death said this violated the law. A federal judge has stopped executions in order to let the court battle over this legal question play out. This week, another federal court affirmed that order.

 

The Trump Administration wants to proceed with four executions. However, lawyers are arguing that federal law does not allow the Attorney General to mandate a uniform execution procedure. Instead, they say, the law requires that federal executions must follow the rules of the states in which they occur.

 

The states that filed the Supreme Court brief want the high court to intervene and allow executions to resume. They note that some of the states in which these executions were to occur follow the federal protocol. They also argue that they have an interest in seeing capital punishment sentences carried out.

 

The states who filed the brief are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

 

It is unclear if the Supreme Court will take up this case and issue a definitive answer.

 

Do you support resuming federal executions?

Trump Administration Tightens Food Stamp Work Requirement

This week, Department of Agriculture officials announced a rule change that will make it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for able-bodied individuals on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 

Under current law, food stamp recipients who are between 18 and 49 and who do not have a disability or dependents must work or be in work training programs for 20 hours a week. However, states have broad leeway to waive this requirement. The Trump Administration wants to reduce the criteria states can use to do this.

 

Officials justify this move as a way to spur food stamp recipients to find jobs if they are able to work. These officials point out that it does not affect people who are caring for children, the elderly, or those who have a disability. They argue that in today’s good economy, there are plenty of jobs for people who want them.

 

Opponents counter that this regulation will end vital food assistance to needy Americans. They say that it is a way to push people off a program that they need to feed their family. They also argue that it removes the flexibility of states to design a food stamp program that takes into account people who have sporadic work or are underemployed.

 

A similar measure failed in Congress when SNAP was reauthorized last year.

 

Do you support cutting off food stamps for able-bodied recipients who are not working?

New Energy Secretary Stresses Importance of Coal

Dan Brouillette, the new Energy Secretary, says that he has orders from the White House to find ways to help the U.S. coal industry.

 

President Trump campaigned on a pro-coal platform during his 2016 run for the White House. Since taking office, he has often talked about the importance of coal and has directed federal officials to find ways to increase coal use.

 

Secretary Brouillette has received orders from the White House to find different ways to utilize coal. It is unclear what the federal government can do to accomplish this. The Trump Administration had floated an initiative in the past that would essentially subsidize coal production and use, but this failed to gain traction.

 

The U.S. coal industry has been struggling in recent years due to a variety of factors. It is facing criticism from environmentalists due to coal’s carbon emissions, which experts link to climate change. Coal had long been the dominant source for generating electricity, but in recent years its use has been declining. Some of that is due to environmental concerns, but it is also being undercut by the increasing use of natural gas. Coal is more expensive to use than natural gas, so coal plants are shutting down as natural as plants are being built.

 

Supporters of coal, such as President Trump, hail its mining for creating good-paying jobs. They also say that it provides a source of reliable electricity, something that wind or solar cannot do. Critics argue that it’s time to move away from a dirty fuel source.

 

The Senate confirmed Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy by a 70-15 vote this week. He takes over from Rick Perry, who resigned earlier this year.

 

Do you think the U.S. government should take actions to boost the coal industry?

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to NY Gun Law

For 18 years, New York City prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Today, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to that law which claims it is an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of gun owners.

 

Under question is the city ordinance that restricts licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms. The Supreme Court justices could decide that since city legislators have acted, the case is moot. Or they could use this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Supporters of this challenge would like to see the court create a clear rule that defines how people may travel with their guns. Opponents fear that the court could undo gun control laws that they contend are necessary for safety.

 

A ruling in this case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, is expected in June 2020.

 

Do you think the Second Amendment protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products

Flavored tobacco and flavored nicotine vaping products will soon be illegal to sell for most businesses in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law this week that prohibits the sale of these items for all except a few locations.

 

Public health advocates praised the move, saying they would make these products less attractive to teenagers. There has been concern about vaping in recent months due to deaths caused by some vaping products, although these vaping deaths have been linked to black market vaping items, not legal products.

 

Opponents of this law argued that vaping products are an important way that smokers quit cigarettes. They say that by banning flavored products, it will lessen their attraction to smokers and lead more people to keep using tobacco. They also note that this will damage tobacco and vaping retailer in the state, since Massachusetts residents can go to other states to buy these products.

 

Under the legislation, licensed smoking bars and hookah lounges could still sell these products, but they must be used on-site. They bill also imposed a 75% tax on vaping products. The law goes into effect on June 1, 2020.

 

While some other states have implemented temporary bans on these items, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to enact a ban on flavored nicotine products.

 

Do you support banning flavored tobacco and flavored vaping products?

Ohio Legislature Considers Death Penalty for Abortion Doctors

If Ohio Republicans have their way, abortion will soon be banned in Ohio.

 

A third of the House GOP caucus in the Buckeye State have cosponsored a bill that would impose a total ban on abortion in the state. Under the legislation, there would be two new crimes in the state: abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder. The penalty for these crimes could be the death penalty.

 

This legislation would go far beyond Ohio’s current abortion law, which restricts abortions after six weeks of viability. This legislation, also known as the fetal heartbeat bill, has been stopped from going into effect by a federal judge.

 

Some pro-life leaders in the state, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine, are slow to embrace a total abortion ban. They note that this legislation will certainly face legal challenge. Unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the law would not be constitutional.

 

 Supporters of the bill say that the time has come for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion nationwide. They argue that this bill could be the vehicle under which the Supreme Court reverses precedent and allows states to once again have the authority to allow or ban abortion.

 

Do you support an abortion ban? Should doctors who perform abortions face the death penalty?

Gun Control on Colorado Legislative Agenda Next Year

This year, Colorado legislators passed a “red flag” gun law that allows police to seize firearms from individuals they see as threats. This was the first gun control bill passed in the state since 2013. Democratic legislators are vowing more gun bills next year.

 

The red flag legislation was controversial, leading to an unsuccessful recall campaign against its sponsor. But this has no deterred the Democrats who control the Colorado legislature from exploring more gun control bills for next year’s legislative session.

 

Among the bills being considered:

  • Mandating that businesses safely store firearms after business hours
  • Requiring individual gun owners to safely store their firearms
  • Make it a crime for gun owners to fail to report if their firearms have been stolen

 

Other states have adopted similar bills, but such proposals have been a tough sell in Colorado. The state, while trending Democratic recently, has a large rural population.

 

Supporters of these measures say that they are necessary to prevent gun violence and accidents. They say that law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from them. Opponents, however, see these bills as government infringing on their constitutional rights. They also note that criminals are unlikely to comply with the law, so the only people affected are law-abiding gun owners.

 

Do you support the government mandating how businesses and individuals store guns? Should gun owners be required to report when their guns are stolen?

Schumer Wants to Mandate that Airlines Sit Families Together

Senate Minority Leader has an idea that he thinks will improve travel, especially during the holiday season. He’s written a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her department to issue a rule forcing airlines to sit families together.

 

Under Schumer’s proposal, airlines must seat a child who is 13-years-old or younger next to an older family member. He notes that Congress passed legislation last year that called on the Department of Transportation to consider such a regulation. He argues that there have been instances where families have been separated on flights when children had health issues.

 

The Department of Transportation pushed back against this proposal, noting that very few complaints come into the agency about families not being seated together. A spokesman for the department also noted that the federal legislation that mentioned a family seating regulation only said the agency should issue such a rule if it was appropriate. There is no indication that the Department of Transportation is looking at this type of regulation.

 

Do you think the federal government should mandate that airlines must seat families together on flights?

House Takes Aim at Hong Kong Crackdown

Hong Kong has seen nearly six months of protests over Chinese government policies. This week the House of Representatives voted on two measures which aim to bolster the protesters who are urging more freedom in Hong Kong.

 

 By a vote of 417-0, the House passed S. 2710, legislation that would ban the U.S. from selling tear gas, rubber bullets, or handcuffs to the Hong Kong police. And by a vote of 417-1, it passed S. 1838, legislation that could end Hong Kong’s special trade relationship with the U.S. and subject some Hong Kong officials to sanctions.

 

These two bills come in response to the Chinese crackdown of protests in Hong Kong that are demanding wider democracy and an examination of police practices. The protests began in June over legislation that would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China. Hong Kong is part of China, but has a separate economic and legal system that is a remnant from its colonial rule by Great Britain. It has a freer economic system and stronger political and legal protections than the rest of China.

 

Hong Kong residents have been wary of Chinese attempts to undermine their economic and legal rights since Great Britain turned over the city to China in 1999. Protester saw the extradition bill as a way for China to persecute political dissidents, and they took to the streets to protest. The Chinese government has withdrawn the bill, but the protests continued over the violent crackdown that has met the protesters.

 

The Senate has already passed both S. 2710 and S. 1838. They now head to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support U.S. efforts to punish China for cracking down on Hong Kong protesters?

House Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

For the past twenty years, states have been relaxing or eliminating laws against marijuana use and possession. This week, federal legislators got into the act.

 

By a vote of 24-10, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3884, a bill that would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list. This would effectively decriminalize the bill at the federal level. State laws restricting marijuana use or possession would be unaffected.

 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerome Nadler (D-NY) sponsored the bill, but it received bipartisan support. Besides ending federal marijuana prohibition, the bill would also provide a process to expunge the records of individuals convicted of federal marijuana crimes. The bill would also establish a 5% tax on the sale of cannabis products, excluding hemp.

 

Beginning in the 1990s, states started legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In the past decade, some states have also removed their laws banning recreational use. However, marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law. This puts marijuana users and businesses in states that have legalized cannabis in the position of violating federal law.

 

Supporters of federal decriminalization say that marijuana is less harmful than some legal drugs, such as alcohol or tobacco, so there is no reason for the federal government to prohibit it. They argue that it should be up to states to decide how to regulate its use. Opponents of decriminalization say that marijuana is a gateway drug, and that decriminalization will cause societal problems.

 

This legislation may now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

 

Do you support legislation that decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level?

House Passes Short-Term Funding, PATRIOT Act Renewal

This week the House of Representatives passed legislation that temporarily keeps the federal government open. In that legislation, however, House leadership also included a renewal of the controversial PATRIOT Act.

 

As explained in yesterday’s VoteSpotter blog post, Congress failed to pass appropriations bills to fund the federal government this fiscal year. The short-term bill that keeps the government open expires on November 21. There is no final agreement between the Trump Administration and Congress about what the entire year’s government spending priorities should be, so it is necessary for Congress to pass another short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to prevent a partial government shutdown.

 

As part of that continuing resolution, H.R. 3055, the House leadership also included a provision for a short-term reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. This bill, passed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, greatly expanded federal surveillance powers. Some critics contend that it allows the federal government to have sweeping authority over monitoring communication of U.S. citizens. Supporters of the law counter that it is necessary to prevent terrorism.

 

There have been efforts since 2001 to modify parts of the PATRIOT Act. Since this law must be periodically reauthorized, this recurring debate gives critics an opportunity to debate these changes. Members of Congress who are particularly concerned about the PATRIOT Act, such as Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), were vocal in their criticism of House Speaker Pelosi for including a renewal of the law in the government funding bill. He argued that tying this controversial reauthorization to a must-pass funding bill effectively short-circuits any debate over it.

 

The continuing resolution and renewal of the PATRIOT Act passed the House by a vote of 231-192. Under this bill, funding for the federal government would last through December 20. The PATRIOT Act reauthorization would last through March 2020.

 

Do you support reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act?

Deep Dive: Approving Short-Term Government Spending

This week, the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote on a bill to extend federal government funding until December 20. With government funding set to expire on November 21, failure to do this would result in a partial government shutdown. 

  

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. 

 

 

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 2020 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.

 

Fiscal Year 2020

 

To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass these 12 spending bills (either in individual or consolidated form) and the president must sign them. So far this year, the House of Representatives has passed 10 bills (with only Homeland Security and Legislative Branch still remaining to be approved). The Senate has passed none. 

 

 

Instead of completing work on the individual spending bills by October 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year), the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a continuing resolution, a short-term bill that funds the government at the previous fiscal year's level.  This legislation funded the government through November 21. If Congress does not act on another bill, or the president does not sign one, then there would be a partial government shutdown.

 

The 2018-2019 Government Shutdown

 

The last government shutdown occurred from December 2018 to January 2019. The beginnings of this shutdown began a year ago, with the failure of Congress to pass the necessary spending bills. 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 28 on January 25, this reopened the portions of the federal government that were shut down until February 15. The signing of House Joint Resolution 31 by President Trump funds the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

 

What This Means for You

 

The two-year budget deal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump agreed to over the summer was designed to eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown this year or next year. However, there is still disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over border funding. It appears that the leadership in the House and Senate as well as President Trump have agreed in principle to another short-term funding bill. That legislation, H.R. 3055, is set to be voted on by Congress this week. It will keep the government open until December 20. This gives negotiators more time to come to an agreement that has the possibility of funding the federal government through the end of this current fiscal year, avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Bloomberg Repudiates “Stop and Frisk”

Throughout his tenure as New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg was a vigorous defender of the controversial police practice known as “stop and frisk.” On Sunday, however, he apologized for his past actions. Some see this as a belated acknowledgement of the harms caused by this practice, while others view his apology as a purely political move.

 

Bloomberg recently announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many observers said that he would have trouble appealing to the liberal base of the party due to his staunch defense of “stop and frisk.” This policy was one used extensively by the New York City Police Department to stop individuals and frisk them for weapons. Critics said it was an unconstitutional search of people who had done nothing wrong. They also said that the city was targeting minorities in its use. Then-Mayor Bloomberg defended the policy, saying it was vital to keeping illegal weapons off city streets, but courts severely curtailed its use.

 

While speaking at an African-American church this week, Bloomberg said, “I can’t change history. However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.” He specifically noted that this policy was applied largely to black and Latino men.

 

The Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. Federal courts held that “stop and frisk” could be constitutional if narrowly applied, but that New York’s use was problematic. At the time of the legal challenge over this practice, Mayor Bloomberg vigorously defended it, dismissing the idea that New York police were violating the Constitution.

 

Do you think that Michael Bloomberg should have apologized for New York City’s use of “stop and frisk” to detain people and search for weapons?

House Reauthorizes Federal Export Support Agency

In the midst of impeachment hearings, the House of Representatives also conducted legislative business this week. The main legislation under consideration was a bill to reauthorize a controversial federal agency that provides loan guarantees for U.S. businesses. Supporters say it is essential to supporting American exports, while critics argue that it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

 

The House passed H.R. 4863 by a vote of 235-184. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To renew the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to operate through 2029 and expand its lending authority from $135 billion to $175 billion. The Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that gives loans and loan guarantees to companies purchasing U.S. exports. These loans are backed by the federal government, meaning if borrowers default the government pays them.

 

The reauthorization and staffing of the Export-Import Bank’s board has been a long-running controversy in Congress. While the agency has bipartisan support, there is also strong opposition to it on the left and the right who see it as a taxpayer giveaway to large corporations. This reauthorization legislation is aimed at ending the efforts to kill the agency.

 

Independent Rep. Justin Amash spoke out forcefully against reauthorization, tweeting:

 

The Ex-Im Bank is inherently corrupt. It unfairly forces Americans to subsidize foreign entities that buy things from well-connected corporations—particularly Boeing. This corporate welfare program expires next week, yet the House is voting Friday to reauthorize it. Let it die.

 

And:

 

Ex-Im puts taxpayers on the hook for loans to foreign governments and corporations to buy things from well-connected companies (especially Boeing), which is unfair to the vast majority of Americans who don’t benefit from Ex-Im yet are assuming the financial risk for the loans.

 

There was bipartisan support for reauthorizing the agency, however, as well as a large coalition of interest groups pushing for this legislation. Linda Dempsey of The National Association of Manufacturers spoke for many of these supporters in defense of the agency:

 

As the United States’ official export credit agency, the Ex-Im Bank is a critical tool to support American jobs through exports. It has become increasingly vital in the face of more than 90 countries that operate more than 100 foreign export credit agencies (ECAs) around the world. From China and Germany to Canada and Japan, other countries are working to boost their farmers, manufacturers and workers and win foreign sales.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.

 

Do you support reauthorizing an agency that provides federal loan guarantees for companies that purchase U.S. exports?

 

 

Biden Unveils $1.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced an infrastructure plan that he says will “rebuild the middle class.” Critics say that it will impose a huge tax burden on Americans.

 

These are some of the key aspects of Biden’s proposal:

  • A $50 billion federal initiative to repair roads and bridges
  • Secure “new revenues” for the Highway Trust Fund, a federal fund collecting revenue from fuel taxes
  • Spend $5 billion to research new battery technology
  • Use federal resources to expand the electric car charging system
  • Spend $500 billion in clean energy research
  • Expand rail service
  • Provide public transportation to cities with 100,000 residents or more
  • Target $10 billion to high-poverty areas to improve public transit
  • Promote infrastructure that leads to a 100% clean energy economy
  • Create a federal program to promote building energy efficiency
  • Provide broadband service to every American household
  • Create a new federal program to spend $100 billion in school buildings

 

This plan gathers together many proposals put forward by liberal and progressive groups and elected officials. Biden argues that they will transform the economy for the future, providing good jobs for the middle class and helping clean the environment. Those who support these programs argue that it is vital that the federal government invest in this vision to ensure the U.S. has a sustainable future.


Critics, however, see these ideas as both unrealistic and expensive. They note that it’s easy to say that these programs will achieve their goals, but similar government initiatives in the past have failed. They also note the high price tag for such a program, saying that taxes will have to go up to pay for it or the government will have to go deeper in debt.

 

Biden faces a crowded field of rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It remains to be seen if ideas like these will help him win votes from the left wing of the party being courted by other candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

 

Do you support the federal government paying for more high-speed rail service? Should there be a federal push for a 100% clean-energy economy?

 

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