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House Votes to Bar Feds from Interfering with State Marijuana Laws

This week, the House of Representatives approved language that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state and tribal programs concerning legal marijuana.

 

The 254-163 vote was on an amendment to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice. This type of amendment is known as a "rider," and it places policy restrictions on the spending of money by a federal agency. In this case, the amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any money on actions to enforce federal marijuana law in states that have legal recreational or medicinal marijuana. As long as individuals or businesses are operating in compliance with state law, this amendment would stop the federal government from pursuing legal action against them.

 

Similar prohibitions have been part of past appropriations bills. This is an attempt to harmonize federal and state marijuana policy. The federal government considers marijuana a prohibited drug, and its use is illegal nationwide under federal law. However, states have been taking steps to either decriminalize or fully legalize marijuana's use. That means that marijuana is allowed under state law, but not under federal law in these areas. This legal limbo poses a special problem for marijuana-related businesses who are operating legally under state law but who potentially face federal penalties.

 

While the support for this amendment came primarily from Democrats, many Republicans have also been pushing for the federal government to refrain from enforcing marijuana law in states where it is legalized. President Trump has, at times, said he supports this type of federal policy. However, Congress has failed to pass any law that enshrines this principle in law. instead, it has passed appropriations bills that contain riders that contain this language. However, these riders only last as long as the spending bill does -- for the duration of the fiscal year.

 

The Senate must still pass the Department of Justice appropriations bill, so this prohibition on federal drug enforcement activity could still potentially be removed.

 

Do you think the federal government should enforce laws against marijuana possession in states that have legalized the drug?

Trump Floats Idea of Delaying Election

President Trump has consistently been expressing his view that lack of in-person voting will reduce the integrity of this year's election. This morning, he suggested a way to deal with these fears: delaying the election.

 

In a tweet, he wrote: 

 

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

 

For presidential electors, the Constitution states: "The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States." The Constitution also gives Congress the power to set election procedures for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. During the early history of the republic, there was no uniform Election Day. But by 1854, Congress stepped in and fixed the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as the day when voters choose presidential electors and members of the House and Senate.

 

While the Constitution does not mandate any specific day for Election Day, it does mandate that presidents must be inaugurated on January 20. Any election would have to be conducted prior to then, giving enough time for presidential electors to meet, cast their votes, then have those votes counted by Congress. Current law requires that electoral votes be counted during a joint session of Congress during the first week of January.

 

While President Trump may be open to the idea of delaying the election, he has no power to do this unilaterally. Only Congress can pass a law to set Election Day, and obtaining enough votes to do so is unlikely. In the event Congress did, any delay could not be for a significant period of time, since the new president must take office on January 20.

 

Do you think that this year's elections should be delayed?

Senate Rejects Ban on Feds Giving Military Items to Police

The Senate passed the Department of Defense authorization bill this week, but defeated a bipartisan amendment to ban the transfer of some surplus military equipment to state and local police.

 

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hi) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) sponsored an amendment that would place new limits on a controversial program where the Department of Defense provides surplus military items to police department around the country. This program has come under increasing scrutiny with the police response to protests over the murder of George Floyd.

 

Under the Schatz amendment, the Department of Defense could not transfer these items to state or local police departments:

  • Bayonets, grenade launchers, grenades (excluding stun and flash-bang), explosives, and firearms of .50 caliber or higher and ammunition of 0.5 caliber or higher.
  • Tracked combat vehicles.
  • Weaponized drones.
  • Asphyxiating gases, including those comprised of lachrymatory agents, and analogous liquids, materials or devices.

 

Critics argue that these items are inappropriate for local police departments. They say that military hardware that is designed to kill a foreign enemy should not be deployed by domestic police departments. Supporters of the program contend that it is a vital way for police departments to obtain law enforcement tools at no cost. They say that many of these items are necessary to protect people and property.

 

While a majority of senators agreed by a vote of 51-49, the amendment needed 60 votes to be approved. Instead, the Senate voted 90-10 for an amendment by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that bans a much narrower category of military equipment from being transferred and imposes new training requirements.

 

Do you think the federal program to provide military equipment to police departments should be ended?

Expanded Unemployment Benefits Set to Expire

On July 31, the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment insurance authorized by coronavirus relief legislation ends. Democrats are fighting to extend it, saying it is necessary to help the unemployed. Republicans are vowing to block it, arguing that it is only helping prolong economic difficulties.

 

Congress included the additional unemployment money in the CARES Act when it passed in March. The rationale was that in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty when many businesses are closing down, people who were unemployed needed extra help. Many Republicans were skeptical at the time of the additional payment, arguing that it would lead to many people earning more on unemployment than in a job. But it was included as part of the overall relief package, but with an expiration date of July 31.

 

With Congressional leadership considering what is going into a new coronavirus aid bill, the expanded unemployment benefits is a hot topic. Democrats say it would be cruel to end payments for people who are still out of work. Some economists also say that stopping the expanded benefits would hurt the economy. Republicans, however, point out that traditional unemployment benefits will continue. They also say that it's time to end government payments that give people an incentive not to seek out new jobs.

 

Previous coronavirus aid bills have been largely bipartisan. Differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as differences between Congress and the president, are currently hampering efforts to craft new legislation. The expanded unemployment benefit is a big area of disagreement. 

 

If congressional leaders can work out their differences, Congress is likely to pass another round of coronavirus aid in early August.

 

Do you support extending the extra payment of $600 a week in unemployment benefits?

House to Consider Removing Confederate Statues from Capitol

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would result in the removal of 14 statues and a bust of individuals linked to the Confederacy or racist ideology.

 

HR 7573 would direct the Architect of the Capitol to remove the statues of 11 men who served the Confederacy, 3 men who advocated for white supremacy when in office, and a bust of former Chief Justice Robert Taney. Advocates of this change argue that the U.S. Capitol should not house statues or busts of individuals who fought against the government or who celebrated racism.

 

Each state can send two statues to be placed in the Capitol. Some states have selected statues of men who served the Confederacy. These include Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. One of the statues being targeted is that of John C. Calhoun, who served as senator and vice president. He was a strong advocate of slavery, arguing that it was a positive good for both the slaves and their masters. Chief Justice Taney authored the Dred Scott decision, which said that no one who had African ancestry could be a citizen of the U.S.

 

Those opposed to removing these statues say that such removal would be erasing history. They also contend that it is up to states to decide what statues they send to be placed in the Capitol, not Congress.

 

If the House passes this legislation, it will go to the Senate to be considered. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not been supportive of efforts to remove statues from the Capitol.

 

Do you support removing statues of Confederate officials from the U.S. Capitol?

Trump Pushing for Coronavirus-Related Payroll Tax Cut

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?

House Passes $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill

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?

Senate Votes Down Afghanistan Withdrawal Amendment

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?

House Passes Police Overhaul Legislation

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?

Democrats Pushing for Quick Action on Confederate Names

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?

House to Vote on DC Statehood

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?

Congressional GOP Introduces Police Reform Bill

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?

Congress Looking at Renaming Military Bases

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?

Democrats Outline Federal Police Legislation

In the wake of demonstrations nationwide concerning police conduct, Congressional Democrats this week unveiled legislation that would impose sweeping new changes on the way law enforcement is conducted.

 

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

 

The backers of these proposals say they are necessary reforms to end rampant abuses by law enforcement. They argue that the death of George Floyd is only the latest example of police misconduct, and it is long overdue for the federal government to step in and curb abusive police activity.

 

Congressional Republicans are skeptical of the need for federal restrictions on local police. They point out that this would be a large federal takeover of state and local authority. They also note that in the wake of riots and other disturbances, many Americans are welcoming police presence to protect lives and property.

 

In some cities, activists and politicians are demanding that police department budgets be cut or that some troubled departments be disbanded. While this legislation would not accomplish either of those goals, it would impose new federal restrictions on how police operate.

 

House Speaker has said she would like to vote on this legislation by the end of the month. It is unlikely that the Senate will consider that chamber’s version of the legislation.

 

Do you support a federal ban on police chokeholds? Should all police officers be required to wear body cameras? Should there be a federal ban on police using surplus military equipment?

Deep Dive: Proxy Voting

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans go about their daily lives and work. Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are also affected, and have continued to meet periodically even with stay-at-home orders executed by the Washington, D.C. municipal government.

 

In addition to enforcing social distancing in the legislative chambers and limiting the number of people in the capitol building, the House also changed how its members vote. For the first time, representatives will be able to cast votes by proxy during certain times. This Deep Dive examines how this will work and why it is controversial.

 

What is Proxy Voting?

 

Proxy voting is used when an individual lawmaker cannot be physically present to cast a vote on the floor, so he or she gives permission to another member to cast a vote on his or her behalf. The process involves giving some form of signed slip to the proxy.

 

Traditionally (and, according to some experts, legally), members of the House and Senate must be present in their respective legislative chambers to cast a vote. However, the Senate allows the use of proxy voting in committee. The House of Representatives allowed proxy voting in committee until 1995, when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich brought about rule changes that halted the practice.

 

Recent Proxy Voting Rules Change

 

On May 15, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 965 by a vote of 217-189. This resolution allows the following:

 

  • A House member to designate a proxy to vote on his or her behalf
  • When " a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus is in effect," the House Speaker can designate a period when proxy voting can occur
  • This proxy voting period can last up to 45 days, with 45-day extensions allowed.
  • House committees can meet remotely during such periods in some instances, but may not hold executive sessions closed to the public.
  • The House shall study the feasibility and legality of remote voting

 

How Proxy Voting Works

 

A House member who wishes to vote by proxy must first find another member who will be physically present in the chamber and agrees to vote on that member's behalf. The member looking to vote by proxy must then notify the House clerk by letter. The clerk must receive a hard copy of the letter signed by the member personally. To revoke or alter the designation of a proxy vote, the member can send another letter to the clerk.

 

The member must then send written instructions to his or her proxy prior to each vote. The holder of the proxy cannot vote on another member's behalf unless he or she has such written instructions.

 

When a vote occurs, the member holding the proxy must obtain recognition from the Speaker of the House and announce, "As the Member designated by [NAME] pursuant to House Resolution 965, I inform the House that [NAME] will vote yea/nay/present.” The proxy holder will then take a card, vote, and designate that vote "by proxy." In the Congressional Record, the proxy votes will be noted separately from other votes.

 

Once a member revokes his or her proxy voting designation, the designee can no longer cast votes on that member's behalf. That designation is also automatically revoked if the member who requested the designation votes in person on the House floor.

 

Controversy and Lawsuit

 

On May 27, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) cast a proxy vote for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). It was the first time such a vote was cast in the House. In total, 72 Democratic House members used this process to cast votes through 42 proxies that were present in the House chamber.

 

Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, alleging that proxy voting was unconstitutional. He was joined by dozens of House Republicans. The suit hinges on the use of words like "assemble" and "meet" in the Constitution when there are references to Congress. These House members contend that the writers of the Constitution envisioned members of Congress physically meeting and casting votes while being present in these meetings. The lawsuit notes that proxy voting in unprecedented during floor votes in either chamber.

 

Those supporting proxy voting argue that the House rules prohibited such voting in the past, not the Constitution. With the passage of HR 965, this changed House rules and now members can legally cast proxy votes. They point out that the Constitution does not say anywhere it in that members must be physically present to vote. They go further and note that Article I, Section V, says, " Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."

 

House Speaker Pelosi argues that proxy voting is a good way to allow Congress to function in the midst of a pandemic. Those opposing proxy voting counter that this is a way to give House leadership more control and dilute the voting power of individual House members. Some opponents of proxy voting also argue that the legality of legislation passed by such votes could be questioned.

 

What This Means for You

 

Concerns about the safety of members of Congress during the coronavirus pandemic led to cancelled legislative sessions and delays in votes. Proxy voting will allow the House of Representatives to function with fewer members present during the current pandemic and future pandemics. While this reduces these members’ need to travel and helps facilitate congressional sessions, there are also concerns about the legality of proxy voting, and the prospect that it could erode the power of individual members of Congress.

 

House Doesn’t Approve Detailed Reporting of Coronavirus Aid Recipients

The forgiveable loan program for businesses harmed by the coronavirus epidemic proved so popular that Congress had to pass two bills to fund it. But this week the House failed to pass legislation that would require the federal government to give a detailed report about who received such money.

 

By a vote of 269-147, the House did not meet the necessary two-thirds threshold to suspend the rules and pass H.R. 6782. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the legislation:

 

To require the Small Business Administration to report the name of each business that received coronavirus aid, an explanation of why that business received aid, the number of employees of each business, the lender who made facilitated the aid, and the amount of money given to small businesses owned by "socially and economically disadvantaged individuals" as well as women and veterans.

 

The Paycheck Protection Act provided forgiveable loans to businesses who shut down or saw business drop because of the coronavirus epidemic. They needed to meet certain criteria, however, such as re-hiring employees by June. The program proved so popular that the initial allocation of money soon ran out and Congress had to pass another bill to provide more funding.

 

Those who opposed H.R. 6782 said they were not against transparency, but they did not think the program should be used as a way to promote an agenda that favored certain business owners over others. The supporters argued that it is important to disclose how the federal government is spending money, especially if certain communities were being underserved.

 

This bill was not rejected by the House membership; the bill merely failed to get enough votes to pass through an expedited process. House leadership could still bring it back to the floor and pass it by majority vote.


Do you think that the federal government should release data on the businesses that received coronavirus aid? Should that information include data on how many businesses run by “social and economically disadvantaged individuals” received money?

FISA Renewal Stalls in the House

The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote this week on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. After President Trump said he would veto the bill if passed, House leadership quickly pulled the bill without indicating when it would be brought up again.

 

The bill the House was scheduled to vote on was HB 6172, which VoteSpotter as:

 

To renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that permit the federal government to collect business records and other information during national security investigations without a warrant. The FISA law allows a federal judge to approve such collections without notifying the target or hearing opposing arguments. The bill would also to expand the circumstances that require FISA judges to hear from a government-appointed critic of such requests, and increasing the number of FISA courts.

 

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 80-16 on May 14. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-136 in March, but had to vote on it again since the Senate amended it.

 

President Trump has long been a critic of the FISA process, which he contends was used illegally to monitor his 2016 campaign. FISA also has critics on both the left and the right for perceived infringements on civil liberties. However, there is bipartisan support for the bill among members of Congress who think it is vital to protect national security.

 

During the reauthorization process, there was a question about whether President Trump would support the bill. This week, he cleared up any confusion by saying he would veto it. This led House Republican leadership, which had backed the bill, to reverse themselves and say they were pressing their members to oppose it. Speaker Pelosi pulled the bill because it was uncertain if it would pass.

 

It remains unclear when the House will consider this legislation again, and if Congress and the president can agree on a version that will be signed into law.

 

How do you think the FISA process should be reformed?

Some Fear Unemployment Benefits Keep People from Returning to Work

With millions of Americans losing work as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, some elected officials and experts are worried that expanded unemployment benefits are making the jobless problem worse.

 

As part of the coronavirus aid package, the federal government has increased unemployment benefits by $600 a month. This has led to a situation where some workers make more money with these benefits than they do at their jobs. As Congress considers whether to extend this higher payment, some are worried that doing so will hamper an economic recovery. After all, these critics of the program say, why would someone return to work if he or she can make more money being unemployed?

 

It is unclear how many people are deciding not to return to work as a result of the higher unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week reminded people that they could lose their benefits if they refuse to go back to work if their company can re-hire them.

 

The increased unemployment benefits end this summer. Some Democrats in Congress want to extend this program through next year. Republicans argue that the government should not make it more attractive to remain without work than it is to go to work. They say that this will slow down an economic recovery and hurt business owners who need workers to return. Democrats counter that this program is desperately needed by people who are jobless through no fault of their own.


Democrats are pushing for quick passage of a new coronavirus aid bill that could include these extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. Republicans want a slower process.

 

Do you think that paying an extra $600 in unemployment benefits per week gives people an incentive not to return to work?

Progressives Push for Military Cuts to Pay for Coronavirus Aid

Members of the House Progressive Caucus want to cut military spending as a way to pay the big price tag for coronavirus aid.

 

The House Armed Services Committee is considering the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which provides authority for the nation’s military activities. This bill also sets the funding level for military spending, which is then funded through the appropriations process.

 

Last year, the Progressive Caucus wanted the act to authorize military spending at $644 billion a year. Instead, the House approved legislation that set the level at $738 billion. As the process begins this year, the caucus’s members have said they will not support legislation that does not contain a significant spending cut.

 

The members argue that with other needs taking priority, specifically the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, it is time for Congress to trim military spending. They say the nation cannot afford to keep spending billions of dollars on pricey weapons systems and other military projects that, in the views of these members of Congress, foster conflict around the globe.

 

This stance puts these Democratic House members at odds with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Many moderate Democrats do not support cutting military spending, and would likely oppose any efforts to concede to the Progressive Caucus’s demands. But without the votes of the more liberal House members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to rely on Republican votes to pass the defense bill this year.

 

Do you think that military spending should be cut to help pay for the trillions of dollars spent dealing with the coronavirus?

House Taking up $3 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

The House of Representatives is on the verge of passing its fifth bill related to the coronavirus epidemic. Unlike the previous legislation, however, this bill's approval is set to come along partisan lines.

 

House Democratic leadership introduced the bill earlier this week. Republicans charged that they had little time to look over the details and pointed out they had no input in its writing. Among other things, the bill includes:

  • Nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments
  • $200 billion to provide hazard pay for front-line workers
  • Another round of direct payments to households
  • $175 billion in housing aid$75 billion for more testing

 

Democrats say these things are necessary to provide aid to an economy that is suffering in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. They argue that many states and local governments will face difficult choices to cut key services without federal aid. Republicans, however, say the bill is too expensive. They also note that it contains spending on items that have little to do with the current health crisis, such as tens of millions of dollars to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Republicans also fault Democrats for putting provisions in the bill that would benefit organized labor.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he has no interest in bringing this bill up for consideration in the Senate. There will likely be another coronavirus aid bill, but for any bill to move through Congress and be signed by President Trump, it must be bipartisan.

 

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