Commentary & Community

Kavanaugh Nomination Advances to the Senate

Brett Kavanaugh moved one step closer to a seat on the Supreme Court today.


By a vote of 11-10, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend his nomination to the full Senate. All the Republicans on the committee voted in favor of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, while all the Democrats opposed it. Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


This action came on the heels of a dramatic day of testimoney yesterday from Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the judge of sexual assault when he was a teenager. These accustions, and others which have come recently, has disrupted the normal nomination process. Democrats and women's groups have called for Judge Kavanaugh to withdraw his name from consideration, a suggestion he has repeatedly rejected. Judge Kavanaugh proclaims his innocence on these matters, saying he has never sexually assaulted anyone.


This sharply divided committee reflects the partisan divisions in the Senate over the Kavanaugh nomination. It is likely that all Republicans will vote in favor of this nomination, although Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have yet to announce their position. Republicans are targeting one or two Democrats for a "yes" vote, but Judge Kavanaugh may be confirmed with no Democratic support. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) supported the nomination during the committee vote, but he indicated he may not support the nomination on the Senate floor until after the FBI further investigates the allegations.


Like all Supreme Court nominees in recent decades, Judge Kavanaugh avoided taking stances during his initial confirmation hearings on issues that may come before the high court. While senators tried to pin him down on what he thought about the constitutionality of abortion rights or the contraceptive mandate, Judge Kavanaugh refused to take any firm stance. He mainly discussed his constitutional philosophy and answered questions about rulings he had made.


Republican senators defended Judge Kavanaugh from Democratic attacks at those hearings, pointing out that he had a long record of service that makes him extremely qualified for the court. Prior to his tenure as a circuit court judge, Kavanaugh worked for Independent Counsel Ken Starr and in the White House counsel’s office under President George W. Bush.


During the follow-up hearing yesterday, the questions from Democratic senators were not about judicial philosophy. Instead, they focused on Judge Kavanaugh's actions during high school and college. From his alcohol consumption to what he wrote in his high school yearbook, Judge Kavanaugh was grilled for hours about his youthful actions.


The full Senate will now consider Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. It is likely the final vote on his nomination could take place early next week, depending on what type of investigation occurs. The new Supreme Court term begins on October 1.


Do you think that the Senate should confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?

Senators Mull Regulation of Social Media

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have become an important force in American public discourse. Some politicians and commentators think they are too powerful. They want to see the federal government impose new rules on these sites. One Senate Democrat even says there may be strong bipartisan support to do just that.


Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey faced members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in early September to answer questions about how foreign governments may have meddled in U.S. elections. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was invited but did not attend the hearing.


This Senate scrutiny of social media comes on the heels of criticism by President Trump and prominent conservatives. The president tweeted in late August, “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham echoed that thought a few days later on her Fox News show, saying, “There’s a thought that, given the enormity of these corporations, could there be a movement to treat [Twitter and Facebook] more like public utilities so they have some quasi-government oversight of these entities?”


As indicated by Ingraham’s idea, among the proposals to regulate social media sites is to have the government treat them as something like a public utility. This would recognize them as private entities but ones that are operated with a public purpose. The government would set rules that would prevent social media sites from denying a platform to users based on certain factors, such as political ideology.


Supporters of this level of regulation say that Facebook and Twitter operate much as the town square used to do, giving a space for people to speak and persuade others. As a virtual town square, the argument goes, these sites should allow everyone to speak. Big business has too much power to censor individuals, so the government must step in, according to those who are pushing for more federal oversight.


Opponents of this government regulations point to the dangers of government controlling media platforms. They argue that past federal rules on media content stifled debate about public policy. They say that social media companies should have the power to exclude speech that they deem offensive, such as that from the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, without fear of government reprisals.


While President Trump may be pushing for the federal government to have tighter control over social media companies, it is unclear if there is much support in Congress for such a proposal. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said there is likely strong bipartisan support for legislation aimed at protecting privacy and cracking down on violent posts. He said that details of such a bill have not been finalized, however.


Should the government impose more regulations on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter? Do you think social media sites discriminate against conservative voices?

Trump, Senate Exploring Russian Sanctions


Punishing Russia is the hot topic under consideration at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


President Donald Trump is considering signing a new Russian sanctions order while the Senate Banking Committee is looking at the effectiveness of sanctions. As evidence of Russian misdeeds continues to emerge, both the president and Congress face pressure to increase U.S. punishment on this nation.


Through legislation and executive orders, Russia already faces a variety of sanctions. President Trump may sign an order today aimed at punishing individuals or companies that interfere in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies would be empowered by this order to act if they determined that Russians or other foreigners were attempting to influence the electoral process.


In the Senate, the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing to assess the various tools used by the federal government are working to counter Russian activities. Experts testified about how sanctions should be shaped to exert maximum pressure on Vladimir Putin or other officials responsible for anti-U.S. actions.


These actions come on the heels of increasing amounts of information from U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian activities attempting to influence the 2016 U.S. election. With the 2018 mid-term elections approaching, there is a strong desire among some government officials to ensure that such meddling cannot occur once again.


Do you think that the U.S. should impose stronger sanctions on Russia for trying to influence the 2016 election? Are you worried that Russian or other foreign entities will attempt to meddle in this year’s election?



Defense Bill Targets China


Since 2001, the main priority for the Department of Defense has been stopping terrorism. Under the new Defense Authorization bill passed by Congress, however, our nation’s military will focus much more on China.


This legislation authorizes $716 billion in military spending over the next fiscal year while also making a variety of changes in how our nation approaches defense policy. Many of the biggest changes involve China.


Among other things, the bill imposes more government scrutiny on American technology sales to China and Chinese investment in the U.S. Under this bill, U.S. universities that host the Confucius Institutes, a Chinese funded center that is accused of spreading propaganda, would face limits on Defense Department funds. The bill also requires an annual report on how the Chinese government is influencing U.S. media, business, academic, and cultural institutions.


Notably, the bill did not prohibit American companies from selling technology to Chinese telecom firm ZTE. That is something that some conservative Republicans had pushed for but President Trump had publicly opposed.


Beyond these provisions, the bill also calls for adding 15,600 new members of the armed forces and 13 new ships for the navy.


President Trump is expected to sign this legislation soon.


Do you think that the U.S. military priorities should have a greater focus on China?


Study Finds “Medicare for All” Would be Costly


Single-payer health care, or “Medicare for All,” is becoming a popular campaign issue for many candidates. Ben Jealous, running for Maryland governor, supports it. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, candidate for the House of Representatives from New York, does, too. Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that would implement it.


So how much would this new health care system cost?


According to a new report by the Mercatus Center, federal spending would rise by $32.6 trillion during the first 10 years of a single-payer system. This amount would be equal to 10.7% of the national gross domestic product in 2022. In 2031, the amount would increase to 12.7% of GDP and go up after that.


The study lays out a variety of reasons for this large price tag. A single-payer system would require that the federal government pay for all current state and private health care spending. It would also provide coverage for the uninsured and would drive greater use of health care services. The report’s authors caution that their estimate may be low, given that they assume that members of Congress would have the political will to reduce payments to health care providers and decrease the prices the federal government pays for drugs.


To find the money for single-payer, this report concluded: “A doubling of all currently projected federal individual and corporate income tax collections would be insufficient to finance the added federal costs of the plan.”


Supporters of “Medicare for All” dispute these numbers, saying that a federally-run health care system would find efficiencies through lower administrative costs. They also note that although the federal government would take on these costs, average Americans would no longer be paying for health insurance premiums. Some critics of the Mercatus Center report have also pointed out that this think tank has a libertarian ideology, so it would not be inclined to support a government-run health care system.


Do you think that a single-payer health care system would be too expensive for taxpayers?


Connecticut Senator Calls on Tech Companies to “Do More” to Combat Hate Speech


Alex Jones and Infowars had long pushed the boundaries of acceptable political speech, pushing false conspiracy theories about numerous events, ranging from the September 11th attacks to the Sandy Hook shootings. Social media companies had long faced calls to remove him from their platforms, and finally did so in early August. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy applauded the move, but urged these companies to go even further in policing their content. That prompted some to accuse Sen. Murphy of advocating censorship.


The discredited conspiracy theories advocated by Alex Jones have been condemned by people across the political spectrum. In response to his repeated false assertion that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, families of the victims recently sued Jones. Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify then removed Infowars content in early August.


For Sen. Murphy, this was a good first step. The Sandy Hook shooting took place in his state, and he had long been critical of the Jones. After his removal from social media, Sen. Murphy tweeted, “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”


While many people supported Sen. Murphy’s words, others questioned whether a government official should be asking private companies to remove content. To these critics, it appeared that Sen. Murphy was edging close to using government pressure to police speech.


Reacting to criticism, Sen. Murphy followed up the next day with this tweet: “Private companies deciding not to let their platforms be used to spread hate and lies is not the same as government censorship. If it feels the same, then we need to ask why a small handful of companies have so much control over the content Americans see.”


Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have terms of services that lay out what is acceptable content by their users. As private companies, they can remove speech that violates these terms of use. Even though there was no First Amendment violation with their actions, some observers are wary of these companies policing political content. They say that this could lead to more mainstream voices being silenced if they upset politicians like Sen. Murphy.


Do you think that Facebook and Twitter were right to remove Alex Jones and Infowars? Should senators be calling on private companies to police their content?


Congress Votes to Block DC’s Obamacare Law


Elected officials in Washington, D.C., are looking to copy the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Republicans in Congress are taking steps to stop them.


The D.C. City Council recently passed the Health Insurance Requirement Act of 2018, which would mandate that district residents be covered by health insurance or pay a fine. That is similar to the mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which imposes a tax penalty on the uninsured. The 2017 tax legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump effectively ends this penalty. In response, two states and the District have passed their own individual mandate law.


States are free to pass such a mandate. In D.C., however, things are more complicated. While D.C. has an elected city council and mayor, under the Constitution the ultimate authority for governing the District lies with Congress. The city’s laws can be disapproved by congressional action. Every year, the city’s spending is also subject to the congressional appropriations process. During the debate over the D.C. spending bill, members of Congress can insert provisions to block the enforcement of laws they don’t like.


That is what has happened with the city’s individual mandate. Rep. Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania sponsored an amendment to the spending bill that would prohibit the city government from collecting the penalty imposed on someone who is uninsured. That amendment passed by a vote of 231-184. If that provision survives in the Senate and the bill is signed into law by President Trump, then D.C. will have an individual mandate but cannot penalize anyone who violates it.


District officials decry this amendment as meddling in the internal issues of the city. They say that without such a mandate, the city’s health insurance market will be skewed and prices will be more expensive for residents who purchase insurance. Supporters of the amendment counter that no one should be penalized because they don’t purchase insurance. They point out that the Constitution gives Congress authority over D.C. and they are merely exercising their power to protect the city’s residents.


Do you think that Congress should stop Washington, D.C. from enforcing its mandate that city residents must purchase health insurance?


Congress Considers Easing Marijuana Law


States across the nation are legalizing the use of marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. While users and growers may face no threat of arrest or prosecution by state authorities in these areas, they are still breaking federal law. Now a bipartisan group of senators wants to change that.


Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have introduced a bill, called the “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States Act,” or STATES Act, that would end federal marijuana penalties for someone who is following state law. If someone lived in a state where it is legal to operate a retail marijuana operation, they would no longer be breaking federal law as long as they followed their state’s laws.


This bill is cosponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-NV). President Trump has also signaled his support for the legislation, although it is unclear if either House or Senate leadership will advance it.


Supporters of the bill contend that it is necessary to remove any conflict between state and federal laws regarding marijuana. They say it is unfair for people to obey state law but still be under threat of federal prosecution. They contend that this legislation would recognize the constitutional guarantee of federalism where the federal government does not interfere in strictly state-level matters.


Opponents of the law say that if there is a federal law against marijuana growing or use, then that law should apply nationwide. Federal law is supreme to state law, they point out, so there is no reason to suspend the application of federal law just because some states have differing laws.


There are also two other bills in the Senate, one introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and one introduced by Sen. Booker, that would completely end the federal ban on marijuana.


Do you think that the federal government should stop enforcing marijuana laws in states that legalize its use for either recreational or medicinal purposes? Should federal marijuana prohibition be ended?


Increasing Calls to Abolish ICE


In the dispute over America’s immigration laws – and the Trump Administration’s enforcement of them – a new rallying cry from some progressive activists is gaining strength: “abolish ICE!” Some high-profile candidates and elected officials have begun to embrace this cause, something that is leading to pushback even from some staunch liberals.


The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is responsible for enforcing immigration laws and investigating illegal immigration. It does not police the border; that function is handled by the Customs and Border Patrol agency. ICE agents raid worksites and other places to arrest illegal immigrants. They also detain these immigrants in detention centers.


For months, progressive activists have been calling for the end to ICE. Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embraced this issue and used it, in part, to upset Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York Democratic primary. Soon after, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also joined the movement to abolish ICE. Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said he would introduce legislation to do this.


It is unclear what would change if ICE is abolished. ICE is only fifteen years old, dating to a federal reshuffling that occurred in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, handled immigration law enforcement prior to that time. If Congress did abolish ICE, then its functions would need to be performed by either a new agency or an existing agency would take them over.


Those who want to end ICE say that it is too militaristic and that its focus is wrong. They point to a number of abuses that have occurred by agency personnel. Those who want to keep the agency intact say that while some reforms may be necessary, the federal government must enforce the nation’s immigration laws.


While there are some elected Democrats who support ICE’s abolition, others merely call for reforms. This includes Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Without the support of congressional leadership, it is likely that the campaign against ICE will produce any legislative results.


Do you think that ICE should be abolished?


Senator Jeff Flake Tries to Take Down Trump’s Tariffs


It is no secret that Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and President Donald Trump have their differences. Among the long list of things that divides them is trade policy. The latest skirmish between the two involves actions by the Republican senator to seek a vote on an amendment to strip the president’s power to impose sanctions unilaterally. He is using his power to block the president’s judicial nominees to get it.


After President Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, many U.S. businesses have announced how this would hurt them. In response, a group of senators, including Sen. Flake, have said they want to force a vote on an amendment that would prevent a president from imposing tariffs on national security grounds without congressional approval, which current law allows.


Two of Sen. Flake’s colleagues, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have been stymied in their attempts to offer such an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. Senator Flake, however, has decided to use his power as a member of the Judiciary Committee to force a vote. That committee is divided 11-10 in favor of Republicans. If Sen. Flake votes with the Democrats against the president’s circuit court nominees, he will assure that these nominations will not proceed.


Some of Sen. Flake’s Republican colleagues do not agree with the move. They say that these nominees are too important to be held up over a dispute over tariffs. Others say that they do not want to undercut the president on this issue.


Sen. Flake argues that the tariffs are hurting U.S. businesses, so Congress should act. He says that if the Senate wants to move forward on moving the president’s judicial nominees out of committee, all the GOP leadership has to do is promise him a vote on his amendment.


Do you think that the Senate should vote on an amendment that will prevent the president from unilaterally imposing tariffs? Is Senator Flake right to hold up judicial nominees to get a vote on his trade amendment?


Congress Acts to Rescind $15 Billion in Spending


In Washington, Congress appropriates or authorizes money and the president has the authority to spend it. Or that is how it generally works. President Trump, however, has decided to exercise a little-used presidential power and ask Congress to reverse itself on spending.


In early May, President Trump’s budget director sent a letter to Congress asking it to rescind $15.4 billion in spending that the legislative branch had appropriated or authorized. This funding includes:

  • $5.1 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that was never requested by states before the authorization to spend it expired on September 30, 2017
  • $4.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, a loan program that is no longer being used
  • $523 million from a loan program that was authorized under the Obama Administration stimulus package
  • $133 million from the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits program, which expired in 2012


The authority to request these rescissions is authorized under the 1974 budget law that governs the federal spending process. Under this law any member of Congress can introduce a bill to enact the president’s proposal, and Congress has 45 days to act. If it does not act, then the president’s proposal dies. The last time a president requested a rescission was President Bill Clinton in 2000.


On June 7, the House of Representatives passed HR 3, the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act, by a vote of 210-206. This bill contains the rescission requests made by President Trump. The Senate Appropriations Committee is now considering this bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he supports the president’s rescission request. Even with the slim Republican majority in the Senate, this bill is likely to pass if it is acted upon within the 45-day limit.


Do you support President Trump’s proposal to rescind $15 billion in federal spending? Or is the president being unfair in rescinding funding for children’s health insurance?


Nevada Faces the Opening of Yucca Mountain


It has been three decades since Congress approved Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation’s permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel. Over that time, a generation of Nevada’s politicians have fought the opening of this site. Legislation advancing in Congress may finally put this issue to a rest, leaving Nevadans with the prospect of Yucca Mountain finally opening.


In early May, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would re-start the process of moving the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. This site was first approved by legislation in 1987, but funding for this project was stopped during the Obama Administration. Currently, spent fuel from nuclear power plants is stored at temporary facilities across the U.S. Yucca Mountain is envisioned as a permanent place to store this waste, buried underground in a geologic formation that is designed to prevent leakage.


Senator Harry Reid was a leading figure in fighting the opening of Yucca Mountain. He not only represented Nevada in the Senate, he also spent many years in Democratic leadership positions in that body. He used this influence to thwart efforts to finalize plans to use Yucca Mountain.


Supporters of Yucca Mountain say that it is a remote facility that has an ideal geologic composition to store nuclear waste safely for millennia. Opponents contend that it will poses huge risks to move nuclear waste from across the U.S. to Nevada, and that this facility is dangerously close to Las Vegas.


Even though Nevada’s House members opposed the recent legislation to move forward with Yucca Mountain’s planning process, the bill passed by a vote of 340-72. The bill garnered the support of both Democrats and Republicans. Nevada’s senators have vowed to do all they can to stop this legislation in the Senate, but it is unclear if they have enough votes to sustain a filibuster.


Do you support opening Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste?


Congress Gives Terminal Patients Wider Access to Drugs


For some people who are dying, the ability to try any treatment option – even if it hasn’t been approved as effective by the FDA – provides hope for their future. Under new legislation passed by Congress, these patients may find it a little easier to access drugs that are experimental but promising.


Under this “right to try” legislation, the Food and Drug Administration would no longer have the authority to stop certain patients from having access to experimental treatments. These patients must have a terminal illness with a prognosis to die within months, have no other treatment options, and not have access to other clinical trials.


People who meet that criteria can work with their doctors to devise a treatment plan that includes drugs that have been proven safe by the FDA, but have not been proven effective. Drug companies would have to agree to provide the drugs, and the patients would bear the cost of those drugs.


The FDA had a program in place where terminal patients could request experimental drugs, but the agency retained the ability to approve or deny these requests.


Supporters of this legislation say that someone facing death should be able to try any drug that may be useful. They contend that the federal government should not be a gatekeeper between patients and potentially life-saving treatments. Opponents of the bill say that it short-circuits necessary safeguards. They also claim that very few people will be eligible for the program, and that those who are will face very high costs for drugs.


The Senate approved this legislation by unanimous consent on August 3, 2017, and the House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 250-169 on May 22. 


Do you support terminally ill patients having access to experimental medication? Or should the Food and Drug Administration still be able to oversee the process of providing experimental drugs to patients who are dying?


Senate Ramping Up Court Confirmations


Donald Trump made the appointment of federal judges a key part of his appeal to Republican voters when he ran in 2016. He has not ignored this issue since taking office, and neither has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In recent weeks, much of the Senate’s time has been devoted to confirming these judges – something that pleases the president’s conservative base but worries liberals.


So far this year, the Senate has confirmed the following circuit court nominees:


David Ryan Stras, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit: 56-42

Elizabeth L. Branch, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit: 73-23

Stuart Kyle Duncan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 50-47

Kurt D. Engelhardt, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 62-34

Michael B. Brennan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 49-46

Michael Y. Scudder, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 90-0

Amy J. St. Eve, of Illinois, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 91-0

Joel M. Carson III, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit: 77-21

John B. Nalbandian, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit: 53-45


These judges, who can serve for life, will sit on circuit courts that are one level below the Supreme Court in terms of jurisdiction. The U.S. is divided into twelve judicial circuits, with a panel of judges serving on each court.


The appointees to these circuit courts has become increasingly contentious over the past two decades. Members of both parties began to use the filibuster to block appointments to these courts, forcing the president’s party to come up with 60 votes to confirm a judge. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster for circuit court nominees. That allowed some of President Obama’s circuit court picks to advance over the objection of Republicans, but also paved the way for relatively easy confirmation of President Trump’s nominees.


While two of President Trump’s nominees received unanimous votes (those of Amy St. Eve and Michael Scudder), the Senate was closely divided on many of the others. This has been the pattern for many of the president’s nominees, whether for judicial posts or for executive branch positions.


Are you happy that the Senate has confirmed so many of President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you think that President Trump’s judge picks will reshape the federal judiciary in a way that you disagree with?


Can the Government Mandate Honest Online Ads?


In the wake of allegations over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Congress is looking at regulating advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. This month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days testifying before members of the House of Representatives and the Senate on this and other topics. But some are asking if federal rules for online ads will be an effective way of bringing transparency to the electoral process.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, has introduced the “Honest Ads Act,” to expand federal regulation of election ads to cover those placed on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. If passed, that act would express the sense of Congress that “the dramatic increase in digital political advertisements, and the growing centrality of online platforms in the lives of Americans, requires the Congress and the Federal Election Commission to take meaningful action to ensure that laws and regulations provide the accountability and transparency that is fundamental to our democracy.”


For its enforcement provisions, the Honest Ads Act would expand the current federal rules governing electioneering to apply to ads that are being run online. This would require these ads to have some indication of who paid for them. The bill would also mandate that companies with more than 50 million monthly online visitors must maintain a database that has information on anyone who bought more than $500 in political ads, a copy of the ads, the rate charged, and the audience targeted.


Senator Klobuchar’s bill is cosponsored by 22 other Democratic senators and a lone Republican, John McCain of Arizona. There is also a companion bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Washington.


Supporters of this legislation say that it is a way to stop Russians and others from using Facebook and Twitter to influence American voters. They contend that mandatory disclosure on ads will help to prevent these activities from taking place in the future. Opponents of the bill say that anyone wishing to use online ads to meddle in U.S. elections can easily evade these reporting requirements. They also point out that maintaining the database as required in the bill will impose significant costs for online companies.


Both Facebook and Twitter have endorsed the bill, although Twitter said it would work with lawmakers to refine and revise it. The companies have also said that they would voluntarily work to provide more transparent information to the public about political ads.


Do you support expanding federal election regulations to cover online political advertisements? Or will these new rules be easily evaded by those looking to influence U.S. elections?



Will Trump Tariffs Help or Hurt the Economy?

When Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency, his attacks on foreign trade drew big cheers from crowds. Now he’s taking steps to turn his “fair trade” rhetoric into reality.


On March 1, the president announced that he would be signing an order to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum. His power to do this comes from a federal law that allows tariffs to be imposed on certain goods if the Commerce Secretary determines their importation undermines national security.


Such tariffs may boost domestic manufacturers of steel and tariffs, possibly even leading to a growth in these industries. However, U.S. businesses such as car makers rely on imported steel. They will be forced to pay higher prices for the inputs they need, as will U.S. consumers. Such tariffs could also provoke retaliatory trade barriers from foreign countries.


According to Christine McDaniel, an economist who works for George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the president is hurting American workers with this action:


“Import taxes on steel and aluminum will raise the prices of those products, which in turn will raise the price of doing business for U.S. manufacturers. There are more people in U.S. manufacturing sectors that rely on steel than there are in the U.S. steel industry. In terms of the economics, the trade-off does not make sense.”


Other observers praised the move. Dave Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, said, “it's for our employees, to support our customers, and when we get this right it will be great for the United States of America. We have to get this done.”


The affected nations will likely take their case against these tariffs to the World Trade Organization once the president imposes them.


Do you think that President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will help U.S. industry? Or will workers be hurt because consumers and the industries that rely on imported steel will be paying higher prices?


Immigration: A Touchy Issue for Three Decades



The big issue in Washington, D.C., is immigration. That should be no surprise to anyone who has followed politics over the past generation.


The last time that Congress and the president agreed on comprehensive immigration reform was 1986. President Reagan signed into law a bill that made big changes to how the nation treated immigrants, especially those who came to the country illegally. Almost from the time that the president signed that bill into law, there has been a divisive split in Washington over what to do next on this issue.


Whether they crossed the border illegally or overstayed their visas, the U.S. has millions of immigrants who are not here legally. There has been considerable debate over what to do with these individuals. For two decades, there has been work on trying to find a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some of these illegal immigrants while also enhancing border security. President George W. Bush was a champion of this approach.


A path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has always met with vocal opposition from some conservative Republicans, however, who decry this approach as “amnesty.” Some liberals will not support stricter order enforcement efforts and increased deportation measures. The attacks from both sides on compromise immigration legislation has made it difficult for Congress to act. In 2006, the Senate passed a bill along these lines, but the House failed to act. In 2007, the Senate tried and failed to pass a comprehensive reform bill. In 2013, the Senate once again passed a bill but it died in the House. Efforts in 2018 to pass immigration reform bills have failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to shut off Senate debate.


Many people have been focused on what to do about minors who were brought to the U.S. illegally and grew up here. These are often called “Dreamers,” and have been subject to deportation the same as any other illegal immigrant. However, there is bipartisan agreement that there should be some pathway for them to become citizens if they do not have a criminal record and if they have done things like enroll in college or the military.


As far back as 2001, members of Congress have considered legislation that would deal with Dreamers. Provisions to solve their situation was included in comprehensive immigration reform bills. Since these bills never became law, however, their status remained in limbo. President Obama put in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, which directed the Department of Homeland Security not to deport Dreamers.


Republicans objected to DACA as being an overreach of executive authority. President Trump rescinded President Obama’s order, effective March 2018, urging Congress to provide a legislative solution to the Dreamer issue. So far, however, partisan wrangling has prevented this from happening.


The agricultural community has also been advocating for a guest worker program that would allow immigrants to come to the U.S., work temporarily, and then return home. They contend that this would reduce illegal immigration by giving foreign workers a legal way to earn money in the U.S. but not stay here. This has been included in immigration bills but has never been enacted.


Do you think that the U.S. immigration laws should be changed? Do you support giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship? Should the U.S. focus on more border control?

Trump Endorses Gun Control, Armed Teachers


In the wake of the school shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives, there is a renewed call for gun control. One of those people adding his voice to the chorus for more restrictions on gun ownership is President Donald Trump. But he’d also like to see armed teachers as a “GREAT DETERRENT.”


Bans on semi-automatic firearms, expanded background checks for private gun sales, and increased age limits on purchasing semi-automatics are among the variety of ideas being proposed by politicians, pundits, and students. On Thursday, February 22, the president tweeted his support for some of these measures, saying “I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope.”


He also said that some “gun adept” teachers should be armed to confront school shooters. According to the president, “highly trained” teachers would be quicker to deal with shooters than waiting for law enforcement.


Gun control measures have not had much success in Congress in recent years. They face strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, especially those representing rural areas. President Trump’s endorsement may break some of this resistance, however.


There are some Republicans who are willing to endorse gun control measures. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said that he would work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on legislation to ban sales of AR-15s to people under 21 years of age (currently, anyone over 18 can buy rifles). There is also bipartisan support to pass legislation that would address flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.


Any legislation to enact new gun laws must gain at least 60 votes in the Senate. It is unclear if these or other gun control proposals can gain enough bipartisan support to overcome that hurdle. President Trump’s backing may make it easier for Republicans to support such measures, however.


Do you support new laws that put restrictions on gun ownership? Or do you think that gun control laws are ineffective and infringe upon constitutional rights?


Senate Fails to Act on Immigration Reform


President Trump has made immigration reform a top priority. Congressional Democrats want to see action, too. If the Senate debate last week is any indication, however, there will be no resolution to this issue any time soon.


Much of the focus has been finding a way to provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as “dreamers.” There is broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats that this should be done. The two parties disagree, however, on what else should be in the legislative package that contains “dreamer” protection.


On February 15, the Senate voted on four measures to reform immigration. These were presented as amendments to another bill, and each vote was to close debate. Such a vote requires 60 senators to agree, and then the Senate could move to a final vote on passage of the amendment. None of these four measures received 60 votes, so each one failed:


Sen. Coons amendment to protect “dreamers”

Failed 52-47

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and provide funding for border security, though no border wall.


Sen. Toomey amendment to defund “sanctuary cities”

Failed 54-45

To cut off debate on an amendment that would end a variety of federal grants for local governments that have policies directing their employees not to cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration law. These local governments are sometimes called “sanctuary cities.”


Sen. Schumer amendment to protect “dreamers”

Failed 54-45

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and provide $25 billion for border security. The bill would have also prevented “dreamers” from being able to sponsor their parents so they could achieve legal status.


Sen. Grassley amendment to protect “dreamers” and reduce legal immigration

Failed 39-60

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” provide $25 billion for a wall on the U.S./Mexican border, reduce family-based immigration, and end the immigration diversity lottery. The Trump Administration favored this amendment.


With the failure of these measures, it is unclear if any proposal can achieve the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate.


What do you think Congress should do to reform America’s immigration system?


Trump Budget Increases Spending for Some, Slashes it for Others


A week after signing a proposal to allow an increase in spending by roughly a half-billion dollars over the next two years, President Trump has released his budget proposal for the next decade.


Overall Impacts 

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget - 

The policies called for in the President's budget would reduce deficits by $3.6 trillion relative to its own baseline (and about $3.1 trillion relative to current law), the result of $1.2 trillion of new spending and tax cuts ($1.75 trillion relative to current law), $3.7 trillion of deficit reduction (mostly on the spending side), about $800 billion in reduced war and disaster spending, and a bit over $300 billion in interest savings.


Proposed Increases in Spending

  • Defense -- $800 billion increase for next year
  • Infrastructure -- $21 billion, part of a $200 billion, 10-year plan
  • Department of Commerce -- $600 million increase
  • Department of Homeland Security -- $5.1 billion increase
  • Veterans’ Affairs Department -- $6.8 billion increase

The budget also allocates $18 million for a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.


Proposed Decreases in Spending 

According to the White House, this budget includes “proposed savings of $48.4 billion in discretionary programs, including $25.8 billion in program eliminations and $22.6 billion in reductions” for the next budget year. Here are some of the areas where the president has proposed decreased spending:

  • Department of Agriculture -- $938 million, including ending funding for land acquisition and rural wastewater grants
  • Department of Education -- $5.7 billion, including the elimination of a variety of federal grant programs
  • Department of Health and Human Services -- $4.3 billion, including the elimination of low-income heating grants
  • State Deparment and USAID -- $4.7 billion, including eliminating funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative
  • National Endowment for the Arts -- $121 million cut
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- $480 million cut

The president’s proposal also calls on a redesign of the Supplemental Assistance for Nutrition Program (SNAP). These include greater restrictions on who is eligible for food benefits, more work requirements, and using a portion of the program’s funding to provide food commodities to recipients.


Next Steps

This budget outline is simply the president’s desired spending path over the next decade. It has no force of law and does not actually affect federal spending. Congress will likely enact its own budget resolution, which is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the president’s proposal. The congressional budget resolution will outline the spending bills that will provide funding for actual federal spending in the next fiscal year.


Do you support President Trump’s budget as a good way to trim wasteful federal spending? Or is the president’s budget a blow to necessary government programs?


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