Commentary & Community

What’s in the Trump Budget?


President Trump released his budget proposal this week. As may be expected from someone who promised to shake up Washington, his spending plan outlines some big changes to federal spending.


One of the major differences between Trump and previous presidents involves entitlement programs. These are programs such as Medicaid and welfare that do not require an annual appropriation from Congress. Instead, if you qualify for them, you are entitled to receive them, and the federal government must find money to pay. Over the next ten years, the president’s budget lays out major alterations to these programs that could result in some big savings:


Medicaid – $880 billion. These reductions come from ending the expanded Medicaid matching rate for childless adults that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act. The budget also assumes that states will be given a capped amount of money per enrollee starting in 2020 (right now, states receive a matching rate for every person on Medicaid with no cap).


Food stamps – $191 billion. This assumes savings from allowing states to impose work requirements on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) recipients.


TANF - $21.6 billion. The budget calls for reducing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states as well as eliminating the contingency fund that states can access if there is more demand for the program.


For some programs, such as Medicaid, the spending projected by the Trump budget is a reduction in the future growth of the program. That is, there is a certain baseline spending growth that is assumed right now. Trump’s budget offers policy recommendations that would alter this baseline, reducing future growth. For other programs, such as SNAP, the Trump budget projects actual spending to be lower in 10 years (you can find more detailed charts on this here).


While entitlement programs would face reductions and many federal agencies would see their budgets reduced, there are a few increases built into the budget. The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would receive increases.


It should be remembered, however, that this budget proposal will not necessarily have any real effect. As we wrote in a previous blog post:


"Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers."


The president’s budget is more like a vision of where he thinks federal spending should proceed over the next decade. It does not mean that spending will actually follow along those lines. Congress has the power to determine funding levels for both discretionary programs (like defense) and make policy changes for entitlement programs (like Medicaid). Only action by the legislative branch can alter the direction of federal spending.


What do you think of the president’s budget proposal? Do you like that he has called for a reduction in these programs? Or do you see his priorities as being too draconian for the poor?


U.S. House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare


Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare: Passed 217 to 213 in the U.S. House on May 4, 2017


To pass the American Health Care Act, which is a compromise between House Republican moderates and conservatives that would change federal insurance regulations, modify Medicaid coverage, and alter taxes and fees. This legislation is a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Every House Democrat and 20 Republicans voted against it.


Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 1628!


Trump Names Lower Court Nominees



Let the fight over judicial nominations begin.


President Trump recently sent the names of 10 people for the Senate to consider as federal judges. With more than 100 vacant federal judge positions, Donald Trump has an opportunity to make a significant impact on how federal laws are interpreted and applied.


According to John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, “They are all highly regarded in conservative legal circles and by practitioners in the states where they reside.” During the election, many conservative voters said that federal court nominations were one of the most important reasons they were backing Trump.


As we saw with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, however, these appointments are likely to be made over significant Democratic opposition in the Senate. Democrats say that Republicans took steps to delay or hinder judicial nominations under President Obama, which is why there are so many vacancies for Trump to fill. They view this as ample reason to fight these new nominations.


However, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominees in 2013. That means Senate Democrats, who are now in the minority, have no tools to stop Trump’s appointments. Some are vowing to use every tool they can to slow them down, though.


Do you support President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you support efforts by Democratic senators to hold up and possibly stop these nominations?


The FBI: Now What?


In early May, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Considering that a president has fired an FBI Director only once previously in the modern era, many people have questions about what this means for the future of the FBI.


We’re here to provide some context.


The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, but the FBI Director is under the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The president appoints the FBI Director and the Senate must confirm the nominee. The Director serves for one ten-year term, although Congress can pass legislation to extend this term. The president has authority to fire the FBI Director for any reason.


The presidential appointment authority for the FBI Director dates back to reforms made in 1968. The fixed 10-year term was legislated in 1976. The agency’s activities during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement raised concerns about the power of the FBI Director. After the death of iconic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 after 48 years of service, there was a consensus that long tenure for a Director was not desirable. Limiting the term and bringing that appointment under the president were ways to place limits on this power.


On the whole, the FBI Director has generally remained generally independent of the president and partisan politics. A ten-year term means that a Director will outlast any president who appoints him or her. Prior to Comey, the only FBI Director who has been fired was William Sessions, whom President Clinton removed due to ethical issues. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s action will set a new precedent that leads to more dismissals of future FBI Directors.


President Trump will have the task of naming a new FBI Director. The Senate will have the power to confirm or reject that nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nominee, and then vote whether to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for consideration. Most nominees for FBI Director have been confirmed unanimously. In fact, the only one not to be confirmed without opposition was James Comey, who received one dissenting vote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).


Do you think that President Trump should have fired Director Comey? Who should President Trump appoint as the new Director of the FBI?


Some Senators Say “No” to (Almost) All of Trump’s Nominees


Part of a new president’s job is to fill a variety of jobs that require Senate confirmation. Donald Trump is no exception, but some of his nominees have been controversial and faced nearly-united opposition from Democratic senators. Many other nominees have been less controversial, and have won over votes from most of the Senate Democratic caucus. However, there is a small band of senators who are committed to opposing almost every nominee put forward by the president.


Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, for instance, has voted against all of the president’s high-profile nominees except Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Every other senator voted to approve Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, but Sen. Gillibrand voted “no.”


For other nominees, Sen. Gillibrand is reliably joined by Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). They all voted against Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Duke to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Sen. Harris voted for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Labor, but the others all voted “no.”


At times, other senators such as Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Cortez Mastro (Nevada) are part of another small group of senators who reliably oppose Trump nominees. For other votes, such as the Perdue nomination or the Coats nomination, Ron Wyden of Oregon will join them.


These votes are on nominees whom the majority of other Democratic senators support. Gillibrand has justified her votes in this way: “For many of them, I found them to be either unqualified or so far outside my world view and what I think is important and my view of morality that I had to vote against them.” Other observers suspect that these votes may be a way to please the Democratic base in case the senators are looking to run for president in 2020.


What do you think? Are you glad these senators are standing up against President Trump’s nominees, even the lower-profile ones? Or do you view this as obstructionism for political purposes?


Build the Wall or Shut the Government Down?


A wall that has not even been built could have been the obstacle that may have prevented many federal employees from going to work today.


The Trump Administration’s insistence that funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in spending legislation was seen as a potential sticking point that prevents that legislation from passing Congress. If that had happened, it will mean portions of the federal government will not have funding to operate. A partial government shutdown would have been the result.


We have been in this position before. Clashes between the executive branch and legislative branch over federal spending bills have caused government shutdowns twice in the past. Those instances occurred when the two branches were controlled by different parties. Now, however, Republicans hold both the White House and Congress.


While Republicans control Congress, Democrats are playing a key role in this situation. Any spending legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate. With only 52 Republicans, Senate Majority Leader McConnell needs to attract some Democratic votes for any bill that would avert a government shutdown.


Gaining those votes is proving difficult, as Democrats resist President Trump’s desire to have funding for a border wall (or at least funding to start on a wall) included. Some Democrats point to the president’s promise that Mexico would pay for a wall, wondering why the American taxpayers should pick up the tab for this. Others oppose the wall on principle.


The federal government is at this point because Congress and President Obama did not agree on long-term spending bills prior to the start of this fiscal year on October 1. Instead, they passed short-term funding measures. These measures end on April 28. Congress must either pass legislation that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, or it must pass a continuing resolution that would provide short-term funding. If these things do not happen, then “non-essential” government personnel will not be reporting to work next Monday.


What do you think that Congress and the president should do? Should disputes over a border wall hold up funding for the rest of the federal government?


What’s Next for Health Care?


In early March, Republicans in the House of Representatives released their health care legislation. Intending to live up to their promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), Republican congressmen and President Trump tried to get majority support to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which they said would improve America’s health care system.


Ultimately, they failed to persuade enough Republicans to get a winning margin in Congress. However, they said that reform efforts weren’t over with the failure of this bill.


It is unclear what will happen now. There are differing perspectives on this issue from conservatives and liberals. With the GOP controlling Congress, the conservative direction seems more likely to prevail if some health care bill emerges in the legislative branch. But with an election occurring next year, it is possible that Democratic wins in 2018 could produce a liberal direction on health care reform in future years.

Here are some of the options being discussed in DC now:


Conservative ideas


Replace Obamacare: This is what the AHCA tried to do. It would have repealed some of Obamacare’s provisions and then enacted new provisions that tried to meet different health care goals. With the demise of the AHCA, President Trump and members of Congress have said they are continuing to work on ideas that would approach this issue from a different direction.


Repeal Obamacare: On the surface, this option is simple – all Congress has to do is repeal the legislation passed in 2010. Then, in theory, the health care marketplace would go back to its pre-Obamacare days. However, a lot has changed in the health care world in the past seven years. Individuals and companies have taken steps to comply with the ACA. Even in the world before ACA, there was heavy government involvement in health care. Many conservatives would like to see reforms that deal with the problems they saw in 2010 with the level of government regulation at the time. Repealing the ACA will not be enough for them.


Block-grant Medicaid: Instead of a wholesale repeal and/or replacement of the ACA, some conservatives would like Congress to focus on block granting Medicaid. The Medicaid program provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the poor and the near-poor. As a joint state-federal program, some conservatives see Medicaid as an opportunity to give states an ability to experiment with different methods of providing health care. Right now, the federal government provides funds to states based on the state’s income level and enrollment. Under a block grant, states would receive a set amount of money, but in return would have more freedom to innovate.


Liberal ideas


Single-payer: Under “Medicare for All” legislation, the federal government would pay for every American’s health care. Private companies could offer supplemental insurance, but health care would largely be a government-run system.


Expanded Medicaid: Under the ACA, the federal government provides incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Some liberals have called on the federal government to raise that cap, which would likely lead to more states expanding Medicaid to larger groups of people.


The status quo


Until Congress passes legislation, the ACA is still the law of the land. Its provisions will continue to be in effect. The federal government will enforce the law. However, that raises some issues, since the executive branch tasked with overseeing the ACA is headed by President Trump.


The new president has two options. One would be to do all he can to make the law work efficiently. Another would be to direct federal agencies not to fix issues as they come up with the law. The second seems more likely, as the president has tweeted “ObamaCare will explode…” However, it’s unclear exactly what path the Trump Administration will take when it comes to implementing the ACA. Regardless, the ACA will exist and be operational until there is a change in federal health care law.


What do you think Congress should do about health care reform?


Tax Reform May be Next on DC’s Agenda


Taxes are forefront in the minds of millions of Americans today. As you rush to file your taxes, you may be thinking that there should be an easier way. The idea of tax reform is a popular one, but the consensus breaks down over details. Reduce rates, hike taxes on the rich, simplify the code – there are numerous ideas about how the tax code could be modified.


These issues may soon be taken up by members of Congress. President Trump has said that he would like to see a tax reform bill on his desk by August. That is unlikely to happen, given the complexity of the issue and the fact that real work has yet to start. However, changes to the tax code are probably the next big thing that lawmakers in Washington will be discussing.


Here are some of the ideas being considered:


Lower tax rates: In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was clear that he wanted tax rates cut. He sees these cuts as a way to stimulate economic growth. President Trump also campaigned on consolidating tax brackets from seven into three. The questions for Congress to work out include how low should rates be cut, should revenue losses from rate cuts be offset with higher taxes elsewhere, and what group of taxpayers should benefit from cuts?


Increasing the standard deduction: If you don’t itemize your income tax deductions, you get to deduct a portion of your income right at the start. President Trump’s campaign plan called for more than doubling this standard deduction.


Border adjustment tax: Some House Republicans have floated the idea of changing the way taxes are collected from businesses. Right now, the U.S. government collects taxes on what companies produce in the U.S. Under this proposal, the U.S. government would collect taxes from what companies sell in the U.S. That means no taxes on goods that are exported but new taxes on goods that are imported for purchase by American consumers.


Cutting payroll tax: The taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare are called payroll taxes. Unlike the income tax, these taxes aren’t progressive – that is, they don’t increase as income goes up. Some in Congress have proposed cutting these taxes as a way to lighten the tax load on lower-income workers. However, if this happens they would need to find other tax streams to pay for Social Security and Medicare.


Eliminating deductions: Removing provisions of the tax code that give breaks for certain behavior is one of the main ways to simplify the code. Eliminating these tax breaks also means more revenue, which could help offset any tax rate cuts. That is what happened during the tax code rewrite in 1986, a bipartisan effort that many hail as a good blueprint for future action. One thing being discussed is the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes.


Cutting the corporate tax rate: Compared to other countries, the U.S. has a high corporate income tax rate. There has been bipartisan support for lowering this rate. For instance, President Obama proposed lowering it from 35% to 28%.


Given that it is early in the process, there are certain to be many other ideas for altering the tax code. It may even prove to be too contentious to achieve majority support around a single reform package, which will leave us with the current tax code in place. However, after the failure of legislation that would have repealed Obamacare, President Trump and congressional Republicans have significant motivation to score a victory on this issue.


What do you think that tax reform should include?


Neil Gorsuch’s Road to the Supreme Court


After enduring a barrage of questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch has a clear path to take his seat on the Supreme Court. However, Senate Republicans may have to change Senate rules to get him there.


The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination today, April 3. The committee, controlled by Republicans, is almost certain to approve him. That means his nomination will move to the full Senate for consideration.


Some Senate Democrats have said they will filibuster the nomination. To overcome a filibuster, Republicans must prevail on what is called a cloture vote. Such a vote requires 60 senators. There are only 52 Republican senators. But there is a way to overcome that 60-vote threshold.


Republicans faced with a filibuster can change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who was then majority leader, did this for lower court nominees facing Republican filibusters in 2013. It is a big step to change Senate rules in this way, however, and many senators are uncomfortable with doing so.


Both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in preserving the filibuster. Republicans may be in the majority today, but that could end with the 2018 election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has always been a strong supporter of retaining the filibuster to protect the minority party. The Democrats’ interest in retaining the filibuster is more obvious, since they are in the minority today. Preserving it for future Supreme Court nominees could be useful for them if President Trump names someone to the court in the future who is less distinguished than Gorsuch. In a case like that, moderate Republicans could join Democrats in using the filibuster to stop that nominee. With three GOP defections, there would be no chance to end Senate rules in this scenario.


Facing the serious implication of changing Senate rules, some Senate Democrats may not support the filibuster of Gorsuch. They can support moving to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination but still vote against him being placed on the Supreme Court. That would preserve the ability to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees


Democrats are facing pressure from their base to do everything possible to stop this nomination, however. If they don’t filibuster, they could be accused of being too soft on what many see as a “stolen” Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. If more than 40 Democrats decide to filibuster, however, Republicans are likely to change the Senate rules like Harry Reid did in 2013. Even though many have expressed reservations with doing this, Republicans have a greater interest in putting Gorsuch on the court than preserving a Senate tradition.


Either way, it appears that Neil Gorsuch will be taking his place on the Supreme Court. The only unknown is if Republicans will end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees to get him there.


The Arcane World of Senate Rules


Filibuster. Cloture. Table. Civility.


The world of the U.S. Senate is one that may seem somewhat strange to outsiders. A variety of rules and norms operate in the upper body of the legislative branch. Most of the time the general public doesn’t pay attention to them. But sometimes an action happens on the Senate floor that causes people to notice. If you want to keep an eye on what your state’s senators are doing in Washington, then it may be good to become acquainted with how this body works.


Unlike the House of Representatives that operates more or less under majority rule, the Senate uses rules that are designed to give single members significant power to stop or delay many actions. However, these rules can be suspended under certain circumstances. To do this requires unanimous consent by the members, which is how many things get done in the Senate. However, if one member objects to suspending the rules, then the Senate must follow the process laid down for completing that specific matter.


Much of the business of the Senate is uncontroversial and is done under unanimous consent. However, when there is controversy, then senators invoke Senate rules in an attempt to stop passage of measures with which they disagree. One of the most common tactics under the rule to do this is the filibuster. The Senate rules allow for unlimited debate on a measure. If a senator or group of senators disagrees with a bill or a nomination, they can attempt to talk for as long as possible to stop it. That is a filibuster. Another senator can invoke cloture to stop a filibuster, which requires the approval of 60 senators.


The filibuster used to be relatively rare in the Senate. Today, its use has increased to an extent that senators threaten a filibuster over any item where there is disagreement. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, who was the Democratic Majority Leader, engineered a change in Senate rules to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees for positions below the Supreme Court. Some senators have indicated a willingness to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If that filibuster cannot be broken with the 60-vote threshold, it is likely that Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Republican Majority Leader, would follow in Reid’s footsteps and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.


At times, senators will vote not on whether to pass a bill, but to lay a bill or resolution on the table to delay its consideration (to “table it”). Technically, anything tabled can be brought up for consideration again (or taken off the table, in parliamentary terms). However, most of the time a vote to table a measure is a vote to kill it. Last year, for instance, the Senate held a vote to table Senate Joint Resolution 39. This resolution expressed disapproval over selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote to table it was a vote to kill it, so the vote was effectively a vote to support the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.


The Senate also has rules about how members should act during debates and floor action. There are also norms of civility in the Senate, which is why you may hear senators referring to someone with whom they are debating as “my good friend” or the “honorable gentleman.” A notable example of this aspect of Senate behavior coming under public scrutiny was when Senator McConnell invoked Rule 19 to prevent Senator Elizabeth Warren from continuing a speech about Senator Jeff Sessions. That rule specifies that one senator may not disparage another. Senator Warren appealed the ruling of the chair. In cases like this, the majority of the Senate can decide whether the chair was right. On a party-line vote, the Senate did uphold the decision that Senator Warren broke Rule 19.


The Senate is a deliberative body that prides itself on giving significant power to individual members and to having a strict code of civility. Some see the Senate’s rules and traditions as making it the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Others view them as byzantine procedures that frustrate the will of the majority. What do you think about how the Senate operates?


U.S. Regulatory Reform Tracker


Learn more about the Congressional Review Act, then check out these key regulatory reform bills considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Joint Resolution 43, Overturn rule prohibiting states from defunding Planned Parenthood: Passed 230 to 188 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that prohibits states from denying federal funding to family planning organizations for reasons unrelated to the quality of care they offer. This rule was aimed at stopping states from defunding Planned Parenthood.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 69, Overturn Alaska wildlife control rule: Passed 225 to 193 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on March 21, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would restrict the practice of killing predators such as wolves and bears in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.


U.S. House Bill 1009, Reform the regulatory process: Passed 241 to 184 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To place in statute a requirement that a bureau called the Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) must review proposed regulations that impose an annual cost on the economy of at least $100 million. Agencies must have considered alternatives, looked at costs, minimized the potential cost on society, and more. Agencies that have not done so must change their regulations to comply with OIRA's suggestions.The bill would expand OIRA's scope to independent agencies, such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.


U.S. House Join Resolution 83, Overturn workplace injury reporting rule: Passed 231 to 191 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2107 and 50 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 22, 2017


To overturn an Obama administration regulation that required businesses to record injuries and illnesses in the workplace and retain those records for five years.


U.S. House Bill 998, Create regulatory review commission: Passed 240 to 185 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To establish a commission that would review federal rules that should be repealed to lower the cost of regulation. The commission will prioritize examining rules that are older than 15 years and that impose a high cost or paperwork burden. Congress could repeal a rule recommended by the commission with a joint resolution. Agencies issuing new rules would be mandated to offset that new rule by eliminating a rule recommended by the commission.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 42, Overturn rule restricting unemployment drug testing: Passed 236 to 189 in the U.S. House on February 15, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 14, 2017


To overturn a Department of Labor regulation that allowed states to drug test applicants for unemployment benefits only if the applicants were suited for jobs that required drug testing. In effect, the rule being overturned would not allow states to use widespread drug testing for unemployment benefits.


U.S. Joint Resolution 40, Overturn ban gun possession for some Social Security recipients: Passed 235 to 180 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 57 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on February 15, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would prohibit Social Security Income and Disability recipients who are determined to have certain mental disorders from possessing a firearm. Under this rule, anyone in this category who possessed a firearm would be committing a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 36, Overturn methane flaring rule: Passed 221 to 191 in the U.S. House  on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that would require energy companies to reduce the release of methane when producing natural gas on federal and tribal lands. The rule would also impose royalty payments on some methane that has been released. This rule would supersede state regulations governing methane releases.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 44, Overturn BLM rule reducing local government role in resource management: Passed 234 to 186 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 7, 2017


To overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s “resource management” rule that would reduce the role of local governments in developing BLM plans and give greater weight to input from the public in the preliminary planning process. 


U.S. House Joint Resolution 57, Overturn federal failing school mandate: Passed 234 to 190 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017.


To overturn a Department of Education regulation directing states to identify failing schools using plans to measure the performance of groups of students according to federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 58, Overturn teacher preparation regulation: Passed 240 to 181 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 59 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on March 8, 2017


To overturn a Department of Education regulation mandating that states report on the quality of teacher preparation programs, with the possibility of funds being removed from states that do not meet federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution on 41, Overturn additional disclosure mandates on natural resource companies: Passed 235 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s rule that resource extraction companies (such as mining, energy, or timber companies) must disclose any payments, such as fees, made to foreign governments.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 37, Overturn mandatory reporting rule for labor issues: Passed 236 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 49 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 6, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s regulations that any company bidding on a federal contract over $500,000 must disclose any violations of labor law or alleged violations of labor law from the past three years.



U.S. House Joint Resolution 38, Overturn coal mining stream rule: Passed 228 to 194 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 54 to 45 in the U.S. Senate on February 2, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation mandating complex new rules on how coal companies dispose of mining waste near waterways. The rule also mandated that companies must extensively survey ecosystems prior to mining and then fully restore those ecosystems once mining is complete.


U.S. House Bill 78, Modify financial regulation procedure: Passed 243 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 12, 2017


To require that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determine the nature and source of a problem before it issues a regulation; issue a regulation only if the benefits justify its cost; assess alternatives to a regulation; and only promulgate regulations that are understandable. The bill also requires that the SEC review old regulations to determine if they are still needed or are too burdensome, and assess the economic impact and effectiveness of large regulations it proposes.


U.S. House Bill 35, Reshape federal regulation process: Passed 238 to 183 in the U.S. House on January 11, 2017


To alter how federal agencies issue regulations. This bill would require that agencies consider the cost of proposed regulations and issue less costly rules if possible, give judges wider leeway to strike down regulations, and prevent regulations costing a billion dollars or more from going into effect until any court challenges against them have been settled. The bill would also require that regulators consider new rules’ impact on small business, publish transparency reports, and write 100-word regulatory summaries in plain English.


U.S. House Bill 26, Mandate congressional approval of major regulations: Passed 237 to 187 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To require that Congress must approve “major” regulations before they go into effect. The bill defines these regulations as costing the economy $100 million annually, imposing a major cost increase on consumers, or significantly affecting U.S. economic productivity or competition.


U.S. House Bill 21, Allow review of last-minute regulations: Passed 238 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 4, 2017


To empower Congress to disapprove whole batches of new regulations imposed during the last days of a president’s term by agencies with a single roll call vote. Under current law, congress has the authority to invalidate "last minute rules" promulgated by an outgoing administration, but doing so requires them to be disapproved one at a time. This legislation would allow disapproval of all regulations submitted during the last 60 days of the congressional session that occurs during the final year of a president’s term.


Comment below to share what you think on regulatory reform!

President Trump's Appointment Confirmations Tracker



Check out these presidential appointment considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Senate Motion 89, Approve Dan Coats as Trump’s Intelligence Director: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 15, 2017


To confirm Dan Coats as the Director of National Intelligence.


U.S. Senate Legislative Document 86, Approve Seema Verma as Trump’s Medicare administrator: Passed 55 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on March 13, 2017


To confirm Seema Verma as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 79, Approve Rick Perry as Trump’s Energy Secretary: Passed 62 to 37 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2107


To confirm Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy.


U.S. Senate Motion 77, Approve Ben Carson as Trump’s HUD Secretary: Passed 58 to 41 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2017


To confirm Ben Carson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


U.S. Senate Motion 75, Approve Ryan Zinke as Trump’s Interior Secretary: Passed 68 to 31 in the U.S. Senate on March 1, 2017


To confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke as the Secretary of Interior.


U.S. Senate Motion 73, Approve Wilbur Ross as Trump’s Commerce Secretary: Passed 72 to 27 in the U.S. Senate on February 27, 2017


To confirm Wilbur Ross, Jr., as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.


U.S. Senate Motion 71, Approve Scott Pruitt as Trump's EPA Administrator: Passed 52 to 46 in the U.S. Senate on February 17, 2017


To confirm Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 68, Approve Mick Mulvaney as Trump's budget director: Passed 51 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on February 16, 2017


To confirm Mick Mulvaney as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.


U.S. Senate Motion 65, Approve Linda McMahon as Small Business Administrator: Passed 81 to 19 in the U.S. Senate on February 14, 2017


To confirm Linda McMahon as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.


U.S. Senate Motion 63, Approve Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary: Passed 53 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 13, 2017


To confirm Steven Mnuchin as the Secretary of the Treasury.


U.S. Senate Motion 61, Approve Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2017

To confirm Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 59, Approve Jeff Sessions as Attorney General: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 8, 2017


To confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.


U.S. Senate Motion 54, Approve Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary: Passed 50 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education.


U.S. Senate Motion 36, Approve Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State: Passed 56 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 1, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.


U.S. Senate Motion 35, Approve Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary: Passed the U.S. Senate 93 to 6 on January 31, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.


U.S. Senate Motion 33, Confirm Nikki Haley as UN ambassador: Passed 96 to 4 in the U.S. Senate on January 24, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Governor Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


U.S. Senate Resolution 32, Confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA Director: Passed 66 to 32 in the U.S. House on January 23, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 30, Approve John Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary: Passed 88 to 11 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm John Kelly as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.


U.S. Senate Motion 29, Approve Gen. Mattis as Defense Secretary: Passed 98 to 1 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense.


U.S. Senate Bill 84, Allow Gen. Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense: Passed 81 to 17 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017 and 268 to 151 in the U.S. House on January 13, 2017


To waive a provision in federal law that prohibits any military member from serving as Secretary of Defense within seven years of active duty. This bill would allow Gen. James Mattis, whom Donald Trump has selected to run the Defense Department, to serve as Secretary of Defense even though he has only been away from active duty for three years.


Comment below to share what you think of President Trump's appointments!


What’s Up with President Trump’s Budget?



Defense spending up. Big cuts to social programs. Federal funding for the arts on the chopping block.


You may have seen headlines or social media posts that give details about President Trump’s budget. Depending on where you stand, you may be cheering, weeping, or shrugging your shoulders. But what is actually going on with the president’s spending plan?


Officially, nothing is going on – yet. A 1990 law requires that the president submit a budget proposal to Congress by early February. Donald Trump has not done so (he wouldn’t be the first president to miss the deadline). In fact, his spokesman says that the president’s budget will be unveiled “later this year.”


Right now, the White House has asked agencies to find a way to increase defense spending by $54 billion and cut other spending by an equal amount.  That gives a broad idea of what the president will propose, but it does not give any details about what agencies may be targeted for cuts or what shape those cuts may take.


Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers.


The congressional budget is not even the final spending plan. It is, instead, a detailed outline of what spending should look like. If the resolution recommends changes to mandatory spending programs such as Medicaid and Social Security, Congress must pass those changes. For non-mandated spending, such as on defense or national parks, the congressional budget resolution provides a guide for appropriation committees to allocate actual spending amounts. The budget resolution does set forth special rules for consideration of some items, so it is a useful blueprint for Congress to take on future spending decisions.


It should be pointed out that this process is often ignored by Congress. Some years it does not pass any budget resolution. Instead, it simply passes appropriations bills to authorize a certain level of federal spending. We don’t know if that could happen this year. Given that the president is not close to submitting his budget resolution (remember, it was due in early February), chances are good that we’ll see some interesting maneuvers during this year’s budget process.


Comment below and share how you think President Trump and Congress should structure the 2017 federal budget!


U.S. Senate Motion 57: Affirm Senator Warren Broke Senate Rules


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. Senate, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Motion 57, Affirm Senator Warren broke Senate rules: Passed 49 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017


To uphold the ruling of the chair that Senator Elizabeth Warren broke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Senator Warren had been reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump had nominated to be Attorney General. The chair had ruled that by reading certain sections of this bill, Sen. Warren had disparaged her colleague, Sen. Sessions.


Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Motion 57!


Congress Busy Overturning Regulations


Updated February 24, 2017


Congress has been very busy since it convened in early January. Even before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of Congress were busy writing and voting on legislation. One area is getting a lot of attention from our federal legislators – overturning regulations using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).


Not only is it unusual for Congress to target a large number of regulations to reject, but using the CRA at all is quite rare. After the Republican sweep in the 1994 election, Congress enacted the CRA in 1996 as part of the “Contract with America.” Its provisions have only been used one time prior to this year. Since January, however, the House of Representatives has considered eight resolutions that would overturn Obama Administration rules. More are on the way.


Under the CRA, a majority in Congress has the power to pass a resolution that would undo any rule issued by a federal agency issued within the prior 60 legislative days. The agency is barred from ever again issuing a regulation that is similar to the one rejected. Unlike other legislation, this resolution cannot be filibustered in the Senate. The president must sign the resolution for it to take effect.


This year is the first time when party control of Congress and the presidency coincide to make the CRA workable in any significant way. Republican President Trump took office from his Democratic predecessor, whose administration issued a variety of controversial regulations during its final year in office. Last year, members of Congress were out of town a lot, so the threshold of 60 legislative days stretches far back into 2016 to cover numerous regulations issued by the Obama Administration. President Trump has signaled that he is willing to sign regulatory rollback resolutions, so the Republican majority in Congress has an unrivaled opportunity to strike back at Obama-era rules that they don’t like.


Stay tuned and check the Regulatory Reform Tracker for weekly updates on Congress' efforts to rollback and overhaul regulations!


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3: Move Forward with Obamacare Repeal


Donald Trump made repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, a central part of his winning campaign for president. Congressional Republicans have been working for years to repeal the law. Will 2017 be the year that Obamacare goes away?


In January, the Senate laid the groundwork for repeal legislation to proceed. It adopted a budget resolution for the U.S. Congress that makes it easier for Obamacare repeal legislation to proceed through the Senate. During consideration of this resolution, Democrats offered numerous amendments that, if adopted, would have effectively prevented Obamacare from being repealed. Senator Rand Paul also offered an amendment that would have capped federal spending, leading to a balanced budget by 2024.


These amendments all failed. It is doubtful the sponsors thought they would pass. Instead, they were likely offered as a way of putting senators on the record as opposing or supporting certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Here are some of the key votes that occurred during this early skirmish over Obamacare:


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Move forward with Obamacare repeal: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017


To approve a Senate budget that allows committees to prepare legislation to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Under this resolution, votes to repeal certain parts of Obamacare could occur by majority vote instead of being subject to a filibuster which would have to be overcome by 60 votes.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Kaine amendment to stop Obamacare repeal: Failed 48 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 5, 2017


To prevent the Senate from considering legislation to eliminate the Affordable Care Act's insurance subsides, its Medicaid enrollment expansion and more. This amendment would have changed Senate rules to effectively halt consideration of legislation to repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act using a budget reconciliation process that does not require a three-fifths majority to end debate and pass the bill.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Sanders amendment to prevent changes to entitlement programs: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 10, 2017


To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Social Security benefits, privatize Social Security, increase the Social Security retirement age, or reduce Medicare and Medicaid benefits.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Paul amendment to balance the budget: Failed 14 to 83 in the U.S. Senate on January 9, 2017


To amend a Senate budget resolution by adding provisions intended to generate a balanced federal budget by 2024 by capping federal spending. The amendment would also allow for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and its replacement simultaneously.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Klobuchar amendment to allow re-importing Canadian drugs: Failed 46 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017


An amendment to the Senate budget bill that would allow legislation to permit pharmacists, wholesalers, or Americans with a valid prescription to buy drugs in Canada and bring them into the United States.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Menendez amendment to prevent Medicaid funding cuts: Failed 48 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017


To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Medicaid funding for states that expanded their Medicaid programs in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This expansion was not mandatory for states. The federal government covered over 90% of the share of enrolling new Medicaid recipients who were able-bodied and made more than 138% of the federal poverty level. The federal government generally covers 43% of the cost of traditional Medicaid enrollees.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Gillibrand amendment to prevent repeal of Obamacare contraceptive mandate: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017


To prevent the Senate from considering legislation that would end the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance coverage of reproductive health services such as contraception, birth control, or maternity care.


U.S. House Resolution 11: Disapprove of UN Resolution Condemning Israel


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and check-in to the app to see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Resolution 11, Disapprove of UN resolution condemning Israel: Passed 342 to 80 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To express the sense of the House of Representatives that it opposes United Nations resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. When the U.N. Security Council passed this resolution in December 2016, the U.S. representative to the U.N. abstained from the vote. This allowed the resolution to be adopted after many past votes brought by Israel opponents were defeated by a US veto. Since a future repeal effort can also be vetoed by other Security Council members including Russia and China, it probably means the resolution will remain in effect indefinitely.





U.S. House Bill 7: Ban Federal Funding of Abortion


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and go to to signup and see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Bill 7, Ban federal funding of abortion: Passed 238 to 183 in the U.S. House on January 24, 2017


To prohibit using federal government money to pay for abortions. The bill would make permanent the “Hyde Amendment,” which has been attached to annual spending bills to prohibit federal funding of abortions. It (or another one-year Hyde amendment) would prohibit Medicaid or other federal programs from paying for abortions, and prohibit insurance companies from selling policies that pay for abortions through the federal health care law exchanges.


The Road Ahead for Neil Gorsuch


President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. What lies ahead on Gorsuch’s path to sit on the high court?

To become the ninth justice, Gorsuch must be confirmed by the Senate. Traditionally, nominees take weeks meeting individually with any senator who requests a meeting. After that, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings.


Judiciary Committee hearings have become “must see TV” for political junkies over the past few decades. This is a chance for senators to ask questions about a judge’s past rulings, his or her judicial philosophy, and anything else that a senator desires. A nominee may or may not answer these questions directly. For instance, it is a general practice for nominees to refuse to answer any questions about how he or she will rule on certain issues.

The committee hearings may last weeks. Once this step is completed, the committee will then vote on the nominee. A favorable vote will send that nominee to the full Senate floor. As has been the case with many recent nominees, we can probably expect that there will be something of a partisan divide when the Judiciary Committee votes. It is likely that every Republican will vote in favor of Gorsuch. Many, perhaps the majority, of Democratic committee members are likely to oppose him.


The real political drama will begin when the full Senate considers Gorsuch’s nomination. Currently, Senate rules allow a minority of senators to filibuster (or debate without a time limit) a Supreme Court nominee. The only way to stop this debate and proceed to a vote on the nominee is a successful cloture vote, which takes 60 senators to approve. Prior to 2013, senators could filibuster any judicial nominee. Harry Reid, who was the Democratic majority leader at the time, ended that practice.


Some Democratic senators have already indicated that they intend to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. One of their main complaints is that the Republican majority did not even schedule a committee hearing when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for this position last year. They contend that the seat is “stolen” and should not be filled by President Trump. An actual filibuster attempt against a Supreme Court nominee has rarely been attempted, however.


If 40 of these senators engage in a filibuster, then Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, could engineer a change in Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster option for Supreme Court nominees. Sen. McConnell has long been wary of changing Senate rules, and he has defended the filibuster in the past. But in the face of a filibuster over Gorsuch, he may expand on the precedent set by Harry Reid in 2013.


Some Senate Democrats are also wary of ending the filibuster. There are likely to be some senators who will vote against Gorsuch but who will not support a filibuster. In that instance, we would see at least 60 votes to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination, but fewer votes to approve Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Given that there are 52 Republicans in the Senate, approval of Gorsuch is almost assured. The real question is how many Democrats will join the Republicans in voting for him.


Do you think that Senate Democrats should filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination?


Reactions to Supreme Couty Nominee Neil Gorsuch Split Along Party Lines


On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.


As may be expected in these polarized times, reactions to Gorsuch largely fell along partisan lines. Republicans and conservatives praised him, while Democrats and liberals attacked him.


Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that Gorsuch is “a prepared, thoughtful, and careful jurist, who has demonstrated a strong commitment to textualism and originalism.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “Judge Gorsuch is a worthy successor to Justice Scalia, a committed originalist and a strong defender of religious liberty and states’ rights.” According to Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, “Gorsuch is a highly-regarded jurist with a record of distinguished service, rooted in respect for the law.”


Mark Joseph Stern at Slate wrote, “Gorsuch’s credentials are impeccable. His writing is superb, incisive, witty, and accessible in the style of Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan. In speeches and oral arguments, he comes across as thoughtful and fair-minded.”


Others hold a different view of Gorsuch. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Gorsuch of being “hostile to women’s rights,” and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that Gorsuch favored “corporations over workers.”


Senate Democrats expressed a varying range of opinions on Gorsuch, and on what should happen to his nomination. Some, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon, said outright that they would not support him.


Others expressed dismay at the process, contending that this nomination is flawed because last year Senate Republican’s refused to consider former President Obama’s nomination, Merrick Garland. “This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon


Taken together, it seems Senate Democrats may be poised to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, which, if successful, would require a supermajority to overcome en route to Gorsuch’s confirmation. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island contends that this is reasonable because “all of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees cleared a sixty vote threshold and President Trump’s nominee should adhere to the same standard.”


Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may also engineer a rule change eliminating the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, thereby lowering the votes required for confirmation to a simple majority.   (This would be similar to the rule change then-Majority Leader Harry Reid engineered in 2013 for lower court nominations).


The next few weeks should give us a better idea about how the Senate will proceed on the Gorsuch nomination.


Do you think Gorsuch is qualified to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court?


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