Commentary & Community

House Passes Veterans Bills

Members of Congress are meeting during a lame duck session, working on a variety of bills before the session ends. They are even putting aside some of their partisan disagreements. This week, the House of Representatives passed two veterans-related bills with no dissenting votes.


While the Republicans, Democrats, and one Libertarian member of the House have strong disagreements, these disagreements were not on display during debate over veterans legislation. On November 16, the House unanimously passed two bills:


  • S 3147: To require the Veterans Affairs Administration to report on the policies and procedures it changed to improve care.
  • S 327: To allow veterans with a service-connected disability to enter national parks with no charge.


The passage of these bills was timed to occur near Veterans Day, which was on November 11.


The House will move on to debating more contentious legislation soon, however. Funding to keep the federal government open will expire on December 11. Congress and President Trump must agree on legislation to fund federal activities for the rest of the fiscal year when members return to the capitol after Thanksgiving.


What do you think Congress should do to honor veterans?

Senate Focusing on Judges During Lame Duck Session

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made confirming President Trump’s judges a high priority during the last four years. The focus on the judiciary is continuing during this week’s lame duck session.


Since the Senate reconvened on November 9, it has held 14 votes. All but one of those votes involved a judicial confirmation. Senators must go through a two-vote process in order to approve judges. One vote is for cloture, or to close off debate on a nominee. Previously, it took 60 votes to invoke cloture. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid changed Senate rules so that a cloture vote can pass by a majority vote.


During this month, the Senate has approved these Trump-nominated judges:

  • Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida -- 49-41
  • Stephen A. Vaden to be a Judge of the United States Court of International Trade -- 49-43
  • Toby Crouse to be United States District Judge for the District of Kansas -- 50-43
  • Benjamin Joel Beaton to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky -- 52-44
  • Kristi Haskins Johnson to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi -- 53-43
  • Aileen Mercedes Cannon to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida -- 56-21
  • James Ray Knepp II to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio -- 64-24


As these vote totals show, most of these judges are confirmed along party-line votes or votes that have just a few Democrats joining the Republicans. Judicial nominations have become especially partisan over the past twenty years, and this has intensified under President Trump's term in office. Democratic senators have consistently opposed Sen. McConnell's efforts to confirm judges. 


This opposition is especially pronounced during the lame duck session. Democrats see Sen. McConnell's efforts as a way to ram through federal judges with life tenure before President Trump leaves office. They also worry that the Republican majority will approve few federal judges nominated by incoming President Joe Biden.


Do you support Senate Republicans focusing on the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees?

Coronavirus-Related Unemployment Benefits Set to Expire

When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it made self-employed workers and freelance workers eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time. That eligibility will expire on December 26 unless Congress acts during the lame duck session to extend it.


Congress included these workers in the CARES Act when it passed in March. The rationale was that in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, workers who had not been previously eligible for benefits should be included. Unlike traditional employees, people who are self-employed or who do freelance work do not pay into the unemployment system. Under the CARES Act, however, they could also receive payments similar to other workers.


This expanded eligibility ends in December, however. 


Congress convened a lame duck session this week to pass legislation to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year and pass a handful of other bills. While coronavirus aid bills were largely bipartisan when Congress passed them in the spring, that cross-party agreement has broken down. Differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as differences between Congress and the president, are currently hampering efforts to craft new legislation. 


If congressional leaders can work out their differences, Congress could pass another round of coronavirus aid in late November or early December. However, some Democrats want to wait until Joe Biden takes office, which they think will give them a stronger hand during negotiations.


Do you support extending the eligibility for unemployment benefits to people who are self-employed?

Barrett's Confirmation Leads to Calls to Expand the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett has taken her seat on the Supreme Court. Now some Democrats want to make sure she has some new colleagues if Joe Biden is elected president.


Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar are pushing the idea of expanding the Supreme Court if Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump for the presidency. They argue that since Republicans have, in effect, stolen seats for the Supreme Court, so the only way to rebalance the court is for a President Biden to appoint one or two new justices. Some argue that Republicans reduced the number of Supreme Court seats when they refused to vote on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, so any expansion by Biden would be appropriate.



The idea of expanding the Supreme Court’s membership in response to a disagreement over its ideological makeup was prominently championed by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. Upset by court decisions invalidating part of his New Deal legislation, President Roosevelt suggested expanding the number of Supreme Court justices. There was an uproar in opposition to that idea, and Congress never acted on it.


Opponents of court packing argue that once this process starts, it will lead to an ever-larger number of justices appointed for purely political reasons. They note that if Democrats expand the court’s membership when they control the presidency and Congress, then Republicans will do so when they regain both branches of government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell notes that no Senate rules or laws were broken to confirm any of President Trump's Supreme Court nominees. 


There are currently nine Supreme Court justices. This number is not set by the Constitution, so Congress and the president could pass legislation to alter it.


Do you think that Democrats should increase the number of Supreme Court members if Joe Biden is elected president?

Senate Confirms Barrett to Supreme Court


The Supreme Court has a new justice.

The Senate voted today to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the high court. The vote was close, 52-48, with no Democrats joining the Republicans to approve her. 

Democratic had boycotted the Judiciary Committee vote on Barrett. They claimed that Republicans were using an illegitimate process to seat her. They argue that this nomination should wait until after the presidential election. Democratic senators said the same on the Senate floor during debate over the confirmation vote. However, with the removal of the judicial filibuster, they had no way to stop it.


Conservatives see her as a reliable judge that adheres to an originalist view of the Constitution. They contend that she would interpret the Constitution in ways that are consistent with the original meaning of the document, and not embrace the idea of  "living Constitution" that can be changed to fit the whims of judges.


Liberals, however, have vowed to everything they can to stop the nomination. They argue that her decisions show she would gut the Affordable Care Act, impose new restrictions on abortion, and expand gun rights. They argue that her presence on the high court would lead to a reversal of decisions that protect the rights of women and minorities.

Barrett will step down from her seat as a federal appeals court judge to take her place on the Supreme Court. Barrett was formerly a law professor at Notre Dame. She also clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.


Barrett joins two other women on the court, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.


Do you think the Senate did the right thing in confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court?

Judiciary Committee Sends Barrett Nomination to Full Senate

On a 12-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. The unanimous vote occurred as the panel's Democratic members boycotted the vote, objecting to the way the process has developed.


Instead of appearing at the vote, Judiciary Committee Democrats placed pictures of Americans who are using the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Democrats have attacked Barrett's nomination on the grounds that she would vote to overturn the ACA. Barrett has said that her mind was not made up about the legality of certain areas of that law. 


With no Democrats taking part, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee moved quickly to vote in favor of Barrett. The 12-0 vote sends her nomination to the full Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is targeting next week for a confirmation vote. While there are some indications that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) may vote against Barrett, the rest of the Senate's GOP members are likely to support her. 


Democrats have vowed to use procedural means to delay the vote. They contend that the nomination should be filled by whomever voters select as president in November. Republicans have vowed to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Options for blocking the nomination are slim since members can no longer filibuster judicial nominations.


Do you support Judiciary Committee Democrats boycotting today's vote on Amy Coney Barrett?

Obamacare Takes Center Stage at Barrett Hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committee is spending a lot of time discussing health care this week.


The issue of whether the Supreme Court could overturn the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has become a centerpiece of Democratic opposition to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Democrats fear that if the Senate confirms Barrett, she will vote with four other justices to invalidate the ACA. Judge Barrett has responded that she has not made up her mind on the fate of the controversial health care law.


Democrats point to Barrett's criticism of the 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld the individual insurance mandate as a tax. Barrett countered by noting that the current cases dealing with the ACA involve completely separate issues. She also said that she is "not hostile" to the ACA.


The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering Barrett's nomination this week. Democrats on the committee have been pressing her on various issues, from gay rights to abortion. However, the fate of the ACA is one of their biggest topics of discussion. They see this as a pertinent issue during the runup to the November election.


The committee hearing is likely to conclude this week. There is little chance that any Democrats on the committee will vote for Barrett. But with Republicans in control of the chamber, there are few obstacles to a supportive committee vote and Senate confirmation before the end of the month.


Do you think the Supreme Court should overturn the ACA?

Trump Administration Pushes for Airline Aid

Coronavirus aid talks are in flux, with House leadership and Trump officials at odds over what legislation should look like. There may be one area where both sides agree, however -- aid for the airline industry. House Democrats tried to advance an airline aid bill last week, while Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week has said this is something the Trump Administration supports.


During last week's House of Representatives legislative session, Rep. Peter DeFazio attempted to advance a $28 billion bill that was aimed at preventing layoffs of airline workers. House Republicans objected, however, so the bill could not be fast-tracked through the body. Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and said that the president would like to see an airline bill advance.


President Trump has tweeted both that he is cutting off coronavirus aid negotiation with Democrats and that he would sign an aid bill that has a stimulus check for Americans. Many Republicans prefer passing legislation that focuses on certain areas of need, not a larger bill that encompasses many more things. With airlines struggling because of a lack of travelers, many in Congress and the Trump Administration see this as an area of agreement.


In March, Congress included $32 billion in aid to airlines. It was conditioned on these airlines not making layoffs or wage cuts through last month. Airlines and unions are pushing for this aid to be extended in the new legislation or new money to be provided to airlines. They argue that the prospects for increased travel do not look good, and that without aid there will be widespread layoffs in the airline industry.


Some in Congress are sympathetic to this view, noting that this is an issue that was beyond airlines’ control. However, there are also concerns about the overall cost of an aid package. 


Do you think that Congress should pass an airline aid bill?

Senate Schedules Amy Coney Barrett Hearings for Next Week

The fight over the future of the Supreme Court will move to the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced today that his committee will begin hearings on Monday. President Trump nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left empty by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Chairman Graham said that the committee will be taking precautions to protect against coronavirus transmission. These include meeting in a larger room, the use of protective equipment, and social distancing. Members can also participate remotely. Democrats, however, say that this is still not safe enough. They argue that given the coronavirus outbreak that has infected President Trump and three U.S. senators, that it is irresponsible to conduct a Judiciary Committee hearing at this time.


It remains unclear if Democratic Judiciary Committee members will attend next week’s hearings. They argue that the Senate should not vote on this nomination, pointing to Senate Republicans’ refusal in 2016 to vote on then-President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed that the Senate will vote on Barrett’s nomination before Election Day.

Do you think the Senate should proceed with hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court?

Congressional Democrats Introduce New Coronavirus Aid Package

House Democrats are pushing for Congress to pass an additional $2.2 trillion in aid for coronavirus relief. After failing to overcome GOP resistance to a more expensive aid package, they hope this latest plan will garner bipartisan support.


This legislation includes a variety of measures aimed at dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, including:

  • Another $1,200 stimulus check for most taxpayers
  • $436 billion in funding for state and local governments
  • $225 billion for schools and child care 
  • Enhanced funding for unemployment benefits
  • $25 billion for airlines
  • $120 billion for restaurants


In May, the House passed a $3.4 billion aid package without Republican support. This was a departure from previous coronavirus bills, which were largely bipartisan. The Senate did not vote on the May legislation, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying it was too expensive. Democrats and Republicans have failed to come to agreement on another aid bill, with the price tag being the main sticking point.


House Speaker Pelosi is facing pressure from some of her members to act on another coronavirus aid bill prior to Election Day. This latest legislation includes a variety of measures supported by Republicans, and it has a lower cost. She is hoping that this will be a good starting point in negotiations with Republican members of Congress and the Trump Administration.


Do you support spending $2.2 trillion in additional coronavirus aid?

Trump Administration Looking to Tighten Law on Social Media Companies

President Trump has routinely attacked social media companies like Twitter and Facebook for what he perceives as anti-conservative bias. Today, his administration unveiled legislation that would remove some of the legal protections that these companies enjoy.


Attorney General William Barr outlined a bill that would make social media companies liable for some of the content published on their sites. It reforms Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently protects these sites from liability for what users post on them. It also allows these companies to moderate user content without facing civil suits.


Under the Trump Administration's proposal, companies would only have protections from liability when they undertake much more limited content moderation. The legislation would restrict these companies' ability to remove or alter posts unless they meet a stricter federal definition. They would also be liable if they did not act quickly enough to remove certain types of content, such as that which violates federal law.


Both Democrats and Republicans have been critical of social media sites for how they moderate and delete content. The president and his allies say the sites are biased against conservatives, while Democrats contend the sites do not do enough to remove alleged falsehoods by the president. There have been numerous proposals to alter the companies' legal liability in response. Critics of these efforts argue that they amount to federal censorship, and that they would inhibit the growth of the online community.


While there is bipartisan support for reform of federal law governing social media companies, it is unlikely the Trump Administration proposal will advance in Congress. It is both very late in the legislative session for work on new legislation, and there is resistance among Democrats to support legislation they see as the president's efforts to punish tech companies.


Do you think that social media companies should be liable for removing user content?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Death Sets Up Contentious Confirmation Process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last week, setting off a wave of mourning across the nation. The new vacancy on the Supreme Court is also setting up a bitter fight over whether President Trump will be ale to fill her seat before Election Day.


When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president nominates a new justice and the Senate votes on that nomination. There is no constitutional restriction on the timing of the process. However, Democrats are arguing that Republicans set a precedent of not giving nominees a vote in an election year, so that precedent should be followed now.


Democrats point to the situation in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in the final year of Barack Obama's term in office. Republicans refused to hold a vote on his nominee, Merrick Garland, prior to the presidential election. That November, Donald Trump won the presidency and then nominated Neil Gorsuch for the seat. The Senate then confirmed Gorsuch.


Democrats are saying that what happened in 2016 should be repeated this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has said that he will schedule a Senate vote quickly on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. Republicans argue that the situation is different than in 2016, which had a different party controlling the presidency and the Senate. They also note that Democrats then were arguing that the president's nominee deserved a vote.


It remains to be seen if all Senate Republicans will back a vote prior to Election Day. Some, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), have already expressed reservations.


President Trump is expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee this week.


Do you think that the Senate should vote on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee before Election Day?

House Condemns Anti-Asian Bias, Use of “China Virus” Language

This week, the House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation to condemn anti-Asian bias 


By a vote of 243-164, the House approved House Resolution 908. The text of that resolution noted instances of anti-Asian bias, including:


Whereas since January 2020, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of hate crimes and incidents against those of Asian descent;


Whereas according to a recent study, there were over 400 cases related to COVID–19 anti-Asian discrimination between February 9, 2020, and March 7, 2020;


Whereas the increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric has resulted in Asian Americans being harassed, assaulted, and scapegoated for the COVID–19 pandemic;


Then the resolution “calls on all public officials to condemn and denounce any and all anti-Asian sentiment in any form.”


To the ire of Republicans, however, it also included this line:


Whereas the use of anti-Asian terminology and rhetoric related to COVID–19, such as the “Chinese Virus”, “Wuhan Virus”, and “Kung-flu” have perpetuated anti-Asian stigma;


Republican House members saw that as a clear shot at President Trump, who often refers to the coronavirus in this way. They argued that this resolution was more about scoring political points against the president rather than a true condemnation of anti-Asian bigotry.


Democrats countered that President Trump was indeed expressing anti-Asian sentiments with his use of the term “Chinese Virus.” They said he was playing on anti-Chinese sentiment to distract the U.S. from his bungled response to the virus.


In the end, only 14 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the resolution.


Do you think that using the term “Chinese Virus” is a form of anti-Asian bigotry?

Senate Rejects New Coronavirus Aid Bill

Yesterday, Senate Republicans tried to pass what they called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill. Senate Democrats blocked the measure, arguing that it did not go far enough. Now prospects of passage of another aid bill for the pandemic before the election are dim.


Here is ow VoteSpotter describes this new coronavirus bill:


To provide an additional $300-per-week payment in unemployment benefits, an expanded loan program for small businesses affected by coronavirus, $105 billion for schools to deal with coronavirus as well as to fund school choice, $20 billion for farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus, $31 billion for vaccines, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, and $10 billion in loan forgiveness for the Postal Service if it makes certain reforms, among other things.


The total cost of the legislation is roughly $650 billion, although only around $300 billion is new spending. The other $350 billion is re-purposed funds that were already authorized.


Senators voted 52-47 to invoke cloture on the bill, which would have cut off debate and led to a vote on the package. However, this type of vote needs 60 senators to succeed. No Democrats voted in favor of cloture, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against it. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not vote.


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faulted this bill for not including a variety of aid that Democrats think is needed, including money for food, housing, broadband, and state and local governments. He accused Republicans of putting forward a bill so they can say they tried to do something, but with no intention of actually passing anything.


Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, said the Democrats were the ones playing politics. He said Democrats were more interested in hurting President Trump than in working with Republicans to aid American families.


The House of Representatives passed a coronavirus aid bill in July that had a price tag exceeding $3.4 trillion. 


What do you think Congress should do about coronavirus aid?

Deep Dive: How COVID-19 Has Affected Congress

As with other businesses that have seen shutdowns and employees working from home, Congress has adapted to the new “socially distanced” workplace. In this Deep Dive, Votespotter looks at some of the ways the coronavirus epidemic has changed the way Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, works.


Disrupted Calendar


One of the first effects of the coronavirus pandemic was to disrupt the normal business calendar of Congress. At the beginning of the year, both House and Senate leadership decide on a calendar that lays out the days when each body will be in session. Once the extent of the coronavirus began coming into focus in early March, however, House leadership decided to alter their calendar. The Senate’s calendar largely remained intact.


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi canceled many weeks of House sessions. She then called the House back into session periodically to consider legislation the Democratic leadership deemed important, including coronavirus relief bills and legislation to provide further aid to the U.S. Postal Service. The House has not met for significant periods of time during the pandemic, however, and only has 5 full weeks of session scheduled for the rest of the year.


Proxy Voting


As discussed in a previous Deep Dive, the House of Representatives has approved proxy voting for members who do not want to come to Washington, D.C. during the coronavirus pandemic. On May 15, the House voted 217-189 in favor of House Resolution 965.  Under this rule change, a member can designate another member who will be physically present in the House chamber. That member can then cast a vote on behalf of the absent member, but only if the absent member has authorized such a vote in writing.


While the House has previously allowed proxy voting in committee, which the Senate currently does, neither chamber has allowed proxy votes to be cast on actual bills considered by the entire body. Speaker Pelosi steered this rule change through the House earlier this year, contending that it permits the House to continue operating while members have concerns about the coronavirus. She argues that the proxy voting procedures put in place earlier this year ensure that the will of the member casting such a vote is protected.


House Republicans disagree, however. They voted against this rule change and have also filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing that it violates the Constitution. The Republican members also contend that this procedure concentrates power of the House majority’s leaders because it means there will be fewer House members present for deliberations and votes. 


Under the rule change, proxy voting may continue as long as the Speaker declares a public health emergency related to the coronavirus. The declaration remains in effect for 45 days, but the Speaker can renew it. 


House Resolution 965 also allowed committees to meet remotely, using technology to allow members to question witnesses and take votes. However, closed executive sessions of committees must still take place in person.


Session Procedures


Both the House and Senate have altered some procedures to incorporate social distancing and other precautions aimed at combating the coronavirus. Outside visitors to congressional offices are limited, and these offices no longer conduct Capitol tours. The Senate, with fewer members than the House, has made suggestions to its members about social distancing and testing. The House, however, has implemented mandatory procedures aimed at keeping members separate from one another.


Members of the House who are present in Washington, D.C., face a number of new requirements for their time in the Capitol complex. Only those members actively involved in congressional debate can be in the House chamber when the debate is occurring; otherwise members must remain in their offices or can sit in the House gallery (which is now closed to the general public). Votes are held for longer periods of time, with members entering the chambers in staggered groups to limit the number of individuals in the chamber at one time. Face coverings are required for access to the House floor and in committee meetings.


Effects on Transparency


Except for members of Congress, most of this will have little direct effect on you. The changes do affect the public indirectly, however. With the House reducing the number of days it is in session, and lengthening roll call vote times, there is less time to consider legislation. These time constraints, coupled with the absence of members from the Capitol due to the availability of proxy voting, means there are also fewer opportunities for members to debate legislation.


This session of Congress will likely produce fewer new laws than in past sessions because of how coronavirus-related procedures have limited the congressional calendar and mandated lengthier voting times. With Congress operating in a different manner than in the past, some of its actions may be less visible to the public. VoteSpotter is working to inform you of the votes taken by your representatives in Congress and the issues they are considering, then allow you to give feedback on what your representatives in Washington, D.C., are doing.


Visiting Washington, D.C.


If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., and the Capitol, these changes in congressional operations will affect you. Visitors can no longer observe the House and the Senate sessions in person from their visitors’ galleries. Tours of the Capitol are also canceled. In fact, access to congressional buildings is highly restricted, with many staff working from home. Visitors to congressional offices are only permitted with an escort from an employee of the House of Representatives or Senate.

Pelosi Sets Vote on Postal Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House of Representatives back into session in order to vote on legislation dealing with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) issues.


The House will meet on Saturday to consider legislation that will:

  • Provide the USPS with $25 billion to cover revenue shortfalls
  • Reverse the changes made by USPS this year regarding its operations, including changes made to overtime pay practices and the closure of some processing facilities
  • Mandate that mail-in and absentee ballots be considered first-class mail


This comes after Democrats have accused the Trump Administration of harming the USPS’s operations in order to frustrate mail-in voting programs. President Trump has been clear that he does not want to see widespread mail-in voting. He prefers that people go to the polls in-person in November. Democrats, however, argue that in-person voting risks spreading the coronavirus, so it is safer to rely on voting by mail.


The USPS has long faced problems with profitability and service issues. Supporters of the USPS contend it needs more money from the federal government to operate, and that it should be relieved of its obligation to pre-fund retirement benefits. Critics of the USPS contend that its labor contracts and outdated management practices have left it in a precarious position.


The House will vote on the USPS legislation on Saturday.

Do you support the federal government providing $25 billion to the Postal Service?


Trump Issues Coronavirus Executive Orders

With Congress and White House negotiators unable to agree on a new coronavirus relief bill, President Trump issued four executive orders late last week aimed at achieving some of his key goals.


These executive orders would, among other things,

  • Delay the collection of the payroll tax for workers who make less than $104,000 a year
  • Extend the extra unemployment benefit of $400 per week (this will last until December 6 or until funding is gone)
  • Require states to pay up to 25% of extra unemployment benefits
  • Allow student loan recipients to defer payment through the end of the year, and waive all interest on federal loans through December 31


In addition, one of the president's orders requires the federal government to consider whether more actions should be taken to stop evictions as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.


The president said these orders were necessary to protect Americans who were suffering because Congress would not act. However, he quickly faced criticism that he was acting in ways that were not authorized by the Constitution. Many pointed out that prior to taking office, he had criticized then-President Barack Obama for acting in the same way. Some legal experts contend that the president does not have the authority to take these measures, since only Congress can authorize federal spending.


In March, Congress had passed legislation that provided additional unemployment payments, but these payments ran out in late July. Members of Congress and the Trump Administration had been meeting to craft a new legislative package in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, neither side could agree on a suitable compromise. It is unclear how the president's actions will affect attempts to come to an agreement. The fate of these executive orders will likely be decided by federal courts.


Do you support Presidents Trump's executive orders that, among other things, provided an additional unemployment payment?

Sanders Pushing 60% Tax on Billionaires' Wealth Gains

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced legislation to impose a new tax on any gains in wealth by billionaires during the coronavirus crisis.


S 4490 would impose a 60% tax on any gains in wealth by billionaires between March 1 and the end of the year. The revenue from this new tax would then be directed to Medicare in order to pay Americans' out-of-pocket medical expenses for the period of 1 year.


Taxing billionaires has long been a goal of Sen. Sanders. During his runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders often attacked the wealthy and suggested government policies to tax them. He estimates that this plan could raise over $422 billion.


Sen. Sanders argues that it is wrong for billionaires to be making more money during a time when so many Americans are suffering. He says his tax is a good way to help average Americans who are struggling with medical bills. Opponents, however, say that it is just another one of Sanders's socialist ideas that is aimed at punishing the successful. They also note the difficulty of administering the program.


Given the Senate's control by Republicans, this legislation is unlikely to be considered.


Do you support a 60% tax on billionaires' wealth gains that were made this year?

Airlines Seeking More Coronavirus Aid

Members of Congress are continuing to craft another coronavirus relief bill. Airlines and the unions representing their workers want to make sure that this legislation contains billions of dollars in aid for their industry.


Airline travel has declined significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. With many people concerned that flying would expose them to the virus, and with many conferences and tourist destinations shut down, there are far fewer people flying than usual. This has led to significant financial difficulties for airlines, and has led to many airline employees fearing for their jobs.


In March, Congress included $32 billion in aid to airlines. It was conditioned on these airlines not making layoffs or wage cuts through September. Airlines and unions are pushing for this aid to be extended in the new legislation or new money to be provided to airlines. They argue that the prospects for increased travel do not look good, and that without aid there will be widespread layoffs in the airline industry.


Some in Congress are sympathetic to this view, noting that this is an issue that was beyond airlines’s control. However, there are also concerns about the overall cost of an aid package. Republicans are looking to keep the cost nearer to $1 trillion while some Democrats want to spend upwards of $3 trillion. Airline aid could be sacrificed in the negotiations.


Do you think that airlines should receive federal money to help them offset the decline in air travel related to concerns over the coronavirus?

Obama Urges End of Senate Filibuster

Calling it a legacy of Jim Crow, last week former President Barack Obama urged an end to the Senate filibuster.


Speaking at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, Obama said that a good way to honor the legacy of the civil rights veteran would be to end the ability of senators to filibuster legislation. He noted that Southern segregationists used the filibuster in attempts to stop the Senate from passing civil rights legislation. He said that Congress should focus on expanding voter access, such as making voter registration automatic and designating Election Day a federal holiday, and urged the Senate to end the filibuster if that is what it took to accomplish this. 


Senate rules require that a 60 senators give assent to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on legislation. This means that any controversial legislation is unlikely to pass in a Senate that is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.


The filibuster has been allowed in the Senate since the early days of the U.S., and while it has been modified over time, it has yet to be eliminated. This is not something that is found in the Constitution, so a simple majority vote in the Senate could change the rule. Such votes occurred within the past decade to eliminate the ability of senators to filibuster judicial nominees. However, senators from both parties are reluctant to end it for legislation.


Those opposing the filibuster point out that it prevents a majority of senators from conducting business. They say it gives a minority veto power of the Senate's agenda in a way that was never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Filibuster supporters counter that the Senate is meant to be a deliberative body that gives significant power to individual members. They argue that ending the filibuster for partisan advantage will have long-term consequences that advocates do not recognize.


While senators, both Joe Biden and Barack Obama opposed ending the filibuster. However, Biden now appears open to considering it if he is elected president. 


Do you think the Senate should eliminate the filibuster?

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