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House Passes Police Overhaul Legislation

With minimal GOP support, the House of Representatives this week passed legislation that would mandate changes to how state and local police operate.

 

By a vote of 236-181, the House passed HR 7120, legislation named after the late George Floyd. Among the things this bill would do are:

  • Banning the use of police chokeholds
  • Removing immunity from lawsuits for police officers
  • Requiring the use of body cameras
  • Prohibiting the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
  • Establishing a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints

 

House Democrats argued these measures were necessary to stop law enforcement abuses that led to the death of George Floyd and other people in police custody. They contended that systemic racism is plaguing police departments nationwide, and their reforms can help alleviate some of the negative effects of heavy-handed law enforcement. No Democrats voted against the bill.

 

Republicans were not buying these arguments, however. Only three GOP House members supported HR 7120. They noted that this was a huge federal imposition on what is typically a state or local issue. They noted that the federal government has no constitutional role to mandate how non-federal law enforcement operates. They also said that at a time of rioting and looting, it was counterproductive to impose new restrictions on police.

 

The Senate is unlikely to consider this legislation, but Senate Republicans have introduced their own police reform bill.

 

Do you think Congress should pass a federal law to change the way state and local police departments operate?

Democrats Pushing for Quick Action on Confederate Names

Senate Democrats want to see the Department of Defense act on bases with Confederate names within the year.

 

Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and 35 other senators introduced legislation this week that will require the Department of Defense to remove any names, symbols, or monuments that are associated with the Confederate States of America within one year. Grave markers could remain. This is similar to a proposal that the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously adopted earlier this month, except that the new bill has a 1-year timeframe instead of a 3-year timeframe.

 

Those supporting Sen. Warren’s bill argue that U.S. military bases should not honor a cause that tried to destroy the union in order to protect slavery. Some of them call Confederate army officers traitors and say these people should not be honored by the federal government.

 

Republicans are split on this issue. Some, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are supportive. Others, such as President Donald Trump, are firmly opposed. There are also some in the Senate who want to explore different options. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wants to establish a commission to study the issue of renaming military bases. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) would like to see all military bases renamed to honor Medal of Honor recipients.

 

The Senate is likely to consider the Defense Authorization bill this summer, and discussion about military base renaming will be part of these efforts.

 

Do you think that the Defense Department should remove any names, symbols, and monuments that honor the Confederacy?

House to Vote on DC Statehood

For the first time in 27 years, the House of Representatives will vote on whether the District of Columbia should become the 51st state.

 

This week, the House will consider HR 51, sponsored by DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. This bill would make most of the District of Columbia into a new state. Major federal buildings, such as the Capitol and White House, along with many federal monuments, would still be left in a federal district. The rest of the city, however, would become a state with two U.S. senators and a member of the House of Representatives. Currently, Del. Holmes Norton represents D.C. in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges.

 

The last time the House of Representatives voted on D.C. statehood was 1993. In that year, bipartisan opposition defeated the bill. There has long been reluctance by both Democrats and Republicans to granting the district the status of a state. But in the wake of the protests over the killing of George Floyd, House Democrats are now seeing this vote as one of racial justice.

 

Supporters of statehood argue that the residents of D.C. should not be deprived of a voice in Congress. They note that Wyoming has fewer people in it than does D.C., but that state has full representation. They say that it is racist that a majority-minority city like D.C. is being held under control by the federal government. Opponents of this move argue that it is just pure politics. They point out that the new state will be overwhelmingly Democratic, so this is just a way to get more Democrats in the Senate and House. They also say that there may be constitutional issues with a move towards statehood.

 

With its Democratic majority, the House will likely pass H.R. 51. The Senate, however, has no plans on considering the bill, and President Trump says he will veto it.

 

Do you support statehood for the District of Columbia?

Congressional GOP Introduces Police Reform Bill

This week congressional Republicans outlined police reform legislation in the wake of demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd. Democrats say it does not go far enough.

 

This bill would, among other things:

  • Mandate federal reports on use-of-force incidents and no-knock raids
  • Provide federal incentives for local and state police departments to ban the use of chokeholds and require the use of body cameras
  • Develop use-of-force training by the Justice Department for local law enforcement
  • Reauthorize federal law enforcement grant programs for five years

 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) took the lead on developing this legislation, and there is a companion bill in the House of Representatives. He and other Republicans say these steps are good ways for the federal government to respond to calls for police reform. Democrats, however, say that this bill leaves out many important provisions.

 

Congressional Democrats introduced their version of reform legislation last week. It went much further than the Republican bill, imposing new rules on state and local law enforcement as well as removing legal immunity that protects police officers from many lawsuits. Republicans argue that the Democratic bill goes too far, and intrudes upon state and local government functions.

 

The Senate will consider the Republican police reform legislation next week.

 

How far do you think the federal government should go in forcing state and local police departments to change their practices?

Congress Looking at Renaming Military Bases

Ten military installations in the United States are named after Confederate officers. A move in Congress to rename these installations is gaining support from both Democrats and Republicans.

 

A debate over how the U.S. should honor those who fought for the Confederacy has grown more intense due to the demonstrations resulting from the police killing of George Floyd. States and local governments are taking down statues honoring Confederates, saying that these men were traitors to the U.S. and fought to preserve slavery. Many activists are now calling on the federal government to rename those bases carrying the names of Confederate officers.

 

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would create a commission to examine this issue. The panel did so by voice vote with no opposition. This week, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, also said this is something the federal government should consider. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also said he would be open to this idea.

 

That view, however, does not have support in the White House. President Trump has taken to Twitter to denounce attempts to rename military bases. He said this would dishonor the millions of soldiers who have been stationed at these places. His spokesperson said he would veto any legislation that would lead to the removal of Confederate officers’ names from bases.

 

The Senate will consider the National Defense Authorization Act in the coming weeks. The issue of renaming military bases will likely be part of the debate.


Do you think that military bases should be named for Confederate officers?

Democrats Outline Federal Police Legislation

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

 

Among the things this bill would do are:

  • Banning the use of police chokeholds
  • Removing immunity from lawsuits for police officers
  • Requiring the use of body cameras
  • Prohibiting the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
  • Establishing a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Deep Dive: Proxy Voting

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

 

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

 

What is Proxy Voting?

 

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

 

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

 

Recent Proxy Voting Rules Change

 

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

 

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

 

How Proxy Voting Works

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Controversy and Lawsuit

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What This Means for You

 

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

 

House Doesn’t Approve Detailed Reporting of Coronavirus Aid Recipients

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

FISA Renewal Stalls in the House

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How do you think the FISA process should be reformed?

Some Fear Unemployment Benefits Keep People from Returning to Work

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

Progressives Push for Military Cuts to Pay for Coronavirus Aid

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Taking up $3 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Do you think the Senate should vote on the $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill?

Senate Falls 1 Vote Short of Curbing Government Internet Searches

This week, the Senate passed legislation that reauthorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after votes on three amendments aimed at enhancing privacy protections. One amendment, which would prevent warrantless surveillance of Internet usage, failed by only one vote.

 

On May 13, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT). Here is how VoteSpotter described that amendment:

 

To amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end the power for government agents to access internet browser and search history without a warrant during foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations.

 

This bill failed by only one vote. It had 59 senators who supported it, and it needed 60 to overcome procedural hurdles. Four senators were absent during the vote: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

 

The FISA process has drawn scrutiny from both conservatives and liberals who are concerned about what they say is a lack of checks on government power to conduct investigations. They argue that without more safeguards, the FBI has vast powers to investigate anyone it deems connected to foreign intelligence or foreign terrorism.

 

Part of this investigative authority includes demanding that internet companies turn over information about a target’s internet browsing history and search terms. Since this information is held by a third party, not an individual directly, courts have ruled that the government can obtain them without a warrant in some circumstances. The Wyden-Daines amendment would have prohibited this.

 

President Trump has expressed his anger over the FISA process many times in the past due to it being used to investigate his 2016 campaign.

 

Do you think that, in the course of a terrorism investigation, the FBI should be able to access someone’s internet browsing history without a warrant?

Democrats Unveil Their Plan for More Coronavirus Aid

House Democratic leaders have introduced their version of the next phase of coronavirus relief. Its price tag is $3 trillion.

 

Among other things, this package contains:

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

 

Under this bill, a family could receive up to $6,000 directly from the federal government. The weekly $600 increase in unemployment benefits would last through January.  

 

Unlike other coronavirus bills, this one was not put together with input from Republicans. It represents a Democratic vision of what aid should contain, and is unlikely to garner much Republican support. The House leadership says these measures are necessary to help people sustain themselves in wake of the economic problems caused by the coronavirus epidemic. Republicans counter that this is a liberal wish-list that is far too expensive.

 

There are likely enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass this legislation. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he is not interested in moving quickly on another coronavirus aid bill. In addition, any future aid bill in that chamber will have to have support from both Republicans and Democrats to pass.

 

The House is expected to vote on this bill Friday. If enacted, this would be the fifth bill to provide federal aid to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus.

 

Do you support the $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill put forward by House Democrats?

Senate Considers FISA Surveillance Reauthorization

This week, senators are taking up legislation to reauthorize and change some of the procedures for the  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.

 

The process for obtaining intelligence under FISA has been under scrutiny by allies of President Trump. The FBI used this process to obtain warrants to monitor members of the Trump campaign, and a recent report has illustrated numerous problems with that warrant.

 

HB 6172 reauthorizes the FISA court through 2023. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

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

 

The changes contained in this legislation do not go far enough for some senators, though. They argue that the process for the FISA courts tilts too heavily towards the government, and that abuses would still be too easy to commit. This bipartisan group plans on offering amendments that would limit the collection of Internet usage history as well as strengthen the role of outside experts to challenge requests for surveillance.

 

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-136 in March.

 

Do you think the federal government has too much power to conduct surveillance and collect information under the FISA process?

Senate Fails to Override Trump Veto on Iran Military Action

A majority of senators disapprove of U.S. military involvement in Iran, but they could not garner enough support to override a presidential veto of a resolution to end such action.

 

This week the Senate failed to override President Trump’s veto of Senate Joint Resolution 68. Although the vote was 49-44 in favor of a veto override, this type of vote requires two-thirds of the senators present to approve in order to pass.

 

The resolution states:

 

The United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.

 

The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in hostilities against Iran should be answered following a full briefing to Congress and the American public of the issues at stake, a public debate in Congress, and a congressional vote as contemplated by the Constitution.

 

It then goes on to say:

 

Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.

 

The Senate initially passed the resolution in February, with the House following in March. This action was prompted by President Trump’s drone strike, which killed a top Iranian general. Many members of Congress have said this action will likely lead to war with Iran. They point out that the Constitution requires that Congress declare war. President Trump pushed back, saying that what he did was allowed because he is commander-in-chief. He said that the drone strike saved American lives and stopped an imminent threat.

 

The War Powers Act, invoked by this resolution, requires that presidents consult with Congress before military actions and seek congressional approval for longer-term military deployments. Enacted in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War, presidents have routinely claimed that the law is an unconstitutional violation of their powers as commander-in-chief.

 

President Trump vetoed SJ Res 68 on May 6.

 

Do you think that U.S. military actions against Iran should be ended?

Trump Still Pushing for Payroll Tax Cut

Congress has passed four bills dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, and is now working on a fifth. President Trump wants that bill to include a payroll tax cut.

 

This is not the first time that the president has suggested such a tax cut. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has been reluctant to enact it, however.

 

Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.

 

Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly.

 

The president’s support for such a tax cut is not shared by many in Congress. Democratic members argue that such a tax cut would not provide relief to those who lost jobs or who are in the gig economy. Republicans are worried about its price tag (which could reach as high as $1 trillion a year) and its effect on the Social Security Trust Fund.

 

It remains to be seen what type of tax relief, if any, members of Congress will support in their latest coronavirus relief bill.

 

Do you support cutting payroll taxes as a way to stimulate the economy?

Lawyers Argue that Trump’s Name on Stimulus Checks is Illegal

Stimulus checks going out to millions of Americans contain the name of President Donald Trump in the memo line. A bipartisan group of lawyers is arguing that this is a violation of federal law.

 

Congress passed legislation authorizing stimulus payments to tens of millions of Americans due to the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic. Many of those payments were made by direct deposit. Some people, however, are receiving paper checks.

 

There were reports that President Trump wanted his signature to appear on the line authorizing the checks. Generally, the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury appears on government checks. Due to legal reasons, this idea could not be realized. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had the idea to place the president’s name in the memo line of the check, something that has never been done before.

 

A group of lawyers who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations argues that this move was intended to boost the president’s re-election campaign. As such, they say, it violates a federal law that prohibits the use of federal employees and property for campaign purposes. They sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate this situation.

 

Legal observers note that no one has been prosecuted under the section of the federal code that these lawyers cite.

 

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government from using the president or vice=president’s name or image in promotional material.

 

Do you think it was appropriate to put President Trump’s name on stimulus checks?

Democrats Want Federal Funding for Faster Internet

At a time when tens of millions of Americans are working from home or going to school from home, the Internet is proving critical to connecting people. Now some Democratic members of Congress want federal funding to boost high-speed Internet.

 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have joined with Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) to advocate for a federal grant program for improved broadband access as part of the next coronavirus aid bill. They argue that this epidemic has shown the importance of high-speed Internet, and that some people are at a disadvantage because they don’t have this type of service.

 

Opponents of this idea say that Internet access is better left to the private sector, not the government. They argue that the government can distort the market and harm efforts to roll out broadband. They note the large increase in high-speed Internet access over the past decade that private businesses, not the government, accomplished.

 

There is ongoing discussion about what the next coronavirus aid bill should contain and when Congress should act on it. Democrats are pushing for a big aid package for state and local governments. Republicans are cool to this idea, but have not rejected it. This is the main sticking point in negotiations, and it is unclear when it will be resolved.

 

Do you think the federal government should take steps to improve high-speed Internet access?

McConnell Pushes to Limit the Coronavirus Liability of Business Owners

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to take steps to limit what he says will be a “lawsuit pandemic” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

 

With businesses set to begin reopening around the nation, some people fear that there will be lawsuits from customers if they contract coronavirus in these places. Many business owners cite their concern over these potential lawsuits as one of the reasons they are hesitant to resume operation.

 

Sen. McConnell has said he will insist that any future bill to provide more aid related to the coronavirus must also contain a limitation on the liability for business owners and health care workers. He argues that this is a key way to begin restarting the economy.

 

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a new coronavirus bill that will provide aid to local and state governments. Sen. McConnell has been cool to this idea, noting that many of these governments were facing budget issues prior to the coronavirus. He has said that the federal government should not be bailing out states that spent irresponsibly. However, he has said he would be open to considering carefully-crafted aid if it also contains a liability limit.

 

The Senate will likely meet next week. The House was supposed to reconvene, too, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer now says that members will not be returning to Washington in early May.

 

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