Congress

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House to Vote on Flavored Tobacco Ban

Vaping has been under attack in Washington, D.C., and state capitals recently. This week, the House of Representatives will take another shot at vaping and the tobacco industry when it considers a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products.

 

This is how VoteSpotter describes HR 2339, sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ):

 

To ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vaping products and chewing tobacco. The bill also bans the sale over the Internet of tobacco and vaping products and mandates graphic warnings on cigarettes, among other things.

 

Those who support this bill contend that flavored vaping liquid is used to hook children on tobacco, leading to health problems. They say that the tobacco industry uses flavored tobacco products as a way to lure kids into an addictive habit. They argue that banning these products will reduce youth smoking.

 

Opponents, however, point to studies that indicate that adults use flavored vaping products as a way to quit smoking. They say that this ban will harm efforts to move people from cigarettes to vaping. They point out that vaping is far less harmful to one’s health than smoking, so this bill will actually hurt public health.

 

Over the past year, states have enacted bans on vaping products in response to concerns over the health effects of this practice. Congress also inserted a provision into the annual spending bill that increases the smoking age from 18 to 21. This legislation is a continuation of those efforts.

 

Do you think that the federal government should ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as flavored vaping liquid?

House Votes to Remove ERA Ratification Deadline

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) thought that its chances of being added to the U.S. Constitution ended in 1982. But thanks to a vote in the Virginia legislature and the U.S. Congress, their hopes are being kept alive.

 

This week the House of Representatives voted to remove the deadline on ratification initially imposed in the 1970s. Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and sent it to states for ratification. The original resolution required that the necessary number of states (38, or three-fourths of the states) must act within 7 years or the amendment would die. Not enough states ratified the amendment within that time, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Even with this extended deadline, the ERA still failed to meet the necessary number of states for ratification.

 

During the time between 1972 and 1982, 35 states ratified the ERA. However, as controversy grew over the amendment, 5 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, 3 states have ratified the ERA. Among these 3 are Virginia, which just this year ratified the ERA. This means that the ERA has met the threshold in the Constitution for ratification, as long as the states who rescinded ratification are not included.

 

The ratification deadline is an obstacle to this amendment being added to the Constitution, however. The Trump Administration says that the deadline is enforceable, so the ERA is not part of the Constitution. Some legal scholars disagree, however. The House vote is an attempt to clear up the controversy. The view of its sponsors is if Congress imposed the deadline, Congress can remove it.

 

The ERA states:

 

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

Although there is a bipartisan resolution to remove the ERA’s ratification deadline in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to bring it to the full Senate for a vote.

 

Do you think the ERA’s ratification deadline should be removed?

Ocasio-Cortez Introduces Fracking Ban Bill

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would disappear from the United States under a new bill filed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

 

Fracking is used by energy companies to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves injecting a highly-pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale rock to break it up and release oil or, more commonly, natural gas.

 

The use of fracking has been primarily responsible for the large increase in U.S. petroleum production over the past decade. It has made it much cheaper to access oil and natural gas in shale rock, leading to increased production and lower prices. However, residents in communities where fracking has occurred blame it for earthquakes, polluted water, and health problems.

 

Under the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, fracking would be banned in 2025. In 2021, fracking could only occur if it was not within 2,500 feet of homes or schools. She says this legislation is necessary to protect health, land, and water. Others point out that her bill would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and hurt U.S. energy production, leading to higher oil and natural gas prices for consumers.

 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

 

Do you think that fracking should be banned?

President Trump Releases His Budget

President Trump released his annual budget today, which has led to many news stories about how he plans on cutting certain programs or changing the way the federal government works. President Trump may indeed have ideas about how the federal government should spend money, but he cannot do anything alone. The $4.8 trillion budget (an increase of $700 billion over the previous fiscal year) he released is merely the official start of the budget process.

 

The process for determining how much money the federal government will spend in the next fiscal year will take until at least October, more likely longer. There are many steps that Congress must take between now and then until we know how much money individual departments or agencies will receive.

 

The President’s Budget

 

While the law states that the president must submit his budget by the first Monday of February, in many years presidents submit them later (President Trump only missed this deadline by a week – last year he submitted his budget in March). The president’s budget has a few parts:

  • Recommendations on spending for the next fiscal year (which runs from October 1 through September 30)
  • Proposals for major policy changes that have budget implications, such as reforms to programs like Social Security or Medicaid
  • Projections for future spending levels, revenue collections, and budget deficits
  • Historical data on spending and revenue amounts

 

It is important to outline a few things that the president’s budget does not do:

  • It does not set any spending. It merely recommends what the president would like to see spending levels set at.
  • It is not law. This is not the president announcing how spending will proceed in the next fiscal year. If he recommends the elimination of a certain program or cuts in another program, these eliminations or cuts will not happen unless Congress agrees.
  • It does not bind Congress to do anything. The president’s budget is delivered to Congress, but Congress does not have to adopt any of it. In fact, Congress routinely ignores it.

 

So why is the president’s budget resolution important? Its importance lies in laying out the president’s overall vision for federal spending. It indicates the programs he thinks are important, those he thinks should be cut (or eliminated), and often outlines a path towards a balanced budget.

 

However, as a practical matter, the president’s budget resolution does not directly affect spending. It may indicate that, as Congress finishes up its spending process (described below), the president may veto spending bills that deviate from his priorities. Even that is not necessarily true, however, as negotiations over actual spending bills later in the year often ignore the president’s budget priorities in favor of more immediate concerns.

 

President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, released on February 10, can be found here.

 

Congressional Budget Resolutions

 

Once the president releases his budget, the House and Senate Budget Committees consider them. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also analyzes the budget. The committees consider the CBO analysis and are supposed to release their budget resolutions by April 1. The full House and Senate then consider these resolutions and adopt them, usually with amendments, by April 15.

 

The adopted budget resolutions are not laws, so are not subject to presidential veto. However, they do set the funding allocations that the appropriations committees in each house use to set their spending bills. These committees, described in more detail below, set the actual spending levels for the fiscal year for discretionary government programs (that is, for programs that are not entitlements such as Social Security or Medicaid).

 

While passing a budget resolution is helpful in setting a federal spending blueprint, it is not mandatory. In fact, in Fiscal Years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2020, Congress did not pass a budget resolution. When that happens, the prior year’s budget resolution sets the spending blueprint that appropriations committees follow.

 

These budget resolutions can also contain “reconciliation instructions.” These are instructions to committees to make changes to the law that have budget implications. The reconciliation process is not subject to a Senate filibuster, and must be considered on a faster timeframe than other legislation. That makes it a useful tool to enact policy that does not have strong bipartisan support.

 

The Appropriations Process

 

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are the committees that actually set spending levels for discretionary government programs. These committees each have 12 subcommittees that use the budget resolution allocations to determine how much government departments and agencies spend.

 

These 12 appropriations bills are supposed to be completed by Congress and signed by the president by the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1. That rarely happens. This leads to a variety of maneuvers to fund the federal government for temporary time periods or, failing that, a government shutdown.

 

What Does This Mean to You?

 

The budget process is how the government determines how much it will spend on the programs it administers. It also helps determine how much the deficit will be and how much the government will add to the national debt. If this process breaks down due to disagreement between the President and Congress, it could also lead to another government shutdown. Since President Trump has just released his budget, it remains to be seen what will happen with spending, the deficit, and a possible government shutdown this year.

House Voices its Disapproval of Trump Medicaid Policy

House Democrats do not like what the changes being made to Medicaid by Trump Administration. They approved a resolution this week to disapprove of Trump’s Medicaid policy, but it does not have any force in law.

 

House Resolution 826 claims that “the President has waged an unrelenting war on Medicaid, making it easier for States to take coverage away and create barriers for re-enrollment.” The resolution cites different actions taken by the Trump Administration which are aimed at reshaping Medicaid. These include a proposal to block grant Medicaid for states, which would give them more flexibility in return for a capped amount of funding; allowing states to impose new requirements on enrollment; and proposing cuts to the program in the president’s annual budget.

 

Medicaid is a federal program that provides health care for low-income individuals. States can decide to participate in the program. To do so, states must share in the Medicaid’s costs and adhere to federal rules in how the program is administered.

 

President Trump and supporters of these proposals say they want to allow states to innovate in Medicaid delivery. They argue that federal flexibility will help states improve the program while also targeting it to those who truly need health care. Opponents say that these proposals are ways to cut the safety net for Americans who need health care. They say the Trump Administration is simply trying to reduce the use of Medicaid.

 

This resolution passed the House by a vote of 223-190. No Republicans voted in favor of it, while one Democrat voted against it.

 

Do you support block granting Medicaid? Should states be able to place work requirements and other restrictions on Medicaid recipients?

Senate Fails to Remove Trump from Office

The Senate has brought an end to the impeachment trial of President Trump, refusing to remove him from office.

 

Senators rejected the first impeachment article, abuse of power, by a vote of 48-52. They rejected the second impeachment article, contempt of Congress, by a vote of 47-51. Of the Republicans, only Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah voted “yes” on either article – he voted in favor of removing the president for abusing his office.

 

Two-thirds of the senators present would need to approve either article of impeachment in order for the president to be removed from office and be barred from holding office again.

 

These votes bring to an end a bitter fight over impeachment. The House of Representatives passed their two impeachment articles against the president in December. After weeks of delay, Speaker Nancy Pelosi transmitted them to the Senate, where the trial began last month. Democrats called for a longer trial with witnesses, but Senate Republicans voted these efforts down.

 

Do you support the Senate’s refusal to remove President Trump from office?

Trump Pushes for School Choice in State of the Union Speech

Proponents of school choice received a boost from President Trump during his State of the Union Address.

 

In his speech, the president attacked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for vetoing an expansion of that state’s program that gives tax credits to taxpayers who donate to school scholarships. These scholarships can be used to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses. President Trump invited a Pennsylvania student and her mother to be his guest at the speech, and he argued that Gov. Wolf was trying to deny her a better education.

 

President Trump used this as an example of why Congress should pass national legislation that would provide tax credits for school choice scholarships. Supporters of this idea argue that it will help students escape failing public schools. They say that children from lower-income families should have the opportunity to go to private schools just as children from higher-income families do. Opponents counter that school choice is a way to undermine public schools that are open to all children. They argue that subsidizing private school tuition would, among other things, lead to less racial integration in schools.

 

School choice programs have expanded at the state level over the past two decades. Besides approval of a private school subsidy program for Washington, D.C., there has been little movement on this issue at the national level, however.

 

It is unlikely that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would pass school choice legislation.

 

Do you support national legislation that would provide tax credits for taxpayers who contribute to education scholarship funds?

Manchin Suggests Censure of Trump

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has proposed an idea to bring the parties together over impeachment – censuring President Trump.

 

In a floor speech following the presentation of the impeachment case by the House managers, the centrist Democrat suggested that one way forward would be to censure President Trump for his handling of Ukrainian aid. He said that such a move could receive bipartisan support.

 

A censure would express the sense of the Senate that the President had acted improperly by withholding Ukrainian aid in exchange for the announcement of an investigation into Hunter Biden. The resolution could condemn the president’s actions and spell out what the senators think he did wrong. It would have no force of law and would not have any effect on the president’s tenure in office.

 

Sen. Manchin argues that this step would show that the Senate does not agree with what the president did, and would stand in history as a way for the Senate to express that condemnation. Opponents, however, argue that it is merely a way to look like the Senate is taking action against Trump without actually doing anything.

 

The Senate has used its censure powers in the past, but only rarely. It censured President Andrew Jackson in 1834, but rescinded that censure three years later. The body has also censured 9 senators.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not been receptive to the idea of censuring the president. Sen. Manchin has not announced whether he will vote to support removing President Trump from office.

House to Consider Ending Iraq War Authorization

 

In 2002, Congress voted to give President George W. Bush authorization to wage war in Iraq. This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote to repeal that authorization.

 

Major military operations in Iraq by the U.S. have long been finished. There are still American troops in the nation, however, assisting Iraqi forces and protecting American assets. A recent drone strike ordered by President Trump to kill a high-ranking Iranian general in the country has renewed attention on U.S. military activities in that nation. The Iraqi parliament held a non-binding vote to expel all U.S. forces.

 

In the U.S., members of Congress complained that the president did not consult them prior to the strike. But President Trump says that he has the authority to do what he wants thanks to the 2020 use of force authorization. Repealing that authorization will make it more difficult for the president to act militarily in the Middle East.

 

Supporters of this repeal point out that the original military objectives set out in 2002 have been accomplished. Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge (and no longer living). The Iraqi government at the time has been overthrown. According to those who want this resolution passed, there is no longer any justification to continue military operations in that nation under that 18-year-old authorization. They argue that if there is a need for military force today, then Congress should pass a new authorization.

 

Opponents of this move counter that Iraq may be different than in 2002, but it is still dangerous. They argue that there is a continuing need for U.S. military activities in the region to protect American interests and allies. They say that repealing the use of force will only hamper the military’s ability to keep Americans safe.

 

There are likely enough votes in the House to pass this repeal, but it is unlikely to be considered in the Senate.

 

Do you think Congress should repeal the 2002 Iraqi use of force authorization?

VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Senate Impeachment Trial

After weeks of delay, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate. By a vote of 228-193, the House of Representatives appointed impeachment managers. This follows two votes by the House on December 18 to impeach President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate is expected to take up the trial of President Trump on January 21. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and what the Senate will do next. 

 

Impeachment is the bringing of charges against the president, vice president, or other “civil officials,” such as cabinet officers. Impeachment does not remove them from office, however. Instead, impeachment refers charges to the Senate, which then must vote to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

The Constitution establishes the impeachment and removal process, explaining it in a few key sections:

 

  • Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

 

  • Article I, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

 

  • Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 

The U.S. impeachment and removal process is similar to the process that existed in Britain during the writing of the Constitution. However, the British Parliament impeaches and removes officials in one action. The framers of the U.S. Constitution made impeachment and removal two separate processes, thus weakening the ability of the legislative branch to remove executive branch officials.

 

How Removal by the Senate Works

 

The House Judiciary Committee begins the impeachment process. Its members consider articles of impeachment, with approval coming with a majority vote. If approved, these articles of impeachment move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The House then debates and votes on these articles. If a majority approves them, then that person has been impeached.

 

The Senate then begins its role. With the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding, the Senate conducts a trial. The Chief Justice presides, but does not have any say in trial’s outcome. He can make rulings on points of procedure, but a majority of the Senate can overrule him.

 

There are established rules that govern impeachment trials by the Senate. These rules include:

  • Senators must keep silent while the case for removal is being made.
  • The Senate may compel witnesses to testify, but witnesses are not mandatory for a trial.
  • Counsel for the accused can speak in defense of his client, or the person accused may appear to rebut the charges.
  • If senators have any objections or procedural motions, they must be made in writing to the presiding officer.
  • Only House managers or the counsel for the accused may question witnesses directly. If senators wish to question witnesses, they must submit their questions to the presiding officer.

 

When the trial begins in the Senate, that body will approve new procedures and rules to govern this particular situation. These rules can pass by simple majority.

 

The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The president’s counsel will present the case to the Senate why the president should not be removed. Every member of the Senate will be present in the Senate chambers to hear these managers lay out the case for removing the president from office. After the House managers conclude their case, the senators will enter a closed session to deliberate. The Senate then votes in open session, with a two-thirds vote of the members present being necessary to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and removal may be for a public official’s criminal act, but they are not criminal proceedings. The only penalty, as the Constitution stipulates, is removal from office. The underlying crimes can be prosecuted by civil authorities, however, which may result in criminal conviction and penalties after impeachment and removal from office.

 

The History of Impeachment

 

The House of Representatives has considered over 60 impeachment cases, but most have failed. There have only been 8 instances where individuals have been impeached and removed from office. Fifteen judges have been impeached, as have 2 presidents:

 

  • Andrew Johnson: The House passed 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate came within one vote of removing him from office.

 

  • Bill Clinton: The House passed 2 articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate vote to remove him from office failed.

 

In 1974, the House began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment against him, but Nixon resigned prior to a full House vote.

 

Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was the last official impeached and removed from office. His impeachment and conviction occurred in 2010.

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

The last presidential impeachment and trial took place over 20 years ago, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. If there are proceedings initiated against President Trump, it would likely follow the pattern set during these proceedings.

 

In 1998, Independent Counsel Ken Starr provided a report to Congress that contained evidence gathered in the course of his investigation into various allegations against President Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee passed four articles of impeachment. Two were for perjury, one was for obstruction of justice, and one was for abuse of power. The full House of Representatives passed two of those articles of impeachment, one for perjury and one for obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

 

The House of Representatives appointed thirteen managers to present their case to the Senate, which began its trial on January 7, 1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided. The trial lasted a month, with the Senate beginning closed-door deliberations on February 9. The Senate took a vote on February 13 on the articles of impeachment. The Senate defeated the perjury charge by a vote of 45-55 and the obstruction of justice charge by 50-50. Sixty-seven votes would have been necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

 

While both the votes in the House and Senate were largely along party lines, there were members of Congress who broke with their party leadership on impeachment or conviction. Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania (who later became a Democrat), voted “not proved.” Many observers saw these proceedings as an example of partisanship on both sides. This is in contrast with the impeachment proceedings that had begun against President Nixon, where a bipartisan consensus was forming to impeach and remove him from office prior to his resignation.

 

What This Means for You

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate impeachment trial will take place on January 21. It could last a week or longer. With many Republican members of the Senate expressing skepticism about the case against the president, it is unlikely that the Senate would have enough votes to remove him from office. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office, then the vice president would assume office.

 

Senate Passes Mexico-Canada Trade Pact

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) this week. The House of Representatives passed the USMCA last year, and President Trump has long pushed for this agreement.

 

By a vote of 89-10, this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed the Senate with broad support from Democrats and Republicans. These are some of the major changes that USMCA made to NAFTA:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

One Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined Democratic Sens. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, Reed, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, and Whitehouse in voting against USMCA. T

 

In the 1990s, Presidents Bush and Clinton shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, over the objections of critics like Ross Perot. This agreement came into being after years of negotiation between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. 

 

President Trump has long been a supporter of high tariffs and skeptical of free trade and trade agreements. He claims that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Free trade supporters note that evidence clearly shows that trade has wide benefits for the economy, with both consumers and workers experiencing benefits overall. 

 

The House of Representatives vote in favor of USMCA was also overwhelmingly bipartisan. The trade agreement now goes to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

House Sends Impeachment Articles to the Senate

The House voted on December 18 to impeach Donald Trump. Today it finally voted to send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

 

As explained in our VoteSpotter Deep Dive, impeachment is only one step in the process of removing the president. The Senate must hold a trial and two-thirds of its members must convict the president before that happens. But in order for the Senate to hold a trial, the House must provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate. It must also approve managers who will present the House’s case to the senators when they are assembled for the trial.

 

By a vote of 228-193, the House approved the following members as impeachment managers:

  • Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
  • Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
  • Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
  • Val Demings (D-FL)
  • Jason Crow (D-CO)
  • Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)

 

This vote also approves sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the Senate trial will convene in January 21. Chief Justice John Roberts will preside, as the Constitution commands. Look for an upcoming Deep Dive to explain in more detail what the Senate will do during this trial.

 

For weeks, Speaker Pelosi had resisted calls to send the impeachment articles to the Senate. She said that she was concerned about the Senate’s procedures. She wanted senators to hear from witnesses and take other steps that she said would make the trial fairer. Majority Leader McConnell demurred in any commitments on Senate procedure.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should have waited so long to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

Congress Votes to End Military Activities against Iran

The House of Representatives yesterday expressed its displeasure with President Trump’s military actions against Iran.

 

By a vote of 224-194, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 83, which invokes the War Powers Act to end Iranian hostilities. The resolution states that the President must stop military action against or in Iran until:

 

(1) Congress has declared war or enacted specific statutory authorization for such use of the Armed Forces; or

 

(2) such use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces, consistent with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.

 

This resolution 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.

 

The vote was mainly along party lines. Three Republicans and one independent voted in favor of the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against it. The Senate is unlikely to take up a similar resolution.

 

Do you think that military action against Iran should stop until Congress votes to declare war against that country?

Congress to Debate Iranian Military Action

President Trump thinks that he has the authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. Some key members of the House and Senate disagree.

 

In the Senate, Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky blasted the Trump Administration after receiving a briefing on the drone strike that killed an Iranian general. The Trump Administration contends that the use of force resolution for the Iraq passed by Congress in 2003 covered his strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Both Sen. Lee and Sen. Paul said this was absurd and that hostilities with Iran require new congressional approval.

 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agrees. She has introduced a use of force resolution that the House will vote on today. The premise of this resolution is that only Congress has the authority to legitimize military action against Iran.

 

The debate about which branch controls the war-making power is an old one. The Constitution says the president is commander-in-chief. Presidents argue that this gives them sole authority to direct the military. The Constitution also says that Congress must declare war. Members of Congress argue that the president can only use his power as commander-in-chief after congress has made such a declaration.

 

The House will likely pass its use of force resolution, but the Senate is unlikely to consider it. Many Senate Republicans are fine with what President Trump is doing in relation to Iran. Sen. Lindsay Graham went so far as to say that senators such as Sens. Lee and Paul who question the president’s actions are empowering the enemy.

 

Do you think that President Trump should seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iran?

Speaker Pelosi Still Refusing to Transmit Impeachment Articles

The House has voted to impeach President Trump. The next step in the process should be a trial in the Senate. But that is not happening (for now). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Until that happens, no trial can take place.

 

The House votes on the two articles of impeachment occurred on December 18. Under normal procedure, the House would transmit the approved articles shortly after the vote. This allows the Senate to proceed to a trial. However, Speaker Pelosi has so far refused to transmit these articles to her counterparts across the Capitol building.

 

When either the House or Senate passes legislation or a resolution, a signed, or enrolled, copy of that item is hand-carried to the clerk of the other chamber. Only when that document is received by that chamber can its members then vote on it. If such a transmission does not happen, the body cannot act.

 

Speaker Pelosi is expressing concerns over how the Senate trial will be conducted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused requests to allow witnesses or take other actions during the trial that Democrats have requested.

 

If Speaker Pelosi refused to provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate, there will be no trial. Some scholars say that the refusal to complete this process will invalidate the House’s actions, and President Trump will not have actually been impeached. The Constitution is silent on this issue. It does not require that the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but it does envision a two-part process where the House does its duty and the Senate then completes the process.

 

For more information on impeachment, check out VoteSpotter’s Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

Senate Focused on Judicial Confirmations in 2019

While the House of Representatives has been busy passing legislation that reflects the Democratic majority’s priorities, the Senate has done little legislative work. Instead, it has focused on filling judicial vacancies.

 

Most of the 2019 Senate votes involved confirming judges, either in voting to bring debate to an end on a nomination or on the nomination itself. President Trump ran for office pledging to focus on judicial appointments, and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has pledged to support these efforts. The Senate has been very productive in moving President Trump’s judges through the process.

 

These judicial confirmations are not the only things the Senate has accomplished in 2019, however. Here are a few other notable confirmations and legislative votes from the upper house this year:

 

U.S. Senate Motion 367: Approve Dan Brouillette as Energy Secretary

Passed 70 to 15 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Dan Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 1099: Approve Eugene Scalia as Labor Secretary

Passed 53 to 44 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Eugene Scalia to be Secretary of the Department of Labor.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 220: Approve Mark Esper as Defense Secretary

Passed 90 to 8 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 264: Confirm Kelly Craft as UN Delegate

Passed 56 to 38 in the U.S. Senate

To approve President Trump's nomination of Kelly Craft to serve as the U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 327: Allow Northern Macedonia to join NATO

Passed 91 to 2 in the U.S. Senate

To ratify a treaty that allows Northern Macedonia to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO countries commit to mutual defense if one member is attacked by an external aggressor.

 

U.S. Senate Joint Resolution 54: Block Trump's border wall emergency declaration

Passed 54 to 41 in the U.S. Senate

To block President Trump's February declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border, which empowered the administration to bypass Congress and re-allocate funds to build a border wall.

 

U.S. House Bill 1327: Authorize 9/11 compensation fund for 72 years

Passed 97 to 2 in the U.S. Senate

To reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund through 2092 and exempt spending from the fund from budget rules that require offsetting reductions in other new spending.

 

Majority Leader McConnell’s focus on confirming President Trump’s nominees will likely continue into 2020. The bills that have emerged from the House are not generally bills that will attract much, if any, Republican support. Unless President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and McConnell can agree on a legislative agenda, there will be little change from 2019.

House Had a Busy Legislative Year

Throughout 2019, the House of Representatives has tackled many issues. It ended the year with the impeachment of President Trump, but leading up to that Speaker Pelosi had advanced numerous bills that her Democratic caucus had long supported.

 

Here are a few of the notable bills that the House of Representatives passed this year:

 

U.S. House Bill 582: Raise the minimum wage

Passed 230 to 200 in the U.S. House

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. The measure would also extend the wage mandate to nonprofit organizations that under current law may employ individuals with disabilities at a lower wage, and to newly-hired and tipped workers (whose total wage with tips must still meet the minimum under current law).

 

U.S. House Bill 3: Authorize price controls on Medicare drug coverage

Passed 230 to 192 in the U.S. House

To cap the amount the government will pay for drugs covered by the Medicare health care program for the aged. The prices paid for specific drugs could not exceed 120% of their average price in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. These price controls would also apply to private insurance coverage unless the private insurer opted out.

 

U.S. House Bill 4: Mandate federal approval before some states can change voting practices

Passed 228 to 187 in the U.S. House

To mandate that states or local governments must get approval of the federal government before they make changes to voting practices in certain circumstances. This mandate for federal "pre-clearance" would apply to any state that has had 15 or more voting rights act violations in the past 25 years. The mandate would apply to local governments that have had at least 3 voting rights act violations in the past 25 years.

 

U.S. House Bill 4617: Expand restrictions on online campaign ads, regulate foreign involvement in elections

Passed 227 to 181 in the U.S. House

To expand federal regulations and restrictions on online political communications, mandate that social media companies keep detailed records on individuals and organizations sponsoring political ads, require political campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance, prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to ballot initiative and referendum campaigns, increase restrictions on U.S. political campaigns soliciting support from foreign entities, and make it a federal crime to mislead voters about the time and place for voting and qualifications to vote.

 

U.S. House Bill 1595: Allow banks to conduct business with some marijuana-related businesses

Passed 321 to 103 in the U.S. House

To prohibit federal regulators from penalizing banks that deal with marijuana-related businesses in states that have legalized the use or possession of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. To avoid penalties, these banks may only deal with businesses in compliance with state laws.

 

U.S. House Bill 1423: Ban binding arbitration contract requirements, bar limits on class action lawsuits

Passed 225 to 186 in the U.S. House

To make unenforceable any provisions in contracts that require the parties to pursue arbitration before filing a lawsuit on disputes over employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights issues. The bill also prohibits agreements that limit class action lawsuits.

 

U.S. House Bill 205: Ban offshore drilling in areas of the Gulf of Mexico

Passed 248 to 180 in the U.S. House

To permanently ban oil and natural gas leasing in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico and within 125 miles of the Florida coastline.

 

U.S. House Bill 1941: Ban offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts

Passed 238 to 189 in the U.S. House

To prohibit the federal government from leasing any areas of the Outer Continental Shelf in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans for oil and natural gas exploration or production.

 

U.S. House Bill 1146: Prohibit oil and gas leasing in Arctic wildlife refuge

Passed 225 to 193 in the U.S. House

To prohibit oil and natural gas leasing in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

 

U.S. House Bill 397: Lend federal dollars to failing union pension plans

Passed 264 to 169 in the U.S. House

To authorize government "loans" that would be "forgivable" to massively underfunded and insolvent multi-employer pension funds, which are usually managed by labor unions.

 

U.S. House Bill 2500: Prohibit Defense Department spending at Trump properties

Passed 222 to 205 in the U.S. House

To prohibit spending Defense Department funds at properties owned by the president or that bear his name, unless the president reimburses the amount.

 

 

The Senate has not considered any of these bills, and is unlikely to do so in 2020. Tomorrow we will take a look at some important Senate votes of this past year.

 

House Passes Trade Deal with Mexico, Canada

In a final vote before leaving town for the holiday recess, the House of Representatives passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Passage of this agreement has long been a priority for President Trump.

 

By a vote of 385-95, a large bipartisan majority passed this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some of the key aspects of this agreement are:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico negotiated NAFTA in the 1990s in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. This agreement mostly leaves this deal in place, but it does update some key parts, as described above.

 

President Trump has long been skeptical of deals that lower tariffs and move the U.S. towards free trade. He has even called himself “tariff man.” He says that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Critics of his approach argue that trade has wide benefits for the economy, from consumers to workers. They say it lowers the cost of goods and helps create jobs in more industries.

 

The Senate has yet to vote on the USMCA.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

Tobacco Purchase Age Rising to 21

President Trump has signed into law a key priority of public health officials – increasing the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

 

This increase in the federal tobacco age was contained in the large spending bill that recently passed Congress. That legislation contained funding for the federal government to remain open during the current fiscal year. There were numerous provisions in the legislation that did not directly affect spending, and the increase in the tobacco purchase age was one of them.

 

President Trump has supported increasing this age in the past. He has said it is necessary to protect children. Upon signing the spending legislation, he touted this tobacco measure as part of the overall success of the bill.

 

There was bipartisan support in Congress for accomplishing this. Public health advocates have long called on the federal government to make it more difficult for people to buy tobacco. They say it is necessary to stop young people from being hooked on this unhealthy habit. Opponents argue that people should be free to make their own choices, and that a federal ban oversteps state authority.

 

Prior to this federal action, 19 states had already raised the tobacco purchasing age.

 

Do you support raising the age when someone can buy tobacco to 21?

House Passes Bill to Raise Cap on State and Local Tax Deduction

A slim majority of House members approved legislation to increase the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers could deduct from their federal taxes.

 

By a vote of 218-206, the House approved H.R. 5377. This bill would increase the cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes from $10,000 to $20,000, and eliminate it entirely for 2020 and 2021. It would also increase the top income tax rate to 39.6% and increase the deductions for some expenses incurred by first responders and teachers.

 

The Trump tax cut bill set a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Prior to this cap, taxpayers could deduct the full amount of their state and local taxes. While theoretically available to all taxpayers, it generally benefited taxpayers with higher incomes (who are more prone to use itemized deductions rather than the standard deduction) and those who lived in states with higher taxes.

 

The Trump tax bill limited this state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000. In other words, if someone paid $17,000 in state and local taxes, they could only deduct $10,000 instead of the full $17,000. This upset some state officials, especially those who represent states that have a large share of high-income taxpayers paired with high state tax rates.

 

In response, some states passed laws that were an attempt to circumvent this cap. These generally involved classifying taxes in certain circumstances as charitable contributions. Since the tax bill still allowed full deductibility of charitable contributions, this would have allowed these state taxpayers to skirt the state-and-local deduction cap.

 

The Treasury Department issued a rule that essentially invalidated these state laws for federal tax purposes. Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 50 to disapprove of this Treasury regulation. If passed, the effect of this disapproval resolution would have been to be allow states to pass laws that circumvent the tax cap, essentially repealing it on a state-by-state basis. The full Senate did not agree with Sen. Schumer, however. In October, the resolution failed by a vote of 43-52. The vote was largely along party lines, with only Republican Rand Paul voting for the resolution and Democrat Cory Gardner opposing it.

 

The House bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. Given the Senate’s action on Sen. Schumer’s resolution, it is unlikely that it will succeed in that body.

 

Do you support limiting the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers can deduct on their federal taxes?

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