Congress

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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?

House Impeaches President Trump

This evening, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

 

By a vote of 230-197, the House approved the first article of impeachment, which alleges that the President abused his power to investigate a political rival. This charge hinges on the conversation President Trump had with the Ukrainian president in which President Trump asked for an announcement of an investigation of Joe Biden's son. By a vote of 229-198, the House approved the second article, which alleges that President Trump has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation and ordering his subordinates to cooperate.

 

No Republicans voted in favor of either article of impeachment. Rep. Tulsi Gabard, a Democrat from Hawaii, voted present on each article. Two Democrats voted against the first article and three voted against the second. 

 

Impeachment does not remove the President from office. Instead, it starts the process wherein the Senate will consider removal. If two-thirds of the Senate approves either article of impeachment, President Trump will no longer be president and will be barred from future federal office. In that event, Vice President Mike Pence will become president.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will set the rules for how the impeachment trial will occur in the Senate. It is unclear how long such a trial will take and when it will occur. What is almost certain is that the necessary two-thirds of senators will not vote to convict the president, thus allowing President Trump to remain in office.

 

You can learn more about impeachment in VoteSpotter's Deep Dive on the subject.

 

Do you support the House vote to impeach President Trump?

 

 

Congress Passes Bill to Create Space Force

The Space Force will soon be a reality for the U.S. military.

 

The Senate approved the Dense authorization bill by a vote of 86-8 today, authorizing spending on the U.S. military for the next year. Included in that legislation is the creation of the Space Force, a priority of President Trump.

 

In 2018, the president announced plans to create a sixth branch of the military to undertake operations in space.

 

It is still unclear how far the mission of the Space Force will reach. NASA undertakes peaceful missions in space, and that would remain unchanged. The new force is aimed at ensuring that space cannot be used for offensive action against the United States. Its main aim, at least initially, will be to protect satellites, which are increasingly important for both civilian and military uses.

 

Other nations have similar forces. Russia created an Aerospace Force in 2015. The U.S. Space Force will be part of the Air Force.

 

The House of Representatives has already passed the Defense authorization bill, and it now heads to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support creation of the Space Force?

Deep Dive: Judiciary Committee Passes Impeachment Articles

The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump today. The votes were 23-17 for each article, strictly along partisan lines. Republican were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend the impeachment articles in committee. This approval now enables the full House of Representatives to consider impeachment. Debate and a vote will occur next week.

 

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 Impeachment and Removal 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 House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The Senate then votes, with a two-thirds vote 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

 

The House Rules Committee will consider the impeachment resolution on Tuesday. Once this committee votes in favor, then the full House of Representatives will debate the two articles of impeachment and take a vote. This vote is expected to occur on Wednesday. 

 

The House is likely to approve both articles of impeachment, with nearly all Democrats expected to vote in favor of them and no Republican expected to support them. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. The Senate will hold a trial, however. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will decide how that trial will be conducted and the timing of the trial. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

Judiciary Committee Debates Impeachment Articles

The testimony has been taken, and now it’s time for the House Judiciary Committee members to decide the fate of impeachment.

 

For only the fourth time in our nation’s history, the members of this committee will deliberate on whether they should recommend that the president of the U.S. be removed from office.

 

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced House Resolution 755, which lays out two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

 

Article I contends that President Trump is guilty of abuse of power by holding up the release of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden. The resolution states:

 

In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the Presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.

 

Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Article II contends that President Trump has obstructed justice by directing White House officials to defy subpoenas and not cooperate with the Congressional impeachment investigation. The resolution states:

 

Through these actions, President Trump sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own conduct, as well as the unilateral prerogative to deny any and all information to the House of Representatives in the exercise of its “sole Power of Impeachment”. In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.

 

In all of this, President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

 

The impeachment resolution concludes with this call to remove the president from office:

 

Wherefore, President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Given the partisan makeup of the committee, it is nearly certain that the Judiciary Committee will pass this resolution. That will set up a vote on the House floor, which will likely occur next week. If the House passes one or both articles of impeachment, the Senate will then hold a trial to remove President Trump from office.

 

You can read more about the impeachment process in our Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that President Trump abused his power in his actions regarding Ukrainian foreign aid and asking for an investigation of Hunter Biden? Do you think the president has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry?

House Tackles Drug Prices This Week

There has long been a move to do something about the price of drugs. This week, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that its sponsors claim will help make pharmaceuticals more affordable.

 

The House will debate H.R. 3 this week. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices that the Medicare program will pay for certain drugs, such as insulin. The maximum price for such drugs could not exceed 120% of the average price of such drugs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. This set price would also be applicable to private insurance companies unless those companies opted out.

 

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices has long been a goal of liberal lawmakers and interest groups. They say that the federal government should be able to work with drug companies to bring down the price that Medicare pays for the drugs it covers. Not being able to do so, they claim, forces taxpayers to pay whatever price drug companies demand.

 

Opponents of this legislation point out that it is not about negotiating. They argue that the federal government is such a large player in the field of drug purchases that it will set rates, not negotiate them. They note that the legislation forbids paying prices above certain rates. This bill is about imposing price controls, not allowing negotiation. This, they argue, will lead to fewer drugs being developed in the U.S.

 

Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives, this legislation is likely to pass. However, the chances for Senate consideration are slim.

 

Do you think the federal government should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs it covers through Medicare, and set a cap on prices it deems too high?

House Endorses Two-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict

Since Israel became independent in 1948, there has been conflict about its existence. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state in order to quell the latest round of violence in the region.

 

By a vote of 226-188, the House passed a House Resolution 326, a nonbinding measure that supports U.S. efforts to negotiate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The text of the resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas the United States remains unwavering in its commitment to help Israel address the myriad challenges it faces, including terrorism, regional instability, horrifying violence in neighboring states, and hostile regimes that call for its destruction;

 

Whereas the United States has long sought a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and offers Israel long-term security and full normalization with its neighbors;

 

It then concludes:

 

only the outcome of a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own…

 

And a United States proposal to achieve a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should expressly endorse a two-state solution as its objective and discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

 

The idea of forming a separate Palestinian state out of Israel has long been a topic of discussion. Palestinians have demanded their own state, free from Israeli rule. However, Israel has demanded that Palestinians and other Arab states recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel says it cannot cede any territory as long as its existence is threatened. Palestinians and many Arab leaders view Israel as an illegitimate nation that obtained its territory through theft of land.

 

Negotiations to end the violence that continues to plague this region are ongoing. 

 

Do you support creating a separate state for Palestinians? Should Arab nations and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for such a state?

Schumer Wants to Mandate that Airlines Sit Families Together

Senate Minority Leader has an idea that he thinks will improve travel, especially during the holiday season. He’s written a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her department to issue a rule forcing airlines to sit families together.

 

Under Schumer’s proposal, airlines must seat a child who is 13-years-old or younger next to an older family member. He notes that Congress passed legislation last year that called on the Department of Transportation to consider such a regulation. He argues that there have been instances where families have been separated on flights when children had health issues.

 

The Department of Transportation pushed back against this proposal, noting that very few complaints come into the agency about families not being seated together. A spokesman for the department also noted that the federal legislation that mentioned a family seating regulation only said the agency should issue such a rule if it was appropriate. There is no indication that the Department of Transportation is looking at this type of regulation.

 

Do you think the federal government should mandate that airlines must seat families together on flights?

House Takes Aim at Hong Kong Crackdown

Hong Kong has seen nearly six months of protests over Chinese government policies. This week the House of Representatives voted on two measures which aim to bolster the protesters who are urging more freedom in Hong Kong.

 

 By a vote of 417-0, the House passed S. 2710, legislation that would ban the U.S. from selling tear gas, rubber bullets, or handcuffs to the Hong Kong police. And by a vote of 417-1, it passed S. 1838, legislation that could end Hong Kong’s special trade relationship with the U.S. and subject some Hong Kong officials to sanctions.

 

These two bills come in response to the Chinese crackdown of protests in Hong Kong that are demanding wider democracy and an examination of police practices. The protests began in June over legislation that would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China. Hong Kong is part of China, but has a separate economic and legal system that is a remnant from its colonial rule by Great Britain. It has a freer economic system and stronger political and legal protections than the rest of China.

 

Hong Kong residents have been wary of Chinese attempts to undermine their economic and legal rights since Great Britain turned over the city to China in 1999. Protester saw the extradition bill as a way for China to persecute political dissidents, and they took to the streets to protest. The Chinese government has withdrawn the bill, but the protests continued over the violent crackdown that has met the protesters.

 

The Senate has already passed both S. 2710 and S. 1838. They now head to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support U.S. efforts to punish China for cracking down on Hong Kong protesters?

House Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

For the past twenty years, states have been relaxing or eliminating laws against marijuana use and possession. This week, federal legislators got into the act.

 

By a vote of 24-10, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3884, a bill that would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list. This would effectively decriminalize the bill at the federal level. State laws restricting marijuana use or possession would be unaffected.

 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerome Nadler (D-NY) sponsored the bill, but it received bipartisan support. Besides ending federal marijuana prohibition, the bill would also provide a process to expunge the records of individuals convicted of federal marijuana crimes. The bill would also establish a 5% tax on the sale of cannabis products, excluding hemp.

 

Beginning in the 1990s, states started legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In the past decade, some states have also removed their laws banning recreational use. However, marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law. This puts marijuana users and businesses in states that have legalized cannabis in the position of violating federal law.

 

Supporters of federal decriminalization say that marijuana is less harmful than some legal drugs, such as alcohol or tobacco, so there is no reason for the federal government to prohibit it. They argue that it should be up to states to decide how to regulate its use. Opponents of decriminalization say that marijuana is a gateway drug, and that decriminalization will cause societal problems.

 

This legislation may now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

 

Do you support legislation that decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level?

House Passes Short-Term Funding, PATRIOT Act Renewal

This week the House of Representatives passed legislation that temporarily keeps the federal government open. In that legislation, however, House leadership also included a renewal of the controversial PATRIOT Act.

 

As explained in yesterday’s VoteSpotter blog post, Congress failed to pass appropriations bills to fund the federal government this fiscal year. The short-term bill that keeps the government open expires on November 21. There is no final agreement between the Trump Administration and Congress about what the entire year’s government spending priorities should be, so it is necessary for Congress to pass another short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to prevent a partial government shutdown.

 

As part of that continuing resolution, H.R. 3055, the House leadership also included a provision for a short-term reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. This bill, passed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, greatly expanded federal surveillance powers. Some critics contend that it allows the federal government to have sweeping authority over monitoring communication of U.S. citizens. Supporters of the law counter that it is necessary to prevent terrorism.

 

There have been efforts since 2001 to modify parts of the PATRIOT Act. Since this law must be periodically reauthorized, this recurring debate gives critics an opportunity to debate these changes. Members of Congress who are particularly concerned about the PATRIOT Act, such as Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), were vocal in their criticism of House Speaker Pelosi for including a renewal of the law in the government funding bill. He argued that tying this controversial reauthorization to a must-pass funding bill effectively short-circuits any debate over it.

 

The continuing resolution and renewal of the PATRIOT Act passed the House by a vote of 231-192. Under this bill, funding for the federal government would last through December 20. The PATRIOT Act reauthorization would last through March 2020.

 

Do you support reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act?

Deep Dive: Approving Short-Term Government Spending

This week, the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote on a bill to extend federal government funding until December 20. With government funding set to expire on November 21, failure to do this would result in a partial government shutdown. 

  

A previous Deep Dive examined the budget process that talks about the overall spending blueprint for the federal government. This Deep Dive will discuss the specific part affecting spending – the appropriations process. 

 

 

The Appropriations Process

 

Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”

 

Federal government spending is divided into two categories:

  • Mandatory: Programs authorized by Congress that operate outside the regular spending process are entitlement programs, and their spending is deemed “mandatory.” For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, anyone who meets certain qualification is entitled to benefits. Funding for these programs does not have to be authorized yearly by Congress, although the eligibility and payment rules can be changed.
  • Discretionary: To pay for other government activities, ranging from military operations undertaken by the Defense Department to operating national parks to paying congressional staff, Congress must pass 12 appropriations, or spending, bills. These bills operate on a fiscal year basis. If they do not become law, funds cannot be drawn from the U.S. Treasury to pay for the government operations they cover.

 

Appropriations Bills

 

The 12 appropriations bills that should be passed by Congress every fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce/Justice/Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans
  • State/Foreign Operations
  • Transportation/Urban Development

 

You can see the progress of the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bills through Congress here.

 

The number and title of these bills can be changed by Congress. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress re-organized the appropriations process, which at that time had operated with 13 appropriations bills.

 

Consolidated Appropriations/Continuing Appropriations/Omnibus Appropriations

 

While the spending process is supposed to proceed with the 12 bills being passed separately and signed into law by October 1 of each year, this almost never happens. In fact, since 1977 (when the current spending system was put in place), Congress has passed all of the appropriations bills on time in only four years. The last time it did this was 1997. The usual pattern is that Congress passes some, but not all, of the bills to be signed into law by October 1.

 

When this happens, Congress can take a variety of steps to avoid a government shutdown. It can pass a resolution for continuing appropriations, which fund the government for a specified period of time at the level of the previous fiscal year. During this time, it can then pass a consolidated appropriations act, which combines two or more appropriations bills. An omnibus appropriations bill generally wraps all the outstanding appropriations bills into a single act for the rest of the fiscal year.

 

If special spending needs arise during the fiscal year, Congress can also pass a supplemental appropriations bill, which provides funding more money than what was contained in the original spending bill.

 

Fiscal Year 2020

 

To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass these 12 spending bills (either in individual or consolidated form) and the president must sign them. So far this year, the House of Representatives has passed 10 bills (with only Homeland Security and Legislative Branch still remaining to be approved). The Senate has passed none. 

 

 

Instead of completing work on the individual spending bills by October 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year), the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a continuing resolution, a short-term bill that funds the government at the previous fiscal year's level.  This legislation funded the government through November 21. If Congress does not act on another bill, or the president does not sign one, then there would be a partial government shutdown.

 

The 2018-2019 Government Shutdown

 

The last government shutdown occurred from December 2018 to January 2019. The beginnings of this shutdown began a year ago, with the failure of Congress to pass the necessary spending bills. Prior to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019 (which began on October 1, 2018), Congress had only passed these appropriations bills:

  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans

 

Continuing resolutions funded the government agencies covered by the other appropriations bills through December 21. President Trump signaled his opposition to signing any spending bills that did not contain funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. As a consequence, the agencies not covered by the already-passed appropriations bills were shut down on that date.

 

The parts of the government that were covered by these spending bills could continue to operate as normal, however. Since the Legislative Branch appropriations bill was signed into law, congressional staffers could continue to be paid their salary. So could employees of the Energy Department, Defense Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Education Department.

 

When President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 28 on January 25, this reopened the portions of the federal government that were shut down until February 15. The signing of House Joint Resolution 31 by President Trump funds the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

 

What This Means for You

 

The two-year budget deal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump agreed to over the summer was designed to eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown this year or next year. However, there is still disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over border funding. It appears that the leadership in the House and Senate as well as President Trump have agreed in principle to another short-term funding bill. That legislation, H.R. 3055, is set to be voted on by Congress this week. It will keep the government open until December 20. This gives negotiators more time to come to an agreement that has the possibility of funding the federal government through the end of this current fiscal year, avoiding a partial government shutdown.

House Reauthorizes Federal Export Support Agency

In the midst of impeachment hearings, the House of Representatives also conducted legislative business this week. The main legislation under consideration was a bill to reauthorize a controversial federal agency that provides loan guarantees for U.S. businesses. Supporters say it is essential to supporting American exports, while critics argue that it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

 

The House passed H.R. 4863 by a vote of 235-184. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To renew the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to operate through 2029 and expand its lending authority from $135 billion to $175 billion. The Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that gives loans and loan guarantees to companies purchasing U.S. exports. These loans are backed by the federal government, meaning if borrowers default the government pays them.

 

The reauthorization and staffing of the Export-Import Bank’s board has been a long-running controversy in Congress. While the agency has bipartisan support, there is also strong opposition to it on the left and the right who see it as a taxpayer giveaway to large corporations. This reauthorization legislation is aimed at ending the efforts to kill the agency.

 

Independent Rep. Justin Amash spoke out forcefully against reauthorization, tweeting:

 

The Ex-Im Bank is inherently corrupt. It unfairly forces Americans to subsidize foreign entities that buy things from well-connected corporations—particularly Boeing. This corporate welfare program expires next week, yet the House is voting Friday to reauthorize it. Let it die.

 

And:

 

Ex-Im puts taxpayers on the hook for loans to foreign governments and corporations to buy things from well-connected companies (especially Boeing), which is unfair to the vast majority of Americans who don’t benefit from Ex-Im yet are assuming the financial risk for the loans.

 

There was bipartisan support for reauthorizing the agency, however, as well as a large coalition of interest groups pushing for this legislation. Linda Dempsey of The National Association of Manufacturers spoke for many of these supporters in defense of the agency:

 

As the United States’ official export credit agency, the Ex-Im Bank is a critical tool to support American jobs through exports. It has become increasingly vital in the face of more than 90 countries that operate more than 100 foreign export credit agencies (ECAs) around the world. From China and Germany to Canada and Japan, other countries are working to boost their farmers, manufacturers and workers and win foreign sales.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.

 

Do you support reauthorizing an agency that provides federal loan guarantees for companies that purchase U.S. exports?

 

 

Deep Dive: Impeachment Hearings

The House of Representatives is beginning public impeachment hearings this week. After numerous depositions held behind closed doors, House Democrats are bringing their case against the president into the open. In late October, the House passed H.R. 660 by a vote of 232-196, which sets the procedures for impeachment proceedings. In accordance with this resolution, the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings this week. When the Intelligence Committee has completed its hearings, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on articles of impeachment. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and how it has been used over the past two centuries. 

 

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 Impeachment and Removal 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 House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The Senate then votes, with a two-thirds vote 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

 

If the House Intelligence Committee finds grounds for impeachment, it will send a recommendation to the House Judiciary Committee. That committee will then deliberate and decide on the fate of impeachment articles. It is possible that this could occur before the end of the year.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that both the Judiciary Committee and the full House could pass impeachment articles. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

Senate Continuing to Focus on Judicial Nominations

The House of Representatives was in recess this week, with members out of Washington, D.C., for district work sessions. Senators, however, stayed in D.C., taking a series of votes. As has been their practice throughout this year, they focused on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees.

 

These are the nominees confirmed by senators this week:

  • William Joseph Nardini, of Connecticut, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit – 86-2
  • Jennifer Philpott Wilson, of Pennsylvania, to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania – 88-3
  • Lee Philip Rudofsky, of Arkansas, to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas – 51-41
  • Danielle J. Hunsaker, of Oregon, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit – 73-17
  • David Austin Tapp, of Kentucky, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims – 85-8

 

The Senate has considered little legislation during the 116th Congress, but has confirmed scores of judges nominated by President Trump. After Senate Democrats were using Senate rules to force lengthy debates on the nominations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered a rule change to limit debate. This has sped up confirmations, something that Sen. McConnell has been proud to tout.

 

Democrats criticize this focus on judicial nominees, saying that it ignores important legislative priorities. Liberals also dislike the fact that many of these judges will be in office for years, leading to a more conservative judiciary. Senate Republicans point out that their voters value judicial confirmations highly, so they are doing the work they are elected to do. They also note that much of the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House does not have majority support in the Senate, so there is no use debating bills that will ultimately fail.

 

Do you support the Senate focusing on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees?

House Passes Impeachment Inquiry Resolution

Today the House of Representatives approved a resolution outlining how the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Trump will be conducted.

 

By a vote of 232-196, the House approved House Resolution 660, which directs House committees to continue “ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America.”

 

Specifically, this resolution lays out certain procedures for the impeachment inquiry. These include:

  • The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence must hold hearings open to the public.
  • Minority members of the Intelligence Committee may subpoena individuals for testimony, but only if the chairman of the committee or a majority of the committee agrees.
  • Transcripts of depositions may be made public.
  • The Intelligence Committee will transmit its findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which may then hold open impeachment hearings.
  • Minority members of the Judiciary Committee may subpoena individuals for testimony, but only if the chairman of the committee or a majority of the committee agrees.

 

The vote on this resolution fell largely along partisan lines. All Republicans opposed it, while all but two Democrats supported it. President Trump and Republicans had argued that the current impeachment inquiry was illegitimate because it was not sanctioned by a full House vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi countered that there is nothing in the House rules or the Constitution that requires such a vote. However, she allowed a vote on this resolution in an attempt to rebut such criticism. Now, however, House Republicans say that the vote came to late and that the process is already fatally flawed.

 

Do you support the House vote to formally allow an impeachment inquiry against President Trump?

Pelosi Plans Impeachment Resolution Vote

An impeachment inquiry is underway in the House of Representatives. Republicans are condemning this process, saying that the full House needs to take a vote before beginning. Democrats say that there is nothing in law or the Constitution that says such a vote needs to be done. However, under attack from the president and his allies, House Speaker Pelosi recently announced that the House would indeed vote on a resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry this week.

 

Currently the House Permanent Select Committee on impeachment is taking closed-door depositions from individuals with knowledge about President Trump’s activities regarding Ukraine. This investigation is aimed at determining whether the president proposed a quid pro quo to Ukraine involving foreign aid for an investigation into the activities of Hunter Biden. While Republicans are present for these depositions, they are not open to the wider House membership. This has led to complaints about a process shrouded in secrecy.

 

In addition, President Trump and congressional Republicans are upset that the House is proceeding without a vote to authorize such an inquiry. They point out that both in 1973 and 1998, the full House voted to begin impeachment. That has not happened this time, and critics say that this makes the entire process illegitimate. House Democrats counter that there is no law and nothing in the Constitution that requires such a vote.

 

In the face of mounting criticism, however, House Speaker Pelosi announced on Monday that she plans to hold a vote on a resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry this week. That resolution will outline the procedure and how the evidence will become public.

 

With a Democratic majority in the House, this resolution is expected to pass easily.

 

Do you support a formal vote to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s activities regarding Ukraine?

House Takes Aim at Turkey This Week

President Trump’s decision to remove American military forces from northern Syria, and the subsequent invasion of the area by Turkey, has provoked howls of outrage in Washington, D.C. Now the House of Representatives is targeting Turkey with votes on two bills – one symbolic and one that would have consequences for Turkish officials if signed into law.

 

The symbolic resolution is House Resolution 296, concerning the Armenian genocide, which occurred in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. It states:

 

That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the policy of the United States to—

 

(1) commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;

 

(2) reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and

 

(3) encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

 

While this will not change official U.S. foreign policy, it is aimed squarely at Turkey. That nation has strongly denied that the there was ever an official policy by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of Turkey, to massacre Armenians. It objects to any statement by the U.S. government that recognizes such a genocide.

 

The second bill is HR 4695. As described by VoteSpotter, that bill would “block the transfer of assets belonging to senior Turkish officials and deny them entry into the United States in response to Turkish military action in norther Syria. The legislation would also prohibit some arms sales to the Turkish military.”

 

If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, HR 4685 would subject the Turkish president and other Turkish military and government officials to financial restrictions on any assets in the U.S.

 

With the bipartisan condemnation of Turkish actions in northern Syria, these two bills may pass with bipartisan support. It is unclear if the sanctions bill will be taken up by the Senate.

 

Do you support imposing sanctions on Turkey in response to its military actions in Syria?

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