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House Passes Bill to Prop Up Insolvent Pension Funds

Many union-managed pension funds are in big financial trouble. Under a bill approved by the House of Representatives, these funds may be headed for a federal bailout.

 

By a vote of 264-169, the House passed H.R. 397 on July 24. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

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

 

This bill affects pension funds that are sponsored by multiple employers but managed by unions. Numerous plans do not have enough funding to pay full benefits in the years to come. Supporters say that the bill is necessary to ensure that people who were promised pension benefits actually receive them. They argue that without this bill, people would be left without the retirement funds they were promised.

 

Opponents counter that this bill is special interest legislation that benefits the unions who have mismanaged these pension funds. They say that taxpayers will be bearing the burden of propping up the funds and paying for the mistakes of union officials.

 

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to schedule it for floor action.

 

Do you think that the federal government should provide forgivable loans to union-sponsored pension plans to keep them from going insolvent?

Senator Targets “Addictive” Social Media

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) thinks that social media companies addict users, and he wants the federal government to do something about it.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Hawley, social media companies would be banned from offering more content than a user requested in ways that try to keep the user engaged with the platform. This would end things such as YouTube’s autoplay feature and Facebook’s infinite scroll.

 

According to Sen. Hawley, these are features designed to addict people and psychologically trick them to use social media more than they want. He says it is proper for government to step in to protect people from these predatory practices. Opponents of this legislation say that companies should be free to innovate, and that the federal government would stifle such innovation with laws like Hawley’s.

 

This legislation comes in the midst of attacks on technology companies from both liberals and conservatives. Criticisms range from charges of censorship of conservative ideas to exploitation of users. Sen. Hawley has introduced other legislation targeting technology companies in response to these charges.

 

The enforcement of this legislation would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. They could sue technology companies that continue to use what Hawley terms as “addictive” features.

 

Do social media companies design their products to “addict” users? Do you think that the federal government should ban features that regulators deem to be “addictive”?

Senator Targets “Addictive” Social Media

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) thinks that social media companies addict users, and he wants the federal government to do something about it.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Hawley, social media companies would be banned from offering more content than a user requested in ways that try to keep the user engaged with the platform. This would end things such as YouTube’s autoplay feature and Facebook’s infinite scroll.

 

According to Sen. Hawley, these are features designed to addict people and psychologically trick them to use social media more than they want. He says it is proper for government to step in to protect people from these predatory practices. Opponents of this legislation say that companies should be free to innovate, and that the federal government would stifle such innovation with laws like Hawley’s.

 

This legislation comes in the midst of attacks on technology companies from both liberals and conservatives. Criticisms range from charges of censorship of conservative ideas to exploitation of users. Sen. Hawley has introduced other legislation targeting technology companies in response to these charges.

 

The enforcement of this legislation would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. They could sue technology companies that continue to use what Hawley terms as “addictive” features.

 

Do social media companies design their products to “addict” users? Do you think that the federal government should ban features that regulators deem to be “addictive”?

Senate Continuing to Focus on Confirming Trump Nominees

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made no secret that he wants to see the Senate confirm as many of President Trump’s nominees as possible. This has become a top priority for the upper chamber, with far more votes occurring on nominations than on legislation.

 

Many of the nominees being confirmed are federal judges. When Democrats controlled the Senate, they had eliminated the filibuster for some judges; under Sen. McConnell’s leadership, the Senate ended the filibuster entirely for judges and other nominees. The majority leader also reduced the time necessary to consider nominees.

 

The result has been numerous nominee votes during 2019. In recent weeks, these have included some confirmation votes that were broadly bipartisan. The Senate confirmed General Mark Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a vote of 89-1 and Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 90-8.

 

Some confirmation votes split the Democratic caucus, with a sizable number of Democrats supporting President Trump’s nominee. These include Donald Tapia’s nomination to be ambassador to Jamaica (confirmed 66-26), Thomas Barber’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Middle District of Florida (confirmed 77-19), and Rodney Smith’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida (confirmed 78-18).

 

Most confirmation votes fall largely on partisan lines, however. The Senate confirmed Brian Buescher as federal judge for the District of Nebraska by a vote of 51-40, Wendy Williams Berger as federal judge for the Southern District of Florida by a vote of 54-37, Stephen Dickson to be Federal Aviation Administration Administrator by a vote of 52-40, and Daniel Bess to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 53-45.

 

These votes fall in line with the pattern of other confirmations during the Trump Administration. A few nominations receive widespread bipartisan support, but most only attract a handful of Democratic votes. Supporters of the president say that this is an example of Democratic obstructionism, in which they will do anything to stymie the president. Critics of the president counter that he is nominating radical or unqualified people for these posts, and senators are only doing their duty in opposing them.

 

Do you think that President Trump’s nominees should receive wider bipartisan support? Or are Democratic senators right in opposing many of them?

House Passes Resolution Condemning Boycotts of Israel

Bipartisanship is rare in the House of Representatives these days, but it is not dead – Democrats and Republicans joined together this week to pass a resolution that condemns the efforts to boycott Israel and force companies to divest from that nation.

 

House Resolution 246 spells out some of the problems that these House members see with this boycott and divestment movement:

 

Whereas the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel is a campaign that does not favor a two-state solution and that seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination;

 

The resolution concludes by saying that the House of Representatives:

 

opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;

 

…affirms that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure;

 

… reaffirms its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states—a democratic Jewish State of Israel, and a viable, democratic Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

 

While the vote was overwhelming in favor of this resolution, it was not unanimous. The House passed it 389-17, with 5 members voting “present.” Sixteen Democrats and 1 Republican voted against it.

 

Those who supported the resolution said it was necessary to show support for Israel, a strong American ally. Opponents countered that the House of Representatives should not be interfering with peaceful movements to make political change. They said that those pushing for a boycott of Israel are exercising their First Amendment rights.

 

This is a non-binding resolution, so it will have no legal effect on the organizations and individuals who are pushing to boycott Israel.

 

Do you agree that efforts to boycott Israel should be condemned?

Trump, Pelosi Agree on Spending Increase, Debt Limit

While President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have their differences, they have found common ground in at least two areas: an increase in federal spending and a suspension of the debt limit.

 

The president and the Speaker of the House, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that they have come to a budget agreement that includes $320 billion in new spending and a two-year suspension of the debt limit.

 

Some see this as a victory for responsible government, as it averts a government shutdown this year and the possibility that the federal government would default on its debt payments. During both the Trump and Obama Administrations, there have been numerous government shutdowns due to differences over federal spending or threats of a shutdown. There have also been repeated attempts to stop the debt limit from increasing, which would end the capacity of the federal government to borrow money to cover the budget deficit. President Trump praised the new spending as a way to revive American military strength.

 

However, this deal has drawn strong criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Liberals do not like that this agreement precludes them from using the spending process to stop the Trump Administration’s actions at the border. They argue that Congress is giving up a prime way to counter the president’s moves. Conservatives, on the other hand, decry the increased spending and government borrowing that will come from this agreement. They note that the president ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and that this deal is the opposite of that.


When President Trump entered office, the budget deficit was $516 billion. It will likely top $1 trillion this year. Government debt was $19 billion when the president was sworn in; today, it is $22 trillion.

 

Congress must pass this budget deal. While party leaders in both the House and Senate support it, there will be strong opposition from some members.

 

Do you support the budget deal that President Trump and Nancy Pelosi negotiated? Do you agree that the federal government should spend an additional $320 billion? Is it a good idea to suspend the debt limit?

House to Consider Bill to Raise Immigration Detention Standards

The situation at the U.S.-Mexican border continues to be the center of attention for many elected officials. Both President Trump and Democrats in Congress are focusing on this issue, though with widely different ideas on how to solve the problems on the southern border. This week the House of Representatives will vote on one idea put forward by Democrats – increasing the standards of care for those detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

 

Some observers have criticized the CBP for detaining individuals under inhumane conditions. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) has introduced H.R. 3239, the “Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act.” This bill would require that CBP provide the following services to those in its custody:

  • A health screening
  • Emergency medical care
  • Access to drinking water and hygiene facilities
  • Adequate meals

 

The legislation also sets standards for the buildings housing detainees and forbids unaccompanied minors from being housed with adults. In addition, the bill would require that members of Congress have access to these facilities.

 

Following visits to CBP facilities, some members of Congress have decried the conditions there and have complained about their treatment by CBP staff. Some have even labeled such facilities as “concentration camps.” This charges have met pushbacks by Trump Administration officials, who say that detainees are being treated as well as possible under the circumstances of a rising tide of illegal immigration.


The House is expected to pass H.R. 3239 this week. However, it is unlikely to receive a vote in the Senate.

 

Do you think that Congress should pass legislation to mandate certain standards of care for immigration detention facilities?

 

 

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


Supporters of the “Fight for 15” achieved a victory yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

 

By a vote of 231-199, the House passed H.R. 582. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. This legislation would also end the ability of nonprofits to offer work paying below the minimum wage to people with disabilities and end the different minimum wage rates for tipped and newly-hired employees.

 

This legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over 7 years. Ever year during that time, the minimum wage would automatically go up. Then, after the seventh year, the Department of Labor would increase the minimum wage based on the increase in the median hourly wage for all employees.

 

In addition, this bill would end the ability of employers to pay lower waged to tipped workers and younger workers who are new hires. The federal program that allows some nonprofits to pay wages that are based on productivity but are below the minimum wage to people with disabilities would also end.

 

Supporters of this proposal say that workers should be paid a “living wage,” and that $15 an hour will help accomplish this. They also argue that this boost in wages will put more money into the economy, helping businesses. Opponents counter that this higher minimum wage will boost the pay of some workers, but will destroy the jobs of others. They contend that businesses will be hurt with the new burden of paying higher wages, since they will face the choice of raising prices or letting people go.

 

A recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $15 minimum wage would increase the wages of 17 million workers while eliminating the jobs of 1.3 million workers and reducing business income.

 

This legislation now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unlikely to schedule it for a vote.

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

House Votes to Hold Barr, Ross in Contempt

The House of Representatives is in an ongoing dispute with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr over documents related to the 2020 census. Yesterday, the House voted to hold both of these cabinet officials in criminal contempt.

 

By a vote of 230-198, the House approved House Resolution 497, “Recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States, and Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Commerce, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Reform.”

 

The issue in question is the attempt by the Trump Administration to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has subpoenaed documents from both the Commerce Department and Justice Department about how and why such a question was added. President Trump has exerted executive privilege over some of this information, so the two cabinet secretaries have not fully complied with the subpoena.

 

Both secretaries argue that they are complying to the fullest extent possible with the subpoenas. However, House Democratic leadership is not satisfied and pushed for a criminal contempt vote. Only four Democrats voted “no,” while no Republicans supported the measure. Rep. Justin Amash, who recently left the Republican Party to become an independent, voted “yes.”

 

This action sends the contempt finding to the Justice Department for prosecution. It is unlikely if the Attorney General will pursue such criminal contempt charges against himself and Secretary Ross.

 

Do you think that the House was right to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt for not complying fully with subpoenas regarding the 2020 census?

House to Consider Moving Forward on Impeachment

Yesterday, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump. In those articles, Rep. Green accuses President Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors for his comments about four members of Congress. Rep. Green’s motion is a privileged motion, which means that it requires a vote within two days. Today, the House of Representatives will vote on a procedural motion that could either begin or kill impeachment proceedings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to make a motion to table, or indefinitely delay, consideration of these articles.

 

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

 

Aside from Rep. Green's motion, there is growing movement in the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. These members accuse the president of obstructing justice and other crimes, saying that it is the House’s duty to impeach under these circumstances. Speaker Pelosi has cautioned members that such a move is politically risky, pointing out that Republicans lost popularity when they impeached President Clinton in the 1990s. Her move to table Rep. Green's articles fit in with her longstanding reluctance to launch an inquiry that could lead to impeachment.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that it 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.

House Democrats Ready Resolution to Condemn Trump’s Tweets

President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter is once again causing controversy. This time it may lead to a formal vote of condemnation in the House of Representatives.

 

On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that four Democratic members of Congress -- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – should “go back” to their home countries. Rep. Omar is the only one of these four who was born outside the U.S.

 

This brought swift condemnation from many for being racist and for trying to silence his critics. In a series of continuing tweets, the president denied that he was racist. He also continued attacking these members of Congress, saying that they hate America and should apologize to him, the U.S., and Israel for their actions.

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans a vote on House Resolution 489 this week. The resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it

 

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

 

(1) believes that immigrants and their descendants have made America stronger, and that those who take the oath of citizenship are every bit as American as those whose families have lived in the United States for many generations;

 

(2) is committed to keeping America open to those lawfully seeking refuge and asylum from violence and oppression, and those who are willing to work hard to live the American Dream, no matter their race, ethnicity, faith, or country of origin; and

 

(3) strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders,” and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

 

This resolution will have no force of law, but it would indicate that the House of Representatives disapproves of the president’s attacks its members.

 

Do you think that the House of Representatives should vote to condemn President Trump’s attacks on some members of Congress? Do you think that telling minority members of Congress to “go back” to their home countries is racist?

 

 

Immigration Reform Advancing in Congress

Immigration has been a major issue throughout President Trump’s time in office. This week Congress tackled that subject, with the House passing a bill that would allow more high-skilled immigrants into the country.

 

HR 1044 would eliminate the 7% cap on employment-based immigrant visas, and end the country-based caps on high-skilled immigrants or investor immigrants. In addition, it would also increase the country-based cap for family-based immigrants.

 

The House passed this legislation by a vote of 365-65.

 

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced legislation in the Senate that would accomplish similar goals. His bill, S. 2091, would nearly double the number of employment-based immigration visas (from 140,000 to 270,000), end the country-based caps on employment-based immigration, lower the burdens on hiring immigrants in occupations deemed to have a shortage of workers, and ease rules on work for some family members of those who hold work visas.

 

These bills are not comprehensive immigration reform, but they do address issues for higher-skilled immigrants. As reflected in the bipartisan support for HR 1044, there is consensus across the political spectrum that it should be easier for high-skilled immigrants or immigrants who have a job waiting for them to enter the U.S.

 

Even with this consensus, it is unclear if President Trump would sign such legislation. The president has said he would like any immigration reform to deal with border security.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should allow more high-skilled immigrants into the country?

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cost Jobs, Study Finds

The “Fight for 15” is a popular idea within the Democratic Party and progressive political circles. A study released yesterday concluded that hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would indeed give some people a wage boost, but it would cost others their jobs.

 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at three options for raising the minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 an hour. The three wage levels it looked at were $10 an hour, $12 an hour, and $15 an hour. Here’s what the CBO concluded about what the effects of a $15 an hour minimum wage would be:

 

In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million.

 

The CBO also concluded that a $15 minimum wage would have impacts on family income:

 

  • Real earnings for workers while they remained employed would increase by $64 billion,
  • Real earnings for workers while they were jobless would decrease by $20 billion,
  • Real income for business owners would decrease by $14 billion, and
  • Real income for consumers would decrease by $39 billion.

 

This study points to the trade-offs that would come from a minimum wage hike. Some workers would see an immediate wage hike, but other workers would lose jobs. Businesses and consumers would also be affected by such a hike. With this issue likely to be a part of the 2020 presidential race, the CBO’s study gives more information on the effects of a minimum wage increase to inform the debate.

 

Do you think that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15? Is the trade-off of higher wages for some workers worth it if other workers lose their jobs?

Push to Increase Congressional Pay Gains Bipartisan Support

Last month, House Democrats pulled legislation that would have increased congressional salaries. But now Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is saying that a cost-of-living raise would be a good idea. And it appears that a top House Republican supports the idea, too.

 

The House was set to consider the annual funding legislation for Congress last month. The bill contains a provision that would reinstate annual cost-of-living raises for members of Congress. The last time such a raise occurred was 15 years ago. However, some members objected to this raise, and that legislation was pulled from the floor.

 

Members of Congress currently make $174,000 a year.

 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said that she supports such an increase. She argued that unless members of Congress are well compensated, then they would turn to more lucrative careers – such as lobbying. She also said that this isn’t really a raise; it’s just keeping congressional salaries in line with inflation.

 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appeared to agree with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. He urged consideration of the issue, saying that Congress should not be a place where only millionaires can serve.

 

The House of Representatives and Senate are returning from their Independence Day recess this week. It is unclear when the Legislative Branch appropriations bill will be considered and if it will contain the automatic cost-of-living pay increase when it is.

 

Do you support giving members of Congress a yearly cost-of-living pay increase? Does stopping annual congressional pay increases give members of Congress an incentive to go into lobbying, where they will earn more money?

Warren Unveils Federal Voting Mandates

With 50 states comes 50 different procedures for voting. Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to see this end – at least for federal elections. This week she unveiled a proposal that would mandate a number of procedures that states must follow for federal races. She’s hoping this will appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that has been vocal about voting rights.

 

Sen. Warren’s plan has a number of new mandates on states, including:

  • Automatic voter registration (with individuals being able to opt out)
  • Same-day voter registration
  • Prohibiting the removal of people from the voting rolls unless states have objective evidence of a reason to remove them
  • Fifteen days of early voting
  • Voting by mail
  • A uniform federal ballot

 

The proposal would also prohibit gerrymandering for political reasons, requiring states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines. Election Day would be a federal holiday.

 

These requirements would only be mandatory for federal elections. However, since many races for state and local office also occur at the same time as federal elections, it is likely that states would use the same procedures for these non-federal races. In effect, Sen. Warren’s proposal would impose uniform federal rules for elections nationwide.

 

Supporters of these ideas argue that they are necessary to prevent states from enacting voting rules that reduce turnout for minority voters or voters from certain political parties. They say that the U.S. should not have a patchwork of rules for voting. Opponents counter that this is another federal power grab from states that have always had the power to set election rules to meet local concerns.

 

Sen. Warren’s proposal is unlikely to see any legislative action in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, she will use it as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

 

Do you think that the federal government should mandate uniform federal rules for elections? Should states implement automatic voter registration and same-day registration?

Sanders Proposed Canceling Student Loan Debt

In his second campaign for the presidency, Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks he has an issue that will attract the votes of millennial voters – student loan debt forgiveness.

 

Under legislation that Sen. Sanders plans to introduce, nearly all individuals who have taken out student loans would see their debt wiped out. His plan includes:

  • Complete forgiveness of outstanding debt for any student loans made, guaranteed, or insured by the federal government;
  • Federal purchase and forgiveness of outstanding private loan debt upon application by the person who incurred the debt;
  • Providing new student loans through the federal government and capping these loans’ interest rates at 1.88%;
  • The elimination of tuition at public colleges; and
  • New subsidies for low-income students attending private colleges.

 

Under this plan, there would be no limits on eligibility based on family income. To pay for this $2.2 trillion plan, Sen. Sanders proposed a new tax on Wall Street transactions.

 

Sen. Sanders says that his plan will be Wall Street bailing out the average American. He argues that debt-free education should be something that every American is entitled to have. Opponents note that his plan would benefit the rich as well as the average American, and would be extremely expensive.

 

Do you think that the federal government should forgive all student loan debt, regardless of the income of the borrowers? Should public universities and colleges be tuition-free?

House Votes to End Federal Spending at Trump Properties

Some observers have long been troubled by federal agencies that contract with properties owned by President Trump for things like lodging or food. Now the House of Representatives is taking steps to prevent federal dollars from being spent at Trump property.

 

By a vote of 231-187, the House of Representatives approved an amendment that included a provision banning the State Department from spending money on services provided at properties owned by the president. House members also approved a similar amendment for the Commerce and Justice Departments by a voice vote. These provisions are attached to the annual legislation that funds federal agencies.

 

Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Jaime Raskin (D-MD) proposed these amendments as a way to stop federal employees from lodging at Trump hotels, among other actions. They contend that this is a way for the president to profit from his office. They argue that the presidency should not be leveraged for personal gain, and that requiring federal money to be spent at Trump properties is unethical.

 

Republicans in the House pushed back, saying that such a prohibition could jeopardize security. They note that the federal government must undertake a number of actions at Trump properties when foreign dignitaries or the president is at them, and many of these activities would be impossible under the Cohen and Raskin amendment.

 

The spending bill that contains this prohibition must still be approved by the Senate. It is unlikely that it will remain in the Senate’s version of the legislation.

 

Do you think that there should be a ban on federal spending at property owned by President Trump? Is it improper for the federal government to pay for lodging and other services at Trump properties?

Amash Tries, and Fails, to Stop Warrantless Data Collection

Rep. Justin Amash has blazed his own path during his tenure in Congress, taking positions at odds with both Democrats and Republicans. One of his main topics of concern has been warrantless intelligence gathering. This week, Rep. Amash introduced an amendment to curtail this practice. While it drew bipartisan support, it drew stronger bipartisan opposition, ultimately being voted down.

 

The amendment in question would have limited federal power to collect data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under its provisions, the National Security Agency could only collect data on someone without a warrant if that person was not in the United States.

 

As Rep. Amash pointed out, numerous Republicans had decried abuse of the FISA intelligence collection system in recent months due to the investigation of President Trump’s campaign. Democrats have also talked about limiting the power of the executive branch to act without judicial oversight. He said that his amendment was a way for both sides to do something about their complaints. Opponents of this amendment said that it would hamper vital anti-terrorism work.

 

The amendment did receive support from both Democrats and Republicans, ranging from Freedom Caucus Chair Jim Jordan to progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When the vote was called, 110 Democrats and 65 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment. However, they were outnumbered by the 126 Democratic votes and 127 Republican votes against it. The final tally was 175-223.

 

Do you think that the National Security Agency should obtain a warrant to collect data on individuals within the United States?

House Holds Slavery Reparations Hearing

Reparations for the descendants of slaves is taking center stage in the House of Representatives today. A committee is holding a hearing on a proposal to form a commission to examine this controversial issue. But even though the commission has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many Democrats running for president, it faces tough opposition in Congress.

 

The hearing is set to examine H.R. 40, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). This legislation would, in the words of the bill,

 

…address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

 

The committee’s scheduled list of witnesses include actor Danny Glover and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote an article in 2014 that helped reignite the conversation about reparations.

 

Those who support reparations point to the long history of legally-sanctioned slavery and discrimination in the United States. They argue that this legacy still affects the descendants of slaves, so the government should compensate those individuals. Opponents of reparations counter that the U.S. fought a war to end slavery, and that no slave is currently living.


Reparations have been raised by some Democrats who are running for president. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also supports forming a commission to examine this issue. Senator Mitch McConnell, however, has said that even if H.R. 40 passes the House, it will be dead in the Senate. The legislation has near-universal Republican opposition, and even some Democrats express skepticism about it.

 

Today’s hearing if the first time that a congressional committee has examined reparations.

 

Do you support reparations for the descendants of slaves? If so, what should slavery reparations look like?

Abortion Funding Ban Stays in Spending Bill

There has been a prohibition on spending federal money on abortion for over forty years. Reversing this ban has become a popular issue with Democrats running for president. However, the spending bill moving through the House of Representatives once again contains this ban, and House Democrats are not taking steps to strip it out.

 

In 1976, then-Rep. Henry Hyde sponsored an amendment to an annual government spending bill that prohibits federal funding for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother. This provision has been in every yearly spending bill since then. This includes the Labor-HHS-Education legislation currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

 

At the time of its enactment, the Hyde Amendment had bipartisan support. Today, however, Democrats are increasingly critical of it. Former Vice President Joe Biden had been a backer of the ban, but recently reversed his stance. By doing this, he joined his fellow Democratic candidates for president who want to see federal money paying for abortions.

 

While Democrats may not like the Hyde Amendment, there is no real effort to remove it from this year’s spending legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argues that the spending bill needs bipartisan support to avoid a government shutdown, so Democrats should accept this provision to advance their overall goals.

 

Those backing the Hyde Amendment contend that taxpayers should not be funding a procedure that many Americans consider tantamount to murder. They say that federal health care programs, such as Medicaid, should focus spending on other health care priorities. Those opposing this amendment say that banning the use of federal funds for abortion deprives poor women of the full range of reproductive choice.

 

Do you think that federal funds should be used to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients and others in government health care programs?

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