This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 30, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 30, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
…and maybe Congress has earned it.
The House and Senate go on hiatus this week and next. They’ll return to work in Washington, D.C., on April 13th.
Before they left town, each chamber had a little productive streak, with Medicare legislation moving in the House and the Senate getting some budgeting done.
The House debated and passed—with bipartisan votes—H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.
The bill repeals the “sustainable growth rate” intended to keep Medicare payments to physicians under control. Since the SGR has been in effect, the medical provider lobby has put off its application year over year to the point where they faced a 21% cut in pay if the SGR went into effect this year.
When the stakes are that high, you dedicate good time and effort to influencing Congress, and recipients of Medicare payments in the health care world have certainly put in the effort to put Medicare back onto its proper unsustainable path. (We’ve made that joke before. If the “sustainable growth rate” is reppealed, it’s unsustainable, right?)
H.R. 2 also extends funding for Child Heath Insurance Program for two years and increases funding to the States for that program.
The tab is not insignificant. H.R. 2 costs a little over $1,200 per U.S. family, increasing the national debt by a little less than that amount because it brings in a wee bit of revenue.
On the Senate side, last week was budget week. The upper house debated and passed its blueprint for spending in fiscal 2016, which begins October 1st.
S. Con. Res. 11 is the Senate’s budget resolution. The Senate’s plan calls for spending of about $28,500 per family.
That’s a notch higher than the House’s plan for spending of $28,350 per family.
When the House and Senate return, they are supposed to craft a compromise budget resolution, which will serve as a guide for the actual spending done by the House and Senate appropriations committees.
The deadline for finalizing the budget resolution is two days after Congress returns from their spring break, April 15th. House and Senate budget negotiators might want to consider putting in some overtime during the break!
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 23, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
An important step in the annual budgeting and spending process occurred on Friday, when congressional budget resolutions were introduced in both the House and Senate.
After the president produces his budget, the next stage in the process is for Congress to produce its own budget, taking President Obama’s proposal into consideration.
The House and Senate each consider a proposal, then they come together on a final version. The congressional budget resolution will then determine how much money the appropriations subcommittees have to spend in the areas the oversee.
There has been some attention paid to wrangling among budget leaders. With both houses controlled by Republicans, budgeting leaders are supposed to get along, and when they don’t, that’s news. (Would it be any surprise that the result was more spending?)
But the key difference between the proposals we care about is that the House actually published their bill, and the Senate did not.
If you go to the bill pages for House Concurrent Resolution 27 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 11, you’ll find a key difference when you click “Read the Bill” in the “Learn More” box. The House link takes you to the text of the House’s proposal. The Senate link takes you to the inscription: “The text of S.CON.RES.11 has not yet been received from GPO.”
The bill may have been introduced, but we can’t see it yet, so does that really count? It may have been introduced according to Senate rules, but has it been introduced to the public?
(The “not yet received” notice will disappear when the bill text is processed and made available to us.)
Adding insult to injury, if you go looking for the text of the bill online, the most prominent document made available by the Senate Budget Committee—at a link that literally says “CLICK HERE FOR THE BALANCED BUDGET RESOLUTION”—is a promotional piece that could best be described as ‘spintastic.’
The Senate document claims that their plan “Balances the Budget in 10 Years.” It “Ensures Flexibility for Funding National Defense.” It “Provides Repeal and Replacement of Obamacare. [sic]” And more. But do you know what the document doesn’t tell you? WHAT THE SENATE BUDGET RESOLUTION SAYS.
In fact, if you scroll down to the draft budget resolution that is included in the document, it literally has this line in the section on outlays/spending: “Fiscal year 2016: $_______,000,000.”
Now, we’re being a little unfair here because there is a chart tucked in the document that says that total outlays will be $3.8 trillion. But that’s a chart summarizing what the resolution may say. It’s not the Senate budget resolution. We’ll know what it says when we see what it says.
The House budget resolution, on the other hand, is available. You can look at it (again, click on “Read the Bill”) and see what the House proposes for federal spending in fiscal 2016.
The House proposes $3,009,033,000,000 in spending. It’s a much lower number than the Senate is apparently going to propose, and it’s not rounded like the one from the Senate chart. It amounts to a little over $28,000 in spending per U.S. family. The Senate will propose about $35,750 per family, something like the president’s $37,000 proposal. (Haha. We get to round our numbers on our blog posts. The Senate Budget Committee doesn’t in what it calls its budget resolution!)
That’s a lot of money, and one can have their opinions on whether it’s the right amount. One can have opinions on whether it will be well spent, such as for that reported increase in military spending.
But one thing is clear: The House has introduced a budget resolution to the public. The Senate has introduced a budget resolution to itself and a select group of insiders. The House has a budget resolution. The Senate has a transparency failure.
Here are the current votes on the two budget resolutions. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 16, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Soap operas weave together shocking story lines to keep their viewers hooked, and this week the Senate is doing the same. Maybe this week’s story will hook you.
The bill under consideration in the Senate is S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. It includes a wide variety of provisions meant to prevent human trafficking and assist victims of trafficking. (For a summary, go to the bill’s page click “Read an Analysis of the Bill” in the “Learn More” box. To read the bill, click “Read the Bill”!)
Human trafficking and sexual abuse are horrible crimes, of course. It’s not guaranteed that the provisions of the bill would fix the problem, bit they are widely agreed upon in the Senate. Most of them, at least.
The bill also contains a provision commonly known as the Hyde Amendment. Named after Henry Hyde, the late Republican congressman from Illinois who inserted it into legislation in 1976, the Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, unless a pregnancy resulted from incest or rape.
That’s controversial to many Democrats, including some who signed onto S. 178 when it was introduced. They are now planning to oppose the bill when it is debated this week, unless that language comes out.
So the Senate has turned soap operatic, and a sharp contest of values is playing out there.
What do you think? Unlike a soap opera, this is real life, and there are real values in tension. How do you reconcile them? Is it more important to you that federal efforts to suppress trafficking become law or that federal funds be available for abortion? That’s a tough call for some people.
You can express your views on the bill by voting, commenting, and editing the wiki article about the bill. Here is the current vote, reflecting what other WashingtonWatch.com visitors think:
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 9, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
The 114th Congress has been in business for just two months, but already over 2,000 bills have been introduced. That’s two thousand proposals to get the federal government into something, out of something, or to change the federal government’s involvement in something.
That’s a lot to handle—too much for most people—and many of these bills rightly don’t garner anyone’s interest because they’re not going to move. But there seems to be someone out there who has a plan for exercising a little more control over the direction of U.S. public policy than most. This hard-working overseer of Congress appears to be registering an opinion on every single bill in Congress by voting on its WashingtonWatch.com page. Every single one.
Our advocate is doing an interesting thing that may give him or her outsized influence. You see, most people don’t have any opinion about most of the bills in Congress. Coming across bills covering topics they have never considered before, people will look for cues to tell them what to think. And when the vote is going in favor of or against a bill, they might be inclined to lean in that direction themselves.
Our prolific voter is quietly putting his or her lean into the minds of others. It’s a subtle, efficient way of making a small dent on U.S. public policy. It’s free, and it just might be educational and interesting to see all the different things Congress deals with.
Now, if others get this idea, the power of our one obsessive voter might be dissipated, and for this we’re sorry, but if others adopt the practice, we might just form up a cadre of WashingtonWatch.com advocates.
Where they agree, they’ll influence new visitors even more strongly to support or oppose the bills on which they agree. When they disagree, the votes will cancel out, and it might take comments or wiki edits to make the stronger edits for or against bills.
So this is an invitation to others in the WashingtonWatch.com community to become slightly obsessive in their oversight of Congress, the way our one incredibly diligent advocate is. Something as simple as voting on bill pages sends a quick message to others across the country about where the right opinion is.
WashingtonWatch.com includes a list of bills in order of introduction. Starting at the bottom of this list would be good way to work through all of the bills in Congress and registering your votes. That can make you one of WashingtonWatch.com’ most powerful advocates.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 2, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Republicans’ strong objections to the president’s recent immigration actions will come back in a week, though, so let’s get you updated on the goings-on so far.
Just after the election last November, President Obama announced a number of immigration policies that were strongly criticized by Republicans in Congress. The policies would allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Fiscal year 2015 spending was under consideration at the time, and instead of including full-year DHS spending in the “CRomnibus” spending bill for 2015, Congress included short-term DHS spending in the bill.
That short term came to an end on Friday, but Congress and the president had not quite agreed on what to do.
H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015, was the main bill under discussion. It passed the House—denying funds to implement the president’s policies—back in January. The Senate took up the bill last week, but couldn’t agree to the House’s version.
Instead, the Senate passed a version of the bill that fully funds the immigration policies, and it tried to move a bill that would revise the immigration policy so as not to affect “dreamers,” children brought to the U.S. illegally who are now socially and economically integrated into the United States. (We’ll come back to that bill.)
Meanwhile, the House took up H.J. Res. 35, which would have funded DHS until March 19th. That bill didn’t pass.
So Congress went to a fallback. The Senate took up H.R. 33, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which passed the House earlier in the year, and popped in language to fund the DHS until next Friday.
A few hours before midnight on Friday, the House passed that bill, and the debate was over—for the weekend, at least. Congress will be back to this debate promptly
Now, coming back to the Senate bill that would revise the immigration policies a little bit. That’s S. 534, the Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015. S. 534 got a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office last week. Interesting stuff!
Once again denying parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to request deferred action and employment authorization would save about $250 per family, while increasing each family’s share of the national debt by about $51.91. Be careful to understand what those numbers mean! (Check “Read an Analysis of the Bill” in the “Learn More” box.)
S. 534 would reduce tax collections by about $19 billion over 10 years. Most of that would be Social Security taxes not being paid by legalized workers, so it’s probably not a saving to your family (unless, of course, you’re an illegal immigrant). The bill would reduce spending by about $12.5 billion per year. That’s a smaller drop in spending than the drop in revenues, so the national debt rises.
If you’re clear on all that, you’re ready for the coming week’s debate on how to fund the Department of Homeland Security! Comment here or on any of the bills, and pat yourself on the back for following along, even if you didn’t spend your Friday night on it.