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WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 23, 2015

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 23, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: The 2016 Budget

The next major step in the fiscal 2016 budget process happened last week with the introduction of congressional budget resolutions on both sides of the Capitol. The House and the Senate budgets differ dramatically … in terms of what’s available to the public.

Read about it in a post entitled: “A House Budget and a Senate Transparency Failure.”

Featured Items

President Obama proposed his budget plan for fiscal 2016 on time in early February. It called for about $37,000 in spending per U.S. family.

Now a pair of budget proposals have been introduced in the House and Senate.

H. Con. Res. 27 is the House’s proposed budget. The House’s plan includes spending of a little over $28,000 per family.

The Senate budget proposal, S. Con. Res. 11, calls for about $35,750 in spending per U.S. family.

The House and Senate will debate and pass their budgets, then reconcile the different versions. The final budget plan, which is supposed to be done by April 15th, dictates the amounts that will be available to the appropriations subcommittees when they debate their spending bills this summer.

H. Con. Res. 27
Establishing the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2016 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2017 through 2025
Costs $28,333.41 per family

S. Con. Res. 11
An original concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2016 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2017 through 2025

What People Think

Click here to vote on H. Con. Res. 27. Click here to vote on H. Con. Res. 27.

H. Con. Res. 27
66% For, 34% Against

Vote on this Bill

Click here to vote on S. Con. Res. 11. Click here to vote on S. Con. Res. 11.

S. Con. Res. 11
33% For, 67% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H.R. 1162
The Science Prize Competitions Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 501
The New Mexico Navajo Water Settlement Technical Corrections Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 546
The RESPONSE Act of 2015
Costs $0.01 per family

H.R. 719
The TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 460
The Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 615
The Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 558
The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 579
The Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015
Costs $0.39 per family

H.R. 1021
The Protecting the Integrity of Medicare Act of 2015
Costs $0.27 per family

H.R. 757
The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015
Costs $0.09 per family

H.R. 639
The Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 230
A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation located in Bethel, Alaska
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 143
The United States Merchant Marine Academy Improvements Act of 2015
Costs $0.17 per family

H.R. 412
To reduce Federal spending and the deficit by terminating taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns
Costs $0.74 per family


Updated Items

H.R. 647
The Access to Life-Saving Trauma Care for All Americans Act
Costs $6.93 per family


Passed Items

P.L. 114-6
The Office of Compliance Administrative and Technical Corrections Act of 2015

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

A House Budget and a Senate Transparency Failure

budget_processAn 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.

(3 comments | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 16, 2015

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 16, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Drama

A bill up for debate in the Senate this week puts some important values in tension. That’s why this week we call it “The Soap Operatic Senate.”

Featured Item

This week, the Senate will debate S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.

In a variety of ways, the bill seeks to prevent human trafficking and assist victims of such activities. It also bars the use of federal funds for abortion.

Passage of S. 178 would cost about $0.02 per U.S. family.

S. 178
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
Costs $0.02 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. Click here to vote on The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
66% For, 34% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H.R. 876
The NOTICE Act
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 1156
The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2015
Costs $0.78 per family

H.R. 887
The Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015
Costs $0.15 per family

H.R. 1119
The Research and Development Efficiency Act
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 1030
The Secret Science Reform Act of 2015
Costs $7.00 per family

S. 304
The Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act
Costs $0.03 per family

H.R. 647
The Access to Life-Saving Trauma Care for All Americans Act
Costs $3.46 per family

H.R. 648
The Trauma Systems and Regionalization of Emergency Care Reauthorization Act
Costs $1.11 per family

S. 136
The Gold Star Fathers Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 284
The Medicare DMEPOS Competitive Bidding Improvement Act of 2015
Costs $0.01 per family

S. 166
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 178
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
Costs $0.02 per family

H.R. 471
The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

P.L. 114-4
The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015

P.L. 114-5
To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

The Soap Operatic Senate

Henry HydeSoap 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:

(3 comments | Categories: Crime » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 9, 2015

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 9, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Obsession and Influence

It’s not for everybody, but there’s a way you can make your mark on U.S. public policy.

Read about it in a post entitled: “WashingtonWatch.com’s Most Powerful Advocate.”

Featured Item

The House of Representatives isn’t meeting this week.

The Senate plans to debate S. 625, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

The bill would provide for congressional review and oversight of agreements relating to Iran’s nuclear program.

There is no cost estimate yet for the bill.

S. 625
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. Click here to vote on The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015
66% For, 34% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

S. 553
The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015
Costs $1.59 per family

H.R. 313
The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015
Costs $0.48 per family

S. 253
The Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 720
The Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act of 2015
Costs $0.02 per family

H.R. 400
The Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 527
A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or in the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 294
The Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act
Saves $2.28 per family

H.R. 1029
The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015
Costs $0.02 per family

S. 165
The Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 321
A bill to revoke the charter of incorporation of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma at the request of that tribe, and for other purposes
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 216
The Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015
Costs $0.03 per family

H.R. 280
To authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to recoup bonuses and awards paid to employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Saves $0.00 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

P.L. 114-3
The Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

WashingtonWatch.com’s Most Powerful Advocate

debateThe 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.

(1 comment | Categories: Miscellaneous » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 2, 2015

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 2, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: The DHS Spending Drama

If you didn’t spend Friday night watching C-SPAN, you might enjoy a primer on the state of the DHS spending debate.

We’ve got it in a post entitled: “So, WHAT Happened with DHS Funding?!

Featured Item

Congress will continue to debate how to fund the Department of Homeland Security this week, and whether and how to withdraw funds for President Obama’s recent immigration policy changes.

A bill to prohibit funding for some of the president’s policy changes is S. 534, the Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015. The Senate declined to pass it last week.

Passage of S. 534 would save about $250 per U.S. family and increase their share of the national debt by about $50.

S. 534
The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015
Saves $250.23 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015. Click here to vote on The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015.

The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015
66% For, 34% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

S. 534
The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015
Saves $250.23 per family

S. 209
The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 749
The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015
Costs $61.33 per family

H.R. 189
The Servicemember Foreclosure Protections Extension Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 734
The Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

none

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

So, WHAT Happened with DHS Funding?!

DHSIf you didn’t stay up late on Friday night following the unfolding drama around Department of Homeland Security spending, congratulations! You’re normal!

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.

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – February 23, 2015

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 23, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Immigration Strategy

Because of a dispute over immigration policy, funding for the Department of Homeland Security may soon run out. The latest wrinkle in the unfolding drama comes from a Texas court decision last week.

Read about it in a post entitled: “Immigration Dispute Strategy Up in the Air.”

Featured Item

Last fall, Congress declined to fund the Department of Homeland Security for a full year owing to a dispute with the president over immigration policy. It has until February 27 to fund the DHS, or the agency will shut down.

In mid-January, the House passed a DHS spending bill that de-funds the president’s policy. H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015, may be difficult to pass in the Senate, and if it did, it might be vetoed by the president.

There is no cost estimate available for H.R. 240 yet.

H.R. 240
The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015. Click here to vote on The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015.

The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015
46% For, 54% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H.R. 880
The American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015
Saves $1,431.25 per family

H.R. 622
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the deduction of State and local general sales taxes
Saves $337.83 per family

H.R. 529
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to improve 529 plans
Saves $0.39 per family

H.R. 5
The Student Success Act
Costs $782.33 per family

S. 337
The FOIA Improvement Act of 2015
Costs $0.18 per family

H.R. 212
The Drinking Water Protection Act
Costs $0.01 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

none

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

Immigration Dispute Strategy Up in the Air

ImmigrantsA Texas court added a fresh wrinkle to the immigration policy dispute between Congress and the president last week. It makes for some interesting strategy machinations that will play out this week.

Shortly after the election last November, President Obama announced a number of immigration policies that were strongly criticized by Republicans in Congress. The president’s new policies included expanding the population eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allowing parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to request deferred action and employment authorization for three years, and expanding the use of provisional waivers of unlawful presence to include the spouses and sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents and the sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. In brief, millions of illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay in the country.

Unconstitutional! was among the cries going up from President Obama’s critics in Congress. And, as they were working on the annual spending bills at the time, they threatened to withhold funds to implement the president’s plans. Instead of including full-year DHS spending in the “CRomnibus” spending bill for the current fiscal year, they passed short-term DHS spending, vowing to take up this immigration issue early in 2015.

Well, it’s early in 2015 now, the funding for the Department of Homeland Security is about to run out, and the fight is on! House Republicans have plans to send a DHS funding bill to the president that denies money to his immigration policies. The only challenge is that it might have trouble getting through the Senate, and President Obama might veto it.

But last Monday, a legal challenge in Texas entered the fray. The District Court in the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction staying implementation of President Obama’s orders.

We’ve read the 123-page document, so you don’t have to. It finds that the president’s new immigration policies are basically contrary to U.S. immigration law, and that the process for rolling them out did not follow the rules laid out in the Administrative Procedure Act. Based on the court’s finding that the federal government would probably lose when the case was fully considered, it issued the injunction so states wouldn’t have to start administering drivers’ licenses and such to millions of people the president’s plan would allow legal status in the United States.

What does that do for the plan to de-fund the president’s policies?

Well, all signs have been pointing to House Republicans overplaying their hand. The Senate is now Republican-controlled, but it requires 60 votes (meaning some Democrats have to agree) to move bills through that body. So the Congress was probably not even going to be able to send the president a bill. Once he got it, he was probably going to veto it, and the DHS would shut down.

When these things happen, the blame tends to fall on Congress. The Republicans are on a course to looking foolish and desperate—no matter how strong or sincere the legal and policy arguments they have. There is the chance that the DHS could shut down and nobody would notice, but the savvy White House would see to it that chaos at airports (TSA gone) and an “exposed” southern border got maximum play in the press.

So the Texas court gives Republicans an out. They can back away from the de-funding plan and point out that the president’s immigration program has been suspended. They can fund the DHS and avoid a political fight that they are likely to lose.

But that may not happen. H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015, is the bill that the House has passed. It awaits action in the Senate, but it’s a good bet the Senate won’t pass the version the House passed. House and Senate leaders will have to come up with something to pass by the end of the week that the president will sign.

Until they do, the immigration dispute strategy remains up in the air.

(3 comments | Categories: Immigration » )