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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 » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – February 17, 2015

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

On the Blog: Amending the Constitution

Multiple proposals to amend the constitution have been introduced in the new 114th Congress. They cover some traditional subjects like a balanced budget and term limits, but there are some new proposals, too.

Read about it in a post entitled: “Amending the Constitution,” and then make your opinions known on the many proposals’ pages.

Featured Item

The House and Senate are in recess this President’s Day week.

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.

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
50% For, 50% Against

Vote on this Bill


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

New Items

S. 295
The Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 286
The Department of the Interior Tribal Self-Governance Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 246
The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act
Costs $0.02 per family

S. 192
The Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015
Costs $51.85 per family

S. 184
The Native American Children’s Safety Act
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

P.L. 114-2
The Clay Hunt SAV Act
Costs $0.22 per family

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

Amending the Constitution

constitutionIt’s President’s Day week, and Congress is out of session.

The reminder of our history and founding fathers makes it a good time to look at the Constitution they created—and how it should be changed!

Here is a list of the many proposals to amend the Constitution that have already been introduced in the new 114th Congress.

Look them over, click on the interesting ones and read some more. (On each bill’s page, clicking “Read the bill” in the “Learn More” box will give you a look at the usually brief proposals.) See who has proposed what changes to our government’s founding document.

If you feel strongly enough, contact your representatives and senators to tell them what you want!

There are many proposals that are seen in every Congress, such as balanced budget amendments and term limits. But there are a few new and interesting issues, too. Take a look below.

Balanced Budget (and other budget control)

H.J. Res. 1

H.J. Res. 2

H.J. Res. 4

H.J. Res. 7

H.J. Res. 8

H.J. Res. 12

H.J. Res. 17

H.J. Res. 18

H.J. Res. 28

S.J. Res. 2

S.J. Res. 6

S.J. Res. 9

Term Limits

H.J. Res. 6

H.J. Res. 11

H.J. Res. 13

H.J. Res. 14

H.J. Res. 15

H.J. Res. 19

H.J. Res. 21

H.J. Res. 26

S.J. Res. 1

Campaign Finance

H.J. Res. 22

H.J. Res. 24

H.J. Res. 31

S.J. Res. 4

S.J. Res. 5

Treaties

H.J. Res. 5

Flag Burning

H.J. Res. 9

Repeal of the Income Tax Power

H.J. Res. 16

No Tax on Failure to Purchase Goods or Services (Obamacare)

H.J. Res. 20

Regulation of Corporations

H.J. Res. 23

S.J. Res. 7

Right to Vote

H.J. Res. 25

Constitutional Convention

H.J. Res. 34

(1 comment | Categories: Constitution » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – February 9, 2015

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

On the Blog: 2016 Spending

The annual spending process got underway last week. It’s time for you to get involved.

Read about it in a post entitled: “We Begin Again.”

Featured Item

This week, the House will debate H.R. 636, the America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015.

The bill would amend a section of the tax code that mostly affects small and medium-sized businesses to increase the amount of investment they can immediately deduct from taxable income. It would also index that amount for inflation.

Passage of H.R. 636 would save over $660 per U.S. family by reducing taxes and increase each family’s share of the national debt by the same amount.

H.R. 636
The America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015
Saves $664.68 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The America's Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015. Click here to vote on The America's Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015.

The America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015
50% For, 50% Against

Vote on this Bill


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

New Items

H.R. 629
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the reduced recognition period for built-in gains of S corporations

H.R. 630
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent certain rules regarding basis adjustments to stock of S corporations making charitable contributions of property
Saves $5.15 per family

H.R. 636
The America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015
Saves $664.68 per family

H.R. 637
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the rule allowing certain tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts for charitable purposes
Saves $71.30 per family

H.R. 640
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the tax rate for excise tax on investment income of private foundations
Saves $15.81 per family

H.R. 641
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the special rule for contributions of qualified conservation contributions
Saves $9.71 per family

H.R. 644
The Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2015
Saves $18.12 per family

H.R. 527
The Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2015
Costs $0.48 per family

H.R. 50
The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act of 2015
Costs $0.29 per family


Updated Items

H.R. 22
The Hire More Heroes Act of 2015
Saves $6.87 per family


Passed Items

none

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

We Begin Again

budget_processLast Monday, an annual process began that is the least covered in the mainstream media of any national political story, at least relative to its importance to taxpayers. That’s the introduction of the president’s budget proposal. The first Monday in February is the deadline for submitting a budget to Congress. The president met it this time.

Yes, there was news reporting here and there. Most of it, though, was about policy details. You’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere but here on WashingtonWatch.com that the budget proposes spending of about $37,000 per U.S. family in the United States. That’s enough for every family to buy itself a new car.

That money will go to priorities set in Washington, D.C. Some of those priorities are the right ones—essential, even—and some are probably wrong from your perspective. The job is to figure out which are what, and to act on that.

You’re not too late to do something about budgeting and spending. The process has just gotten underway.

The next step is for each house of Congress to debate their own budget resolutions, combining them into a final congressional budget resolution. The deadline for that to happen is April 15th.

In recent years, Congress has often not completed a budget resolution. Perhaps that’s explained by division of the House and Senate between parties. Perhaps it’s explained by neglect. Neither is a good reason, and the first one has gone away, as the House and Senate are both in Republican control. It’s fair to expect the leaders of the same party to agree on a budget for the federal government.

So why not start your involvement in the budgeting and spending debate this year by letting your representatives in Congress know that you’re watching? This is as good a time as ever to contact your representative in the House and your two senators and tell them that you expect there to be a final congressional budget resolution by the April 15 deadline.

You can let them know your general spending preferences, too, of course. More spending overall? Less? More money to the military? More to needy families? Now is the time to talk about it.

This initial communication shouldn’t be the last they hear from you. Once a budget resolution is finalized, Congress allocates gross amounts to the appropriations subcommittees for the spending that each of them covers: Homeland Security, Labor/Health and Human Services, etc. Those subcommittees will then debate and pass individual bills that allocate spending. That’s another good time to oversee their work. Their bills are long, but it is possible to read them and discern where the money is going.

You’ll want to call or write again then to say “yay” or “nay” on various spending items. See what your representative does in response. Will you get a form letter? Or will your representatives introduce or vote on an amendment that does what you want.

Frankly, they’re unused to hearing from Americans who know what they’re talking about, so they won’t be ready for you. So be patient but insistent.

Are you ready? The budget process for the 2016 fiscal year is getting underway, and you can be a part of it.

(1 comment | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – February 2, 2015

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

On the Blog: 1,000 Bills

There have been 1,000 bills introduced in the new 114th Congress. That’s a lot.

Read about what you might do about them in a post entitled: “One Month, Over a Thousand Bills.”

Featured Item

This week, the House will debate H.R. 596, which would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (i.e. Obamacare).

There is no cost/savings estimate for H.R. 596 yet.

H.R. 596
To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, and for other purposes

What People Think

Click here to vote on H.R. 596. Click here to vote on H.R. 596.

H.R. 596
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. 227
The Strengthening Education through Research Act
Costs $17.33 per family

H.R. 350
The Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 181
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
Costs $0.16 per family

H.R. 203
The Clay Hunt SAV Act
Costs $0.22 per family

H.R. 285
The SAVE Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 399
The Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015
Costs $36.30 per family

H.R. 159
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

none

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

One Month, Over a Thousand Bills

billsIn month of January, there were over 1,000 bills introduced in the new 114th Congress. That’s a lot.

The current count is 950 standard bills (H.R. or S.), 126 resolutions (H. Res. or S. Res.), 31 joint resolutions (H.J. Res. or S.J. Res.), and 14 concurrent resolutions (H. Con. Res. or S. Con. Res.). You can see them all here on WashingtonWatch.com.

The pace at which new bills are introduced is going to slow down. Many of the bills that we’ve seen are identical to bills in the 113th Congress, which died when it adjourned once and for all. Those get introduced quickly, and they might just get introduced again at the beginning of the 115th Congress two years from now.

But let’s say you want to keep watch of this Congress. How do you do it?

There are at least two ways to get on this problem.

First, take a look at the bills your own member of Congress has introduced. Start at the representatives page and look them up, alphabetically or by state. Once you’ve found your member of Congress and senators, take a look at their bills. Like what you see? Vote yes. Explain why you did in the comments.

Next, you should tell your member of Congress what you think. Tell your friends, too. They can’t do anything to help you if they don’t know what you think.

Another way is to take a look at the bills that have cost estimates. When the Congressional Budget Office has given a bill a review, that’s a sign that it might be going places.

The most expensive bill so far in the current Congress (it’s early) is H.R. 399, the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015. It would authorize spending of about $1 billion for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2025 for the Department of Homeland Security to carry out a wide range of border security activities. The cost per average family of this bill passing would be about $36 per U.S. family.

Worth it? Not worth it? It’s your call. How much of your family’s money do you want spent on border security?

Register your vote on the bill. Comment and say your piece. Then let people know—your representatives, your neighbors. Maybe write a letter to the local paper.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 399. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

And keep watching on WashingtonWatch.com!