This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of August 31, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of August 31, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Congress doesn’t return from its summer break for another week, and when it does it will have a very brief time to finish appropriating for fiscal year 2016, which begins October 1st.
But let’s take a look at a bill recently getting a cost score from the Congressional Budget Office. As regular WashingtonWatchers know, bills get CBO scores because they are likely to be considered in the full House and Senate, and they might become law.
H.R. 475 is the GI Bill Processing Improvement Act of 2015. The bill’s title modestly says it would “make certain improvements in the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs relating to educational assistance.” But the cost of these improvements adds up to about $30 for every family in the United States. What are they?
The bulk of the spending—about $3.3 billion over the 2016-2020 period—would relate to requirements that the VA improve the security of its network infrastructure, computers and servers, operating systems, web applications, and medical-records system.
The bill would also require VA to report to Congress on its compliance and implementation of new security practices. About $1.25 billion of that spending would be for phasing out information technology systems that are “unsupported or outdated.”
The bill would spend about $30 million to maximize the use of automation and algorithms in systems used to process claims for educational assistance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The bill would require VA to allow institutions of higher learning to obtain information on the amount of educational assistance to which a veteran is entitled via a secure IT system. The cost of that would be about $30 million.
There are some tweaks to the education benefits offered by the VA. They would increase spending by $27 million in 2016 and $191 million over the 2016-2025 period. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the spending to fix VA’s IT systems.
In summary, the bill offers an interesting decision for Congress—and for you. If you’re a supporter of VA benefits, then you want the IT systems fixed (and you’ll hope the spending actually produces those results). If you don’t want the government to grow, you might not want this bill to pass, but then the VA won’t have updated technical systems. So, what’ll it be, America?
Below is the current vote on H.R. 475. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of August 24, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Among the many fun things our representatives do is creating national parks, monuments, and such to commemorate events in our history, to preserve the country’s natural beauty—oh, and also to win credit back home.
Members of the House and Senate are home for the summer, but last week the Congressional Budget Office issued cost estimates for a number of small bills aimed at adding to the nation’s store of significant places. They come at a minor cost, but those costs can add up. So let’s take a look at some spots that might become national parks.
According to Wikipedia, President Street Station is a former train station built in 1850. It was an important rail transportation link during the Civil War. Today, it is the oldest surviving big-city railroad terminal in the United States and is home to the Baltimore Civil War Museum.
The study authorized by S. 521 would cost about $200,000, which is less than a penny per family in the United States. After it’s done, presumably, President Street Station may be turned into a unit of the national park system.
Here’s what people think about S. 521. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.
The bill would authorize a similar study of the home in Columbia, Tennessee, built by the father of the 11th president of the United States and occupied by him and his wife, Sarah Polk.
The study set up by S. 1483 would also cost about $200,000, or less than a penny per U.S. family.
Here’s the current vote on that bill.
The same kind of study would be authorized for a place in West Baltimore, Maryland, by S. 610, the Thurgood Marshall’s Elementary School Study Act. The Associate Director, Park Planning, Facilities and Lands, at the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior testified about S. 610 as follows:
P.S. 103 was originally built in 1877 for West Baltimore’s white immigrant population but, in 1911, it became a segregated African-American school serving the Upton community of West Baltimore. The school is significant for its role in the education of Thurgood Marshall, who is best known as the lead counsel for the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Marshall’s life and his life’s work began in Baltimore: it is the city where he was born in 1908, where he began his public education, and where he won his first civil rights cases as a young attorney. Thurgood Marshall attended P.S. 103 from 1st through 8th grade (1914 to 1921).
Marshall’s accomplishments in systematically dismantling the legal framework for Jim Crow segregation are the foundation upon which the success of the Civil Rights Movement was built. P.S. 103 is owned by the City of Baltimore and is included in the Baltimore National Heritage Area.
Like the others, this study would cost about $200,000, which rounds to $0.00 per U.S. family.
Here’s the current vote on S. 610. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
In March, we told you about the WashingtonWatch.com user who is having an outsized influence by voting on every single bill that appears on our site. That communicates to other visitors that someone among their peers favors or disfavors a bill, suggesting they should share that view. Ultimately, it’s a way to have influence on Washington, D.C.
There are other small but important ways to influence Washington. One of them is practiced by Twitter user @ReneeNal. Renee, you see, follows @WashingtonWatch and regularly retweets our new bill tweets with just a little bit of her own commentary.
That tells her 6,800+ followers that an interesting bill is out there, that they should have an opinion, and that they should consider informing their followers about it. We typically retweet comments, expanding Renee’s influence to our small but growing audience.
— Renee Nal (@ReneeNal) August 14, 2015
Starting with this Congress we’ve been tweeting a brief summary and link for just about every bill that gets introduced.
That’s plenty of material, by the way. We’ve got hourly tweets queued up well into September, each for a different bill introduced before Congress went on its August recess. (Too many bills? Perhaps…)
Job "creation" by taking money from the taxpayers (i.e., the productive) and giving it to cherry-picked recipients. https://t.co/XgTe8kS0Ze
— Renee Nal (@ReneeNal) August 11, 2015
Now, you don’t have to agree with Renee, and our job is not to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. We’ll retweet sharp comments (or not-so-sharp!) from any perspective. The point is to communicate to people about public policy.
Politics and policy are social processes, and they are better with your participation than without, even if you do just a little bit. So, Twitter users, follow @washingtonWatch and start retweeting bills from time to time with your comments. If you’re not a Twitter user, become one, follow @WashingtonWatch, and make your contribution to the conversation. It’s a way of growing your role in U.S. public policy and getting control of what happens in Washington, D.C.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of August 10, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
That Donald Trump is sure a piece of work. The thing with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly? Wow. The Republican party leadership doesn’t want him there, but how do they get rid of him without inducing a third-party run? That would sap Republican votes.
It’s a good time to be a Democrat. (Shhhh. Don’t interrupt while Trump is messing things up for the other team!) But do we really want a Hillary coronation? #FeelTheBern! Has the Democratic party scheduled enough debates to give other candidates a chance?
If these topics are where you’re focused, you’ve been had. You’ve let politics distract you from the business of government.
While you’re watching the political drama around a presidential election that won’t happen for another fifteen months, you’re ignoring Congress’s mismanagement of the U.S. federal government right now. You’re treating politics as a spectator sport when you should be treating governance as a participatory sport.
You see, Congress is supposed to pass appropriations bills each summer, allocating spending for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. When they don’t do this, agencies can’t plan. They can’t move forward with projects. Your tax money gets wasted—no matter what you think of the projects the agencies would do.
With the House already on break, the Senate took off at the end of the week last week for its summer recess without a single FY 2016 appropriations bill having been passed. Not one.
Some in Congress recognize the need to act responsibly. In late July, the Senate Appropriations Committee put out a press release congratulating itself for passing all appropriations bills for the first time in six years. But the full Senate hasn’t acted on any of them. The House has passed a few bills, but Congress as a whole hasn’t completed work on anything.
What do you do about this? How do you get involved? Well, by this point in the FY 2016 appropriations cycle, it’s pretty much too late. When Congress returns in September, there will be just a few legislative days before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
But you can let your member of Congress and senators know that you are displeased. You can contact them and say that you expect appropriations to be done on time. If your representatives are Republicans, you can let them know that you will not vote for a Republican next November if appropriations were not finalized on time.
Nothing changes if you do nothing. Something might change if you do something. So contact your member of Congress, and encourage your friends and co-workers to do the same!
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of August 3, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Deceitful or not, convoluted legislative processes keep you, the public, from following along. That keeps you from having a say. It takes your power away.
So let’s see how Washington’s convoluted processes worked this past week!
The subject is transportation spending. It’s a bipartisan issue, so you don’t hear about it very much. Everyone in Washington, D.C., is agreed on transportation spending. Insiders have no interest in drawing the attention of you outsiders, because you might complain! (And maybe you agree with it—just sayin’…)
The last major transportation bill to pass was MAP-21 three years ago. It spent about $230 per U.S. family on surface transportation programs, but do NOT trust such estimates. Congress uses all kinds of budget gimmicks such as “rising baseline” budgeting to skew the numbers. They use a “Highway Trust Fund” to pretend Congress isn’t levying taxes and spending the money.
In August 2014, Congress passed a short extension of transportation spending programs through May 31, 2015. Cost: about $30 per family. (Don’t trust that number.)
When Congress couldn’t agree on a long-term bill by then, they passed another short-term extension with a July 31, 2015 deadline for getting transportation spending figured out. There was no official cost estimate for that bill. (Finally, a lack of number you can trust!)
A bill wasn’t finalized by the end of the week last week. The Senate took H.R. 22 (formerly a bill to exempt employees with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration from being taken into account for purposes of the Obamacare employer mandate) and turned it into the new transportation funding bill. At the same time, an amendment to re-establish the Export-Import Bank got put in. That was not popular with some who had just fought to end it. H.R. 22 passed the Senate, but it is not going to get passed by the House.
The House went ahead and passed another bill to exempt workers covered by military health care coverage from employee counts for the purposes of Obamacare. H.J. Res. 61, the Hire More Heroes Act of 2015, saves about $6.30 per U.S. family.
It also passed H.R. 3236, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015. That bill extended transportation spending until October 29, 2015, and it took service members and veterans with health care coverage out of employee counts for purposes of employer mandates in Obamacare. That bill has a combination of spending and revenues that cause it to cost about $39 per U.S. family, while decreasing their share of the national debt by about $36.
All make sense?
If so, then you probably have an opinion on H.R. 3236. Here’s the current vote on the bill. CLick to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about it.