This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of November 30, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of November 30, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Congress will debate a couple of bills this week to disapprove of regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. What’s the deal with these bills? We’ll tell you.
About twenty years ago, the new Republican 104th Congress passed a law called the Congressional Review Act, which was aimed at bringing the large federal regulatory bureaucracy under control. Under the CRA, Congress gets to review “major” rules issued by federal agencies before they take effect. Congress may also disapprove them, which means that they have no force or effect, and they cannot be re-issued in substantially the same form. It’s a way for Congress to take back some of the authority it has handed over to the executive branch in decades of legislating.
Since 1996, forty-three resolutions have been introduced in the House or Senate and two have passed one house or the other. On just one occasion, Congress has successfully disapproved a regulation. That was a Department of Labor rule on ergonomics. The resolution disapproving it was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
That’s the key thing to know about congressional resolutions of disapproval. They effectively amend the law because they reverse the judgments agencies make under existing law. That means they need to be signed by the president.
Successful resolutions are rare because presidents will almost always veto them. The regulations, after all, are issued by agencies under the president’s control. The one resolution that passed dealt with a regulation issued at the end of the Clinton Administration, and the resolution came through during the new Bush Administration. President Bush was happy to sign it.
Resolutions of disapproval do get expedited procedures, though, and that makes it easier to get them through the Senate. The two resolutions being considered in the House this week have already passed the Senate thanks to those expedited procedures. They deal with electricity generation and what Republicans call the “war on coal.”
S.J. Res. 23 disapproves the EPA’s rule relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.”
S.J. Res 24 disapproves the EPA’s rule relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.”
If you’re an environmental voter, you probably disapprove of these disapprovals. If you want cheap energy more than a clean environment, you might want to see these disapprovals approved. Make your choice!
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of November 23, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Should paddling be allowed on rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park? Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) says “Yes!”
The bill is H.R. 974, the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act. It would require the Department of the Interior to promulgate regulations that allow the use of hand-propelled vessels on rivers and streams in parts of these parks where it is currently not allowed.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition doesn’t think too highly of the bill. “[L]egislating new uses into national parks and tying the hands of local managers is not a sound way to steward Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s world famous lands, waters and wildlife,” they say.
According to WyoFile, boaters have lobbied to open these waters to paddling, saying that the regulations preventing it, which were established in 1950, sought to limit anglers, not kayaking, canoeing or packrafting. Paddling seems like it would be minimally damaging to the environmental values that these iconic parks stand for.
But maybe the management of the National Park Service is superior to Congress’s. Park Service experts may be the best expert managers a natural area could have, or they may go too far in keeping Americans from enjoying these areas. Congress created the Park Service, so it can decide what the Service can and can’t do.
What’s your opinion? To paddle or not to paddle?
Here’s the current vote on H.R. 974, the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act. 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 November 16, 2016. Subscribe (free!) here.
The striking terrorist attack in Paris—and others very recently in Beirut and Baghdad—have everyone’s mind on terrorism. This coming week, there will undoubtedly be much discussion and legislation introduced in Congress aimed at dealing with the scourge of international terrorism, especially from Daesh. (And you should be calling them Daesh, too.)
But what of our own experience of terrorism in the United States? It is not to detract from the recent attacks in Paris and other victim cities that we look with practical green eye-shades this week at the potential follow-on costs of terrorism.
A piece of legislation on the move in Congress before last week’s news broke was S. 928, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.
James Zadroga was an NYPD officer who died of a respiratory disease that was attributed to his participation in rescue and recovery operations in the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York following the 9/11 attacks.
The bill would would:
– permanently extend spending authority for the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF);
– appropriate such sums as are necessary for the VCF program;
– allow claims for compensation under the VCF to be filed indefinitely; and
– exempt the WTC Health Program and the VCF from sequestration.
The Congressional Budget Office makes clear that it’s estimate is based on many uncertainties, but passage of the bill would cost something like $75 per U.S. family. Some 500,000 people were at or near one of the September 11th attack sites. CBO estimates that about 35,000 people in that group will receive a cancer diagnosis over the 2016-2025 period of its cost estimate. The largest source of uncertainly is predicting how many of them will apply for and prove their eligibility for awards under the VCF. CBO estimates that between 2,500 and 10,000 of them will. As the years go on, the spending may go on, too.
Is it worth $75 of your family’s money to provide relief to these victims of the 9/11 attack and clean-up? If so, the bill should have your support. Express it by voting on the bill, commenting on the bill’s page, and communicating with your friends, your member of Congress, and your senators.
Here’s the current vote on S. 928, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of November 9, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
And last week the national debt saw a record one-day increase of over $339 billion.
That’s not because a lot of money flowed out of the government all at once. The Treasury Department has been using resourceful bookkeeping to keep the debt number down. It stopped doing so with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, and the jump reflects a move to a more accurate debt number.
The debt is now just over $18.6 trillion. That’s about $180,000 per U.S. family or $58,000 per person, twice the number in the picture at the right. (Last week, the debt was $176,400 per family and $56,400 per person.)
Then there’s the question of what the debt should be. Debt hawks would say “ZERO.” The existence of any national debt at all reflects irresponsibility on the part of Congress and the federal government.
Others argue that debt is normal for any organization, including governments. The question is whether the debts were incurred for things that produce more revenue than the debt costs to maintain. A hundred eighty thousand dollars is not unreasonable debt for an increasingly productive family, and $58,000 is not unreasonable for a productive person.
But has government been spending on things that make the country more productive, like infrastructure and stimulus that primes the economic pump? Or has the government been spending on destructive war and indolence-promoting welfare?
These are deep-running questions that go to our national values. Reasonable people hold views on both sides of this question.
And it doesn’t do much good to argue about it. Rather, people of all views should track what the spending goes to and whether they think it’s a good use of their taxpayer dollars.
WashingtonWatch.com offers some aide in this effort, and we working to improve our capabilities. When bills have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, we add that into our database and present a “net present value” calculation reflecting the cost or savings per family, person, and so on. (“Net present value” is the amount you’d have to put in the bank today to fund future spending. It’s a way of presenting lots of different spending numbers as a single amount.)
The CBO doesn’t always produce honest numbers. Sometimes Congress requires it to use “baseline budgeting,” which assumes rising spending amounts so that their reports only reflect changes from that. We working on exposing that type of white lie for you.
You should follow along, decide whether spending meets up with your personal values, and act accordingly. That means voting “yes” or “no” on the bills, commenting to say why you voted as you did, and sharing this information with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. (Try not to annoy your co-workers, of course.)
Politics is social. Talk about the facts you learn on WashingtonWatch.com, Tweet about them, and post on Facebook. This will be more persuasive (if less provocative) than your big-government, small-government opinions and who you love and who you hate in the Republican and Democractic presidential debate. Be persuasive with your knowledge of neutrally-stated facts.
The national debt has gone up. It’s your debt as a taxpayer. Your attention to federal spending should go up and stay up, too.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of November 2, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
“This process stinks,” said Paul Ryan (R-WI) ahead of becoming the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, and truer words could not be said. What’s interesting, though, is that passage of H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, eases the burden on him. He won’t have to organize a chaotic House Republican caucus for a debate on increasing the limit on the national debt that Congress has placed in law. Outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-WI) organized a budget deal that breaks through spending caps known as “sequestration,” increases the debt limit, annnnnd lowers near-term spending.
Yes, for budget hawks, that’s a sort of silver lining in the budget bill passed last week, stinky though it is. According to the Congressional Budget Office estimate for the bill, it saves about $86 per U.S. family by lowering spending more than it raises taxes. It lowers each family’s share of the national debt by more than $500 dollars.
But it’s not all motherhood and apple pie. Increased spending comes right now, and the bulk of the spending cuts come in ten years. The bill increases the national debt in the near term and lowers it later. We’ve seen this before. Congress doesn’t hold itself to spending cuts.
To illustrate, the New York Times published a fascinating, if slightly confusing, graphic this week showing how Congress has repeatedly broken through the “sequestration” spending caps.
— NYT Graphics (@nytgraphics) October 29, 2015
But here’s why we think the process stinks: all the stuff that the bill is doing, all at once, without any of the public deliberation that should surround congressional legislation. Here, from a section‐by‐section summary provided to the House Rules Committee, is some of all the stuff in the bill.
And the list goes on…
We do you no service by reporting week over week what’s wrong, but we’re hoping to be part of the solution when Congress becomes transparent enough, and the problems become acute enough, that a genuine change in the behavior of Congress comes thanks to the demands of the public.
For now, the process just stinks!