Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Obama Vetoes Israel Embassy Bill as 114th Congress Draws to Close

After a productive final session of the U.S. House of Representatives, President Obama vetoed HR 21, which would have relocated the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The bill had passed on a vote of 18-12.

The veto came shortly after the bill's author, Rep. Robert Dold (R - Illinois), called Obama an "imperial president" to his face. A White House source denied that the insult was the cause of the veto, noting that the President had already threatened to veto the bill.

Since the Congress has already adjourned for the year, there will not be a chance for Congress to override the President's veto. Most members have already returned to their districts to campaign for reelection.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Good Day for Deficit Spending

Speaker Jeb Hensarling
The U.S. House today narrowly failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have placed tight caps on federal spending. The bill, authored by Speaker Jeb Hensarling (R - Texas), would have limited federal spending in any given year to 20 percent of total domestic economic output.

Federal spending has averaged just under 20 percent of GDP over the past 50 years, although it has occasionally gone well beyond it, particularly during recessions when economic output shrinks and short term welfare spending increases. Spending was more than 24 percent of GDP in 2009.

Hensarling chided the Congress for irresponsible spending behavior in the past. "We cannot seem to stop ourselves from robbing the American people blind,” he argued. “We cannot keep borrowing forever, and we know this.” He described a constitutional amendment as the only real way to keep the government from spending beyond its means.
Rep. Louise Slaughter
Rep. Hakim Jeffries (D - New York) warned that the consequences of such sharp limits in spending could be disastrous for people who depend upon public assistance. “We will see people go hungry," he warned. "We will see people go without the medical services they desperately need.” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D - New York) suggested that if Congress really wanted to get the deficit under control, “We should reform the tax code and close tax loopholes.” 

As a constitutional amendment, the bill required the support of two-thirds of members of the House, or 17 of the 25 members present at the time. In the end, it fell one vote short. All Republicans voted for the bill, along with Democratic Reps. Jared Polis (Colorado) and Patrick Maloney (New York).

Shortly thereafter, however, the House passed the American Tax Fairness Act of 2016, a dramatic simplification of the U.S. income tax code that would sharply reduce many Americans' tax rates. Majority Leader Trey Gowdy (R - South Carolina) argued that Americans are simply paying too much in income taxes, and that reduced rates would help to stimulate the economy.

Minority Whip Mike Honda (D - California) countered that the bill was basically a huge tax decrease skewed toward the wealthiest Americans. Rep. Diana DeGette (D - Colorado) warned that the tax code simplification would remove some very useful tax incentives, such as those geared toward energy savings.

The bill passed on a voice vote. President Obama was expected to follow through with his veto threat on the bill.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No FUN for Congress; foreign aid will continue

Rep. Louie Gohmert
The U.S. House of Representatives today voted down a bill that would have prohibited U.S. foreign aid to nations that have voted against the U.S. in the United Nations. The bill, authored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R - Texas), was entitled the "Friends of the United Nations (FUN) Act," and lost on a vote of 12-14. Nearly all Republicans voted for it except for three, with Rep. Peter King (R - New York) abstaining. All Democrats opposed it.

Gohmert offered strong support for the bill, saying there was no reason to reward nations that actively oppose American positions. Several Democrats, including Reps. Hakim Jeffries and Louise Slaughter of New York, raised concerns about the provocative and un-fun nature of the bill. Jeffries likened the bill to absolutist North Korean policies. Rep. Joe Barton (R - Texas) countered, "The Democrats are ready to pay people off to start democracy."

An amendment by Rep. King to require recipient states to recognize Israel was defeated after a brief discussion. President Obama had already vowed to veto the bill should it pass.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Houses Passes Bipartisan $3.5 Trillion Budget

The House of Representatives yesterday passed a sweeping budget resolution for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The budget calls for $3.54 trillion in spending during the next fiscal year, with $2.99 trillion coming in as revenue, resulting in a deficit of $552 billion.

Both Republicans and Democrats from the Money Committee, which drafted the budget, emphasized the bipartisan nature of the agreement.

Rep. Joe Barton: Wind turbines
are destroying the Earth.
Many members, however, used the session as an opportunity to complain about various aspects of the budget bill, even thought most would eventually vote for it. Majority Leader Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) called the half-trillion dollar deficit unacceptable, saying, "We need to rein in spending." Rep. Louie Gohmert (R - Texas) complained about the amount of money going to aid other nations, and Rep Paul Ryan (R - Wisconsin) described the public education system as a "black hole."

Democrats, for their part, expressed concern about insufficient funding for public education, among other areas. Rep. Mike Honda (D - California) credited education and other non-defense spending for helping the United States win the Cold War, and Rep. Hakim Jeffries (D - New York) explained that sometimes "You need money to make money." Rep. Jared Polis (D - Colorado) expressed strong support for funds for Native American communities, but was quickly rebuffed by Budget Chair Peter King (R - New York), who suggested that Polis, from Boulder, was out of touch with average Americans.
Rep. Patrick Maloney: Deeply concerned
with conservative nocturnal emissions.

Tensions were elevated at times, such as when Rep. Joe Barton (R - Texas) passionately warned that
wind turbines were disrupting Earth's natural cooling mechanisms and could slow the Earth's rotation. Rep. Patrick Maloney (D - New York) drew Republicans' ire when he described their ideal fiscal scenarios as "Republicans' wet dreams." Rep. John Lewis (D - Georgia) chided both sides for irresponsible language and urged passage for the overall budget.

The budget resolution passed 22-7, with majorities of both parties voting for it. President Obama signed the budget quickly after its passage.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

House Votes to Cut Own Pay

Rep. Kevin Yoder
In a rare show of bipartisanship, the House today approved a measure to cut its own pay by 10%. The measure, authored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas), also eliminates cost-of-living adjustments for congressional pay as well as tax deductions for members' living expenses.

"Congress has the worst approval rating of anything, ever, in history," Yoder argued. "If we don’t do our job, we should not get paid.” Several speakers of both parties chimed in to agree.

The bill met with opposition from Rep. Peter King (R-New York), who argued that higher pay is needed to attract high quality congressional candidates. He additionally complained about the tight and very expensive housing market in the Washington, DC area.

After Rep. Mike Honda (D-California) amended the bill to devote the savings to the federal education budget, the chamber passed the bill on a voice vote.

President Obama was expected to sign the bill. Vice President Biden was rumored to be upset by it, since, as the Senate's presiding officer, his salary would be cut as well, but this was not expected to influence the President's position.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Republicans Have Tough Day on House Floor

Trey Gowdy
House Republicans suffered a string of defeats on the House floor this morning, owing to several illnesses and a few key defections.

The House narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned the transfer of terror suspects from the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to domestic federal prisons. Despite Majority Leader Trey Gowdy's (R-SC) warnings that transferring prisoners to American prisons would make those areas more subject to attack, and Rep. Kevin Yoder's (R-KS) claims that the American people supported the bill, several members defected from the Republican position. The bill failed 14-16.

Two Republicans also abstained on a bill that would have empowered local law enforcement to police and deport undocumented immigrants. Those abstentions ended up dooming the bill, which failed on a 12-12-2 vote.

The only controversial piece of legislation to pass was H.R. 34, which will create a public financing system for congressional elections. Seven Republicans joined all 12 Democrats in supporting the bill. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation shortly.

In his afternoon radio broadcast, conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh expressed concern about Republican absences from the House floor and offered to send vitamin supplements to the next Republican caucus meeting.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Congress Abolishes Penny in First Floor Session

Elijah Cummings
The U.S. House of Representatives today voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to abolish the one-cent penny from American currency. The bill, authored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), will start phasing out the penny in the next ninety days.

Floor debate over the bill was contentious and divided the majority Republican Party for much of the session. A provision in the bill to replace Thomas Jefferson's image on the five-cent nickel with President Ronald Reagan's proved controversial. Some members supported memorializing the 40th president, while a bipartisan group opposed it in the name of fiscal austerity. An amendment by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) removed the Reagan provision from the bill.

President Obama quickly signed the bill upon receiving it from the House, saying it was a long overdue update to the currency system.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

House selects 2016 leadership team

Speaker Jeb Hensarling
U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) was chosen to be the Speaker of the 2016 House of Representatives today. He was selected in a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Caucus.

Other majority party chamber leaders selected today include Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) for Majority Leader and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) for Majority Whip. Democrats chose Rep. Hakim Jeffries of New York to be Minority Leader, Rep. Mike Honda of California to be Minority Whip, and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland to be Deputy Minority Whip.

From the White House, President Obama issued a statement congratulating Speaker Hensarling and the rest of the House leadership. "I look forward to working with majority and minority leaders this session on a productive agenda to improve this nation for all its citizens," the President wrote.

Prospects for the session are difficult to ascertain at this point. Notably, the Republican majority has chosen a very conservative group of leaders from Southern states, while the Democratic leadership is somewhat more moderate. This may make relationships with the White House somewhat strained.