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Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 12:30 AM
While most of America was asleep, the federal government suffered its second shutdown in less than a month, as one Republican Senator prevented action in Congress to avoid a budget lapse at midnight, forcing the House and Senate to work through the night to restore funding, ensuring that government offices would be open on Friday.
“This is the dumbest shutdown ever,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“It’s been an awful long night, and it didn’t need to be,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), as the House ended the shutdown just after 5:30 am, voting to approve a two-year budget deal.
The overnight session was forced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who single-handedly blocked action in the Senate before a midnight funding deadline, as he criticized fellow Republicans for backing a two-year budget deal which features almost $300 billion in spending increases in 2018 and 2019.
“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Paul asked on the Senate floor, as he predicted the deal would mean the return of $1 trillion yearly deficits.
“I don’t advocate for shutting the government down, but neither do I advocate for keeping it open, and borrowing a million dollars a minute,” Paul added.
Other Republicans agreed with Paul, refusing to back the largest spending addition since the Obama Stimulus in 2009.
“Our federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). “This spending spree makes it worse.”
But those arguments failed, as a majority of both parties voted 71-28 at 1:52 am to approve the two-year budget deal unveiled on Wednesday, which included full funding for the military, and temporary funding for the rest of the federal government through March 23.
“Like any compromise, neither side got exactly what it wanted,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Other Democrats registered their disappointment with the lack of provisions on DACA and illegal immigrant Dreamers.
“I voted against this legislation because Dreamers are not included in it,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). “An overwhelming majority of the public supports legislation to protect Dreamers.”
While the Senate will start a wide open debate on immigration next Monday, it’s not clear when the House will work on DACA and the Dreamers, as Democrats repeatedly voiced their frustration.
“We ought to have a debate on this,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “It really is frustrating, at this late hour, that we can’t even get a committment from the Speaker of the House.”
As for the details of the budget agreement approved early Friday, it would funnel $165 billion in new money over the next two years to the Pentagon, along with $131 billion in new spending for domestic programs.
There was also $89.3 billion for hurricane aid, to help deal with damage in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We got what we needed in hurricane disaster assistance, to help people rebuild their lives,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
When combined with the almost $300 billion in new spending for defense and non-defense accounts, the hurricane aid brought the package to almost $400 billion.
For a lot of Republicans, that was not the right formula.
“The spending bill Congress is considering breaks just about every promise House Republicans have made over the last 8 years,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who is leaving to run for Governor of Idaho.
“Do you oppose massive spending increases only when a Democrat is in the White House?” asked Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he echoed Rand Paul’s debate points in the Senate.
In debate on the House floor, most Democrats focused on the issue of DACA and the Dreamers, demanding a vote on legislation dealing with that immigration matter.
“All we want is a commitment,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), as Democrats continued to press House Speaker Paul Ryan for a concrete pledge on a DACA vote.
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 10:35 PM
With the support of a few dozen Democrats, Congressional Republicans notched a pair of legislative victories for President Donald Trump on Tuesday in the U.S. House, giving final approval to a plan to roll back certain regulations on smaller banking institutions, as well as voting out a bill to help terminally-ill Americans seek new medicines and treatments.
Known as the “Right to Try” legislation, that measure would open new avenues to experimental drugs for those people who have found no cure for a life threatening disease or medical condition.
“As President Trump said in his State of the Union Address this year, every terminally-ill patient should have the right to try innovative drugs that could save their lives,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA).
“Almost forty states have passed their own versions of this important legislation, and we look forward to addressing this
at the Federal level,” the White House said in a statement.
“Americans deserve the chance to fight for their lives,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), as he praised the plan which allows terminally-ill patients access to medicine that has been approved by federal regulators, but might not be available yet to the general public.
“Americans and their loved ones deserve the chance to fight for their lives,” Goodlatte added.
The “Right to Try” vote came just before the House approved another bill from the Senate, which eases some financial regulations enacted under the Dodd-Frank law, as 33 Democrats joined with Republicans to ease restrictions on smaller banks.
For Republicans, it was part of a pre-Memorial Day flurry of legislative advances, as the House also approved a prison reform bill backed by the White House.
Before leaving town on Thursday, the House is expected to approve a major defense policy bill, and may take another shot at voting on a farm policy measure – that bill failed last week in an internal GOP dispute over how best to deal with immigration legislation.
Both the defense and farm plans would still need action in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday is expected to send the President another bill on veterans medical care; the Senate voted 91-4 on Tuesday to shut off debate on the measure.
“There is nothing less we need to ask of ourselves than to see to it they have the healthcare benefits we’ve promised veterans for so long,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), as the bill would make a number of new changes in medical care efforts for veterans, which have been plagued by internal troubles for years.
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 10:48 AM
Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 10:48 AM
WASHINGTON — More than 100 Tea Party leaders have sent an open letter to Rep. Jim Jordan urging him to immediately declare himself a candidate for speaker.
“You must take the lead,” read the letter, signed by Tea Party and ultra-conservative leaders including Ed Meese, who was attorney general for President Ronald Reagan, Jenny Beth Martin, the chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund and Eunie Smith, president of the Eagle Forum, among others.
They argued that Jordan has demonstrated “an unwavering commitment to our constitutional liberties and conservative principles of free market economics, budgetary discipline, traditional values and a strong national defense.
“You have worked to drain the Swamp, not fill it further,” they wrote, saying Jordan must “immediately” announce he is running for speaker, and that the present House Republican leadership – a group which includes House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy “has proven that it’s part of ‘the Swamp.’”
Ryan announced earlier this year that he would retire from Congress at the end of this year, creating the possibility of a speaker race should the Republicans keep the House majority in November. Ryan has endorsed McCarthy, a California Republican, but Jordan, an Urbana Republican, has acknowledged he is also considering a run. Because Ryan has not formally stepped down, such a race would have to occur after the November midterm elections.
But the group argued that regardless of Ryan’s timing for stepping down, the speaker’s race is already underway – “in back rooms, behind closed doors, and aimed at preserving the Swamp and making it bigger.”
Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 11:44 PM
With Republicans unable to muster the votes to repeal a major financial regulation law put in the place after the 2008 Wall Street Collapse, the House on Tuesday is expected to give final approval to a less sweeping plan already backed by the Senate, which would ease a series of financial rules and regulations on smaller banking institutions enacted under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.
“The cycle of lending and job creation has been stifled by onerous regulation,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who shepherded the bill through the Senate with bipartisan support, and then prevailed on House Republicans to simply accept the plan, instead of trying to make changes which might have doomed the bill’s chances.
“I’m happy to say we’re in the final stages of making these bills law,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), as a House panel moved to set up Tuesday’s debate on the banking regulation changes.
+ Banks with less than $250 billion in assets would no longer be subjected to federal “stress tests” – the current threshold
is $50 billion.
+ Eases regulatory requirements on banks with less than $10 billion in assets (mainly known as ‘community banks’)
+ Loosens minimum standards on certain home mortgage loans, with a goal of allowing more small banks and credit unions to make such loans.
+ The plan steps up protections for veterans on predatory loans.
+ Active duty service members would get additional protections from foreclosures.
+ Consumers would be eligible in some cases for unlimited credit security freezes to deal with credit fraud alerts.
As in the debate earlier this year in the Senate, more liberal Democrats in the House have sternly argued against the bill, making the case that it takes away too many protections enacted in the original 2010 Dodd-Frank law.
“Defeating this legislation is important to preventing Wall Street from crashing our economy again,” said Rep. Pramila Jaypal (D-WA).
“We must not allow the GOP Congress to drag us back to the same lack of oversight that ignited the Great Recession,” wrote House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to their colleagues.
Consumer watchdog groups like Public Citizen have labeled the bill, the “Bank Lobbyist Act,” arguing it would increase chances for ‘another taxpayer bailout of reckless financial institutions.’
But while the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has objected, other Democrats heard the pleas of small community and regional banks, one reason the Senate voted 67-31 to approve the bill earlier this year.
“It is no coincidence that the bill’s Democratic sponsors come not from major financial hubs, but rural areas where small banks provide a disproportionate share of loans,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).
While the bill falls well short of the repeal of Dodd-Frank which had been sought by many Republicans, it is still a plus for the GOP, giving President Trump one more item to sign into law, one more bullet point to rattle off for supporters on achievements during his time in office.
Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 4:59 PM
A day after President Donald Trump demanded an investigation into how the FBI dealt with investigations during the 2016 campaign, the White House accepted a plan from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to expand an ongoing review of the probe into Russian interference in the elections, and how it touched on the Trump Campaign.
“Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” read a statement issued by the White House.
“It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested,” the statement added, referring to an ongoing battle between Republicans in Congress and the feds for documents about the Russia probe.
The outcome of the meeting between Mr. Trump, the Deputy Attorney General, the FBI Director, and the Director of National Intelligence – which was not listed on the President’s public schedule – was less explosive than what President Trump had seemingly threatened on Sunday, when he said he would demand a full investigation into whether the feds had “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”
Mr. Trump and Congressional Republicans have been playing up the issue in recent days, arguing that initial FBI efforts to find out what Russia was doing with relation to the Trump Campaign, was actually an effort to undermine Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House.
But Democrats say what’s going on now is an effort by Mr. Trump and his allies in the Congress to undermine the current investigation, by allowing the President’s lawyers to see what evidence the Special Counsel’s office – and maybe U.S. Intelligence – had been able to gather during the 2016 campaign.
The Monday meeting at the White House came as Republicans stepped up demands for documents about the investigation, as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), asked the Justice Department for information on contacts between officials and former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who put together a controversial ‘dossier’ on the President, funded by Democratic sources.
In a letter to Rosenstein, Grassley zeroed in Monday on Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, and his contacts with Steele.
“Accordingly, please provide all records related to Mr. Ohr’s communications about these matters, including: (1) emails from Mr. Ohr’s personal and work accounts, (2) phone logs, (3) handwritten notes, and (4) text messages from personal and work accounts,” Grassley wrote in a letter.