Goobergunch Political Report

30 June 2011

Senate Actually Passes Bill

So I haven’t had many posts on Congressional action lately. Really, it’s just felt pointless to put the effort into anything the House passes, as it’s controlled by Republicans who aren’t inclined to vote for anything that Senate Democrats or President Obama are likely to support. There’s not really much incentive to research and write up bills that aren’t likely to ever become law. Meanwhile, the Senate is gripped by rules that prevent it from doing anything without bipartisan support. Which means Republicans have to admit that they don’t have a majority in the Senate and can’t expect votes on all of their proposals. Of course, under Senate rules, amendments don’t have to be germane to the bill that they’re proposed to, so we get this:

Democrats are upset Republicans killed the EDA funding bill earlier in the week by loading it with dozens of non-germane amendments and voting down a procedure that would have brought debate to a close.  A Small Business Administration funding bill saw similar demise earlier in the year.

The EDA funding bill referred to was sufficiently noncontroversial that it was reported out of committee by voice vote without any committee member feeling the need to file additional views. If a bill like that can’t go through the Senate, don’t hold your breath for anything that’s actually somewhat contentious.

So what did the Senate actually pass today?

Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 – Exempts certain presidential appointments to cabinet-level agencies, independent commissions, and boards in the executive branch from the requirement of Senate confirmation (advice and consent).

Establishes the Working Group on Streamlining Paperwork for Executive Nominations to: (1) study the streamlining of paperwork required for executive nominations, and (2) conduct a review of the impact of background investigation requirements on the appointments process.

Yeah, the one bill that the Senate actually managed to pass (79-20) is a bill to reduce the Senate’s workload. AWESOME. While this isn’t a bad thing considering how broken the Senate is, the country has some fairly major problems (say, the anemic rate of job creation) that are a bit more pressing.

But good news!

Mr. Reid (NV): Mr. President, it is often said that with liberty comes responsibility. We should take that responsibility seriously. I’m confident we do. That’s why the Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, the day after the 4th. We’ll do that because we have work to do. We’ll be in session that week—that’s next week, with—with our first vote on July 5. We’ll determine what time that vote will be, likely in the afternoon because of the travel problems of the previous day. There’s still so much to do to put Americans back to work, to cut our deficit and our economy back to work. It is really important that we do this. That moment is too important, the obstacle is too steep, and the time too short to waste. Even I hope my Republican colleagues will put politics aside and help Democrats fulfill Congress’s responsibility to the American people.

Good luck with that. Every indication is that the debt ceiling negotiations are at an impasse. I predict a week full of quorum calls.

Really, the Senate needs procedural reform so a majority can actually pass legislation. I appreciate the value of allowing open debate and amendments—I don’t want the Senate to be a mirror of the House, in which the majority can do whatever it wants—but there have to be safeguards to stop the minority party from completely blocking everything. The Senate leadership missed its opportunity to enact such safeguards in January. The country is paying a price for it now.

UPDATE [20:16 CDT by Goobergunch]: The Tuesday vote will be Yet Another Cloture Motion. This time it’s on the motion to proceed to S. J. Res. 20, authorizing the limited use of force in Libya. House prospects: If it even gets a vote, it’ll fail by an approximate vote of 123-295.

26 May 2011

H.R. 1540, the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill (Third Day)

The House is continuing work on H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012. Of the 152 amendments in order, 60 amendments have been disposed of. Last night, Buck McKeon (the chairman of the Armed Services Committee) announced that there were seven more amendments (#110, #111, #134, #141, #146, #152, and #55) and four en bloc amendments remaining for consideration.

For more information on the bill, see the initial post.

A couple notes on how the floor consideration process will work:

  • Each amendment gets 10 minutes of debate — 5 for, and 5 against. (Unless the amendment is non-controversial, in which case it just gets 10 minutes of praise.) However, McGovern/Amash Amendment #55 will get 20 minutes of debate.
  • Either party’s Armed Services Committee leadership can move an “en bloc amendment” consisting of a bunch of amendments that are considered together to save time. Those get 20 minutes of debate.

There are 16 amendments which were debated yesterday but did not receive a vote. They’ll be voted on today, but to save space the votes will be listed in yesterday’s amendment table. Under the fold, I’ve got the list of amendments that the House is considering today. All links to amendment text are PDFs, and all descriptions come from the sponsors of the amendment. If you just want the full list (including information on amendments that are considered as part of the en bloc amendments), the Rules Committee Democrats have you covered.

[13:39 CDT]: Bill passed, 322-96.

(more…)

25 May 2011

H.R. 1540, the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill (Continued)

The House is continuing work on H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012. Of the 152 amendments in order, 56 amendments have been disposed of.

For more information on the bill, see the previous post.

A few notes on how the floor consideration process will work:

  • There will be no further votes tonight. Amendment consideration will conclude tomorrow, and then we’ll have the vote on final passage.
  • Each amendment gets 10 minutes of debate — 5 for, and 5 against. (Unless the amendment is non-controversial, in which case it just gets 10 minutes of praise.)
  • Either party’s Armed Services Committee leadership can move an “en bloc amendment” consisting of a bunch of amendments that are considered together to save time. Those get 20 minutes of debate.

So, under the fold, here’s the list of amendments that the House is currently considering. All links to amendment text are PDFs, and all descriptions come from the sponsors of the amendment. If you want the full list, the Rules Committee Democrats have you covered.

(more…)

H.R. 1540, the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill

Today the House is beginning its second day of consideration of H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012. Yesterday, the House finished general debate. Today, it’s going to begin work on a good 152 amendments.

The Defense Authorization Act is an annual bill that sets spending levels and defense policy for the next fiscal year. This year’s House bill has a few especially troubling provisions, such as section 533, which requires each of the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs to sign off on DADT repeal before it could be implemented, section 1034, an vast expansion of the authorization of military force, section 1039, which prevents transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, and section 1055, which limits the President’s ability to comply with New START.

H.R. 1540 was reported by the House Armed Services Committee on May 11, with only Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) voting against it. Yesterday, the White House indicated [PDF] that while it supported House passage of H.R. 1540, President Obama would likely not sign the final bill unless a number of the more offensive provisions were excluded.

If you want more details on the bill, check out the legislative text or the committee report. (Be advised that the report is written by House Republicans.)

A few notes on how the floor consideration process will work:

  • The House isn’t expected to get through all 152 amendments today. (And for that matter, not all of the amendments will be offered.) Amendment consideration will conclude tomorrow, and then we’ll have the vote on final passage.
  • Each amendment gets 10 minutes of debate — 5 for, and 5 against. (Unless the amendment is non-controversial, in which case it just gets 10 minutes of praise.)
  • Either party’s Armed Services Committee leadership can move an “en bloc amendment” consisting of a bunch of amendments that are considered together to save time. Those get 20 minutes of debate.

So, under the fold, here’s the list of amendments that the House is considering. All links to amendment text are PDFs, and all descriptions come from the sponsors of the amendment. To save space, I’m going to try to only stay about ten to fifteen amendments ahead of where the House is right now. If you want the full list, the Rules Committee Democrats have you covered.

(more…)

10 May 2011

This Week in the House

While we know the Senate’s not going to accomplish anything, the House is still passing bills. Whether they’re fated to do anything after they leave the House is another question. Scheduled for this week:

  • H.R. 1016 (summary), which requires a report on the status of post-earthquake efforts in Haiti. [Tuesday - Suspension]
  • H.R. 1229 (summary, report), which intends to expedite the resumption of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico by requiring the Secretary of the Interior, at the most, to approve or reject permits within 60 days. [Tuesday]
  • H.R. 1231 (summary, report), which requires areas estimated to contain the most oil in each outer continental shelf to be opened for leasing. With a title like the “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act”, you know that this has a strong chance of enactment. [Wednesday]
  • H.R. 754 (summary, report), the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY2011. More on this later in the week. [Thursday, Friday]

12 April 2011

FY 2011 Appropriations, Part B: Consolidated Appropriations

So here we go. Full-year continuing appropriations. We start with some general provisions:

  • Congressional directed spending “earmarks” are discontinued. Any earmark appropriations reductions won’t be included in the tables that follow, but I doubt they really sum to much anyway.
  • No funds may be used for transferring non-citizen detainees currently in Guantanamo to the United States or its territories.
  • The big one. There is a 0.2% general cut to all non-defense programs.That’s calculated over and above any specific program reductions.
  • This one actually appears at the end of the bill, but four White House “czars” are denied funding. Since those positions aren’t being filled by anybody, this doesn’t matter.

So that’s the playing field. All in all, there’s almost $40 billion in spending cuts. Kind of.

For example, the final cuts in the deal are advertised as $38.5 billion less than was appropriated in 2010, but after removing rescissions, cuts to reserve funds, and reductions in mandatory spending programs, discretionary spending will be reduced only by $14.7 billion.

Now, it’s time to examine each department in turn. I was going to break everything down myself, but I had only gotten through page 184 when I realized that I wasn’t sure what all of the accounts actually did. So here’s the broader version, relying somewhat on the House Appropriations Committee summaries.

Agriculture

The CR funds Agriculture programs at $20 billion, which is $3 billion below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level and $3.2 billion below the President’s 2011 budget request.

These reductions are pretty straightforward. I didn’t see any particularly obvious policy riders, although agriculture really isn’t my area of expertise.

Commerce, Justice, and Science

The Commerce, Justice, Science section of the CR contains a total of $53.4 billion, a $10.9 billion, or 17%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $7.1 billion, or 12%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Policy riders include:

  • No NASA collaboration with China unless specifically authorized by a future law
  • No NASA Climate Service
  • No new limited access privilege program for any fisheries

Energy and Water Development

The Energy and Water section is funded at $31.8 billion in the CR. This is a 10% reduction—or $3.6 billion—from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request, and a 5% reduction—or $1.7 billion—from fiscal year 2010 leavels.

This part of the bill was written even more opaquely than unusual, but nothing jumped out at me as particularly exciting.

Financial Services and General Government

The Financial Services and General Government section of the CR contains a total of $22 billion, a $2.4 billion, or 10%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $3.4 billion, or 14%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

The policy returns with a vengeance:

  • The District of Columbia cannot use its own money to pay for abortions. District of Columbia officials are less than happy with this, and Mayor Vincent Gray (D) was arrested on Capitol Hill last night protesting.
  • There will be an annual audit of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that last year’s Dodd-Frank Act created.
  • The Comptroller General will conduct an annual study analyzing financial regulations, which feels intended to discourage further regulation. It’s always refreshing to be reminded how much of Congress is owned by the banking industry.
  • The GAO will study the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s information database to determine whether the information is based on adequate information.

Homeland Security

A total of $41.8 billion in discretionary funding is provided for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2011. This is $784 million, or 2%, below FY 2010, and $1.9 billion, or 4%, below the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Another straightforward section. Not much policy here, but section after section of rescinding unused funds.

Interior and Environment

The CR includes $29.6 billion in discretionary funding in the Interior and Environment section of the bill, which is 8.1%, or $2.62 billion, below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level and 8.5%, or $2.8 billion, below the President’s request.

I’ll just quote the Washington Post for the details.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency, long a target of conservatives, will see a $1.6 billion cut, representing a 16 percent decrease from 2010 levels. At the Department of the Interior, affected agencies include the Fish and Wildlife Services ($141 million cut from last year), the National Park Service ($127 million cut from last year) and “clean and drinking water state revolving funds” ($997 million cut from last year).

On the policy front, there’s a provision removing federal protection from wolves in certain Western states.

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education

The Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies section of the CR contains a total of $157.7 billion, roughly a $5.5 billion, or 3.36%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels. The bill is also nearly $13 billion, or 7.6 percent, below the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

There have been some modifications to Pell Grants, and some tweaks to PPACA:

  • Multiple studies and audits regarding PPACA provisions.
  • The Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan program gets a 37% cut, and the Free Choice Voucher program gets flat-out repealed.

Legislative Branch

Legislative Branch is reduced by $103 million from last year’s levels. Of this amount, funding for the U.S. House is reduced by $55 million from last year – or 53% of the total cut – and reflects a 5% cut in Member, Committee, and Leadership office expenses except for the Appropriations Committee, which offered a larger cut of 9%.

It’s Congress’s own budget. Not much to say here.

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs

Military Construction/Veterans Affairs programs will receive $76.6 billion in discretionary funding – an increase of $3.4 billion over the President’s fiscal year 2011 request and an increase of $600 million over last year’s level.

Yup, an increase. Nobody’s going to campaign on cutting veterans’ benefits. This division is also mercifully short and devoid of obvious riders.

State and Foreign Operations

The funding level for the State Department and Foreign Operations in the CR is a total of $48.3 billion – a $504 million reduction from last year’s level and an $8.4 billion reduction from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

There are some provisions here opposing child soldiers and demanding that UN peacekeepers don’t violate human rights. Economic support for Afghanistan gets tied to a certification of reduced corruption and increased democratic participation for women. There’s also an appropriation to aid Egypt’s democratic transition, as well as a prohibition on foreign service officer pay raises

Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development

The Transportation, Housing, Urban Development and Related Agencies section of the CR contains a total of $55.5 billion, a $12.3 billion, or 18%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $13.2 billion, or 20%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Among other things, new high-speed rail funds disappear, and public housing funds lose several hundred million of funds. These cuts will disproportionately impact poor people, so it’s not hard to see why our public officials are willing to make them.

And that’s everything through page 424.

19 March 2011

Odyssey Dawn

Goobergunch @ 19:00 PT
Posted in: Foreign Affairs, War and National Defense
Tags:

I have been way too lazy to post anything particularly substantive lately, and it doesn’t help that Congress hasn’t really gone out of its way to provide anything particularly meaty to chow down on in the last couple weeks. (Defunding NPR? Really?) However, now that we’re shooting missiles at Libya, I thought I’d post the Congressional authorization for this use of American force:

 

(I honestly don’t know how to feel about military action against Libya, especially since I’m really not sure whether this is going to remain a limited engagement or escalate further. I would like to see the legislative branch have a say in further developments though.)

13 March 2011

Sendai Magnitude 9.0

Goobergunch @ 16:00 PT
Posted in: Foreign Affairs, Providing for the General Welfare
Tags: ,

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news in the last couple days, you’ve heard about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday. I don’t have that much to say on the topic that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but as a native of the Pacific Rim, I thought I’d throw up a couple of notes on the earthquake.

The energy released by a 9.0 earthquake is just massive. For comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake had a moment magnitude of 6.9, and while that caused some serious damage, Friday’s earthquake was about 1500 times more powerful. In fact, since the San Andreas Fault is a strike-slip fault (meaning that the North American and Pacific Plates are moving past each other), it’s unlikely that a 9.0 earthquake could ever occur in the more populated areas of California. By contrast, the Sendai earthquake occurred in the Japan Trench, a subduction zone in which the Pacific Plate is actually going under the Okhotsk Plate. These subduction zones are where the truly huge megathrust earthquakes appear. (The closest subduction zone to the contiguous United States is the Cascadia subduction zone, which is off the coast of Oregon and Washington and last caused a giant earthquake in 1700.)

The other notable thing about Friday’s earthquake were the foreshocks. There was a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and three magnitude 6 earthquakes two days prior to the main event. Unfortunately, there’s no way to identify a foreshock as such in advance, but this pattern of strong earthquakes was noticeable enough to at least make me wonder whether something was up off the coast of Japan before quickly dismissing it as coincidental.

We’re just now beginning to see the kind of devastation that occurred closer to the offshore epicenter of the earthquake, where the shaking was greatest and the tsunami arrived with little time for warning. The latest reports indicate that over ten thousand people may have been killed, and Prime Minister Naoto Kon is calling this the worst thing to happen to Japan since World War Two. And Japan is a country that’s well-prepared to handle earthquakes. As horrible as the devastation is, it’s worth remembering that it could have been even worse without proper building codes and preparedness. Science and technology, while not a cure-all for humanity’s problems, do help.

Powered by WordPress