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CONGRESS WRAPS: Washington Report December 18, 2015

18 Dec 2015

CONGRESS WRAPS: Washington Report December 18, 2015

YES, VIRGINIA, OMNIBUS PASSES … HOPE-YES, VOTE-NO OMNIBUS CAUCUS… RYAN IS NOT BOEHNER2 … WHY CONGRESS IS LIKE COLLEGE … WINNERS and LOSERS … THE FED RATE HIKE FOR DUMMIES … and other news of the week.
Whew, made it over the finish line. This the last legislative day of the year and Congress has wrapped up its business for 2015.
Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday season and I’ll see you back here in 2016!
Best,
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Steve Moffitt, Alan MacLeod, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kayla Baca)

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YES VIRGINIA, WE HAVE AN OMNIBUS Roll Call: “The House passed a $1.15 trillion spending bill Friday morning and then [left] town for the holidays. The Senate voted 65-33 to pass a combined government funding and tax extender package this morning and is sending the measure to President Barack Obama’s desk where it’s expected to be signed into law. The measure includes a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds the government until Sept. 30, 2016, as well as a $680 billion tax package. RYAN HONEYMOON CONTINUES Legislation to fund government operations through the remainder of fiscal 2016 passed the House, 316-113, with Democrats shoring up most of the support but Republicans boasting a significantly larger number than they’ve had on previous catch-all appropriations packages.”

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ONLY IN CONGRESS TWIST: HOPE-YES, VOTE-NO Politico “Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) loaded up the $1.1 trillion spending bill with pet provisions, including one measure worth hundreds of millions to a rocket manufacturer with operations in his home state. … But in an only-in-Congress twist, Shelby, a very senior member on the appropriations committee, still plans to vote against the sprawling omnibus package. He’s citing the lack of language to restrict Syrian refugees as the reason. “The move, however, could make the Republican senator the unofficial chairman of the ‘hope-yes, vote-no’ caucus on Capitol Hill.

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RYAN IS NOT BOEHNER2 The Fix: “He negotiated a spending bill mostly behind closed doors. It’s a bill that contains almost no demands that conservatives have been making for the past few months, and it will almost certainly pass thanks to mostly Democratic — not Republican — support. And yet, Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) is getting through this year-end spending debate without being overtly compared to his predecessor, former speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was often forced to cut similar deals.

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f6656dd7b400ffa2921c81c3_280x173WHY DOES CONGRESS WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO DO (WHAT SEEMS LIKE) EVERYTHING? The Fix: “Waiting until the 11th hour to pass a bill that needs to be passed by midnight isn’t anything new in Congress. But running up against the deadline on just about every major issue is. And that’s where Congress increasingly finds itself these days. Raising the debt ceiling? Passing a spending bill? Renewals of highway-funding bills and tax breaks? Congress waits until the last minute to get stuff done so often that it’s basically the status quo now. And that’s a problem for anyone who wants a functioning government. CONGRESS IS LIKE COLLEGE As any college student can tell you, waiting until the night before to study for a test or put together a project means it’s more likely to be slapped together haphazardly. The 2,000+ page spending deal Congress just passed (after extending its deadline four times three months) is one potential example: It’s filled with goodies for just about every special interest that has a presence in Washington. IT’S SO INCREDIBLY INEFFICIENT TO DO BUSINESS THIS WAY So if last-minute deal making is so bad, why is Congress always doing it that way? There are a few reasons:

1. There are a lot of newbies on Capitol Hill … which makes negotiating difficult.
The 2010 tea party wave in particular welcomed candidates who liked to tout their lack of a Washington record. This January, Congress welcomed 13 new senators and 58 new House lawmakers, basically half of Congress was elected in 2010 or later. Half.
2. There are few, if any, consequences for holding things up.
A big reason deals often take so long to get struck is because lawmakers are championing policy proposals that have little chance of becoming law. Failure to pass laws in time might be damaging to the party establishment — but it’s often a win for individual lawmakers who are making a career of bucking the party establishment.
3. The folks back home are more polarized.
Those lawmakers would argue they’re just doing their job: Representing their constituents. For the most part, they’re right. We increasingly live in two Americas. States, congressional districts and our communities are either getting redder and redder or bluer and bluer. It’s easier for lawmakers to take a more polarized stand when the communities they represent in large part want the same thing.
4. It’s human nature to procrastinate.
Procrastination is the reality — both in colleges everywhere and here in Washington. And it’s not likely to change without major structural shifts in our politics.”

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WHAT’S IN THE OMNIBUS FOR DEFENSE: Politico: “The defense appropriations measure includes $572.8 billion in funding, with $514.1 billion in base funding and $58.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations. The topline is $6.1 billion below the Obama administration’s budget request, according to a summary from the Appropriations Committees.”

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LCS DIRECTIVE TEES UP A CAPITOL HILL FIGHT — angry reactions coming from Alabama and Wisconsin: “Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to shrink the Navy’s acquisition plans for the Littoral Combat Ship is teeing up a major battle on Capitol Hill next year. Carter is directing the Navy to shrink its buy to 40 of the small warships designed to operate close to shore – down from 52 – and to select just one contractor to build the vessels by fiscal 2019. “The Alabama and Wisconsin congressional delegations, where the ships are built, are up in arms and vowing to fight the move.”

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OUR NEED TO LET GO TO FIND HAPPINESS Roll Call,/CNN Both Democrats and Republicans won a few and lost a few in the $1.1 trillion spending bill and package of tax extensions. Here is a look at some of the winners and losers in the agreements (just a sampling):

WINNERS
Crude oil crowd: Lawmakers advocating to lift the prohibition on crude oil exports emerged as perhaps the biggest winners. It’s largely a win in the Republican column, but Democrats like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have long pushed colleagues to change the policy.
Syrian refugees: They won’t face additional hurdles in their effort to seek asylum in the U.S. since the House bill to enhance the refugee certification process didn’t make it into the final package.
9/11 First Responders: Congress is extending health benefits to 9/11 first responders more or less indefinitely.
Marijuana advocates: Two existing policy riders banning federal interference in states’ medical Marijuana laws and industrial hemp research programs were continued.
GMO labeling: Efforts to block the mandatory disclosure of GMOs — foods with ingredients from crops produced with biotechnology – failed.
Horses: The bill contains language effectively stopping the slaughter of horses for consumption.
Capitol Hill Sledders: The spending package extended a provision House appropriators attached in April, which urged the Capitol Police Board to allow sledding.
Washington Metro riders: The omnibus includes a $150 million contribution from the federal government for the D.C.-area metro system, fully restoring the annual contribution after House appropriators previously moved to cut a third of its federal funding.
LOSERS
Gun-Sanity Advocates: It’s still illegal to use federal funds to research gun violence. Also, The new omnibus bill will give the states $73 million to update their criminal and mental health records within the federal background check program. Might sound like a win, but that’s chump change, and a vague way to go about addressing the supposed ‘mental-health’ argument that has come to describe the motivations of people who commit acts of mass murder.
The Freedom Caucus – the Tea Party–backed wing of the House Republican conference [that] forced John Boehner to resign earlier this year. Replacing Boehner with Ryan brought in a fresh face but the highly conservative wing of the party doesn’t have much to show for it.
Coal: While the coal industry got several riders in the spending bill, mining and power plant interests failed to get their top ask –blocking or rolling back EPA rules to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
D.C. marijuana users: The omnibus continues to ban D.C. from implementing the ballot initiative passed earlier this year that legalized recreational marijuana.
E-cigarettes: The electronic cigarette industry saw a defeat in an effort to block the FDA from implementing some regulations on their products – “the perverse outcome of this failure to act is that smoke-free vapor products will be treated far more harshly by the FDA than deadly tobacco cigarettes ever have been.”
Civil libertarians: The cybersecurity bill didn’t include the kinds of protections favored by organizations like the ACLU.
DRAW
Wall Street: Pushbacks on regulatory rules advocated by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby didn’t make the final cut. But, the omnibus includes a ban on creating new financial rules relating to the disclosure of corporate political contributions.

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FEDERAL RESERVE RATE HIKE FOR DUMMIES The Fix: “For the first time in seven years (to the day), the Federal Reserve changed the target federal funds rate, the percentage of interest paid between banks that are borrowing from one another to maintain reserve balances with the Fed. That’s the short version of a very long description of how the interest rate overlaps with the economy, but there’s a shorter, more clear version still: The interest rate is a key lever the Fed uses to help guide America’s economic growth or contraction. IN OTHER WORDS for the first time since Barack Obama took office, the Fed is moving that lever — which should change how the economy looks over the medium term. With a presidential election looming, it’s worth considering what that means.
The new interest rate is 0.25 percent, an increase from what had essentially been zero. In practical terms, the interest rates of a number of things are likely to increase, which will have effects throughout the economy — including for you. A rate increase is specifically designed to prevent the economy from growing too quickly, which could lead to inflation. The Fed hasn’t raised rates for so long in part because the economy has been so fragile, and it didn’t want to slow that growth. The hike is a sign that the Fed is confident that growth will continue. AND THE POLITICS? Slowing the economy at all risks shifting attitudes toward the Obama administration in a way that disadvantages the left next November. And that this is the first such increase since 2006 (and the first change of any kind since 2008) puts us in somewhat uncharted territory. But there’s no need for Clinton to panic or the Republicans to rejoice. The thing about baby steps — which is what this is — is that they don’t get you very far very fast.”

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REPUBLICAN DEBATE TAKEAWAYS Politico: “The increasingly raw fight between Rubio and Cruz provides the GOP race’s top subplot coming out of … Las Vegas – two skilled, 44-year-old senators scrapping to survive as the party’s not-Trump. It’s the fight to watch on both substance and optics: Differing views on surveillance, immigration and defense spending. Rubio scored an enviable trophy – a banner headline in Wednesday morning’s Des Moines Register that says: “Iowans: Trump slips, Rubio shines.” This field feels narrower all the time. Jeb finally showed spine, but is still out-matched.”

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THE GOPS PARLOR GAME: CRUZ OR TRUMP RealClear Politics: “Who would be a more dangerous president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

FIRST TRUMP Trump’s deficiencies are evident, increasingly so. He is a demagogue and a bully. He lacks both preparation for the office and ideological convictions. He has thought deeply about … nothing, except how to promote Donald J. Trump. Such bluster masks — barely — a yawning insecurity. A man confident in his intellect would not be so compelled to announce how smart he is or to boast of his Ivy League pedigree. Trump craves adulation; poll numbers are his crack. He seems incapable of tolerating criticism or dissent. These traits are dangerous for a president, a post for which character and temperament are paramount concerns. As much as Trump touts his negotiating skills and managerial bona fides, it is difficult — no, make that scary — to imagine him dealing with world leaders or congressional counterparts.
AND THEN CRUZ Cruz is a different, and in many ways more dangerous, character. Where Trump is emotional and impulsive, the first-term Texas senator is contained and methodical. Contrast Cruz’s canny embrace of Trump, his restraint in responding to Trump’s provocations, with Trump’s explosiveness. Where Trump needs the ego balm of adoring masses, Cruz couldn’t care less what others think of him, except to the extent it might interfere with his ability to achieve his end. Just ask the Senate colleagues who join in remarkable, scarcely contained bipartisan loathing of the man. Where Trump is driven to boast about his intelligence, Cruz remains quietly self-confident about his far superior intellect. You don’t hear him crowing about his Supreme Court clerkship or Harvard Law degree. Trump wants to show you how many magazine covers have featured him. Cruz simply wants to amass, and exercise, power. Publicity is an end in itself for Trump, a means to an end for Cruz. … The fact that senators of both parties despise him has tended to obscure the substantive threat he poses to the country.
TRUMP HAS MADE CRUZ MAINSTREAM At the same time, Trump’s ascendancy, and the outrageousness of his pronouncements, has made Cruz appear like the more reasonable alternative. As Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller said,” “I don’t think six months ago anybody would have thought that Ted Cruz was mainstream.” In fact, Cruz is by far the more doctrinaire and ideologically extreme. You can see Trump making a deal — on taxes, … you name it. Cruz, not so much. Jeffrey Toobin’s 2014 New Yorker profile of Cruz was fittingly titled “The Absolutist.” He is so incensed by the “judicial tyranny” of Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and same-sex marriage that he wants a constitutional amendment to subject Supreme Court justices to retention elections, a plan contrary to the framers’ vision of judicial independence.” I can’t believe I’m saying this. But I might prefer President Trump.”

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A CHANGING ELECTORATE Morning Consult: “[a] new report, authored by all-star demographers Ruy Teixeira, John Halpin and Rob Griffin, finds the share of minorities in the electorate is likely to grow by 2% points between 2012 and 2016, while the share of white working class voters will decline by 2% points. On its face, that’s great news for Democrats: President Obama won minority voters in 2012 by a whopping 81% to 17%, while Mitt Romney won white working class voters by a 60% to 38% margin. But there’s no guarantee the next Democratic nominee can hold 81% of minority voters, giving Republicans an opening to claw back some support among the fastest-growing segments of the electorate. In key battleground states, even a percentage point or two can make a big difference. … Since 1976, the percentage of white voters in the actual electorate has declined from 89 % to 74%. By 2060, the share of white voters in the electorate is projected to drop to 46%.”

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7945c9d73fba6031cd6faa07_280x157HOW WE LIVE LATimes: “At Disneyland and California Adventure, walk-through metal detectors were added … for … randomly selected customers. … [T]he parks have banned visitors from carrying toy guys and prohibited those over age 14 from wearing masks or costumes that conceal their identities. And the park no longer sells replica guns.”

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