Pelosi: GOP Is ‘Threatening a Partial Government Shutdown’

Pelosi: GOP Is ‘Threatening a Partial Government Shutdown’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused House Republicans of "recklessness" by jeopardizing funding for Homeland Security.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused House Republicans of “recklessness” by jeopardizing funding for Homeland Security. Flickr user House Democrats
House Republicans have made their initial offer in what is likely to be drawn out negotiations to reconcile their caucus’ desire to end President Obama’s executive action to defer deportation for millions of immigrants with the administration’s priority to fund the Homeland Security Department past February.

For now, Democrats have balked at the proposal, saying only that Republicans are setting the course for a department shutdown.

“It is clear Republicans’ partisan recklessness knows no limits,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday. “House Republicans are threatening a partial government shutdown, choosing a time of rising terrorism to imperil the security of our entire country to satisfy the most radical anti-immigrant fringes of their party.”

The proposal, put forward by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., would boost DHS’ fiscal 2014 funding to $39.7 billion for fiscal 2015, but would fully roll back Obama’s action. That measure is expected to receive a veto from Obama, should it move successfully through the House and Senate.

While lawmakers still have six weeks to reach a deal to satisfy both sides, a DHS shutdown is still in the realm of possibility. The effect of such a move would be limited, however. Most employees — exempted because their jobs are considered “emergency work involving the safety of human life or protection of property” — would still report to work. Additionally, by Rogers’ own admission, a shutdown would not block Obama’s action from being carried out U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a fee-funded agency within DHS that is largely unaffected by lapses in appropriations.

Still, Republicans expressed doubt that Obama would actually go through with shutting down one of the federal government’s largest departments.

“We want to get this to the president’s desk so that we can get a signature, funding Homeland Security at a very [tenuous] time in the world,” Rogers said when unveiling his bill Friday. “I would wonder whether the president would have real deep misgivings about not signing a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said the current continuing resolution has already damaged the department by creating funding uncertainty. Pelosi advocated giving Johnson and DHS the stability for which it has asked.

“Republicans must abandon this spectacularly dangerous tactic,” she said, “and come together with Democrats to restore certainty to the funding of Homeland Security.”

(Image via Flickr user House Democrats)

Barbara Boxer to retire in 2016

Barbara Boxer to retire in 2016

By Cameron Joseph

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will retire after finishing her current term in Congress, she announced on her website Thursday morning. (Greg Nash)

“I will not be running for the Senate in 2016,” she said in a video with her grandson. “I want to come home to this state that I love so much, California.”

Boxer is 74 years old, and speculation that she would retire has been brewing for years, fueled recently by her stagnant fundraising. But she insisted that her age doesn’t play a role in her decision.

“I feel as young as I did when I got elected,” she said.

The senator’s decision to retire ends a three-decade congressional career and leaves the Senate without one of its strongest liberal voices on environmental issues. Her decision will also open up the top Democratic spot on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chaired last Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a close ally, appeared stunned when she was told of the news during a Thursday morning press conference.

“That’s funny, she called me, said she wanted to talk personally. I thought she maybe wanted to have dinner tonight or something,” Pelosi said.

“Her decision is an important one for her and her family — it’s all personal and individual. Sen. Boxer has been such a champion for the people of California and indeed for our entire country,” she continued, calling Boxer’s exit “a real loss” for their state and for Congress.

Boxer’s decision means California will have an open seat for the first time in more than two decades, potentially breaking a logjam of ambition for rising Democratic stars in the state.

Potential candidates include California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), two rising national stars in the party.

However, one might decide to wait for an open gubernatorial seat or to see whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) retires after her term — Harris and Newsom share advisers and have been working to tamp down the appearance of a conflict.

A number of other Democrats have been said to be quietly mulling runs should Boxer retire, including billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.).

California’s unusual nonpartisan “jungle” primary could further complicate the race, making it more expensive and increasing candidate interest. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

Republicans might seek to compete for the open seat as well, even though California has proven to be tough to crack for any GOP candidates in the last decade. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R), who lost to Boxer in 2010 and is moving toward a presidential campaign, is already ruling out another run for the seat — her spokeswoman tweeted out that Fiorina “is a resident of Virginia and has been for years.”

Republicans have also mentioned former Treasury official Neel Kashkari (R), who ran for governor in 2014, and Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) as possible candidates who would have the ability to self-fund, though there haven’t been any signs either is interested in a bid.

— Mike Lillis contributed.

— This story was last updated at 11:50 a.m.

McConnell: I Won’t Back Down From a Fight With Obama

McConnell: I Won’t Back Down From a Fight With Obama

Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com file photo

In his first official speech as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell finally stepped into his role, laid out his vision, and addressed his upcoming battle against President Obama head on.

“If President Obama is interested in a historic achievement of his own, this can be his time as well,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I appreciate that bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the president. The president’s supporters are pressing for militancy these days, not compromise. They’re demanding the comforts of purity over the duties of progress.”

A day after Obama threatened to veto legislation for the construction of the Keystone pipeline—the Senate’s first effort of the new session—McConnell made it clear that he was not backing down.

“Threatening to veto a jobs and infrastructure bill within minutes of a new Congress taking the oath of office—a bill with strong bipartisan support—is anything but productive,” said the Republican from Kentucky.

While McConnell acknowledged that trade, infrastructure, and tax reform were areas he was willing to work with Obama on, he also made it clear that it was not his job to “protect the president from good ideas.”

“A little creative tension between the executive and the legislature can be healthy in a democracy like ours,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s overarching message was simple, however: It’s time to make the Senate work again.

A three-decade veteran of the body, McConnell is fully aware that the Senate can be slow, unwieldy, and stubborn at times. But he made it clear that in his new role, he would try to restore some of the fundamental rules of the body.

“It’s time to change the business model,” McConnell said, a dig at the way the Senate was run under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We need to return to regular order. We need to get committees working again.”

Republicans in the 113th Congress often complained that there was not ample opportunity to offer amendments on the floor. McConnell said that would change.

“Sometimes, it’s going to mean working more often. Sometimes, it’s going to mean working late,” McConnell said. “But restoring the Senate is the right thing to do.”

But McConnell’s job, will be much more challenging than simply moving funding bills and infrastructure legislation along in a regular order. The American people are disenchanted with Congress. A CNN poll released Tuesday showed that just 37 percent of voters believed that a Republican-controlled Congress would be able to accomplish more than a Democratic-controlled one did.

“The people we represent have lost faith in their government. They no longer trust Washington to do the right thing,” McConnell said. “In an era of divided political control, we’re going to have to work hard to meet expectations, and we’re going to have to work together.”

(Image via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

FEHBP Reform, Pay Freezes and Lawmakers’ Other Day 1 Priorities in the 114th Congress

FEHBP Reform, Pay Freezes and Lawmakers’ Other Day 1 Priorities in the 114th Congress

Architect of the Capitol

Members of the 114th Congress wasted no time introducing bills that would impact federal employees, using their first day to put forward measures affecting pay, benefits and agency operations.

The new, Republican-controlled Congress has promised to rein in the federal bureaucracy and it is already demonstrating a willingness to do just that. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., presented three different bills Tuesday to slash agency spending across the board by 1 percent, 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The cuts would only exempt the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments.

“Our nation is currently more than $18 trillion in debt,” Blackburn said. “The time is now for Washington to start living within its means. It is not fair to hard working taxpayers and future generations that Washington continues to spend money we don’t have for programs we don’t want or need.”

On the benefits side, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., introduced a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it by giving all Americans access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Issa would task the Office of Personnel Management, which currently oversees FEHBP, with carrying out the health care overhaul. Issa, who introduced the same measure in the last Congress, said the proposal would improve access and choice to health insurance for all Americans, provide more affordable options and make prices easier to compare.

“Affordable, high quality, private plans can be offered to Americans without mandates, new taxes, bureaucratic hurdles, or adding to our deficit,” Issa said.

On a related note, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced a bill that would end government-sponsored health care for members of Congress and their staffers, the president, the vice president and all political appointees. The Affordable Care Act required lawmakers and congressional aides to drop their FEHBP insurance coverage as of Oct. 1, 2013, and enter the newly created exchange market. OPM, however, issued a rule stating Capitol Hill staff would not lose their employer (government) contributions for their chosen health plans.

While a federal judge in July dismissed a lawsuit challenging OPM’s decision, Vitter’s bill would codify the effort to end the health care benefit for lawmakers and their aides, and expand it to appointees, the president and vice president.

Vitter also put forward a bill to end automatic pay raises for members of Congress. Lawmakers have blocked their own raises for each of the last six years. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., went a step farther, proposing to cut lawmakers’ pay 5 percent while also ending future cost-of-living adjustments.

Both Yoder and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., introduced bills to end lawmakers’ eligibility to receive a pension through the Federal Employees Retirement System, instead only allowing Thrift Savings Plan participation. Vitter, along with Fitzpatrick, unveiled a measure to create term limits for members of Congress.

GOP Senate’s first 100 days

GOP Senate’s first 100 days

By Alexander Bolton – 09/12/14 06:00 AM EDT

Republicans are putting together an agenda for the first 100 days of 2015 in case they win control of the Senate.

Authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, approving “fast-track” trade authority, wiping out proposed environmental regulations and repealing the medical device tax top their list.

“Those would all be positive things. You could come up with a list of very positive things and all of us are thinking about those,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is poised to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee under a GOP takeover.

Other Republicans echoed Corker.

“Those are four things that could happen that I believe would be great for the economy and enable us to move forward on a bipartisan basis,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during a Thursday breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

GOP senators insist they are not “measuring the drapes” after six years in the minority.

Still, they’re preparing for what could be a brief, intense window of activity before 2016 presidential politics begin to dominate the landscape.

“We will have to be prepared if we are in a position to govern,” Corker said. “You got to think about those things you’d like to produce.”

To move their objectives, Senate Republicans must win in November and then work with a Democratic minority. Even in a best-case scenario, the party will be well short of a 60-plus majority able to block Democratic filibusters. But Republicans believe many of their priorities could be embraced by Democrats.

Legislation endorsing the Keystone pipeline included Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) among its co-sponsors.

And a bill to repeal the medical device tax has six Democratic cosponsors, including Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Donnelly.

“We should be able to do that in the first 30 days,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said of the measure.

On regulatory reform, they note that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) halted action on the energy and water development appropriations bill earlier this year because he feared centrist Democrats were inclined to support an amendment curbing regulations on coal.

Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin (W.Va.) introduced legislation at the beginning of the year requiring that new greenhouse gas standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency be realistically achievable by coal-fired power plants.

Portman has introduced legislation that would require independent agencies to publish the assessed costs and benefits of proposed new rules deemed to be economically significant. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (D-W.Va.) has co-sponsored the measure.

Trade is another possible area of bipartisanship — with the president.

President Obama called for bipartisan trade promotion authority in his State of the Union address in January, though Reid, who has a close relationship with organized labor, put the kibosh on the request by declaring his opposition to “fast-track.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Republican leadership, said Obama might back both Keystone and fast-track legislation approved by a GOP Senate.

“Both of them if they were on his desk would be hard things for the president not to agree on,” he said.

Republicans say they want to pass a budget in the first half of next year that would include special procedural instructions known as reconciliation to smooth the way for broader tax reform and entitlement reform.

Under reconciliation, the majority party can pass legislation through the Senate with only a simple-majority vote instead of the 60 votes usually required. Democrats used it in 2010 to pass changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is poised to become chairman of the Budget Committee if the Senate flips, said the majority party “has an obligation to lay out a financial plan for America.”

Portman, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President George W. Bush, said special procedural rules in the budget could “provide for something on the revenue side, which could lead to tax reform [and] something on the spending side, which could lead to some of the necessary changes to our incredibly important but unsustainable entitlement reform.”

Sessions said he hopes Democrats who pursued a grand bargain on tax and entitlement reform in 2011 could be persuaded to sit down at the negotiating table next year.

“We’re going to be working toward it,” he said of entitlement reform. “There’s no doubt about it that serious legislative reform of things like Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs, food stamps, would need some bipartisan support.”

Senate Republicans want to dispel the image painted by Democrats over the past four years that they are obstructionists bent on grinding government to a halt.

They want to show they can get legislation passed after years of frustrating gridlock.

“One guy is blocking all the legislation — that’s the majority leader. If we get rid of him, then the spigot opens an we start passing legislation again,” said a Republican leadership aide, referring to Reid.

Democrats counter that Republicans are to blame for the stalemate. They say Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) intentionally blocked business with several hundred filibusters to enable GOP candidates to run against a dysfunctional institution.