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Energy Secretary Says Yucca ‘Stalemate’ Delays Nuclear Disposal Solution

By Ambreen Ali, CQ Roll Call

Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz is expected to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that it’s time to give up on Yucca Mountain as a permanent disposal site for the nation’s commercial radioactive waste.

“The stalemate could continue indefinitely,” Moniz said in his written testimony, urging a consent-based alternative “rather than continuing to spend billions of dollars more on a project that faces such strong opposition.”

Moniz will testify that finding a Yucca alternative is the best way to address the disposal issue.

The House testimony follows Moniz’s appearance Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he offered support for efforts by four leading senators to address the nuclear waste storage issue.

Though he stopped short of endorsing the legislation (S 1240) proposed by the group, Moniz told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that the approach is very promising.

“The administration is ready and willing to engage with both chambers of Congress to move forward, and [the bill] provides a workable framework for that engagement,” Moniz said. The legislation was introduced last month by Energy Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the panel’s ranking Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and the top Energy Department appropriators, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander.

The measure would establish an independent agency to oversee nuclear waste and require its administrator to designate short-term nuclear storage facilities and at least one permanent repository within the decade.

The sites would have to be chosen through a consent-based process that requires permission both from the local government or tribe and the state government. Much of the focus of the hearing Tuesday centered on whether any localities would volunteer to host disposal sites.

The legislation draws from recommendations made by President Obama’s blue-ribbon commission on handling nuclear waste, on which Moniz served.

“The administration embraces the principles of the commission’s core recommendations, and like S. 1240 supports the goals of establishing a new workable, long-term solution for nuclear waste management,” the secretary testified at the hearing.

The senators also consulted Moniz while drafting their bill, so his supportive testimony came as no surprise. Still, his backing could help advance the proposal beyond an impasse over Yucca Mountain, the Nevada site designated to house the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.

Strong opposition to the Yucca Mountain site, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has kept it from ever opening. Republicans have insisted that Yucca remain on the table as discussions advance, particularly because no clear alternatives have yet been found. The Wyden legislation does not take a position on the issue, but calls for the government to consider other locations.

“Yucca Mountain was not designed to be big enough to handle all of the spent fuel and nuclear waste that will need disposal,” Wyden said in his opening remarks.

Moniz agreed, saying that regardless of what happens with Yucca, the nation will need more than one repository if nuclear technology continues to be a part of the nation’s energy future, as expected.

But several Republicans on the panel voiced opposition to abandoning the Yucca site, which has already cost taxpayers money for development. Moniz is likely to hear more of that when he appears before the House panel on Wednesday.

Murkowski and Alexander urged their Republican colleagues to give the legislation another look, expressing a willingness to discuss concerns.

“It would be fair to say that whether you’re for Yucca Mountain or against Yucca Mountain, that one could be for a bill — one should be for a bill — that finds some reasonable way to create new repositories and new consolidated sites on a parallel track as long as they’re consent-based,” Alexander said.


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Democrats, Too, Plan to Slam Washington in August

House Democrats and Republicans appear to be taking the same messagehome for August: Washington is broken.

The only difference is whom they’re pointing the finger at for breaking it.

In the Democrats’ case, the August recess marching orders for the rank and file very clearly advocate blaming the House Republican majority.

But because they also have a president to defend, the recess packet handed out Monday night includes instructions on how to promote Obamacare, slam the sequester, champion a comprehensive immigration rewrite and advocate for gun control.

Playbooks full of talking points and messaging tactics, designed to help lawmakers effectively hawk the party line back home during the five-week break from legislating, are a tradition on both sides of the aisle. More often than not, they are simply regurgitations of phrases and narratives that creatures of Capitol Hill by now know by heart.

But this year, a side-by-side comparison of the Democratic and Republican playbooks offers perspective on the parties’ starkly divergent ideologies — in terms of tone, substance and strategy.

The GOP playbook, rolled out earlier this month, has a clear message: Washington is the problem, and the GOP is the answer.

Read More on Roll Call: Democrats, Too, Plan to Slam Washington in August

House Steps Up Its Own Network Cybersecurity

The House is stepping up its cybersecurity as members prepare for the August recess.

Beginning Saturday, users will be locked out of computers on the House network after 20 minutes of inactivity and required to re-enter their passwords to regain access.

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel announced the changes on Tuesday in an email to members and staff. He noted that the screensaver lockout “will help prevent unauthorized access to your files and credentials.”

The chamber’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities were the subject of an anonymous July 8 memo to House security stakeholders.

Read More on Roll Call: House Steps Up Its Own Network Cybersecurity

Obamacare Defunding Fight Could Threaten Boehner Leverage, Message

The effort by conservatives in the House and Senate to threaten a government shutdown over Obamacare could force Speaker John A. Boehner into the arms of House Democrats.

With 60 Republicans already pushing the Ohio Republican to defund Obamacare in any spending bill, the speaker may not be able to cobble together a House majority on a bill that President Barack Obama would sign without Democratic votes. And he’s not likely to get those votes for free.

A dozen Republican senators led by Mike Lee, R-Utah, already signed a letter vowing to vote against any continuing resolution that funds Obamacare. And Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana — who helped torpedo GOP leaders’ first attempt at a farm bill — became the first House Republican last week to make the same absolutist pledge.

“I’m not going to vote for a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare,” Stutzman said in a July 25 release. “It makes no sense to spend another dime on a failed law that the president has already delayed.”

But senior aides from both sides of the aisle say the threat would surely backfire on Republicans if they carry it out. For one thing, most of Obama’s new health care program is mandatory spending that is not affected by appropriations bills, so it would continue to receive funding in any event.

Read More in Roll Call:

Wyden, Thune Seek Law on Taxation of Digital Downloads

By Alan K. Ota, CQ Roll Call

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and John Thune of South Dakota have launched a new push to ban what they call discriminatory taxes on music downloads, electronic newspaper subscriptions and other digital wares on the Internet.

A bipartisan bill (S 1364) sponsored by Wyden would bar discriminatory or duplicative taxes on online downloads of music, text, movies, mobile applications or computing services. Supporters say the proposal is needed to prevent taxes from being levied on downloads of music or on electronic newspaper subscriptions, for example, if no similar taxes are imposed respectively on compact discs or home-delivery subscriptions.

Wyden, a senior tax writer, and Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, are taking a hard look at potential vehicles for the measure, such as an extension of the so-called Internet tax moratorium (PL 110-108) that bars new assessments on Internet access providers.

The current ban expires on Nov. 1, 2014, and an extension is sure to move in coming months with broad bipartisan support.

The measure is the latest in Congress that seeks to cope with the changes in distribution and sales brought about by commerce on the Internet. The Senate passed a proposal (S 743) this year allowing states to enforce sales taxes on out-of-state online vendors. Wyden opposed that bill and aims to address taxation on goods that are transferred entirely by electronic means.

Wyden said the new bill was “consistent with the principles” of the ban on Internet access taxes. He said his new bill would protect “the digital economy from the unfair application of taxes that would stifle the innovative digital goods and services that are transforming the economy.”

Thune said he hoped to build consensus for the measure in both parties. “Federal regulations have not kept up with the fast-growing and ever-changing digital marketplace, resulting in outdated rules that could allow a single transaction to be taxed by multiple jurisdictions,” he said.

While Wyden and Thune plot their legislative strategy in the Senate, House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia says he has begun putting together a plan for dealing with a number of issues concerning online commerce and electronic communications.

For example, Goodlatte said on July 25 that he planned to put out a list of principles in the near future for legislation dealing with the contentious issue of sales tax enforcement for online transactions.

He has raised concerns about a Senate-passed proposal to allow states to enforce sales taxes on out-of-state online vendors. The chairman said there was a need for simple procedures for online sales tax collection and safeguards to ensure that states do not hold out-of-state sellers to a more rigorous standard than in-state rivals.

Goodlatte has hinted that several proposals dealing with taxation on the Internet and on electronic devices like mobile and smart telephones could be handled together in hearings and moved on parallel tracks.


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Lindy Boggs’ Old-World Path to Congress Blazed a Trail for the New

Upon her death on July 27 at age 97, Lindy Boggs had been gone from the Capitol for more than 22 years, longer than her time as the Democratic congresswoman from New Orleans. But the tributes pouring forth indicate a political force still quite close to the present. They also suggest congressional ways of doing business that have almost disappeared altogether.

The speed with which President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton offered their mini-eulogies suggested that Boggs had remained indispensable to the end at the center of the capital’s power culture.

In reality, since her tour as ambassador to the Vatican ended in 2001, her influence had mainly been as matriarch of one of the most plugged-in of all Beltway families — her son Tommy is in the pantheon of K Street players and her daughter Cokie Roberts is in the top tier of capital pundits.

To recall Boggs’ contributions to the legislative and institutional life of the Capitol, though, is to conjure up not only a sense of nostalgia for some aspects of life on the Hill in the 1970s and 1980s, but also several head-scratching reminders of how things look to have changed for the better.

Both Obama and Clinton described Boggs as a champion of civil rights and a trailblazer for women. But the ways in which that was so are pretty far afield from the norms of their party’s politics today.

Read More in Roll Call: Lindy Boggs’ Old-World Path to Congress Blazed a Trail for the New

Rush to the August Exits Makes for High-Stakes September

The final week before the August recess in a non-election year: Customarily, it’s the occasion for climactic votes on some of the most important matters of the year. This time, it will come and go with little more than a rhetorical torrent about how little’s been done to justify a five-week vacation.

Two years ago, a melodramatic eleventh-hour deal averted a government default but ultimately spawned the sequester. Two years before that, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court. In the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the get-out-of-town votes completed the last comprehensive rewrite of federal energy policy.

But in the coming days, the most substantive news will be clearing a hiding-in-plain-sight compromise to hold down student loan interest rates, one month after busting a deadline and making millions of college kids anxious.

That anticlimax will leave plenty of time for lawmakers to raise a self-aggrandizing fuss about how they really ought to stick around and start negotiating to avoid the next potential budget catastrophe. Members from both parties will join in, safe in the knowledge they won’t get their stated wish because nothing is more sacrosanct to Congress than summer break.

That “district work period” on the House calendar for the final week of September? Not so much. Keep Reading…

Obama Says Income Gap Is Fraying U.S. Social Fabric

GALESBURG, Ill. — In a week when he tried to focus attention on the struggles of the middle class, President Obama said in an interview that he was worried that years of widening income inequality and the lingering effects of the financial crisis had frayed the country’s social fabric and undermined Americans’ belief in opportunity.

Upward mobility, Mr. Obama said in a 40-minute interview with The New York Times, “was part and parcel of who we were as Americans.”

“And that’s what’s been eroding over the last 20, 30 years, well before the financial crisis,” he added.

“If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise,” he said. “That’s not a future that we should accept.”

A few days after the acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case prompted him to speak about being a black man in America, Mr. Obama said the country’s struggle over race would not be eased until the political process in Washington began addressing the fear of many people that financial stability is unattainable.

“Racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot,” Mr. Obama said. “If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we’re rolling in the same direction.”

Mr. Obama, who this fall will choose a new chairman of the Federal Reserve to share economic stewardship, expressed confidence that the trends could be reversed with the right policies.

The economy is “far stronger” than four years ago, he said, yet many people who write to him still do not feel secure about their future, even as their current situation recovers.

“That’s what people sense,” he said. “That’s why people are anxious. That’s why people are frustrated.”

During much of the interview, Mr. Obama was philosophical about historical and economic forces that he said were tearing at communities across the country. He noted at one point that he has in the Oval Office a framed copy of the original program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

He uses it, he said, to remind people “that was a march for jobs and justice; that there was a massive economic component to that. When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality. It was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot.”

For decades after, Mr. Obama said, in places like Galesburg people “who wanted to find a job — they could go get a job.”

“They could go get it at the Maytag plant,” he said. “They could go get it with the railroad. It might be hard work, it might be tough work, but they could buy a house with it.”

Without a shift in Washington to encourage growth over “damaging” austerity, he added, not only would the middle class shrink, but in turn, contentious issues like trade, climate change and immigration could become harder to address.

Striking a feisty note at times, he vowed not to be cowed by his Republican adversaries in Congress and said he was willing to stretch the limits of his powers to change the direction of the debate in Washington.

“I will seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, improve their prospects, improve their security,” Mr. Obama said. But he added, “I’m not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days.”

Addressing for the first time one of his most anticipated decisions, Mr. Obama said he had narrowed his choice to succeed Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve to “some extraordinary candidates.” With current fiscal policy measurably slowing the recovery, many in business and finance have looked to the Fed to continue its expansionary monetary policies to offset the drag.

Mr. Obama said he wanted someone who would not just work abstractly to keep inflation in check and ensure stability in the markets. “The idea is to promote those things in service of the lives of ordinary Americans getting better,” he said. “I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, Let’s make sure that we’re growing the economy.”

The leading Fed candidates are believed to be Lawrence H. Summers, Mr. Obama’s former White House economic adviser and President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary, and Janet Yellen, the current Fed vice chairwoman and another former Clinton official. The president said he would announce his choice “over the next several months.”

More clearly than he did in three speeches on the economy last week — the next is scheduled for Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn. — Mr. Obama in the interview called for an end to the emphasis on budget austerity that Republicans ushered in when they captured control of the House in November 2010.

The priority, he said, should be spending for infrastructure, education, clean energy, science, research and other domestic initiatives of the sort he twice campaigned on.

“I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we’ve spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits,” Mr. Obama said. He called for a shift “away from what I think has been a damaging framework in Washington.”

The president did not say what his legislative strategy would be. Even as he spoke, House Republicans were pushing measures in the opposite direction: to continue into the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 the indiscriminate across-the-board spending reductions — known as sequestration — that Mr. Obama opposes, and to cut his priorities deeper still.

Republicans are also threatening to block an increase in the government’s borrowing limit — an action that must be taken by perhaps November to avoid financial crisis — unless Congress withholds money for his health care law.

Mr. Obama all but dared Republicans to challenge his executive actions, including his decision three weeks ago to delay until 2015 the health care law’s mandate that large employers provide insurance or pay fines. Republicans and some legal scholars questioned whether he had the legal authority to unilaterally change the law.

The delay in the employer mandate, which mostly affects large businesses that already insure workers but are worried about federal reporting requirements, was “the kind of routine modifications or tweaks to a large program that’s starting off that in normal times in a normal political atmosphere would draw a yawn from everybody,” Mr. Obama said.

“If Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in some fashion, they’re free to make that case,” he said. “But there’s not an action that I take that you don’t have some folks in Congress who say that I’m usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency.”

The president’s latest campaign for his agenda began as national polls last week showed a dip in his public support. The declines were even greater for Congress and Republicans in particular, in their already record-low ratings.

Mr. Obama said he would push ahead with a series of speeches that lay out his agenda ahead of the fights this fall with Congress. “If once a week I’m not talking about jobs, the economy, and the middle class,” he said, “then all matter of distraction fills the void.”

Young GOP leaders see need for substantive changes

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Republicans hoping to reach beyond their party’s white, aging core must do more than retool campaign strategy and tactics, say young GOP leaders pressing elected officials to offer concrete policies to counter Democratic initiatives.

"It’s very easy to just say no, and there are times where it’s appropriate to say no," said Jason Weingartner of New York, the newly elected chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. "But there are times where you need to lead and present ideas on the issues of the day."

Weingartner and other under-40 activists at a recent national young Republican gathering in Mobile said their party must follow an all-of-the-above approach. Their assessment goes beyond the more general prescriptions that many party leaders, including Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, have offered since November, when Republicans lost the popular vote for the fifth time in the past six presidential elections.

The latest loss was due in large measure to President Barack Obama’s advantage over Republican nominee Mitt Romney among younger and nonwhite voters.

For the most part, Priebus has avoided policy recommendations for elected Republicans and says the Republican platform, a political document that’s supposed to reflect the core values of the party, isn’t the problem.

Weingartner and many of his colleagues agree with Priebus on the platform.

But their ideas are more explicit than the chairman’s blueprint and stand in contrast to a partisan Congress where many Republicans tailor their actions to please primary voters who loathe cooperation with Democrats.

Weingartner said House Republicans, who won’t pass the Democratic-led Senate’s version of an immigration overhaul, should pass their own bill that at least "streamlines and expands" legal slots for foreign students and workers.

On health care, Weingartner said that besides regularly voting to repeal Obama’s law, the GOP should emphasize its own ideas. On same-sex marriage and abortion, young GOP leaders say Republicans should tolerate a range of views, even while maintaining a socially conservative identity.

©2012 The Associated Press

Bill seeks to speed the filling of inspectors general vacancies

A bipartisan group of Senators on Thursday proposed legislation that would allow Congress to fill inspectors general vacancies lasting more than seven months.

The measure ? introduced by Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) ? would transfer appointment authority to the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore whenever the president does not nominate someone within 210 days of an opening.

The legislation addresses longstanding inspectors general vacancies that have occurred during the Obama administration. Some positions have been open for more than four years.

“Inspectors generals are taxpayers’ best advocates to fight waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government,” Shaheen said in a joint statement with the other senators. “Making sure we have our watchdogs in place is absolutely critical to putting our fiscal house in order and managing the government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

There are seven vacancies for inspectors general within the executive branch, including two openings at cabinet agencies. President Obama has made nominations to fill four of those spots, but his picks await Senate confirmation.

The nominees in waiting are Steve Linick for the State Department, Scott Dahl for the Labor Department, Michael Carroll for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Jon Rymer for the Defense Department.

The president has not chosen inspectors general nominees for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In lieu of permanent inspectors general, agencies work with acting or deputy IGs. But critics of that approach say acting inspectors are sometimes considered less credible and that the prospect of returning to the lower ranks after a successor is confirmed can hinder their independence.

The watchdog group Project On Government Oversight (POGO), which has long pressured the administration to fill its inspectors general vacancies, expressed limited support for the Senate legislation Thursday.

“It’s a good-faith effort, and we want to work with these and other senators to fill all inspectors general positions, but there are some legitimate constitutional concerns with congressional appointments,” said Angela Canterbury, POGO director of public policy.

The senators said in their statement that the Supreme Court affirmed in 1976 that Congress can appoint officials who would have investigative authority, except for the power to seek warrants or to make arrests without warrants.

Canterbury said that scenario would not be preferable, even if the argument holds up. ”Allowing for Congress to make an appointment but stripping the inspector general of essential powers in order to make it constitutional, I think that’s not an added value,” she said. “We want well-qualified, permanent and fully empowered inspectors general.”

Energy Efficiency Bill Need Not Address Pipeline, Subcommittee Chairman Says

By Geof Koss, CQ Roll Call

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairman discounted the notion that energy efficiency legislation would have to address the Keystone XL pipeline to pass the chamber.

“I don’t think there’s any way we would use that as a bargaining tool for an efficiency bill, because I don’t think we need to,” Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., said Thursday at a CQ Roll Call energy forum. “I think we can pass an efficiency bill, I think the Senate can pass one, and then hopefully we can just go to conference.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and other supporters of the pipeline have signaled they may offer a Keystone XL amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill (S 761) that is expected on the Senate floor next week.

Speaking earlier at the same event, Hoeven did not address whether a Keystone vote is in the cards for the Senate next week.

But he noted growing support in the chamber for approving the pipeline. Hoeven said he had more than 60 votes last year for a bill to approve the project legislatively — until President Barack Obama “called people directly” to urge them to change their votes.

He also noted that 62 senators voted earlier this year for a “sense of the Senate” resolution (S Con Res 8) to the chamber’s non-binding budget resolution that the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. Hoeven said that after five years of studies, the State Department has yet to find any significant environmental impacts.

“I think unless they change the environmental-impact statements, it will be very hard to turn it down,” he said. “And ultimately if they turn it down, obviously we’d be in a position to approve it congressionally.”

Whitfield expressed doubts that Obama will approve the pipeline — and that Congress can muster the support necessary to override the action. “I think we have difficulty in the Senate,” he said. “I know we can pass one in the House.”

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., called for leaving Keystone out of the efficiency debate unfolding on separate tracks in both the House and Senate. Efficiency is a rare area of bipartisan agreement in energy policy.

“I’m hoping that these bills can be brought together, get things done, and allow the two parties to taste success in the energy arena,” he said. “With Keystone, it’s been aired publicly, it’s near the end of its review process, I’d like to see it stand on its own.”


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Military Sexual-Assault Bills Don’t Break on Party, Gender Lines

Two competing proposals on combating sexual assault in the military could cause further headaches for Democratic leaders, as lawmakers debate how best to manage what has become an epidemic culture of misconduct in the armed services.

The fight, which does not break cleanly on party or gender lines, could get more complicated as Congress inches closer to full debate of this year’s defense authorization bill.

On Thursday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., held a news conference with Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, to advocate for the proposal approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Flanked by retired female servicemembers, the senators argued that removing the chain of command from prosecuting misconduct could lead to fewer consequences for assailants in cases prosecutors find too difficult to try.

On the other side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has pushed legislation that would remove the command structure from prosecutions completely, and her plan has picked up significant support from members of both parties.

“Sen. Gillibrand would be the first to tell you that our bill is not the status quo. It is aggressive and [makes] meaningful changes,” McCaskill said Thursday. “I’ve had to discipline prosecutors who were turning down cases because they were worried about their win-loss record. Prosecutors like to win, and a lot of these cases they think are ‘losers.’ We see instances where time after time prosecutors say ‘no’ and commanders say ‘yes.’

Read more on Roll Call: Military Sexual-Assault Bills Don’t Break on Party, Gender Lines

Steve King Keeps Calling Immigrant Kids ‘Drug Smugglers’

Steve King insisted again Thursday that undocumented immigrant children are often drug mules who carry illegal substances across the border from Mexico, but this time he did it on the House floor.

Despite a firestorm of criticism — including another rebuke from Speaker John A. Boehner Thursday morning — the Iowa Republican defended his comments last week that such children have “calves the size of cantaloupes” as a result of carrying drugs across the border.

“I can tell you that in Mexico they are recruiting kids to be drug smugglers,” King said Thursday afternoon to an empty House chamber. “Every night some come across the border smuggling drugs across the border. Increasingly the higher value drugs, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine in some form or another, are being strapped to the body — sometimes of young girls, teenage girls. The media is replete with this. Anybody that reads the paper should know, especially those that live on the border, should know that there are many, many young people coming across the border unlawfully who are smuggling drugs into the United States.”

Read More on Roll Call: Steve King Keeps Calling Immigrant Kids ‘Drug Smugglers’

Back to Basics

Advocacy and Engagement 101With Congressional Recess fast approaching, we here at Congress.org felt it necessary to take you back to the basics. While we talk about new and innovative ways to educate and engage audiences, we can’t forget about our roots. That is, what makes a good advocacy effort? What if advocacy isn’t my direct goal? And how did we get here?

With questions like those in mind, we’ll be writing over the coming weeks not only about the latest tools to integrate into your effort, but more importantly how to ensure the foundation of your effort is strong. The idea being that as new tools and ways to interact with your stakeholders hit the market, we want to be able to integrate them seamlessly into our overall effort rather than just jumping from one trend to the next.

So stay tuned for a Back to Basics / Advocacy & Engagement 101 style run-through over the next ~30 days. While federal legislators are home working in their districts, now is the time to hone your skills, to stop and take stock of your strategy so that your effort is ready not for just the post-Labor Day legislative session, but for the coming months and years ahead.

Tuition-Free in Oregon: Lawmakers Pass ‘Pay Forward, Pay Back’

Legislation designed to keep student loan interest rates down is working its way through Congress, but opponents believe the bill will do little to help students and families deal with the escalating cost of a college education. The bill would provide immediate relief as it reverses a July 1 decision that doubled interest rates on subsidized loans. Students would be required to pay the current yield on the 10-year Treasury note plus 2.05 percent. Treasury notes are at historic lows and the newly proposed 3.86 percent on subsidized Stafford loans, up modestly from 3.4 percent, would likely increase exorbitantly in the future. The Obama administration supports the bill.

The states are not betting that Congress will solve the problem. Oregon lawmakers passed legislation this year that could radically change the way students pay for higher education.

Keep Reading…

RATINGS CHANGE: Maine’s 2nd District

Ten years ago, the open-seat race in Maine’s 2nd District was one of the most competitive in the country. The seat is open again, but it may be further out of reach for Republicans this time.

Rep. Michael H. Michaud delighted some Democratic strategists by announcing his gubernatorial bid. He also left the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with an open seat to defend.

He won his initial race, 52 percent to 48 percent, in 2002, and Michaud has cruised to re-election ever since. In the meantime, the presidential results have also shown some movement in the district over the past decade.

Read more on Roll Call: RATINGS CHANGE: Maine’s 2nd District

Amash NSA Push Falls Just Short After Spirited Debate

Updated 8:17 p.m. | The White House and Republican and Democratic leadership marshaled their forces Wednesday to narrowly defeat an attempt by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., to defund the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of telephone records, but not before a heated floor debate pitting civil liberties against national security.

Amash faced extraordinary odds: leadership on both sides of the aisle registered opposition to the amendment; former attorneys general and executive branch officials penned a letter opposing the measure; outside groups such as the Heritage Foundation came out against it; newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, wrote op-eds rebuffing it; and the White Houseissued a rare statement of opposition against a House amendment.

The House killed the proposal, 205-217.

But the vote was much closer than the NSA, the White House or leadership wanted. The Amash amendment got 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats to go on record against the NSA surveillance program. A majority of Democrats effectively repudiated President Barack Obama’s handling of the program exposed by leaker Edward Snowden.

Snowden, of course, had called for just such a public debate and votes on the program when he revealed himself as the NSA leaker.

Read More on Roll Call: Amash NSA Push Falls Just Short After Spirited Debate

No Easy Steve King Solution for GOP

How do you solve a problem like Steve King?

“You can’t,” Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said of his fellow House Republican colleague from Iowa. “You don’t.”

But that doesn’t mean House GOP leaders and prominent voices within the chamber’s Republican Conference aren’t trying, now more than ever, to isolate and marginalize once and for all their colleague whose frequent anti-immigrant rhetoric threatens their efforts to make inroads with the burgeoning Latino voting base.

The turning point, perhaps, came Tuesday, when comments King had made a week earlier to the conservative media outlet Newsmax erupted into a firestorm that brought condemnation from the speaker on down.

The gist of his remarks was that not all young undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents — the “DREAMers” — should be put on a path to legal status, despite that idea gaining significant traction among House Republicans.

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King said.

By Tuesday night, Speaker John A. Boehner had released a statement calling King “wrong.”

“There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language,” the Ohio Republican added. “Everyone needs to remember that.”

Read more on Roll Call: No Easy Steve King Solution for GOP

Federal Minimum Wage Goes 4 Years Without Budging

WASHINGTON — Workers toiling in low-wage jobs marked a dispiriting anniversary on Wednesday: It’s now been four years since the last time the federal minimum wage was raised.

The minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, and it prevails in the 30 states that don’t already mandate a higher one. The last time it saw a boost was on July 24, 2009, when it was raised from $6.55. That 70-cent raise marked the last in a series of increases signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Since then, the legal wage floor has held steady, even as the cost of living has continued to rise. A full-time worker earning the minimum wage now pulls in a salary of about $15,000 per year, far below a living wage in most parts of the country.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have proposed raising the minimum wage and pegging it to inflation, though House Republicans are unlikely to go along with such a hike any time soon. Bills to raise the minimum wage, introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year, have not been voted on by their respective committees. Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have deemed a minimum-wage raise a job killer. (House Republicans have already voted down a version of the minimum wage raise that was inserted as an amendment to a workforce training bill.)

Labor groups supporting a minimum wage boost planned demonstrations in an estimated 30 cities across the country on Wednesday, calling the four-year lapse reason alone for a raise. According to organizers, the protests would target low-wage employers who’ve seen employee strikes in recent months, including Walmart and McDonald’s.

Over the decades, the minimum wage has gone for spells longer than four years before seeing a raise, according to the Labor Department. The wage floor remained stagnant for a full 10 years leading up to the first increase late in Bush’s tenure, in 2007. And during the early 1990s, the minimum wage stood at $4.25 for more than five years before being raised under President Bill Clinton.

But if Congress doesn’t send Obama legislation to sign by the end of his second term, he will be the first president since Ronald Reagan who didn’t raise the minimum wage at all.

Back on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama stumped for hiking the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011 and pegging it to inflation in perpetuity. That raise never came, however, and the president proposed a more modest boost to $9.00 during his State of the Union address earlier this year. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) soon rolled out their own, more ambitious proposal, which by 2015 would raise the minimum wage to $10.10, closer to its historical high in the late 1960s.

The proposals by both the president and congressional Democrats include one pivotal measure — the tying of the minimum wage to an inflation index. Ten states have already undertaken this change, choosing to automatically reset the minimum wage each year rather than wrangle politically over a new raise every few years. If Congress adopted an inflation index, the purchasing power of the minimum wage wouldn’t erode as it has for the past four years.

According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans broadly support the idea of raising the minimum wage and pegging it to inflation, with 62 percent of Americans saying it should be boosted to $9. Obama’s proposal was supported by a huge majority of Democrats in the poll (86 percent to 6 percent) and a majority of independents (56 percent to 28 percent). Fifty-two percent of Republicans, however, opposed the proposal, compared to 36 percent who supported it.

Shutdown Blame Game Begins Anew

Budget brinkmanship is on tap again this fall, if this week’s renewed finger-pointing over a potential government shutdown is any guide.

Though Congress and the White House have just more than two months to strike a deal keeping the government running — and a little longer before the debt ceiling hits — they appear set to engage in a full-fledged messaging war over the August break before returning to the negotiating table in September.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, challenged the White House to take a shutdown off the table by dropping a veto threat on spending bills at the House budget’s austere level. That $967 billion level happens to be the one prescribed in the 2011 Budget Control Act that President Barack Obama signed into law, and it includes the full-year effect of the sequester that both sides have called bad policy.

It’s a $21 billion cut from this year’s spending level of $988 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it would be unacceptable to let the sequester continue beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year — and he vowed to oppose a stopgap spending bill that would do so.

Read More on Roll Call: Shutdown Blame Game Begins Anew