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Abortion Energizes Parties, Even Without Passage

By Rebecca Adams, CQ Roll Call

Congress is unlikely to pass any legislation making changes to abortion this year, but that hasn’t stopped both sides from taking legislative steps aimed at energizing their core constituencies.

The House Appropriations Committee included a ban on abortion coverage in the new health insurance marketplaces in the fiscal 2014 financial services spending bill approved on July 17.

And the full chamber followed the lead of many states on June 18 by passing a ban on abortion 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The measure passed 228-196, with six Democrats supporting it and six Republicans opposing it. Supporters of limits on abortion immediately praised the action.

Even though the Senate has not scheduled action on the House-passed measure, Democratic senators have already held news conferences with abortion rights supporters declaring that they will never let the legislation pass in that chamber.

“We are here to make one thing abundantly clear, and that is that the extreme, unconstitutional abortion ban that passed the House just weeks ago, and which is being shopped around by the right wing for sponsors here in the Senate is a non-starter,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., standing beside Planned Parenthood officials. “Regardless of who introduces it, it’s going nowhere.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has taken a more muted approach. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 14, host David Gregory pressed Reid on whether it’s reasonable to consider a ban on abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.

Reid first demurred, talking about how hard it is to hold debates on other unrelated issues that both sides support when someone introduces an amendment on abortion or contraception. “I think we should deal with the problems that affect this country,” Reid said. “We need to do something to help the American working class and stop worrying about fringe issues.”

After Gregory continued to ask whether a 20-week ban is reasonable, Reid said, “I’m happy to take a look at this. I repeat, let’s do things that the vast majority of the American people think we should deal with.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 23, 2013 print issue of Roll Call

Source: CQ News
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© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

As Portland (Maine) Goes, So Goes … the Nation?

For decades, Portland, Maine, the state’s largest city (population 66,000), has been more liberal and more Democratic than the rest of the Pine Tree State. But it wasn’t always the magnet for foodies or the home of upscale boutiques that attract a more affluent crowd.

While Maine elected a Republican governor and GOP majorities in the legislature in 2010, that political “wave” outcome is misleading. Democrats won the legislature back in 2012, and Republicans will have trouble holding the governorship in 2014.

If the state of Maine has been sliding toward the Democrats in most statewide elections over the past four or five decades, Portland has been leading the state’s move to the left.

In 1972, when Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern was drawing only 38.5 percent of the vote in Maine, he was doing somewhat better in Portland. McGovern lost the city to Richard Nixon but drew a respectable 47.6 percent of the vote — 9.1 points better than his statewide showing.

In contrast, McGovern carried the city of Lewiston (population 36,000) easily, with 62.2 percent of the vote. Maine’s second-largest city has had a strong Catholic, French Canadian flavor for decades, and its blue-collar economy started going downhill in the middle of the last century, when textile mills left the Northeast for the South.

Lewiston was reliably Democratic, and it didn’t echo the Nixon landslide in 1972. McGovern ran 23.7 points better in Lewiston than he did statewide.

By 2000, Portland and Lewiston had started to show that things were changing.

While Al Gore carried Maine by 5.1 points (49.1 percent to 44 percent) and had decisive wins in both Portland and Lewiston, the Democratic presidential nominee drew 63.4 percent in Portland but a smaller 61.1 percent in Lewiston.

Read More: As Portland (Maine) Goes, So Goes … the Nation?

Bob Dole’s 90th Conjures Visions of Senate Long Gone

Seventeen years and 774 cloture petitions after he left the Senate, Bob Dole celebrated his 90th birthday Monday with the sort of plain-spoken tough love that marked his run as one of the most accomplished congressional leaders of all time.

At an invitation-only Capitol birthday party Tuesday afternoon, his fans will raise a chocolate milkshake toast and wistfully remember what was and what may never be again.

The week won’t have the same emotional pull as Dole’s last announced visit to the Capitol, in December, when he pulled himself out his wheelchair before saluting the coffin of his World War II hospital roommate and three-decade Democratic senatorial buddy Daniel K. Inouye.

It won’t have the same import as Dole’s last attempt to leverage his elder-statesman status as a lobbyist, that same month, when his personal appeals on the floor could not stop the Senate from spurning an international treaty to protect the rights of disabled people.

Nor does it provide the political punch of his last Sunday show appearance, in May, when he declared that his own Republican Party ought to declare itself “closed for repairs” until it settled on a less obstructionist vision.

But his birthday wishes — expressed with his trademark blast-of-Kansas-prairie-wind brevity — may be more important than any of those moments. They were the bluntest articulation possible of the Senate’s profound challenges.

Read more on Roll Call: Bob Dole’s 90th Conjures Visions of Senate Long Gone

House GOP August Plan: Hate on Washington

When House Republicans retreat to their districts for the August recess, they will each be armed with a detailed guide — an exceptionally detailed guide — on how to assure their already convinced constituents that Washington is broken.

The August House Republican Conference planning kit, titled “Fighting Washington for All Americans,” offers a rare glimpse into the constituent outreach efforts of the GOP. Those efforts, it turns out, are highly calculated, hashtag-heavy and rife with references to the video app Vine.

The best way to stay in Washington appears to be to deride Washington, and Republican leadership isn’t going to deviate from that familiar formula.

Of the many topics Republicans could delve into — the impending debt ceiling debate, immigration or, perhaps, the sequester — the 31-page GOP packet focuses on safer ground: Obamacare, jobs and the fierce hatred of all things Washington.

It includes a cookbook of events largely aimed at whacking the Obama administration and highlighting House Republicans’ efforts to fight it — while using social media every step of the way.

There’s an “Emergency Health Care Town Hall,” for starters, with detailed recipes on where to hold the event, how to promote it — tweet it, Vine it, Instagram it, Facebook it — and how to hold an “impromptu” media availability to “frame the key takeaways.”

Riva Litman, the spokeswoman for Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, said it is the job of the House Republican Conference to equip members with “the tools and resources they need to take our message to all corners of this country.”

“That’s why, in anticipation of the upcoming August recess, we’ve provided offices with a thorough and comprehensive planning kit — complete with suggested events, best practices and talking points,” Litman said. She noted that a second packet, complete with updated talking points, would be on its way to members soon.

The first kit offers variations on an old Washington favorite: bashing Washington.

“Washington is out of control,” warns a “sample op-ed” titled “Fighting Washington for You.”

Read more on Roll Call: House GOP August Plan: Hate on Washington

Cattle producers want to get rid of new meat labels

WASHINGTON _ After surviving years of drought and watching the size of the U.S. cattle herd fall to its lowest level in more than 60 years, Texas cattleman Bob McCan would just as soon steer clear of the U.S. government’s latest meat-labeling rules.

For many U.S. consumers, it’s a popular idea: Label packages to let them know what country the meat comes from.

But with his herd of roughly 4,000 including cattle from Mexico, McCan said there’s no good reason to segregate the animals when he sells them. All it would do, he said, is create hundreds of millions of dollars of extra handling costs that would get passed on, driving up the price at grocery stores.

“We don’t want beef to become a luxury item,” said McCan, a fifth-generation rancher from Victoria, Texas.

McCan, now the president-elect of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, is among a group of cattle producers and meat companies that has sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for moving ahead in late May with new country-of-origin labeling rules.

In a lawsuit filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in Washington, the groups claim the labels will hurt beef exports and are unconstitutional as “compelled speech” that doesn’t advance a government interest.

Backers of the new rules, who say labeling can be done at a minimal cost, are braced for another battle with cattle producers.

“They’re totally wrong _ consumers have the right to know where products are from,” said Joel Joseph, chairman of the Los Angeles-based Made in the USA Foundation, a group that promotes labeling and products manufactured in the United States. “It’s not forced speech. It’s just consumer information, the same kind of information that’s on a label of a new car that says where an engine’s from.”

He offered some advice for McCan: “If he doesn’t want to segregate his cattle, then he shouldn’t get cattle from Mexico.”

McCan said labeling is a marketing issue that should be left to the private sector.

“We’re not anti-labeling at all,” he said. “We just kind of feel like the government doesn’t really need to be in our marketing system. It doesn’t have to be dictated to us.”

Cattle producers aren’t the only unhappy ones.

The new labeling rules also could ignite a trade war with Canada, which is threatening to retaliate. Last month, the Canadian government called the new rules a “protectionist policy” that discriminated against foreign competition. Ottawa said it might respond by imposing tariffs on a long list of products, including pork, fruits and vegetables, pasta, chocolate, cheese, office furniture and many more. The Canadian government fears that its beef exports to the United States would decline under the new rules, with U.S. retailers more likely to reject foreign meat.

Canadian officials immediately complained to the World Trade Organization, but they say it could take more than a year to resolve the case.

As a result, John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, called the new rules a tactic by the U.S. Agriculture Department “to buy themselves another year of discrimination.”


And he predicted that the threat of tariffs will quickly affect U.S. businesses.

“If the market thinks tariffs are coming, businesses make plans to adjust,” Masswohl said. “So my feeling is that if you are a producer of one of the products on that list, your banker might have some issues with your line of credit.”


The issue has become tortuous for the Agriculture Department, which last year got sued by labeling proponents who accused the government of dragging its feet on adopting new rules.

And for consumer groups, labeling has become the issue that never goes away, even though it wins strong backing in polls.

“I thought we were done with it, and all of a sudden it’s still going on,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.


But he said industry groups have opposed country-of-origin labeling since it first appeared in Congress’ farm bill more than a decade ago.

“They’ve been trying to delay it ever since,” Waldrop said. “This is just another effort to do that, but the public is not on their side on this. … Consumers want more and more information about where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and not less.”



He cited a poll released by the Consumer Federation in May, which found that 90 percent of Americans back mandatory labeling of meat products.

McCan is not convinced.

“They might say they care, but most of them really don’t care what country it comes from. Beef is beef,” he said.

Masswohl said polls are misleading, adding that if consumers are asked only whether they’d like to know the origin of their food, “you’d be hard-pressed to find one who would say ‘no.'” But he said consumers put a higher value on price when they understand that labeling could result in a higher grocery bill. He estimated that the new U.S. rules would cost Canadian cattle producers from $90 to $100 per animal.


Canada and Mexico filed complaints against the United States with the World Trade Organization after an expanded labeling law took effect in 2009, alleging that it constituted a barrier to trade. After reviewing the case, the WTO upheld the right of the United States to require labels but said their cost exceeded the benefit and that they were confusing to consumers.

That prompted the USDA to issue its new rules this spring, satisfying a deadline set by the WTO.

Under the new rules, the labels will provide more information, detailing what countries the animals were born in and where they were raised and slaughtered. Officials at the Agriculture Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the federal government is satisfied that the new rules are legal and comply with the WTO’s concerns.

But critics say the new rules did nothing to end the discrimination, which they say will continue the forced segregation of animals.


“It’s absurd what they did, for them to suggest that they complied,” said Masswohl, whose group is one of eight that filed the lawsuit against the USDA.

Cattle producers say the new rules will be particularly onerous for ranchers and meat companies in border states such as Texas, the nation’s top beef-exporting state.

With his ranch just three hours from the Mexican border, McCan said he has long included cattle from Mexico in his business.

“They’ve been tested and treated for everything under the sun before they come across the river, so they’re clean animals and their health is good,” he said. “And usually they’re just ready to go when we get them. … There’s no safety concerns with those cattle coming in from Mexico. If anything, they’re even safer.”


But Joseph, whose Made in the USA Foundation urged the USDA to pass the new rules, said labeling is both a health and safety issue for American consumers, who put more faith in U.S. products.

“You’re getting a better product when you get American goods of any type,” he said. “And concerning food products, you’re getting a safer, cleaner product. Sanitation is better in the United States than it is in Mexico.”

McCan worries that a prolonged labeling spat could sour trade relations with Canada and Mexico. And they’re the top two destinations for U.S. beef exports, which declined by 12 percent worldwide in 2012, compared with the year before, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“The last thing we really need to be doing is creating some problems with them,” McCan said. “It’s gotten very political, unfortunately.”


(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


GRAPHIC (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20130719 BEEF TRADE

The Grimes Road Map to Defeat Mitch McConnell

For Democrats to win statewide in Kentucky, they must run up the score in urban areas without turning off voters in the state’s agricultural and coal counties. That’s as hard as it sounds — especially when a candidate can be painted by the competition as unsupportive of coal, one of the state’s crucial economic engines.

Exit Ashley Judd; enter Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Kentucky’s secretary of state will formally kick off her campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell next week. Her current status as a “blank slate” is what makes Democrats in the Bluegrass State optimistic that she can defeat the so-far-unbeatable Republican.

“I think she can get votes out of northern Kentucky and out west,” said Jimmy Cauley, a veteran Democratic operative in the state. “That’s where the race will be won or lost.”

Cauley, a former chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Steven L. Beshear and campaign manger on Barack Obama’s Senate campaign in Illinois, caught some heat earlier this year for pouring cold water on a prospective Judd bid.

The actress had great name recognition in the state, but Cauley and other state and national Democrats were unconvinced she could take down McConnell. He won two of his past four races with 53 percent or less, but he still emerged victorious.

Their apprehension about Judd’s candidacy wasn’t personal. It was geographical.

Outside the state’s urban areas of Louisville, Lexington and the Cincinnati suburbs in Northern Kentucky — where just one-third of the votes were cast in McConnell’s last race — there was concern Judd would get completely wiped out in the state’s coal and agricultural areas.

Read More on Roll Call: The Grimes Road Map to Defeat Mitch McConnell

House GOP Adds 9 Vulnerable Incumbents to Patriot Program

The National Republican Congressional Committee will announce Monday that it has added nine members to its vulnerable incumbent program for the 2014 cycle, according to information provided exclusively to CQ Roll Call.

The Patriot program provides fundraising and communications support to incumbents who meet certain NRCC benchmarks in their re-election campaigns. The nine Patriot program additions join 11 House Republicans whom the NRCC already deemed vulnerable.

This time, the most notable addition is Rep. Gary G. Miller of California, who represents the most Democratic district represented by a Republican in the country. Miller, a top Democratic target in 2014, joined the Patriot program after posting a respectable $238,000 haul in the second quarter — up from the meager $78,000 he raised in the first three months of the year.

The eight other new members are:

Read the rest on Roll Call: House GOP Adds 9 Vulnerable Incumbents to Patriot Program

Senate and C.I.A. Spar Over Secret Report on Interrogation Program

WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says she is planning a push to declassify hundreds of pages of a secret committee report that accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of misleading Congress and the White House about the agency’s detention and interrogation program, which is now defunct.

The 6,000-page report, which took years to complete and cost more than $40 million, is the only detailed account to date of a program that set off a national debate about torture. The report has been the subject of a fierce partisan fight and a vigorous effort by the C.I.A. to challenge its conclusions, and last month, the agency’s director, John O. Brennan, delivered a lengthy rebuttal to the report to committee leaders.

But the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in a statement this week that the report was on “firm ground” and that she planned to ask the White House and C.I.A. to declassify its 300-page executive summary after “making any factual changes to our report that are warranted after the C.I.A.’s response.”

The committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said he believed the report was deeply flawed and agreed with the intelligence agency’s critique. But he said he believed that a summary of the report could be made public, as long as it was accompanied by a summary of the agency’s response and a dissenting statement from committee Republicans.

The clash over the report is, at its core, a fight over who writes the history of what is perhaps the most bitterly disputed part of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than four years have passed since the C.I.A. closed its secret prisons, and nearly a decade since agency interrogators subjected Qaeda detainees to the most brutal interrogation methods, including the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

For defenders of the interrogation program, the Senate criticism represents second-guessing of actions taken at a desperate time to stop terrorist attacks. For critics, the report is a first step toward coming to terms with a shameful departure from American values that included the official embrace of torture.

According to several people who have read it, the Senate report is particularly damning in its portrait of a C.I.A. so intent on justifying extreme interrogation techniques that it blatantly misled President George W. Bush, the White House, the Justice Department and the Congressional intelligence committees about the efficacy of its methods.

Several senators have also said the report concludes that the use of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, forced nudity and sleep deprivation produced little information of value. It concludes that the use of those techniques did not disrupt any terrorist plots and made no significant contribution to finding Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda founder, who was killed in a SEAL team raid in 2011.

The C.I.A. response challenges a number of these conclusions, in part by questioning the accuracy of facts cited in the report.

A C.I.A. spokesman, Dean Boyd, said the agency’s response “detailed significant errors in the study,” though he added that the agency “agrees with a number of the study’s findings.”

In a separate statement, Mr. Brennan made clear his continuing opposition to coercive interrogation methods, which were used by the agency when he held high-level positions. “I remain firm in my belief that enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to play a leadership role in the world,” he said.

Mr. Chambliss said the report’s shortcomings stemmed from its being based exclusively on documents. “The folks doing the report got 100 percent of their information from documents and didn’t interview a single person,” he said, adding that while there were “some abuses,” the program was more effective than the report concludes.

The committee completed its report late last year and submitted it to the C.I.A., where it sat for months. The agency’s response to the report was due in February, but it was not delivered to the committee until the end of June.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, suggested that the committee would not automatically accept the agency’s corrections to the report. “My colleagues and I will apply the same level of scrutiny to the C.I.A.’s response that we used during our own exhaustive review of the program,” he said.

Some Democratic lawmakers and human rights advocates are frustrated that the White House has remained largely absent from the debate, though a May 10 photograph on the White House Flickr feed shows Mr. Brennan speaking with President Obama while holding a copy of the C.I.A. response to the Senate report.

In a statement on Friday, Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, urged the committee and the C.I.A. “to continue working together to address issues associated with the report — including factual questions.”

She said that at some point, “some version of the findings of the report should be made public.”

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that squarely facing the mistakes of the interrogation program was “essential for the C.I.A.’s long-term institutional integrity, for the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs, and for this White House, which so far has rejected requests to discuss the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report with members or committee staff.”

Though the committee’s investigation began as a bipartisan effort, Republicans dropped out in August 2009 after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the Justice Department was reviewing the interrogation program. In part because they expected many C.I.A. officers to refuse to discuss the program during the Justice Department review, committee Democrats decided to base their investigation solely on documents, ultimately reviewing some six million pages.

The costs of the investigation ballooned over four years. The C.I.A. insisted that committee staff members be allowed to pore over thousands of classified agency cables only at a secure facility in Northern Virginia — and only after a team of outside contractors had examined the cables first. Government officials said that between paying for the facility and for the contractors, the C.I.A. had spent more than $40 million on the study.

Mrs. Feinstein angrily complained about what she called a pattern of unnamed officials speaking to reporters to discredit the Senate report.

“I am appalled by the persistent media leaks by anonymous officials regarding the C.I.A.’s response to the committee’s study,” she said, adding that the leaks began three months before the agency delivered its formal response.

“Leaks defending the C.I.A. interrogation program regardless of underlying facts or costs have been a persistent problem for many years,” she said. “This behavior was, and remains, unacceptable.”

Newbies Take Over Congress; Now What Will They Make of It?

The just-updated résumé of Edward J. Markey points to one of the more unusual characteristics of the Capitol this year: It’s swarming with newbies.

When he moved his office from one side of the Hill campus to the other last week, the Massachusetts Democrat increased to 16 the number of members who have been senators for less than a year. That number hasn’t been larger in more than three decades, since the Reagan landslide ushered in the Republican takeover and a class of 18 freshmen in 1981.

In the past four years, moreover, the median years of service in the chamber has plummeted from 11 to six, because so many newcomers have replaced Senate icons.

So much for the case for statutory term limits — and so much more fodder to throw into the debate on whether experience is a force for good or ill in Congress.

When the 111th Congress convened four years ago, Markey’s predecessor, John Kerry, was among 29 senators who had already served for 19 years or more. Today, there are 17 on that roster.

At the same time, Markey’s transition continued the steady march of the old guard out of the House. He represented the Boston suburbs for 36 years and eight months before winning the special election arranged when Kerry became secretary of State. That’s the same as the collective service of the six members from Louisiana and more than the cumulative seniority in the House delegations of 18 states. With Markey gone, the House has only eight members who arrived before the 1970s.

Whichever Democrat wins the House special election to replace Markey in December, and whichever Republican holds the seat Rep. Jo Bonner is giving up next month to become the University of Alabama system’s top lobbyist will grow the size of this year’s freshman class to 74.

Read More on Roll Call: Newbies Take Over Congress; Now What Will They Make of It?

Reid: ‘We’re Through’ Doing Military and Homeland Security Appropriations First

Senate Democrats are making a bid to change the playbook on considering federal spending.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that unlike in some recent years, he wouldn’t try to work through what are often considered bipartisan spending measures first, like the Military Construction-VA measure or one funding the Department of Homeland Security, which are considered low-hanging fruit.

The result of that maneuver has been that Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, the Pentagon and some other departments and agencies get full bills enacted into law while others get stuck with a steady stream of stopgap measures.

“Those days are behind us,” Reid said. “We are not going to be gamed by having the military programs funded at a much higher level than Head Start program, or NIH. We’re not going to do that. We’re through.”

Reid and other Senate Democrats sounded emboldened following a caucus lunch meeting with National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, where Collins outlined what the Democrats called devastating effects of the budget sequester on the agency.

Reid said that Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., wants to move ahead with the typically more contentious Labor-HHS-Education measure and her own Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which Reid, perhaps in a nod to his own time as an appropriator, called the “Commerce-State-Justice” legislation.

“We need to have the fierce urgency of now to cancel sequester, and lift the caps and do it in a balanced way,” Mikulski said. “As of today, we’ve marked up eight of our appropriations bill. We will be on the floor next week with an appropriations bill, but we are heading to Oct. 1, and we need a solution.”

Read More on Roll Call: Reid: ‘We’re Through’ Doing Military and Homeland Security Appropriations First

Boehner: Congress Is Focused, Not Unproductive

Speaker John A. Boehner doesn’t want to hear that Congress has been “historically unproductive.”

“That’s just total nonsense,” Boehner said, cutting off a reporter before he could finish his question about how Congress has recently had fewer and fewer bills signed into law.

“Now listen: We made clear when we took over that we weren’t going to be doing commemorative legislation on the floor,” Boehner said. “In addition to that, most Americans think we have too many laws. What they want us to do is repeal more of those. So I reject the premise to the question. We got a big job to do here. We need to stay focused on those things that are most important to the American people.”

The Ohio Republican vowed when he took office that the House would not fill its time with post office naming bills or other insignificant measures that Congress rubber-stamps and the president auto-pens.

Read More on Roll Call: Boehner: Congress Is Focused, Not Unproductive

Political odd couple together again on voting law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The white Wisconsin lawyer and the black preacher from Georgia strode into the Senate hearing room together and took their seats, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the witness table. Veteran lawmakers and experts in civil rights law, they’ve been here before.

Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Democratic Rep. John Lewis are men of a certain age and experience amid a Congress marked by a bitter aversion to working together. Though political and temperamental opposites, they have paired up for decades on one of the nation’s most painful issues- racial politics – and won overwhelming bipartisan passage when they have sought to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

This time it’s Sensenbrenner’s third rewrite of the 1965 law and Lewis’ second. The Supreme Court’s decision to gut the product of their partnership has called them together again, but the odds of successfully persuading their colleagues to rewrite the law once again aren’t clear.

"This is going to be a little harder," Sensenbrenner said Wednesday after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and the day before a House session. "It’s uncharted waters."

"If anyone on the other side of the aisle can bring people to the table and get it done, this man can do it," Lewis said of Sensenbrenner in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "He is tireless. And he will not take `no’ for an answer."

Influential House Republicans, such as Speaker John Boehner, aren’t saying much of anything about the prospects for a bill to pass the GOP-led House. So with time ticking toward the 2014 elections and the Republicans eager to draw support from blacks and Hispanics, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, Sensenbrenner and Lewis are laying the groundwork for their case. They testified Wednesday before the Senate. A House panel is holding a hearing Thursday.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last month to effectively halt the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, enacted to outlaw racial discrimination against voters in local, state and federal elections. Some entire states and counties were subjected to special federal enforcement, with requirements to get approval in advance before they could make even minor changes to voting laws.

Lawmakers extended the provisions in 1970, 1975 and 1982, and in 2006 Congress voted overwhelmingly to keep them another 25 years. Sensenbrenner and Lewis were central figures in the two most recent reauthorizations. The Wisconsin Republican said Wednesday the research he amassed during the 2006 rewrite, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, amounted to 15,000 pages.

The Supreme Court decision, striking as outdated the so-called preclearance provision, means that a host of state and local laws in covered jurisdictions now can take effect without Justice Department approval. Prominent among those are voter identification laws in Alabama and Mississippi. The other covered states are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some local jurisdictions in Michigan, are included.

Enforcement coverage has been triggered by discrimination not only against blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives and Hispanics.

Under the law, jurisdictions can break away from federal oversight if they show a clean record on voting rights for 10 years.

That drew Lewis and Sensenbrenner together again on the same subject, but in a very different political climate.

"The Supreme Court said it’s an obligation of Congress to do this. That’s a command of a separate but co-equal branch of government," said Sensenbrenner, 70. A new law, he said, should be passed before the congressional elections. He added that House GOP leaders are open to the prospect but they have to see a draft first, it must address the court’s objections and it must be "politically acceptable" in the House and Senate.

"The American people expect us to roll up our sleeves and get to work," Lewis, 73, said at the same Senate hearing.

That’s a tall order in an age of divided government and scorched-earth partisanship that faded, for now, only a day earlier when the Senate struck a deal to avert a ban on some filibusters. Democrats control the presidency and the Senate, while Republicans have the House majority.

More broadly, the Voting Rights Act hearings come at a tense time for race relations. The nation is grappling with the acquittal this week of George Zimmerman in the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, has reacted cautiously to the Florida jury’s verdict.

And politically, Republicans are struggling with immigration reform in their bid to appeal to Hispanics and other voters who turned out overwhelmingly for Democrats in last year’s elections. So rewriting a part of the Voting Rights Act is sensitive for the GOP in advance of the 2014 congressional elections.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has not commented on the prospects for a bill. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., hasn’t committed, either.

But Sensenbrenner and Lewis are resuming their well-practiced roles.

"I try to be a mechanic, to put together legislation that will work," Sensenbrenner told the Senate panel. "We’re going to have to repair a few parts this year."

Lewis, who was beaten during a civil rights march in Alabama during the 1960s and forgave an attacker, says he tries to provide a sense of history and inspiration. At one point during Wednesday’s hearing, Lewis looked to his left at Sensenbrenner.

"I am very proud and pleased to be with him today. My friend, my brother," Lewis said.

©2012 The Associated Press

GOP education bill comes under fire from House Democrats

For the first time since 2001, members of Congress began floor debate today in the House on a comprehensive bill to update the country’s main federal education law.

“It’s been 12 years ? 12 years,” said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chief sponsor of the “Student Success Act.” “Neither party has been able to bring legislation to the floor in either body. We’ve been in a situation for years now where the Congress has abdicated completely its responsibility.”

But it also marked the first time in recent memory that the House was debating an education bill that was partisan in nature, written by Republicans without any support from Democrats and with a veto threat issued Wednesday by President Obama.

“This is a huge step outside the mainstream consensus,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is leading the opposition and mockingly referred to Kline’s bill as the “Letting Students Down Act.”

A final vote is expected Friday.

Member after member rose to talk about the importance of quality public education, but they offered vastly different views about whether the bill on the floor would achieve it. Two lawmakers from Nevada, Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Dina Titus, said the bill was terrific and terrible, respectively.

The GOP bill would update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, created by Congress in 1965 to distribute federal dollars primarily to help children who are poor, disabled or English language learners. Those dollars represent about 10 percent of funding for public schools; local communities and states provide the rest.

“It is fundamentally a civil rights law,” Miller said. “This bill guts funding for public education, abdicates the federal government’s responsibility to make sure each child has an equal right to a quality education.”

The current version of the law, known as No Child Left Behind, expired in 2007, but Congress has struggled to agree on an update.

Kline’s bill would sharply shrink the federal role in K-12 public schools and mark a departure from No Child Left Behind, which had significantly expanded federal authority in local school matters.

“We have sought to recalibrate the federal role, undoing the excesses of the past,” said Kline, whose bill is supported by the National School Boards Association.

Several Republicans said they would have liked to delete the federal government’s involvement altogether. “Many of my Republican colleagues and I feel the federal government should be out of education,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), adding that the bill was “a step in the right direction.”

No Child Left Behind sets conditions and requirements for every public school receiving federal funds to educate poor students and those with special needs. The law defines academic progress and stipulates sanctions for schools that don’t meet that progress. It also dictates specific improvement strategies that the states must adopt for their weakest schools. Underpinning the law is a belief that states that receive billions of federal dollars each year must be made accountable to Washington.

The GOP bill takes a different tack, returning power to the states. It would retain the No Child Left Behind requirements that schools test students annually in math and reading from grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.

But states would set their own academic standards, decide whether schools are meeting them and determine what ? if anything ? to do about underperforming schools. The bill would delete a provision known as “maintenance of effort,” which currently ensures that states use federal dollars in addition to, and not as a replacement for, state and local dollars to help low-income, minority, disabled students and English learners.

And it would also would freeze education spending at sequester rates instead of restoring federal dollars to pre-sequester levels, which means public schools would receive $1 billion less next year.

Democrats say Kline’s bill would gut education dollars for poor students at a time when a record numbers of U.S. children are living in poverty, weaken the accountability of schools serving low-income, minority and special-education students and allow states to ignore their worst schools instead of improve them.

“This bill has an accountability hole so big, in most districts, an entire school bus of kids will fall through it,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, said he was opposed to the bill because “it reverses decades of supports and protections for students with disabilities.”

An unusual coalition of business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, have joined teachers unions, civil rights groups and advocates for the disabled to oppose the GOP bill.

A series of Republican lawmakers railed against waivers that the Obama administration issued to 39 states and the District of Columbia that exempts them from some of the most punitive aspects of No Child Left Behind. The administration began issuing the waivers in 2011, after mounting complaints from governors and school boards that No Child Left Behind was unrealistic and that schools would not be able to meet one requirement in particular ? that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

In the absence of an updated law, Education Secretary Arne Duncan began giving states waivers in exchange for their agreement to embrace certain education policy changes favored by Obama, including new academic standards known as the Common Core.

The GOP bill forbids the department of education from using waivers or grants to influence state education policy.

“This bill makes certain the secretary of education does not have the power to force, in a a dictatorial way, the Common Core,” said Rep. Aaron Schock (R- Ill.).

In the Senate, Democrats passed their own education bill in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that would maintain much of the federal education oversight. Most observers say it is unlikely that the two chambers will reach agreement on a compromise in this Congress.

Voting Rights Act Rewrite Hinges on Little-Known Republicans

There’s a ready temptation for those who dismiss any talk that Congress might agree on a way to revamp the Voting Rights Act.

Look no further, they might say, than the ideologically opposite lawmakers who have become the most visible players on the future of the law:

Making back-to-back images of Lewis and Franks shorthand for the inevitable impasse over rewriting the statute may be expedient for both sides’ partisan interests. But there’s still a long-shot chance it could prove premature.

If there’s a shot at a deal in the next year, it may rest with two other House members who are hardly as well-known to those who watch cable television news. They are Republicans who have quite different, but equally pressing, incentives for bolstering protections for voting.

One is Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who chaired Judiciary when the Voting Rights Act was last updated in 2006. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down a central element of one of his most important legislative achievements, Sensenbrenner is ready to devote the twilight of his almost-four-decade career to winning a more lasting bipartisan triumph the second time around.

Read more on Roll Call: Voting Rights Act Rewrite Hinges on Little-Known Republicans

Student Loan Deal Takes Shape, but Harkin Blamed for Delay

A bipartisan group of senators reached a tentative agreement to permanently fix federal student loan rates Wednesday evening, following a day of frustration from Republicans and moderate Democrats with what they viewed as liberal slow-walking of a potential deal.

Just a day after being urged by President Barack Obama at the White House to forge a compromise, Senators met twice in the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss legislation to fix student loan rates after Congress let a one-year extension of the subsidized Stafford loan rate expire and double on July 1.

The first meeting was Democrats-only in the afternoon with more than a half dozen senators attending, but it did not include Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, according to a source familiar with negotiations. A second, bipartisan meeting later in the evening in the leadership suite of Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., ended with negotiators cautiously optimistic they could move forward on a plan, especially with what they believed was Obama’s blessing.

Of all the senators involved in talks on the issue, it has been Harkin who has been most reluctant to sign off on an agreement. As CQ Roll Call has previously reported, even though the White House has said it does not want to raise money from students to pay down the deficit, current law and the framework the administration put forward in its 2014 budget does just that.

Harkin, along with Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has been insistent that an agreement should not raise money off the backs of students. Warren has not been in the room for the recent bipartisan talks.

Frustration with Harkin ran so high Wednesday that GOP negotiators mulled not attending the bipartisan meeting in Durbin’s office.

Read More on Roll Call: Student Loan Deal Takes Shape, but Harkin Blamed for Delay

Spending Stalemate May Stretch Appropriations Blockade Beyond 2014

The budget impasse that could result in a continuing resolution for the coming fiscal year is so deep that many federal agencies may operate well into 2015 on stale spending plans that date to 2011.

Consumed by debates about sweeping fiscal goals, party leaders and the White House have set little priority on the time-consuming and politically challenging task of reconciling their huge differences and hashing out detailed instructions for federal agencies through the annual appropriations process.

That means that even as appropriations committees move forward with bills and House leaders cautiously push some measures toward the floor, Congress is all but certain to turn to work on a continuing resolution after the August recess for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. With midterm elections coming next year, the political calendar suggests that any CR will likely leave agencies on budget autopilot for at least the initial months of fiscal 2015.

No regular appropriations bill were enacted in the last three election years, 2008, 2010 and 2012.

"I hope that we would look in the mirror at the way that we run this place," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the panel overseeing funding for the State Department. "It causes more inefficiencies than the IRS."

With no common budget resolution agreed to by the chambers, Democrats and Republicans are divided by a $91 billion gap in the overall level for discretionary spending. The House is proceeding with its bills based on a $967 billion top line, while Senate Democrats are writing bills with $1.058 trillion in overall spending.

"The worry I have is that appropriations bills are not going to see the light of becoming law. It’s enormously frustrating," said Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Bills advancing in the coming days display the divide between the chambers through their allocations and through myriad policy provisions that have been inserted into the spending bills.

House appropriators will on Wednesday consider the Financial Services-General Government bill, which includes provisions regarding abortion and the implementation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul (PL 111-203). The GOP-written plan also would severely cut the budget of the IRS, a response to the controversy over the IRS targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status. Unwilling to delve anew into many controversial topics, Republicans and Democrats opted earlier this year to leave in place the fiscal 2012 appropriations law regarding programs funded by the Financial Services bill and used a CR to fund them. This also froze the spending decisions for dozens of other agencies funded in the Financial Services bill.

That’s also the case for the State-Foreign Operations bill, also likely to be included in a CR for both fiscal 2014 and the early part of fiscal 2015.

The State-Foreign Operations bill is among the last bills that appropriators brought forward for this year, with only a House subcommittee markup so far announced.

The most likely candidates for new fiscal 2014 appropriations include the measures on which both committees already have acted: the Agriculture (HR 2410, S 1244), Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security (HR 2217) and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills (HR 2216), as well as the Defense bill (HR 2397). These five were included in the fiscal 2013 package (PL 113-6) as new appropriations, with a CR covering the seven unfinished bills.

The difference in the top-line spending means there’s little chance that lawmakers will do new versions of any appropriations bills for fiscal 2014. Republicans are sticking for now with a roughly $967 billion spending cap on discretionary spending, reflecting the 2011 Budget Control Act (PL 112-25) while seeking to ease a restriction made by this law on defense spending. Democrats want to replace the sequester demanded by the law with a mix of new revenue and alternative spending cuts and restore the law’s original $1.058 trillion budget cap.

"We’re heading for a CR right now, unless something happens," said Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, adding that a broader budget deal in the fall could pave the way for completion of work on some spending bills.

"There’s always a chance to do something. We could be here until Christmas," Shelby said.

The midterm election in 2014 will "exacerbate" the difficulty in getting spending bills done for fiscal 2105, especially if Democrats and Republicans have not resolved their disputes about the budget, Shelby said.

Dan Coats of Indiana, a senior GOP appropriator, said appropriations will remain difficult to complete until the parties reach a substantial agreement on the budget, one that extends beyond the simple question of how much to spend in fiscal 2014 and tackles larger issues such as paying for entitlement programs.

"The day after the ’14 election, the presidential election starts and now we are into 2017 before we address this," Coats said. "It gets harder every day that goes by that we don’t do a bigger deal."

Geoff Koss contributed to this report.

Biggest Threat to U.S. Economy Is Congress, Bernanke Says

Congress is the the main impediment to a more robust economy, Ben S. Bernanke told Congress today in what may well be his swan song on Capitol Hill.

What’s more, lawmakers are on course to make things worse before the end of the year, the custodian of monetary policy warned the caretakers of fiscal policy.

“The economic recovery has continued at a moderate pace in recent quarters despite the strong headwinds created by federal fiscal policy,” was the substantive opening line of his testimony to the House Financial Services Committee.

In the next breath, the chairman of the Federal Reserve worried that the House and Senate are contemplating additional austerity measures this year that would curb the expansion even more.

“The risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery,” he said.

Bernanke was pointing to one of the under-appreciated realities of the congressional budget discussion ever since Republicans took control of the House three years ago. The parameters of the debate don’t include any discussion of an expansionary fiscal policy — one in which large amounts of federal spending and low rates of taxation give the economy plenty to grow on.

Read More: Biggest Threat to U.S. Economy Is Congress, Bernanke Says

Ghosts of the Old Senate Chamber Leave Mark on ‘Nuclear Option’ Deal

Senate institutionalists were the clear winners Tuesday, when the chamber averted a Democratic threat to end filibusters on executive branch nominees.

Unlike some past handshake deals to avert a procedural crises, this one might actually have a chance because senators seem more invested in the agreement after holding a three-and-a-half-hour long meeting to share their heartfelt feelings about why the filibuster is or isn’t a good thing.

For instance, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., conceded that there were problems with the GOP’s recent attempt to block nominations in an effort to force changes in law or make an agency impotent. That was the issue with the delay in confirming Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray ultimately got confirmed, 66-34, on Tuesday evening.

Graham was among the Senate Republicans involved in conversations throughout the weekend that led to Tuesday’s deal.

In effect, Graham disavowed a previous letter from all Senate Republicans that said no one should be confirmed to helm the CFPB until changes were made to the agency. Critics called such a move “nullification” since the organizational structure of the CFPB essentially required a confirmed director to fully function.

A Tuesday morning test vote on Cordray received 17 votes from the GOP side, after discussions that involved Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Cordray’s home state of Ohio.

Read more on Roll Call: Ghosts of the Old Senate Chamber Leave Mark on ‘Nuclear Option’ Deal

Foursquare Rolls Out Targeted Ads, Adds New Way to Reach Engaged Users

AdAge had a great piece yesterday discussing Foursquare’s recent launch of targeted ads when users check-in. The idea is pretty straightforward, when a user checks-in to a location, they’re immediately displayed an ad that relates to that check-in.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re at a bar, pop open your Foursquare app and check-in. Right as you complete your check-in, the app, now knowing your location, displays an ad for a specific drink, maybe a limited release beer that you didn’t know was available. You see the ad, think the drink sounds good and head to the bar to order one. It’s that easy. Foursquare knew your location and served up an advertisement that correlated directly with those details.

The good news for advocacy folks, while the ads are being rolled out to marketers of perishable and tangible products alike, it’s not a leap to transition the concept directly to your advocacy effort.

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Texas, Nevada Make Big Plays for More Hollywood Business

As a fan of Stephen King’s massive tales of societal collapse and the aftermath (“The Stand” and “Under the Dome”), I was excited for the debut of “Under the Dome” on CBS but equally apprehensive, given past TV treatments of his work. But so far “Under the Dome” has been excellent, and I recently read a piece about life on the set.

In the article, writer Richard Rushfield mentions the flip-flopping history of movie and television tax credits in North Carolina, where the Maine-based series has been filmed. And that made me wonder what other states have been doing this year to entice Hollywood studios. (Sorry for the long set-up.)

The majority of states offer tax and rebate incentives to attract the movie and TV industries, and the Motion Picture Association of America has a handy chart describing each program. But it has not been updated for all the 2013 activity. For example, the Nevada Legislature passed legislation this year appropriating $20 million in tax incentives for producing movies, TV or online series, and video games in the Silver State. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed the bill last month.

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