Look up your lawmaker. Track your lawmaker's votes in Congress.

Are you Engage{d}

Is the 2014 Senate Race Recruitment Season Over?

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s anticipated entrance into an open-seat Senate race on Tuesday will bring the recruitment phase of next year’s competitive Senate landscape closer to its conclusion.

Senate Democrats, who can afford a loss of no more than five seats in the 2014 midterms to retain a majority, are on the brink of filling the remaining few gaps on the party’s roster of candidates. With Tennant in and Lt. Gov. John Walsh potentially running in Montana, the party has just one vulnerable seat left where it is still searching for a candidate: South Dakota.

Republicans are playing offense in all but two of the top races next year and therefore had far more recruiting to do, but they have also landed candidates in nearly all of their highly targeted races. While the search is ongoing in some second-tier states, most of the party’s biggest midterm question marks stem from the rampant competitive primaries that will play out next summer.

There is still plenty of time before filing deadlines and primaries kick off, but most top Senate candidates tend to be identified with about a year to go. As a result, Senate race recruitment season appears to be winding to an end.

Read More on Roll Call: Is the 2014 Senate Race Recruitment Season Over?

Leaders Look to Bank Leverage for Fall Fiscal Fights

As House GOP leadership tries to tamp down a revolt over funding Obamacare, a quieter battle is being waged with Democrats and within the GOP: 967, 986 or 1,058. As in billion.

That’s the difference between next year’s sequester level, the funding level in leadership’s bill and next year’s pre-sequester level, respectively, and which number makes it into the short-term continuing resolution keeping the government open past Sept. 30 will set the table for the fall fiscal fights to follow.

No matter which number makes it into a short-term bill, the 2011 Budget Control Act would still cut spending to $967 billion starting in January, so to some degree the fight over the numbers is about maximizing each side’s leverage heading into the next round, rather than shooting with real budget bullets.

Republicans say they are trying to preserve the spending cuts from the sequester. ”If the CR comes from the Senate, you’re going to lose it,” a senior GOP aide said.

Another point leadership is making to the rank and file is that they will have more leverage in the next round — when the debt ceiling hits.

“Obama has all the leverage in a CR; he has no leverage in the debt limit,” the aide said.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., are still trying to salvage their CR strategy, one aimed at getting Democrats to acquiesce to the $986 billion level while simultaneously providing cover for GOP lawmakers who want to go on record having voted to defund Obamacare but don’t actually want to risk a government shutdown over the issue.

As in 2011, the plan would have the side benefit of getting Senate Democrats to vote one more time to keep Obamacare in place, which Republicans are convinced will help them defeat vulnerable senators in 2014.

But so far, leadership doesn’t have the votes. And on Thursday, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., introduced his own spending package that would defund Obamacare while cutting spending more than House Republican leaders have proposed.

With 233 Republicans in the House, and about 50 Republicans supporting the Graves bill, that leaves about 180 Republicans not on board. The Graves spending measure includes many names that might be possible for leadership to get, including Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Richard Hudson of North Carolina and Trent Franks of Arizona.

But getting the final 20 to 30 Republicans to support the bill is where leaders may have issues.

“We don’t see where the votes are for the gimmick plan,” Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler told CQ Roll Call on Friday.

Heritage Action is closely keeping track of the votes, and the group is one of many voices that thinks there are too many Republicans holding the line on Obamacare for leadership’s gambit to work.

If they can’t get the votes, Boehner and company will have a choice — reach out to Democrats or rewrite their bill to appeal to the right.

And that’s where the $967 billion or $986 billion (or something closer to $1.058 trillion, the pre-sequester number set in the 2011 budget law) comes in.

In addition to Obamacare defunding, some Republicans may subscribe to Sen. Tom Coburn’s demand for a sequester at $967 billion. The Oklahoma Republican wrote a letter to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Thursday that said adding any spending over $967 billion would make a “mockery” of the Budget Control Act.

For what it’s worth, Coburn opposes the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy, saying it’s “not achievable.”

House Democratic leaders are coalescing around the talking point that they won’t accept a continuing resolution that funds the government at sequester levels.

But in private conservations, House and Senate Democratic aides say they are likely to swallow a CR around $988 billion as long as it didn’t touch Obamacare, though they aren’t necessarily happy with a bill that goes all the way to Dec. 15.

The White House hasn’t put up much of a fight so far.

“We would consider a clean CR that prevents a shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. That would provide time to consider a broader spending deal, he said.

But while Coburn is holding the line on spending, the major issue still seems to be Obamacare.

Holler said defunding Obamacare in the CR is “crucially important” to winning Heritage Action’s support. “And once they’re committed to that, we can figure out the rest of it.”

Holler also said these sorts of “legislative ploys,” where a member votes to defund Obamacare through a plan that would fund it in the end, don’t fool voters anymore because of groups such as Heritage and technology like Twitter.

“Constituents aren’t falling for Washington procedure anymore,” Holler said. “They don’t fall for the gimmicks. They see through it all.”

If voters do “see through it all,” Republicans could be in trouble.

Boehner needs his conference to pass his plan. If members refuse, he will, at some point, be forced to go to Democrats.

Either he goes to them right away or he passes a measure, such as the Graves bill, that defunds Obamacare and spends at a lower level, knowing it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. The Senate will roundly reject that bill, send back its own, Democrat-approved measure, and Boehner will face a “Hastert rule” dilemma.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

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

Bachmann’s Cautionary Tale: Sweat the Small Stuff, or Pay the Price

Few members of Congress sustain higher name identification than Michele Bachmann, even though her shooting-star prominence has had almost nothing to do with her work as the representative from the Twin Cities suburbs.

But now, in the self-imposed twilight of her time in the House, she looks to be shaping the end of her career in a way she never intended — a way that could not have been predicted when she burst so bombastically onto the scene six years ago — as the latest cautionary tale about the danger of deciding there’s no need to sweat the details of political life.

Once Bachmann announced in May that she wouldn’t make an assuredly difficult run for a fifth term, the Beltway fact-checkers decided not to put much effort into refuting her conspiratorial histrionics or conservative flights of fancy. House Republican leadership began shifting its view of her from a major management challenge to a tangential irritant. The tea party colleagues she once purported to direct scattered in search of different leadership.

But the watchdogs of congressional behavior, campaign finance regulations and federal criminal law haven’t dropped the Minnesotan from their sights. And, in the past two weeks, they’ve signaled they have found someone who was, at best, inappropriately ignorant about improper activity by the people who ran her boom-to-bust-in-five-months quest for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Read More on Roll Call: Bachmann’s Cautionary Tale: Sweat the Small Stuff, or Pay the Price

50 Richest Members of Congress: The Wealth Keeps Growing

A surprisingly strong year in the financial markets made the richest members of Congress even wealthier in 2012, with the median net worth of the 50 richest rising more than 17 percent, CQ Roll Call’s annual survey of congressional wealth shows.

Lawmakers’ portfolios shrugged off pre-election jitters, concerns about the European debt crisis and suspense surrounding the fiscal cliff. It took a minimum reported net worth of $6.67 million just to crack the exclusive 50 Richest club.

Financial disclosures also revealed a widening gap between members’ wealth and that of their constituents. The median net worth of the 112th Congress stood at $442,007 in 2012. Nineteen percent of lawmakers reported no debts at all, while 15 percent had trusts.

Read More on Roll Call: 50 Richest Members of Congress: The Wealth Keeps Growing

House Bill Would Expand FDA Role in Pharmacy Oversight

By Emily Ethridge, CQ Roll Call

Three House lawmakers Thursday introduced their version of bipartisan legislation to clarify the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of compounding pharmacies.

The bill (HR 3089), from Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith and Democrats Gene Green of Texas and Diana DeGette of Colorado, is similar to legislation (S 959) the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved by voice vote in May.

Both would create a new category for pharmacies that compound sterile medications and ship them across state lines, which the FDA would oversee. Under both bills, state boards of pharmacy would continue to have primary oversight over traditional compounding pharmacies.

The legislation brings Congress one step closer to passing legislation in response to last year’s fatal fungal meningitis outbreak caused by a contaminated injectable steroid.

“These discussions have been productive and are ongoing, and by dropping this bill we are keeping the pressure on House leadership and maintaining the momentum we have built,” said Green in a statement.

In the House bill, the FDA would oversee “outsourcing facilities” — pharmacies that ship sterile compounded drugs across state lines and that have those drugs account for more than 5 percent of the products they produce.

Those facilities would have to register annually with the FDA, report and list the drugs they compound, report adverse events to the FDA, and label their products. They also would be subject to inspections on a risk-based schedule and pay an annual establishment fee and fees for reinspections, starting at $15,000.

Griffith’s office said the bill would replace a section of law that has been the subject of conflicting court decisions, which FDA officials say has resulted in an ambiguous regulatory situation.

The legislation also would require implementation of a notification system between the FDA and state boards of pharmacy to improve communication.

And it would allow the FDA to create lists of drug ingredients that cannot be compounded due to safety or efficacy concerns, and of drugs are demonstrably difficult to compound. It would ban the compounding of products that are essentially copies of marketed and approved drugs.


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

This Cycle’s Top 8 Most Fascinating Recruits (So Far)

A beekeeper, a Gitmo commander and a Bosnian war refugee all want the same thing. It’s not a riddle; it’s the 2014 election cycle.

Congressional candidates often boast a résumé that includes time in local office, terms in the legislature or experience running a business. It’s a formula that instantly boosts name identification with voters.

But the cast of congressional candidates usually offers some upstarts — people with an unusual background, a unique curriculum vitae or an unconventional motivation that gives them a shot at Congress.

Of course, a special résumé does not translate to victory. Several of last cycle’s most-hyped candidates — including Ret. Air Force Col. Martha E. McSally, an Arizona Republican, and former astronaut Jose M. Hernandez, a California Democrat — lost their House races, to Ron Barber and Jeff Denham, respectively. (McSally is running again in 2014).

But an out-of-the-box background can help a candidate break through a tough field. Just ask the former world champion USA Volleyball team member, the double-amputee war hero or the reindeer farmer who won House races last cycle.

In no special order, here are several of this election’s most fascinating candidates for Congress:

Read More on Roll Call: This Cycle’s Top 8 Most Fascinating Recruits (So Far)

43 GOP Lawmakers Float Alternative CR That Defunds Obamacare

Forty-three House Republicans have introduced their own continuing resolution that they think would achieve the goal of both cutting spending and defunding Obamacare better than the plan GOP leaders put forth Tuesday.

Rather than fund the government for a month and a half at the post-sequester top line of $988 billion, it would run through all of fiscal 2014 at the lower, $967 billion levels many Republicans favor.

And, instead of relying on a legislative maneuver to force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare without risking a shutdown at the end of the month, it contains language that would actually zero out funding for the president’s signature health care law.

It could spell trouble for the Ohio Republican and other members of the leadership team as they try to come up with a strategy that won’t alienate their base but has an actual chance of passing the Senate.

“Our plan will achieve fairness for every American by fully delaying and defunding Obamacare until 2015,” Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia said in a statement. “This approach builds upon the Obama Administration’s policy of delaying portions of Obamacare and relieves taxpayers of the burden of funding a program that is not being implemented.”

Heritage Action for America likes the sound of this.

Read More on Roll Call: 43 GOP Lawmakers Float Alternative CR That Defunds Obamacare

States Battle to Recover Royalties for Energy Production on Public Lands

Western governors won a rare — though potentially short-lived — victory last month when the Interior Department reversed plans to withhold roughly $100 million in fiscal 2013 royalty payments to states for oil, gas and coal produced on federal lands within their borders.

To the dismay of state governments, the Interior Department had said it would withhold roughly 5 percent of the royalties owed under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (PL 66-146) to comply with across-the-board spending reductions under the sequester. They were relieved when the department relented, after concluding as part of a legal review urged by the states that mineral payments qualified under a 1985 budget law that allows certain sequestered funds to be withheld initially, then disbursed in subsequent fiscal years.

But the decision doesn’t mean the states will see the cash anytime soon. The funds will not be restored until after the new fiscal year begins next month. And even then, fiscal 2014 royalty payments will be subject to the sequester — meaning the Interior Department will withhold 5 percent in fiscal 2014 only to return the funds after the next fiscal year starts.

Further complicating matters is how those funds will be disbursed. While Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue told states it would “work expeditiously” to disburse the sequestered payments in the new fiscal year, spokesman Patrick Etchart said last week that such payments may require congressional approval.

Read More on Roll Call: States Battle to Recover Royalties for Energy Production on Public Lands

Rogers Introduces ‘Clean’ CR Text

Right on schedule, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., introduced a “clean” short-term continuing resolution on Tuesday evening, setting up floor consideration for later this week.

“The bill does not include new or controversial riders, or changes in existing federal policy,” according to a summary of the legislation. Indeed, aside from some small revisions to allow continued functionality of and flexibility within certain agencies, the stopgap spending measure to float the government from the end of this month through Dec. 15 is altogether “clean.”

It does, however, hold funding levels at $986.3 billion, which is slightly below the current sequester-era top line of $988 billion. Democrats have signaled they are likely to vote against any CR set to those levels, calling instead for a full replacement of the sequester or at least revisions to bring parity between defense and domestic spending cuts.

“Our country desperately needs a long-term budget solution that ends the draconian cuts put into place by sequestration, and that provides for a responsible, sustainable, and attainable federal budget,” said Rogers, who last month unleashed a scathing indictment of the sequester and its harmful effect on the ability to pass standalone appropriations measures through the House. “It is my hope that this stopgap legislation will provide time for all sides to come together to reach this essential goal.”

Read More on Roll Call: Rogers Introduces ‘Clean’ CR Text

Congress Not Moved by Obama’s Measured Case for Syria Strike

In a high-stakes address to the nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama cautiously embraced a diplomatic effort to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, but urged the nation to stand with him in his resolve to launch a military strike if that effort fails.

The president said he asked Congress to hold off on voting to authorize strikes to give the diplomatic effort a chance to work, but indicated he was willing to act if it does not. Though it’s an open question whether he was able to sway public sentiment on the issue of a strike, many members of Congress did not appear to be moved by his pitch that the Syrian chemical attacks were not just an affront to humanity but could also lead to future security risks to the United States.

“Our ideals and principles as well as our national security are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the world’s worst weapons will never be used,” he said.

“America is not the world’s policeman,” he said, noting concerns from Americans to that effect. “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer in the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes America exceptional.”

Obama told the nation that there was no doubt the Syrian regime gruesomely massacred its own citizens, and asked the country to view the hundreds of videos and pictures of the dead and dying.

Read More on Roll Call: Congress Not Moved by Obama’s Measured Case for Syria Strike

Durbin, Vitter Praise USDA Action Against Online Puppy Mills

Sens. Richard J. Durbin and David Vitter aren’t usually kindred spirits, but they’ve found common cause against puppy mills.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Illinois Democrat and Louisiana Republican praised publication of a final rule from the Agriculture Department that subjects operators of puppy mills selling animals online to new regulations.

“Too often, the media reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities — where puppies are housed in stacked wire cages and routinely denied access to veterinary care. Unfortunately, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these sad cases” Durbin said in a statement. “Today’s announcement by the USDA brings much needed oversight to the previously unregulated business of online breeders and puppy mills.”

Read More on Roll Call: Durbin, Vitter Praise USDA Action Against Online Puppy Mills

Hawaii Legislature to Hold Special Session on Same-Sex Marriage

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has called a special session of the state’s legislature, reports StateTrack research Connor O’Brien. During the session, which convenes Oct. 28, the legislature will consider as bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a ban on federal benefits for same-sex couples, Abercrombie said the legislation would ensure that Hawaii’s laws provide marriage benefits to all couples regardless of sexual orientation. Hawaii law currently allows for civil unions between same-sex couples.  To view the Governor’s Proclamation, please click here.

Obama Expects Syria Vote Delays

President Barack Obama said Monday that Congress may have more time to consider a strike in Syria, given that country’s apparent newfound willingness to give up its chemical weapons.

“I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” Obama told ABC News. “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say, ‘Is there a way to resolve this?’”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Monday that he would hold off on scheduling a test vote on a use-of-force resolution in order to give the president more time to make his case to the country and to lawmakers.

The outcome of a Congressional vote remains uncertain at best, and even Obama declined to predict a win.

“I wouldn’t say I’m confident,” Obama told NBC News in one of six network interviews he gave as he tries to rally the country. The interviews aired Monday evening and come amid dismal polling for another military action.

Read More on Roll Call: Obama Expects Syria Vote Delays

Can Republicans and Democrats Avoid a Shutdown?

Top Republicans and Democrats are hoping to find a way out of a shutdown showdown this month, with the likeliest scenario a short-term bill that funds the government at this year’s levels and leaves Obamacare unscathed.

Though the question of whether to strike Syria is dominating news organizations’ and lawmakers’ attention, Congress also has to race against the clock to agree to a spending bill that keeps the government open past Sept. 30.

What Republicans can pass as soon as this week will depend on whether their members will demand stricter Obamacare defunding language or additional spending cuts beyond the $988 billion GOP leaders are planning.

Republican leaders have hinted at their preference for a no-drama bill that would keep the government open while talks continue on a broader budget deal that may or may not include a debt limit increase. A GOP leadership aide outlined Monday a way for House Republicans to use a legislative maneuver that would allow Republicans to vote to defund Obamacare but let the Senate strip out the Obamacare language.

One Senate Democratic aide told CQ Roll Call that a clean, short-term continuing resolution at this year’s $988 billion level would likely get through the Senate, but the White House has yet to weigh in.

Read More on Roll Call: Can Republicans and Democrats Avoid a Shutdown?

Nutrition Measure Likely on House Floor Next Week as Farm Bill Struggle Continues

Sept. 9, 2013 – 6:44 p.m.

By Ellyn Ferguson, CQ Roll Call

The Senate Agriculture chairwoman and the Obama administration on Monday reaffirmed their opposition to an extension of the 2008 farm bill, saying it would take the pressure off Congress to finish a new five-year farm bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backed Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in her call for the House to name farm bill conferees soon rather than wait until Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., brings a revised nutrition title to the floor for a vote. However, a Cantor aide said it is likely the nutrition bill could come to the floor next week. The issue is expected to be discussed at the GOP conference meeting Tuesday. No final decision has been made, the aide said.

As outlined, the House nutrition measure would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate bill (S 954) proposed $4 billion in reductions over the next decade.

Reid and Stabenow made their pitch for continued pressure on the House in an appearance at a National Farmers Union press conference.

“The farm bill is so very important,” Reid said. “It creates jobs and it is the way we feed ourselves. I hope if you support the American farmer, the American people, that you’ll do what you can to weigh in with the House. They have got to allow us to pass this bill.”

Reid and Stabenow touted the Senate farm bill (S 954) as the measure that conferees could build on to produce a final version.

“Let’s go get them and pass a farm bill,” Stabenow told a crowd of about 200 people at the outdoor event. Singer Neil Young accounted for part of the draw, speaking in support of the federal renewable fuel standard and ethanol production as well for passage of a 2013 farm bill.

Earlier in the day, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told National Farmers Union members that an extension would reward congressional failure to act on a “huge bill” that sets policy for everything from crop production to rural development to soil and water conservation and agricultural exports. Exports post surpluses as opposed to the overall U.S. trade deficit.

“It’s been 10 months since we were told, ‘Give us an extension of the existing programs, some of them, and we’ll get this done after the (presidential) election,’” Vilsack said. “It hasn’t gotten done from January now into September. You do have to begin questioning whether or not this is a priority and it ought to be a priority.”

The House passed an agriculture-only farm bill (HR 2642) in July but further movement is tied to Cantor’s timetable for putting the revised nutrition bill up for a vote. Cantor removed the title from a House Agriculture Committee-passed bill (HR 1947) after the measure failed on the House floor.

Last week, Cantor indicated in a legislative memo that the nutrition bill was on his fall agenda. Cantor also said the revised nutrition bill would retain provisions and incentives by Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., to encourage states to require all able-bodied parents with children older than 6 to work or be in work-related activities. He also said the bill would end waivers that allow states to exempt single able-bodied adults without children from time limits for food aid.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which Cantor sees as a leading opponent to the proposal, estimates that 4 million to 6 million people could lose benefits. SNAP provides aid to nearly 47 million people each month.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this story.


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

Congress May Be Headed for a Split Verdict on Syria

Would a Senate endorsement alone give President Barack Obama sufficient political backing to launch a missile strike on Syria?

With flimsy support in the House, the Senate may be the best chance Obama has to get the thumbs-up from Congress that he’s looking for — though by no means is a favorable result in the Senate a slam dunk.

The president himself refused to say what he would do if Congress split or refused to authorize the use of force against Syria.

At a Friday news conference from the G-20 summit in Russia, Obama said he did not want to “jump the gun and speculate, because right now, I’m working to get as much support as possible.”

However, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told NPR on Friday morning that the president would likely not act without Congress’ approval.

Read More on Roll Call: Congress May Be Headed for a Split Verdict on Syria

Cantor Insists on Budget ‘Reforms’ in Return for Debt Hike

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., outlined a plan Friday to hold federal spending and the debt limit hostage — but not necessarily over Obamacare.

“House Republicans will demand fiscal reforms and pro-growth policies which put us on a path to balance in ten years in exchange for another increase in the debt limit,” Cantor wrote in a memo to GOP lawmakers.

With President Barack Obama vowing not to negotiate, the United States faces a default crisis a little over a month after lawmakers return.

Cantor’s threat has a somewhat different standard than the demand from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, that any increase in the debt ceiling be accompanied by an equivalent amount of “cuts and reforms.” Boehner’s demand, known as the “Boehner rule,” was violated earlier this year when the House punted on the debt limit, but the speaker recently promised a “whale of a fight” this fall.

Cantor also said Republicans would demand Obama agree to keep the sequester in place past Sept. 30 — and slash $64 billion from the levels Obama signed months ago.

Read More on Roll Call: Cantor Insists on Budget ‘Reforms’ in Return for Debt Hike

Fallout From Previous War Resolutions Hangs Over Syria Debate

Posted on CQ.com on Sept. 5, 2013 – 2:06 p.m.

By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call

Looming large over the congressional debate to authorize the use of force in Syria are votes taken more than a decade ago to launch operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As lawmakers sit through classified briefings and public hearings, they are at once skeptical of the administration’s case to strike following the Assad regime’s Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside of Syria and wary that the United States could be dragged into another prolonged war.

After a decade of war, members on both sides of the aisle remain unconvinced that a Syria strike is in the national security interests of the United States. They question the U.S. military objective, the country’s ability to keep the operation a limited one and the affordability of even a small strike.

It seems fitting, then, that two of the Obama administration’s point men on Syria — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry — took those votes to authorize force in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside their Senate colleagues many years ago.

Both men, veterans of the Vietnam War, voted to authorize operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq vote in 2002, in particular, hangs over them as they press the case for a strike in Syria on Capitol Hill.

“Both of us are especially sensitive to never again asking any member of Congress to vote on faulty intelligence,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Some lawmakers who voted against the authorization to use force in Iraq (PL 107-243), including Sen. Barbara Boxer, have stressed that attempting to draw parallels between that war and the proposed strike in Syria is a false comparison.

“In Iraq, the Bush administration prepared to invade and occupy a country with well over 100,000 troops,” Boxer said at Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “In this case, the president’s been clear. No ground invasion, no occupation.”

The California Democrat ultimately voted to support the authorization during the panel’s markup Wednesday. But others, like Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who voted against the Iraq authorization as a House member, are unconvinced by the administration’s case for a quick strike against Assad.

“Many who voted for it [the Iraq war] came to regret that vote,” Udall said during Tuesday’s hearing. “Americans are understandably weary after the fiasco of Iraq and after more than a decade of war, how can our administration make a guarantee that our military actions will be limited? How can we guarantee that one surgical strike will have any impact other than to tighten the vise grip Assad has on his power?”

During the Senate markup, Udall offered an amendment that would have sharply limited the scope of the operation. The panel soundly defeated Udall’s language and he later voted against the authorization.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., also opposed the Iraq war but has said he supports striking in Syria despite a lack of strong public support for the operation.

“Public opinion was very much in favor of going into Iraq. I voted not to go into Iraq. I thought it was a mistake,” Levin told reporters on Wednesday after a lengthy classified briefing. “The phones were ringing off the hook after President Bush’s speeches about going into Iraq. If I had followed public opinion then, I would have voted to go into Iraq. But in my judgment at that tie, it was a mistake.”

Each senator, Levin added, is ultimately going to have to decide for themselves whether striking in Syria is in America’s security interests.

“It may or may not be popular at the moment, but each of us, I believe, will make an effort to the best of our ability make that judgment,” he said.

After September 11
Even the war in Afghanistan, which received nearly unanimous support on Capitol Hill and across the country in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is playing into the debate on Syria.

Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said on Tuesday he didn’t understand then the wide-ranging effects of the authorization for force (PL 107-40) after those attacks, given that it has been cited by two administrations as permitting drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations in a number of countries.

“I still believe that was the right thing to do,” Durbin said of his vote to authorize the Afghanistan war. “But I didn’t know at the time that I voted for that authorization for the use of military force I was voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and an authority to several presidents to do things that no one could have envisioned at that moment in history.”

During Wednesday’s markup, Durbin, who ultimately supported the resolution, worked to make the language in the authorization as specific as possible to avoid another broad-sweeping declaration of war.

“I think that what we’ve done today is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I hope that it makes it a safer world.”

Earlier Syria Vote
But the Iraq and Afghanistan votes may not be the only ones factoring into lawmakers’ decisions on Syria.

In 2003, both chambers of Congress widely supported the Syria Accountability Act (PL 108-175), which gave the president a choice of sanctions aimed at, among other things, forcing Syria to abandon its support of terrorism and its suspected possession of chemical weapons.

The bill states that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security interests of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States — a statement that administration officials and others in support of a strike have used to buttress their arguments that doing so is in the country’s best interest.

“Not all of us were here 10 years ago when that vote was taken,” Levin said. “But many of us were here and I think that that will also be something that people will look back to as a reminder of how seriously we took it that Syria might even get possession of — much less use — chemical weapons.”

Of course, there have also been times when Congress has debated war authorizations without clearing them, only to have an administration move ahead anyway, effectively eroding the 1973 War Powers Resolution (PL 93-148).

In 1999, the House narrowly rejected — in a 213-213 vote — a Senate-passed measure that would have authorized U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes. The Clinton administration proceeded with the operation, and Congress ended up appropriating funds for the mission.

At the time, lawmakers criticized the floor debate for being overly politicized and not terribly substantive.

“All we’re doing in all of these resolutions today is sending messages,” House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., said during the debate.

In 2011, the House debated — and was unable to pass — resolutions that would have authorized or blocked U.S. involvement in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, holding votes several weeks after the United States had joined the operation. The Senate never held a vote.


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

Cable Television: Keeping it Competitive, Affordable and Accessible

Time Warner Cable and broadcast giant CBS settled their high profile contract dust up just in time for the start of the lucrative NFL football season. Time Warner consumers in major markets were without CBS programming for almost a month as their lawyers fought about the tariffs that providers pay to networks for the rights to broadcast to individual subscribers. This can range from pennies per subscriber for many smaller channels to upwards of $4 for the popular sports programming network ESPN. CBS reportedly settled for a tariff with Time Warner that doubles the rate from $1 to $2.

Keep Reading…

Senate’s Syria Resolution Sets Time Limits, Won’t Authorize Ground Troops

Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders have reached an agreement on the language for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria for up to 90 days — but with no “boots on the ground.”

“Sharing President Obama’s view that our nation is best served when we come together as one, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has crafted a bipartisan Authorization for the Use of Military Force that we believe reflects the will and concerns of Democrats and Republicans alike,” Chairman Robert Menendez said Tuesday in a statement. “Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the President the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime’s criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorization is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria.”

The New Jersey Democrat scheduled a markup for Wednesday. Earlier Tuesday, Menendez noted that the new resolution would not permit American boots on the ground.

As drafted, the language worked out between Menendez and ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would authorize the use of force for 60 days, with provisions making it possible that the authorization would be extended for 30 days after that, according to Senate sources.

While the Senate has authorization language to debate, that’s not yet the case in the House.

Read More on Roll Call: Senate’s Syria Resolution Sets Time Limits, Won’t Authorize Ground Troops