House Republicans this week finished committee work on a bill to fund the legislative branch of Congress, and included language that would prohibit any pay hike for members of Congress in 2016.
The House Appropriations Committee released its legislative branch spending bill for fiscal year 2016, and it continues the GOP’s effort to avoid excessive spending. The bill would spend $3.3 billion on House and joint House-Senate operations; funding for the Senate will be determined by the Senate.
The $3.3 billion bill is the same level as current spending, and Republicans note that the total House budget is down 14 percent since the GOP took over in 2011.
The bill has the foresight to prevent any pay hike for members of the House in 2016. “[N]o adjustment shall be made … relating to cost of living adjustments for members of Congress … during fiscal year 2016,” the bill said.
Under the Constitution, the current Congress is not permitted to give itself a raise, and any decision to boost salaries can only take effect once the new Congress shows up, after an election. As a result, any attempt in 2016 to raise the pay of members could only take effect in 2017, when the new Congress is seated.
The salary for a rank-and-file House member is $174,000, and the pay goes up for members in leadership positions. That’s more than three times the median U.S. household income, which was nearly $52,000 in 2014.
Still, there has been some grousing about congressional pay. Just before he retired, former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) tried to make the case that members need a pay raise, especially if they’re expected to live in and around Washington, D.C. Moran said members of Congress essentially run the country, and need to be paid accordingly for that service.
“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told Roll Call. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”
Congressional pay hasn’t been raised since 2009.Read More »
Legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will soon be up again on the House floor, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
McCarthy sent a memo to his Republican colleagues outlining the agenda for May, and indicated it’s possible the House will vote on that legislation in the coming weeks, after GOP leaders yanked it from the floor in January.Read More »
Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation Thursday that would increase the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, a $4.75 increase from the current $7.25 minimum wage.
“No one who works hard in a full-time job should have to live in poverty,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said of her bill. “We owe it to workers across the country to make sure our minimum wage is set to a level that works for them and their families.”
Murray’s bill has 32 Senate Democrats on board, and the House version from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has 160 cosponsors, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Democrats have clamored for a raise in the minimum wage for the last several years. The last increase came in 2007.
Democratic demands for a higher wage have increased as the years have gone by. Three years ago, Democrats in the House offered a few proposals to boost the minimum wage to about $10 an hour. One bill put forward by more than 100 Democrats called for a $9.80 minimum wage, and would have required 85-cent increases each year for three years to get there.
Last year, progressive Democrats called for a $15 minimum wage, at a time when President Obama had been pushing for a $10.10 minimum.
Republicans have resisted the idea of a minimum wage hike, and have said increasing it would make fewer jobs available at a time when millions of people are still looking for work.Read More »
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his campaign staff were forced to backtrack in the press this week, after he seemed to gloss over the violence being seen in Baltimore after a black man died shortly after being apprehended by police.
Paul appeared on the Laura Ingraham show on Tuesday, and noted that he traveled through Baltimore Monday night when major rioting broke out.Read More »
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday that he now believes he’s more ready to be president of the United States after dealing with the tragic results of Superstorm Sandy, which left hundreds of thousands of families homeless in his state.
“Sandy went a long way toward making me ready,” he said of the 2012 storm. He said that event forced him to process reports from the National Guard, law enforcement and others and decide how the state would pull through the crisis.Read More »
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Thursday slammed a senior Environmental Protection Agency official for apparently doing nothing after getting several reports that another EPA worker had several sexual harassment complaints against him from female employees.
John Reeder, deputy chief of staff at the EPA, appeared at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the EPA’s failure to control an EPA official who had more than a dozen complaints against him. Peter Jutro, the former acting associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, was named in an inspector general report that documented these sexual harassment claims.
Read More »
The Obama administration on Thursday set up a series of “discussions, drills and exercises” aimed at preparing Americans for severe weather events related to climate change.
Today marked the launch of what the administration calls “PreparAthon,” which is being run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The goal is to get ready for storms and other events that the White House says are being caused by, or being made worse because of, climate change.Read More »
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued Thursday that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on federal anti-poverty programs isn’t working, and said it’s time for the government to fix what’s broken rather than launch new programs.
His remarks were made just days after rioting gripped Baltimore, which prompted some Democrats to suggest that even more federal spending is needed to help low-income Americans. Boehner said he believes Democrats aren’t looking at the problem the right way.Read More »
The number two official at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday defended his efforts to help Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), Hillary Clinton’s brother and other Democrats get visas for Democratic-favored foreign investors, and said taking those steps was just another day at the office.
“In the three cases at issue – cases that were the subject of bipartisan support – I did what I did in the many other cases that were brought to my attention; I did my job and fulfilled my responsibility,” DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Before he landed in his current job, Mayorkas used to run U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and was the subject of a report in March that said he aggressively pursued these three cases favored by leading Democrats to get EB-5 visas for various reasons. The report said pressure from Mayorkas quickly turned visa rejections into visa approvals, and said many USCIS officials saw this intervention as blatant favoritism.
“Mr. Mayorkas’ conduct led many USCIS employees to reasonably believe that specific individuals or groups were being given special access or consideration in the EB-5 program,” the DHS Office of Inspector General said.
Mayorkas used the hearing to argue that his involvement was not partisan, and instead was an attempt to help guide a process for approving these visas that is “complex.”
“EB-5 cases require complicated business and economic analysis, such as whether the required amount of investment capital is at risk and whether the econometric models used to predict future job creation are reasonable,” he said.
But he dodged questions about exactly what led him to intervene in each of these cases. For example, he was asked about his decision to reverse a decision to deny EB-5 visas to investors in the L.A. Films Regional Center, which the OIG said happened after he met with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D).
“I don’t remember chronology of communications in that particular case,” Mayorkas replied.
When asked whether he gave weekly briefings to Sen. Reid’s staff about an EB-5 visa for foreign investors in a new hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Mayorkas again said he couldn’t remember.
“I don’t recall doing so,” he said.
Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Mayorkas appears to have created a strong perception of political favoritism, especially after his mostly non-responsive answers.
“In my judgment, reviewing this matter, and the responses you’ve given today, not really being able to respond specifically, your actions in these cases created at least at a minimum the perception of special access and political favoritism,” McCaul said. “In my judgment I think you also violated your own ethics policy.”
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in March that he values Mayorkas in his current position, and gave no indication that Mayorkas would be removed for his role in the EB-5 visa decisions.Read More »
The Environmental Protection Agency has been refusing to let a government watchdog investigate some of its activities, on the grounds that those activities are protected for “intelligence” reasons.
EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins testified at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday, and said the EPA has asserted this claim and prevented the IG from gaining access to some information.Read More »
The House voted Wednesday to stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from paying out huge subsidies to top officials when they relocate to start a new job at the agency.
The VA’s Appraised Value Offer program was exposed when the VA spent more than $300,000 to help Diana Rubens move to Philadelphia to run the VA in that city.Read More »
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) accused the White House Wednesday of pretending the GOP’s bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs makes cuts to the VA, in an effort to blame Republicans for the ongoing failure of the VA to serve veterans.
The spending bill for fiscal year 2015 would increase total VA funding by $3.6 billion compared to current funding, but the White House released a statement complaining about cuts. Those cuts, however, can only be seen as cuts when compared to the funding the White House requested.Read More »
The White House said Wednesday that it opposes a Republican plan to cut bonus payments to Department of Veterans Affairs employees by $60 million in the next fiscal year.
Republicans have been aggressively pushing to chop VA bonuses ever since it was revealed last year that the VA was purposefully delaying veterans’ access to health care. In fiscal year 2013, the VA was paying out about $400 million in bonuses, even as the department was failing thousands of veterans and trying to cover up the scandal.
The House responded last year by capping bonuses at $360 million, and last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed a $300 million cap.
But the White House said it opposes this cut, and said the proposed cap is about $160 million lower than what it should be.
“The administration also objects to the committee’s other reductions to the overall VA request, including $159 million in reductions for employee awards, bonuses, and the president’s proposed 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees,” the White House said.
Democrats have said cutting bonuses would only make it harder for the VA to retain qualified employees, and the White House mirrored that argument.
“As VA attempts to enhance staffing to deliver better care to veterans, these reductions will hinder the department’s ability to recruit and retain personnel critical to the provision of benefits and services to veterans,” it said. “The administration urges the Congress to provide the proposed 1.3 percent pay increase for federal civilian employees.”
The White House also complained that the House bill fails to give the VA another $582 million for construction. But House Republicans have said the VA has made a complete mess of a $1.7 billion construction project in Denver that was originally expected to cost $328 million.
More broadly, the White House said it would encourage President Barack Obama to veto the VA bill and any other spending bill that aligns with the Republicans’ budget plan. Obama has said in the past he would veto any bill that fits in with the GOP budget, which would force government spending to increase more slowly compared to those offered by Democrats.Read More »
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a moving tribute to American soldiers lost in World War II during a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, as he recounted his visit to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
“In one corner stands the Freedom Wall,” he said. “More than 4,000 gold stars shine on the wall. I gasped in surprise to hear that each star represents the lives of 100 fallen soldiers.”Read More »
Senior Obama administration officials have told the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that the gyrocopter that landed on the U.S. Capitol grounds April 15 exposed a significant flaw in the effort to keep Washington, D.C., safe.
In prepared testimony before Wednesday’s planned committee hearing, these officials said tracking small gyrocopters presents a “technical challenge,” and said the one flown by Douglas Hughes earlier this month showed up just as an intermittant dot on radar screens.Read More »
Federal investigators have found about 6,400 emails from disgraced former IRS worker Lois Lerner, and are in the process of getting those emails to Congress.
According to CNN, about 650 emails are from 2010 and 2011, and many of the rest are from 2012. Those are the years when the IRS has admitted to slow-walking requests from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.Read More »
The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor have put forward a new rule requiring companies to give U.S. workers more of a chance at applying for a temporary, seasonal job before that job is given to a foreign worker.
“These rules strengthen protections for U.S. workers, providing that they have a fair shot at finding and applying for jobs for which employers are seeking H-2B workers, while also providing that employers can access foreign workers on a temporary basis when U.S. workers are not available,” the agencies said in a statement.
The rule is likely to be favored by some Republicans who have criticized the Obama administration for favoring foreign workers over U.S. workers. However, it was already being criticized by some House GOP members who believe the rule will make it too hard for companies to get access to the seasonal foreign workers they need to run their businesses.
“The Obama administration had the opportunity to issue user-friendly regulations for the thousands of American employers who use the H-2B program, but it knowingly failed to do so,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “The new regulations issued by the Obama administration are overly burdensome for the small and seasonal businesses that play by the rules and use this guestworker program to hire a legal workforce.”
The rule released by DHS adjusts the process companies must use for handing out H-2B visas. Those visas are given to foreign, non-agricultural temporary workers who plan to return to their home countries once the job ends. Under the law, foreign workers can get these visas if the Labor Department certifies that unemployed Americans can’t be found to do the job.
But under the new rule, the jobs being made available must be more broadly advertised, and jobs must be open to U.S. workers until 21 days before the needed start date. The rule said that chnage would give U.S. workers more of a chance to fill the job.
Additionally, the rule requires companies to “demonstrate their temporary need for labor services before they apply for a temporary labor certification,” which is needed to get final approval for the visa.
Elsewhere, the rule requires companies to pay U.S. workers the same wages and benefits as foreign workers, and ups the total cost to companies of hiring foreign workers.
“The interim final rule requires employers to pay visa and related fees of H-2B workers, and it requires employers to pay the inbound transportation and subsistence costs of workers who complete 50 percent of the job order period and the outbound transportation and subsistence expenses of employees who complete the entire job order period,” it said.
The H-2B program has been held up by several legal challenges, which had prompted the federal government to temporarily suspend the program over the last few years. The government is hopeful that the proposed rule will clarify these issues and allow the program to run without interruption.Read More »
A State Department spokesman said Tuesday that he didn’t know much at all about two major events happening in the world today, including Saudi Arabia’s arrest of dozens of people who were looking to bomb the U.S. embassy in Riyadh.
Reports said Saudi Arabia arrested 93 people involved in the alleged plot. But spokesman Jeff Rathke had little to say about the event, and said he wasn’t aware about almost anything about it.
“We’re aware of the arrests,” he said. “We don’t have confirmation of the details.”
When asked if the U.S. participated in the operation, he said, “I don’t believe we were involved in the arrests.”
When asked if the U.S. is aware that the alleged plan was to hit the U.S. embassy with a car bomb, he said, “I don’t have any details.” When asked if it was a plot by the Islamic State, he said, “I’ll refer you to them,” a reference to Saudia Arabia.
And when asked if the U.S. is worried that the Islamic State may now have a significant toe hold in Saudi Arabia, he said, “I’m not jumping to that conclusion.” Rathke also didn’t thank Saudi Arabia for its efforts.
When asked about Iran’s Tuesday decision to divert a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, Rathke said State was “aware” of those reports, and said State is “monitoring the situation.”
He said State doesn’t believe any U.S. citizens are on boared the vessel, but said he didn’t know much else. When asked if the U.S. had any communication with Iran, he said “I’m not aware of any.”
When asked if the event took place in international waters, he said he wasn’t sure. And when asked about Iran’s motive, he said, “I don’t have any speculation about Iran’s motives.”
According to the department, its mission is “to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere. This mission is shared with the USAID, ensuring we have a common path forward in partnership as we invest in the shared security and prosperity that will ultimately better prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.”Read More »
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Senate Tuesday that he has no regrets at all for going around Congress to implement President Barack Obama’s several immigration-related executive actions.
“Do you regret the actions that you and the administration have taken that have gotten us to this point?” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked Johnson at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.Read More »
Sen. John Delaney (D-Md.) is planning to introduce legislation that would create a new “hostage czar” position in the federal government, in an effort to try harder to locate and recover American hostages.
Delaney’s bill is a response to the accidental killing of Warren Weinstein in January by a U.S. drone strike against an Al Qaeda compound. Weinstein lived in Delaney’s congressional district.Read More »