The House and Senate are taking steps to quickly pass legislation next week that would extend federal highway funding for two months, just days before the so-called Federal Highway Trust Fund expires.
Democrats have been hounding Republicans for weeks to do something to extend federal highway funding before it expires at the end of May. Without an extension, Democrats have warned that construction around the country would be put at risk, since those projects benefit from federal funding.Read More »
The Obama administration said Friday that the rate of bullying at schools across the country has hit the lowest level since bullying episodes started to be tracked tracked by the government a decade ago, in 2005.
The National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency that studies education data, reported that overall bullying rates fell to 22 percent in 2013, down from 28 percent in 2011. The rate has hovered close to 30 percent since 2005, and in 2007 it rose to 32 percent.Read More »
The House passed legislation Friday to authorize U.S. defense programs and policy for the next fiscal year, but only had help from 41 House Democrats — 143 Democrats voted against it, following President Barack Obama’s threat to veto the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request that Democrats support their president.
The National Defense Authorization Act has been controversial for Democrats because while it authorizes a total of $612 billion in funding for the Defense Department, it gets there by authorizing $89.2 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO).Read More »
The Obama administration warned Thursday that it doesn’t much care for a controversial bill supported by every Senate Democrat that would let the U.S. impose duties on goods from countries that are deemed to be manipulating their currency for a trade advantage.
The Senate passed that bill Thursday in a 78-20 vote that saw all 46 Senate Democrats support it. Democrats have argued for years that countries like China have purposefully kept their currencies undervalued in order to create more demand for their exports.Read More »
The House approved legislation on Thursday that gives Congress a chance to review any Iran nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration this summer, and lets members reject it if they don’t think it goes far enough to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Legislators passed the bill that the Senate approved a week earlier in a 98-1 vote. The House passed it 400-25, an overwhelming show of support for a bill that ends months of fighting over the precise role Congress will play if an Iran agreement is finalized.
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Nearly every Senate Democrat who’s anybody at all voted against a bill Thursday that would give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade deals that can’t be amended by Congress, showing the continuing distrust that Democrats have toward their own president when it comes to trade policy.
The Senate held a procedural vote a bill to give Obama trade promotion authority (TPA), a day after reaching a deal that first had the Senate vote on two trade bills favored by Democrats. The Senate easily passed those earlier in the day — one to extend trade preferences to sub-Saharan Africa, and another to boost enforcement of U.S. trade laws.
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The Senate passed legislation on Thursday that would give the U.S. government the power to impose duties on imports from countries when those countries are deemed to be devaluing their currencies in order to gain a trade advantage.
Senators voted 78-20 in favor of the legislation, a broad bill that also looks to extend various U.S. efforts to enforce trade laws and trade agreements. All of the “no” votes were Republicans.Read More »
A senior procurement official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told a House subcommittee on Thursday that VA management has willfully ignored his warning that the VA continues to spend billions of dollars a year in violation of federal procurement law.
“Today I find myself in a position I never envisioned myself to be in,” Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the VA, said in prepared testimony to a House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee. “I am testifying as a whistle blower.”
“I am here before you, because I have been unsuccessful in my persistent attempts to bring massive violations of federal acquisition and fiscal laws and regulations to a halt in VA,” he added.
Frye outlined his latest attempt to tell VA Secretary Bob McDonald that the VA was illegally buying $6 billion worth of goods in the absence of a competitive bidding structure, which he said likely resulted in millions of dollars wasted. Frye wrote a 35-page memo to McDonald back in March, but said McDonald has done nothing.
He also said he tried to report “massive, illegal acts” to Congress in 2013, but said he was thwarted in part by a senior VA official.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing that the VA appears to be continuing to try to ignore and silence Frye. Coffman said the VA tried to prevent Frye from testifying today, and only appeared after the committee insisted several times that Frye appear.
“Over the past five years, some senior VA acquisition and finance officials have willfully violated the public trust while Federal procurement and financial laws were debased,” Frye said. “Their overt actions and dereliction of duties combined have resulted in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent without regard to Federal laws and regulations, making a mockery of federal statutes.”
“I am not aware of a single senior acquisition leader being held accountable for wrongdoing or dereliction in the nearly 10 years I’ve been in my present VA position,” he added.
He said that when the VA buys off contract, it gives up legal protections that it would have if it used a contract. But instead of buying through contracts and competitive bidding, the VA has been buying billions of dollars worth of goods on the fly.
In one example cited by the Washington Post, the VA spent about $1.2 billion worth of prosthetics over the last 18 months, using “purchase cards” that were supposed to be used for small purchases.
He also warned the committee that VA officials would try to downplay these issues, even when asked directly by Congress.
“If you happen to ask us about what we’ve failed to tell you, we hope we can answer your questions in such a way as to quickly extinguish potential follow-on questions,” he said in his prepared remarks. “In short, obfuscation is our game.”
“I will no longer be a party to these VA games,” he added. “The vaunted Veterans Affairs ICARE values, with Integrity being first, make an attractive lapel pin, but little else if we don’t live these values daily.”Read More »
The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security has concluded that two Secret Service agents probably had too much to drink the evening of March 4, when they disrupted an active bomb threat investigation at the White House.
The DHS Office of Inspector General released a report Thursday on the incident that is one of several that have shaken Congress’ confidence in the Secret Service. Among the others are a shooting incident at the White House in 2011, the 2014 White House fence-jumping episode, and new allegations from this year that a senior Secret Service officer sexually assaulted a colleague.Read More »
Senate Democrats on Wednesday gave in to demands from the Obama administration and Senate Republicans, and agreed to allow a series of votes on a handful of trade-related bills starting on Thursday.
Democrats caved just hours after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insisted that four major trade bills would have to be considered as a single bill, instead of in a few separate votes as Republicans had demanded.Read More »
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would let military spouses buy handguns in the state where their husbands and wives are on permanent duty.
Rigell said this change is needed after the Islamic State released a “hit list” of military targets, which puts military families at risk of attack. He said that threat means it’s critical to ensure that military families have access to guns wherever their service member spouses are serving.Read More »
House Democrats on Wednesday pushed for more funding for Amtrak, the government-run rail service, just hours after a fatal derailment in Pennsylvania that so far has claimed seven lives.
Democrats have routinely argued in favor of more infrastructure spending, and early Wednesday were pointing to the crash as another reason why more money is needed. But even as they were making these arguments, reports were filtering out that bad infrastructure may not have been the problem, and that the crash happened after the train was traveling at 100 m.p.h. around a curve where the recommended speed was 50 m.p.h.
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The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security released a report this week saying that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released nearly 13,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2014, because ICE deemed they were not enforcement priorities.
The same report from the DHS’ Office of Inspector General found that DHS is not gathering and assessing enough data on its various policies of prosecutorial discretion, even though it had promised to do so.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he won’t agree to Democratic demands to combine several trade bills into one, and said doing so would only end up killing the effort to give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements.
McConnell spoke a day after almost every Senate Democrat voted against giving Obama trade promotion authority, or TPA — a huge loss for Obama, who seemingly had no ability to convince any significant number of Democrats to support him.
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A veteran allegedly committed suicide in parking lot in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ parking lot in Phoenix, Arizona, an event that is being seen as a protest against the failure of the VA to provide adequate treatment to veterans.
Fox News affiliate KSAZ reported early Tuesday morning that 53-year-old Thomas Murphy drove to the VA lot, and left a note in the car before apparently taking his life with a gun. The report said a witness watched as Murphy drove into the lot, and then heard a gunshot.
Brandon Coleman, a Marine Corps veteran who is a VA employee and a VA whistleblower, told KSAZ that he believes Murphy’s suicide was a protest against the VA.
“I don’t think there’s anything more symbolic than to complete suicide on VA grounds,” Coleman said. “I think he would want to speak with us about this, I think it was an ultimate show of disregard and just frustration with a broken system.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have blasted the VA for more than a year now about the VA’s failure to get veterans the medical care they need, and have said more care for veterans with suicidal thoughts is also needed. But the VA remains a broken agency even after Congress passed a bill to fix things up — wait times are still long for health care, whistleblowers still face retaliation from the VA, huge bonuses continue to be paid to top officials, and no one has been fired yet for their role in the scandal.
Coleman himself has been the subject of retaliation for being a whistleblower. He told TheBlaze last month that VA officials went through his medical files, and he told KSAZ that he has been put on paid leave after complaining about this unauthorized access.
The Phoenix VA is seen by many as the center of the VA’s problems, and the former director there, Sharon Helman, was finally removed earlier this year. However, Helman is now suing the VA to get her job back.
One of her lawyers is Debra Roth, a lawyer who also serves as general counsel to the Senior Executives Association. That group has opposed legislation making it easier to fire senior officials for corruption or negligence, has dismissed the idea that the health care access problem at the VA is a “scandal” at all, since no one has been fired because of it.Read More »