Friday, July 31, 2015

Stuff in the News: Social Security, Marine Animals, Federal Reserve

This week, Congressman Mike Honda (D-Silicon Valley) introduced the CPI-E Act of 2015, or H.R. 3351. The CPI-E Act will require Social Security programs and many federal retirement programs to use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) to calculate cost of living adjustments and thus ensure seniors’ benefits are not diminished over time. Honda’s bill would use the CPI-E to ensure that benefits for retirees address the disproportionately rising costs specific to seniors. It will adjust the benefits programs such as Social Security old age, survivors, and disability insurance (OASDI) benefits, civil service retirement, military retirement, veterans’ pensions and compensations, and other retirement programs.

Reps. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called on the White House Office of Management and Budget to take immediate steps to protect captive orcas and marine mammals. The bicameral letter urged the agency to immediately publish long-delayed updates to the federal rules governing the treatment of captive marine mammals.

On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee passed H.R. 3189, the Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization (FORM) Act introduced by Congressman Bill Huizenga by a vote of 33 to 25. Rep. Huizenga’s legislation reforms the Federal Reserve by making the institution more accountable and transparent to the American people.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

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More Stuff in the News: Teachers, End-of-Life counseling, Korea, Aborted Baby Parts, Voting Rights

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, along with Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Representative Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., Representative Susan Brooks, R-Ind., Representative Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Representative Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., introduced the Teacher Loan Repayment Act (TELORA) to improve federal loan assistance programs and provide teachers with clear and tangible incentives to enter and remain in the classroom.

Congressman Steve King Introduced H.R. 3251, the End-of-Life Counseling Bill. "We need to block this harmful regulation before the Administration imposes yet another life-devaluing policy on the American people. My bill will accomplish this important objective by prohibiting Medicare payments for end-of-life counseling under the coming regulation." Read more by clicking HERE

Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) applauded the agreement to extend civil nuclear cooperation between the United States and Republic of Korea (ROK). The United States and South Korea recently signed an agreement, commonly known as a “123 Agreement,” that will adhere to U.S. nonproliferation goals while supporting the significant and growing civil nuclear industry in South Korea. The 123 Agreement represents a deepening of ties between the United States and Korea. This agreement builds upon the U.S.-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) which entered into force on March 15, 2012 and resulted in U.S. exports to South Korea reaching a record level of $44.5 billion in 2014, an increase of 7 percent compared to 2013. Since establishing the KORUS FTA, manufacturing exports ranging from toys, sports equipment, ships and nuclear reactors reached a record $37.4 billion. In 2013, two-way trade between the two countries totaled $101.3 billion, making the ROK the United States’ sixth-largest trading partner.

Congressman Doug Lamborn has introduced H.R. 3215, the End Trafficking of the Terminated Unborn Act of 2015. This bill will, "prohibit any person from soliciting or knowingly acquiring, receiving, or accepting a donation of human fetal tissue for any purpose other than disposal of the tissue if the donation affects interstate commerce and the tissue will be or is obtained pursuant to an induced abortion." The bill also removes the, "authority for funding research on fetal tissue obtained pursuant to an induced abortion." Research can still take place on fetal tissue that is a result of a miscarriage or a stillbirth with the consent of the parents.

Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2nd) has reintroduced the America Votes Act of 2015. The bill would allow voters to sign a sworn written statement attesting to their identity if they do not have the identification required at their polling place. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted on August 6, 1965, to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the VRA that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination against minority voters to clear election changes with the federal government. Larsen’s bill would help correct discrimination resulting from state voter ID laws. The bill has the support of 33 other members of Congress: James Clyburn, SC-06, Earl Blumenauer, OR-03, Diana DeGette, CO-0, Keith Ellison, MN-05, Sam Farr, CA-20, Judy Chu, CA-27, Adam Smith, WA-09, Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC-AL, Wm. Lacy Clay, MO-01, Suzan DelBene, WA-01, Elijah Cummings, MD-07, Sheila Jackson Lee, TX-18, Niki Tsongas, MA-03, Janice Hahn, CA-44, Joyce Beatty, OH-03, Cedric Richmond, LA-02, Matt Cartwright, PA-17, Steve Israel, NY-03, Jim Himes, CT-04, Denny Heck, WA-10, Sean Patrick Maloney, NY-18, Steve Cohen, TN-09, Danny K. Davis, IL-07, Hank Johnson, GA-04, Ted Deutch, FL-21, Derek Kilmer, WA-06, David Cicilline, RI-01, Elizabeth Esty, CT-05, Jim McDermott, WA-07, Gregory W. Meeks, NY-05, Dina Tutus, NV-01, Bobby Rush, IL-01, Sandford Bishop, Jr., GA-02.


More Stuff in the News: Government Spending, Cough Medicines, Veterans Healthcare, Illegal Fishing, Mesothelioma

U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) said on the House floor on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, that West Virginia can’t afford more regulations from this administration. He spoke during debate on the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require any federal rule or regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more to face an up-or-down vote in Congress before being enacted. H.R. 427 was passed 243-165. The REINS Act guarantees that no major regulation over $100 million becomes effective until Congress approves it. Furthermore, it guarantees a fast up or down vote within 70 legislative days.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the DXM Abuse Prevention Act in a bipartisan effort to prevent teen abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, commonly referred to as DXM. The bill would establish a national age-18 requirement for the purchase of medicines containing DXM.

The House passed U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson’s (TX-03) Help Veterans Save for Health Care Act (H.R. 2514) as part of H.R. 3236. Johnson’s bill would help veterans with service-connected disabilities save for, pay for, and access quality health care. The passage of the Help Veterans Save for Health Care Act preceded the House’s approval of H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act that would, in light of the VA wait-listing scandal, make it easier to fire bad VA employees.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation cosponsored by Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) to fight the problem of illegal fishing from foreign vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 774) passed the House by voice vote. The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act stiffens penalties for those caught illegally fishing in U.S. waters by potentially stripping poachers of their boats and equipment and laying the groundwork for criminal charges based on the laws of their home countries. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial and recreational fishing industries contributed more than $30 billion annually to the region’s economy in 2012. Globally, illegal and unreported fishing account for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood, or about one in every five fish taken from our oceans.

U.S. Representative John Katko (NY-24) has introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a national mesothelioma patient registry. The ‘Mary Jo Lawyer Spano Mesothelioma Patient Registry Act of 2015’ is district-focused legislation named in honor of Mary Jo Lawyer Spano, a Central New York woman who late last year lost her four-year battle with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related form of cancer that affects the lining the lungs, chest, heart, and abdomen. Spano’s sister, Meg Meccariello, who also suffers from mesothelioma, and mother, Elizabeth Lawyer, met with Rep. Katko early this Congress to advocate for the development of a National Mesothelioma Patient Registry.

Stuff in the News: Home Buyers, Veterans, Obamacare Alternatives, Cyber Threats

The House Financial Services Committee passed H.R. 3192, the Homebuyers Assistance Act, which would provide a temporary legal safe harbor for those making a good-faith effort to comply with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) new mortgage disclosure rule—the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule—which is set to take effect on October 3, 2015. On November 20, 2013, the CFPB finalized TRID, which combined certain disclosures that consumers receive in applying for and closing on a residential mortgage loan, including disclosures required under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The effective date for the final rule was originally set for mortgage applications received on or after August 1, 2015, but due to “administrative errors,” the CFPB delayed the effective date until October 3, 2015. The settlement process is an integral piece of a real estate transition, so any glitch or delay in the process affects buyers and sellers and all parts of the real estate industry, including realtors, bankers, homebuilders, and title companies. Almost 300 Senators and House Members wrote the CFPB to request a formal hold-harmless period. H.R. 3192 does not delay implementation of the TRID rule, but rather, provides a temporary safe harbor to those who are making a good faith effort to comply until February 1, 2016.

Well over a year since the horrifying scandal at the VA, only 3 VA employees involved in the scandal have been fired or held accountable. On Wednesday, July 29, 2015, the House passed the VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994) to streamline the process for removing VA employees for poor performance or misconduct and establish whistleblower protections. By a vote of 256 to 170, the VA Accountability Act moves to the Senate. This legislation gives the VA Secretary the responsibility and authority to fire any VA bureaucrat who is harming and failing our Veterans. Huelskamp’s whistleblower legislation protects brave VA employees who testify to Congress about the truth of the VA’s culture of corruption and non-accountability.

The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 3236), which was also passed in the House on Wednesday, consolidates all non-VA provider programs into a single, new program known as the Veterans Choice Program. More Veterans will be able to receive care by improvements to the Choice program, including eligibility for new enrollees (previously only those enrolled by August 1, 2014 were eligible for Choice), altering the 40-mile requirement to be defined as only facilities with a full-time doctor, adding more Choice providers, and eliminating the need for reauthorization approvals for Choice care.

U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren (IL-14) has introduced an Affordable Care Act (ACA) waiver bill that empowers states like Illinois to build their own ACA alternatives and offers Americans a parachute off an overregulated health insurance market characterized by rising premiums and limited plan options. H.R. 3352, the State Health Care Options Act of 2015, is a response to dramatically escalating health care costs, including an expected 30 percent increase for some plan participants in Illinois next year, which the ACA was intended to address. The waiver plan, which would allow states to opt out of certain provisions of the law pertaining to qualified health plans and insurance exchanges, gives states an opportunity to chart a course away from a law that has not lived up to its promises.

U.S. Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) has introduced the EINSTEIN Act of 2015, his fourth bill this Congress. The bill would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to deploy the EINSTEIN 3A program, which is an advanced tool that the U.S. government can use to respond to and mitigate cyber threats. EINSTEIN 3A (E3A) provides a perimeter defense snapshot and uses classified information to act as a first line of defense against cyber espionage. Hurd believes that a fully authorized Einstein program would be a helpful tool in preventing future data breaches. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has explicitly called for EINSTEIN’s authorization by Congress.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Stuff in the News: Energy Producers, Selling Baby Parts, Ocean Resources, Military Recruiters, Vacant Homes

The House passed H.R. 1734 the Improving Coal Combustion and Residuals Regulation Act of 2015, preventing the EPA from unilaterally implementing and enforcing one-size-fits-all regulations on state and local energy producers.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), participated in a special order on the floor of the House of Representatives decrying recent videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing selling the organs of aborted children and calling for investigations into these horrific acts.

Jaime Herrera Beutler testified before the Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in support of her two bipartisan bills to better manage Northwest ocean resources. The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act seeks to reduce predation on endangered Columbia River salmon, and the West Coast Dungeness Crab Management Act will permanently extend a 17-year fishery management agreement that has been vital to Washington state’s Dungeness crab fishery. The next step after the subcommittee hearing would be a markup by the full U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Congressman Jody Hice (GA-10) introduced H.R. 3138, the Military Recruiter Right to Carry Act of 2015. Hice introduced the measure in response to the terrorist attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee which claimed the lives of five military service personnel.

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) joined members of the Distressed Properties Task Force in Western New York to announce the Vacant Homes Act, a bill designed to expedite the sale of underwater homes and foreclosures to prevent the buildup of vacant homes in neighborhoods and communities. Higgins’ bill will place time limits on how long banks and mortgage holders can hold property before moving to a sale, to protect neighborhoods from the burden of lingering vacant properties.

Stuff in the News: Apache Land Swap, Min Wage, Native American Suicides, Gun Free Military Sites, Student Financial Aid

Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) joined lawmakers, religious leaders and members of the San Carlos Apache tribe at a Capitol Hill gathering this week on his bill to reverse the unjust Resolution Copper land giveaway included in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Grijalva’s bill, the Save Oak Flat Act, would cancel the mandated land swap that threatens the sacred Apache Leap site with environmental damage from nearby high-risk copper mining.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) and 28 of their colleagues introduced the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act today, which raises the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) has re-introduced the Native American Suicide Prevention Act to more actively curtail the alarming rate of suicide amongst Native American populations. This cost-free legislation directs state or state-sponsored organization to make a reasonable effort to consult with Native American Indian Tribes, Tribal Organizations, and Urban Indian organizations in the crafting and implementation of suicide intervention and prevention strategies.

Congressman Guinta joined a bipartisan group of legislators in support of H.R. 3115 – the Enhancing Safety at Military Installations Act – to repeal the ban on military personnel carrying firearms on bases and recruitment facilities. This legislation would require the Department of Defense to issue a directive permitting those in the Armed Forces who have received firearms training and are authorized to use firearms to carry military-issued firearms on bases and recruitment facilities. H.R. 3115 is supported by every member of the Tennessee delegation; and, currently has 17 cosponsors.

A bipartisan bill led by Congressman Brett Guthrie (KY-02) in the 113th Congress was reintroduced. H.R. 3179 (H.R. 4984 in the 113th Congress), the Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, will reform the current guidelines to require annual counseling for student borrowers and enhance their understanding of financial aid.

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Stuff in the News: Student Privacy, Food Labeling, DHS, Sanctuary Cities, LGBT Equality



Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Ranking Member Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157), bipartisan legislation to update student privacy protections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Co-sponsored with Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (IN-04), the bill will modernize privacy protections, improve communication between parents and school officials, and hold schools, states, and independent entities accountable for their use of student information.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) applauded the passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act by a vote of 275 to 150. HR 1599 protects the consumer from a costly and confusing 50 state patchwork of labeling laws by ensuring that the federal government retains its authority at the top of America's food safety pyramid. It would also create a single, unified standard for food to be labeled as "GMO free" as part of a USDA program modeled after the popular USDA Organics program. The bill addresses both consumers' interest in having additional information about their food products and industry's need for uniform rules by creating a national certification program for foods that have been produced without genetic engineering. The bill defines a non-genetically engineered food to include foods that are not produced from, do not contain, and do not consist of a genetically engineered plant. It is modeled after the successful National Organic Program. Under the program, certifying agents accredited by the USDA will certify that a food was produced with or without genetic engineering in compliance with a genetic engineering plan designed to ensure the integrity of the label. The Secretary of Agriculture is to establish the certification requirements by rulemaking, including public input.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested a total discretionary funding of approximately $51.95 billion for 2016. This request is 5.7 percent higher than 2015's, mainly due to the steep hike in requests from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) 8h introduced ‘The Safer D.C. Act’, which would end the sanctuary city policies in the District of Columbia. He explains: “The Safer D.C. Act would ensure that when the District of Columbia arrests an individual it is required to provide information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) so it can determine the citizenship or immigration status of that individual. Once DHS determines than the alien is inadmissible or deportable, DHS is required to issue a detainer directing the District of Columbia to hold the alien and then take the alien into federal custody after the conclusion of any legal proceeding under DC law. If the Secretary fails to issue a detainer and take the alien into custody then political appointees of the Department of Homeland Security are subject to penalties. Likewise, DC employees will also be subject to civil fines for failing to comply with the law.”

In an effort led by U.S. Representative Sam Graves, all of Missouri’s Congressional delegation, including the state’s two Senators, has sent a letter to the President asking him to approve Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s request for a federal emergency disaster declaration. A total of 70 Missouri counties are included in Governor Nixon’s request, which comes in response to significant flooding and other severe weather events across the state.

Seeking to end discrimination against the LGBT community, Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL09) has signed on as an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act. This legislation will ban discrimination against LGBT individuals in public accommodations, housing, employment, and other core areas of daily life. “Discrimination, in all forms, is wrong,” Rep. Grayson said. “No one should ever be discriminated against, or denied basic services, based on who he or she is or whom he or she loves. The Equality Act will ensure that LGBT Americans are afforded the same basic protections under the law as everyone else. I am proud to help lead this fight in the House of Representatives.”


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Friday, July 24, 2015

Stuff in the news: Illegal Immigration, Justice Reform, Planned Parenthood, Sanctuary Cities

The Coalition for Public Safety hosted the Bipartisan Summit on Fair Justice, while last week in Philadelphia, President Obama delivered a major policy speech on criminal justice reform and mass incarceration. Fattah, who is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, has been a leading advocate for comprehensive justice reform in the House of Representatives; he was instrumental in helping to create and fund the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections and has led the charge to increase funding for the Second Chance Act.

Congressman John Fleming, M.D. sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner requesting the House consider legislation to defund Planned Parenthood the week of July 27, 2015. Senator McConnell announced that he’s fast-tracking legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
Fifty-five members of Congress signed on to the letter. To read it, click here.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 3009, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act. This legislation denies State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funding to any state or political subdivision that has in place any law, policy or procedure in contravention of federal immigration law. SCAAP provides financial assistance to states and localities for some of the costs incurred for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens. The term “sanctuary cities” refers to nearly 300 communities that have adopted laws or policies that limit the extent to which local authorities can assist the federal government on immigration matters.

Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) introduced the Democratic Motion to Recommit on H.R. 1734 – Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015. The Motion to Recommit would amend Republican legislation intended to deregulate coal ash disposal by requiring that coal ash impoundments must be sufficient to prevent toxic levels of contamination of groundwater and to protect all sources of drinking water. According to a press release by Foster, Coal ash, the material left after coal is burned, can present serious risks to human health and the environment if not disposed properly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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    Friday, July 17, 2015

    More Stuff in the News: Canadian Dairy Imports, Infrastructure, Gun-Free Bases, Congressional Funds

    Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) led a bipartisan group of twenty Members in urging Canada to finally commit to open its markets to more dairy imports as talks over the trade agreement draw to a close. They sent a letter to the Canadian Ambassador to the United States outlining their position following a productive meeting with the U.S. Trade Representative on Monday.

    Next week the Senate is expected to consider a short-term patch to the Highway Trust Fund, potentially using revenues from cuts to the federal Thrift Savings Program used by many federal employees. The Highway Trust Fund, the nation’s primary source of funding for federal infrastructure projects, will lose spending authority at the end of July. On Wednesday, the House passed a short-term extension through December, allowing Congress to finalize a long-term highway bill using international tax reform. Since 2013, Congressman John K. Delaney (MD-6) has built support for this approach, which has now been echoed by President Obama, former House Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. Delaney’s Infrastructure 2.0 Act uses deemed repatriation at 8.75% to fund a six-year highway bill at increased levels and create a new infrastructure fund.

    Congressman Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (TN-04) will introduce legislation on Monday that will allow military personnel who have received firearms training to carry firearms on military bases and United States military recruitment facilities.

    Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08) announced that she is returning $65,793.51 in office congressional funds for 2014. Rep. Duckworth has now given back a total of $179,712.05 to the taxpayers since taking office in 2013. “As Members of Congress, we lead by example,” said Duckworth. “With so many working families still trying to make ends meet, it is our responsibility to make sure every tax dollar is being put to good use and it must begin in our own congressional offices.”





    Stuff in the News: Water, Language, Clemency, Education, Malaysia

    H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 passed in the House on Thursday, July 16, 2015. H.R. 2898 attempts to alleviate water supply and agricultural issues in western states that have, in part, resulted from both the mismanagement of critical water resources and severe drought. The bill revises the regulatory framework that governs the movement and storage of water; encourages the development and more efficient use of private and public water storage and delivery systems; reforms the Federal rulemaking processes relating to water storage and delivery; and includes other provisions to alleviate water shortages facing Western states. Included in the bill are provisions from H.R. 2749, the Dams Accountability, Maintenance, and Safety Act, introduced by Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) and Congressman Cramer to allow the Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional project benefits – such as increasing storage capacity – when studying and carrying out dam safety projects.

    This week, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, joined Reps. David Price (D-NC), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Don Young (R-AK) in introducing the World Language Advancement Act (H.R. 3096), which would help state and local school districts implement innovative K-12 language programs. Soon, your child may be learning a foreign language as a required part of his or her education.

    An amendment adopted on Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee and authored by Congressman John Culberson (TX-07) prevents the release of dangerous illegal aliens back into the public. Culberson’s amendment, which is now part of the fiscal year 2016 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, stops federal law enforcement agencies from releasing any alien that falls into the “Priority 1” or “Priority 2 Categories” created by the Obama Administration last November. Illegal immigrants convicted of domestic violence, sexual assault, drug dealing, or gun offenses can no longer be released at the Administration’s discretion.

    In the ongoing national effort to provide better opportunities for the nearly 400,000 young people in the U.S. foster care system, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) have introduced the “Education Stability for Foster Youth Act,” legislation that would address some of the education challenges foster youth face when they enter the foster care system and are forced to change homes and schools or school districts.

    A bipartisan group of 160 Members of Congress on Thursday, July 16, 2015 called on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to not upgrade Malaysia in the U.S. Department of State’s soon-to-be-released 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report. Leading the effort were Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Last week, Reuters reported that the State Department plans to upgrade Malaysia to the Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 3 in its Trafficking in Persons Report, although the country has failed to make substantive improvements in combating trafficking.



    Thursday, July 16, 2015

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    More Stuff in the News: Highways, Illegal Immigrant Prisoners, Michelle's Vacation, Clemency of Drug Offenders, Patents

    House passed legislation by a bipartisan vote of 312-119 to authorize and finance our highway and transit programs through the end of the year.

    Judicial Watch announced that it obtained records from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealing that nearly 260 illegal alien criminals, including 40 incarcerated for violent crimes, were released from Arizona detention facilities during the last week of February and the first two weeks of March 2013. After first denying that the mass release had taken place, the Obama administration claimed the releases were due to the anticipated sequestration budget cuts. The newly obtained records were uncovered because of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of Edward Tuffly, a Tucson, AZ, resident (Edward “Bud” Tuffly v. U. S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 2:15-cv-00067)).

    Michelle Obama’s 2014 trip to China cost American taxpayers $362,523.53 in air travel expenses alone. The First Lady, her daughters, and her mother spent March 19 – 26 in China, in a trip highlighted by extended visits to some of the country’s most popular tourist sites.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and 18 Republican Members of the House Judiciary Committee have pressed for answers about the Obama Administration’s unprecedented clemency program for certain federal drug offenders in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Although the Justice Department’s own manual states that commutation of sentence is “an extraordinary remedy that is rarely granted,” the Obama Administration last year announced a clemency program for certain federal drug offenders and asked the defense bar to recruit candidates for executive clemency. To date, 89 federal offenders have received sentence commutations, with the vast majority of those commutations going to federal drug offenders.

    Innovation Act (H.R. 9) – takes steps to combat the ever increasing problem of abusive patent litigation. H.R. 9 was recently reported out of the House Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming vote and will be considered by the full House of Representatives in the coming weeks. It is supported by a broad coalition representing many vital sectors of the American economy.

    More Stuff in the News: Fetal Body Parts, Michelle Vs. The U.S. Navy, SNAP Revue, Restoring Trust, Water, Blacklisting

    House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation following the release of a video revealing the Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services discussing the sale of fetal body parts on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

    Michelle Obama has succeeded in banning fried foods from the Navy's menu, and U.S. Navy members are not happy about this.

    Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-2), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, held a hearing to discuss the development and utilization of evidence-based solutions to improve nutrition programs. This hearing is a continuation of the committee’s ongoing review, known as the Past, Present, and Future of SNAP. The subcommittee heard from experts who shared how results from quality research can be implemented in meaningful ways to improve recipients’ lives and better target limited taxpayer dollars

    The House Budget Committee announced the launch of Restoring the Trust for All Generations – a new initiative aimed at raising awareness about the fiscal and policy challenges inherent in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as well as other mandatory spending programs like income support and educational assistance. The effort will enlist Americans in a call to action in order to build a consensus in support of reform. To begin the conversation, the Committee has released a policy paper entitled Restoring the Trust for All Generations: Principles for Saving and Strengthening America’s Health, Retirement, and Economic Security Programs.

    The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 with bipartisan support by a vote of 245-176. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement upon final passage. “In the midst of the drought crisis in California and the West, H.R. 2898 will liberate Americans from the prison of outdated water laws and radical environmental regulations that have exacerbated the drought and choked the economy. This imperative legislation will restore water to communities across California and the West and stabilize food prices for Americans across the country. Most importantly, it restores people as our unmistakable, rightful first priority in the nation’s water policies,” Chairman Bishop stated. “I commend Rep. David Valadao for his leadership on H.R. 2898, and thank my California colleagues and members of the Committee, for their work on a strong bill that will alleviate manmade drought effects and return prosperity to the West.” The Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 passed the Committee on Natural Resources on June 9, 2015.

    In 2014, President Obama issued an executive order to require contractors and subcontractors to disclose potential violations of 14 federal labor laws and equivalent state laws from the preceding three years. On May 28, 2015, the Department of Labor and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council issued proposed guidance and a draft regulation intended to implement the executive order. Republican leaders of three congressional committees today wrote to the Department of Labor and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to call for the withdrawal of the administration’s proposed blacklisting guidance and regulation. If the proposed guidance and rule are not withdrawn, the chairmen ask that the administration extend the public comment period by 90 days to “ensure that interested parties have adequate time to review, assess, and provide meaningful input.” The current period, they argue, does not provide stakeholders enough time to “effectively evaluate the full ramifications of the proposals.”

    More Stuff in the News: Small Business, Prisoners Commuted, Minimum Wage, Airport Screening, Writing your Representatives

    Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced the “Small Business Regulatory Sunset Act”; versions appeared in this (S. 846) and the prior congressional session. It calls for agencies to publish plans for review of small business rules, assemble comments from the affected and sunset rules after seven years unless agencies reaffirm. Similarly Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) “Regulatory Review and Sunset Act“ (S. 1067) (The House version is H.R. 2010 from Rep. Randy Hultgren) provides for reviews of the heftiest of rules and for assessments of whether they should be “continued, modified, consolidated, or terminated.”

    President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people incarcerated in federal prison. This follows the commutation of eight people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses in December of 2014, and 22 in March 2015. Fourteen of the people who received commutations today were serving life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

    Decades of infrequent and inadequate adjustment to the federal minimum wage have left today’s low-wage workers earning significantly less than their counterparts 50 years ago. Raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would lift wages for one-quarter of American workers and help restore the minimum wage’s role as a labor standard that ensures work is a means to escape poverty, according to EPI economic analyst David Cooper. “The average minimum wage worker is not a teenager working after school to earn some extra spending cash. The reality is that these are older workers who often have families to support,” Cooper said. “Raising the minimum wage, eliminating the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, and indexing the wage floor to median wages will improve the wellbeing of millions of workers and their families and will prevent low-wage workers from getting left behind again going forward.”

    Academy and Pulitzer Prize Award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. transportation security agencies demanding they release records documenting a six-year period in which she was searched, questioned, and often subjected to hours-long security screenings at U.S. and overseas airports on more than 50 occasions. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing Poitras in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, DOJ, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has created a new tool that makes emailing your congressional lawmakers a quick and easy process. Democracy.io simplifies and streamlines the current fractured system for contacting lawmakers, allowing you to message your two senators and your representative from a single website. At Democracy.io, you enter your home address, and a quick look-up provides the names of your three congressional lawmakers. You then can choose any or all of those lawmakers, and send them whatever message you’d like. Democracy.io follows best practices for protecting the privacy of users, and all of the code is licensed under the AGPL, which means people can create new versions with different features. EFF does not control or influence the messages sent through Democracy.io.

    Stuff in the News: DHS Funding, Child Abuse, Farmer's Market, Selling Baby Parts, Medicare Fraud

    The House Appropriations Committee passed its fiscal year 2016 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill. The bill provides funds to secure the nation’s border, enforce immigration laws, combat smugglers, protect against cyber threats, respond to natural disasters, and fight terrorism. In addition, the bill improves oversight of DHS to hold this Administration accountable to the American people. The bill does not contain funds to implement President Obama's executive action on immigration, and specifically bars the use of funds for these activities while there are legal proceedings on the issue.

    Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass) and Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced the Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act, legislation to protect children from sexual abuse. The proposed legislation funds school programs that provide age-appropriate lessons to primary and secondary school students on how to recognize and safely report sexual abuse. The Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act provides federal funding to develop, implement or expand these programs for students, teachers, and guardians.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has declared Aug 2 through 8, 2015, as "National Farmers Market Week." The declaration was made official by proclamation signed by Secretary Vilsack. This year marks the 16th annual National Farmers Market Week in honor of the important role that farmers markets play in local economies. Throughout the week, USDA will celebrate thousands of our nation's farmers markets, the farmers and ranchers who make them possible and the communities that host them.

    Center for Medical Progress released the results of a three-year investigation into the handling of the remains of aborted babies at Planned Parenthood centers. What it uncovered was shocking. Officials at the highest levels of Planned Parenthood were aware of, and seemingly complicit in, the selling of whole cadavers and/or parts of the aborted babies for a profit. In support of its claims, CMP released a video showing Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, describing how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted fetuses, and admitting she uses partial-birth abortions to supply intact body parts. In addition to the demand that the government suspend Medicaid reimbursements, American Life League has called on the members of Congress to immediately begin hearings and institute an investigation into Planned Parenthood.

    Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) flaunted the supposed success of their “cutting-edge technology” designed to identify and prevent improper Medicare payments. CMS claimed to have saved the Medicare Trust Fund $820 million since 2010 through the “Fraud Prevention System” (FPS). What was missing from the CMS statement was any mention of the most successful Medicare fraud prevention tool in history: The Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program. Since it was implemented nationwide in January 2010, the RAC program has returned more than $9.7 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund. Until the program was stymied and certain audits were suspended by CMS in October 2013, RACs were recovering about $1 billion per quarter, which would eclipse CMS’s FPS’s $820 million over a three year period. Plus, unlike the FPS, the RACs operate at zero taxpayer expense. They are compensated only if they correctly identify and recover improper payments.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    20 House of Representatives Member Comments on Iran Agreement

    Lou Barletta (R-PA, 11th)

    “With an issue as monumental as national security at stake, this is not the time to be burnishing legacies or campaigning for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Congress must carefully examine the agreement and its impact on this country and our allies, particularly Israel. I am mindful of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration that if Iran wants to be treated as a normal nation, it should act like one. As a consistent and belligerent state sponsor of terrorism, Iran has certainly not kept its part of the bargain."

    Andy Barr (R-KY, 6th)

    “As a member of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, I am particularly concerned that the Obama Administration would lift sanctions on the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Giving the Iranian regime access to billions of dollars in frozen assets will further destabilize the region and help finance their terrorist allies.”

    Joe Barton (R-TX, 6th)

    “I think it would be absolutely insane to ratify this deal. This is nothing more than a speed bump in Iran’s road to a nuclear weapon. They are the single largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. They have a terrible human rights record. Why we would allow them to maintain the capability over time to create weapons grade material when this deal expires? It makes no sense. I am unalterably opposed to the deal.”

    Joyce Beatty (D-OH, 3rd)

    “Today President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and our P5+1 partners announced a nuclear agreement with Iran. I will be thoroughly reviewing the agreement in order to ensure that it prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability.”

    Xavier Becerra (D-CA, 34th)

    “An agreement to halt nuclear proliferation cannot be built on trust but on verifiable, enforceable requirements. The hard work of President Obama, Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Ernest Moniz has brought us a step closer to an historic opportunity to prevent Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The unity of the international community has made the economic and trade sanctions work in pressuring Iran to negotiate a deal.

    “Now that an agreement has reached Congress, it is our responsibility to review it. Every word will count in this agreement and we need to know the meaning of each provision of this deal. It must constitute measurable progress in halting nuclear proliferation and in driving the region and the world farther away from nuclear Armageddon.”

    Don Beyer (D-VA, 8th)

    "I commend our diplomats for skillfully averting a global showdown and blocking Iran’s efforts to obtain the bomb."

    We cannot allow a nuclear Iran and this deal will serve as a lasting deterrent to keep the United States out of another devastating war in the Middle East. Now I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure this deal goes forward unhindered.”

    Gus Bilirakis (R-FL, 12th)

    “At first glance, the so called Iran Nuclear deal is not an acceptable deal for America and our allies. As I suspected, this agreement will threaten our national security interests at home and abroad. It is now up to Congress to examine the specifics of the deal and ensure the most dangerous regime in the Middle East halts its nuclear armament progress in order to prevent further regional conflict and an international arms race.”

    Sanford D. Bishop, Jr (D-GA, 2nd)

    “The opportunity to improve our relationship with Iran could potentially lead to greater stability in a region torn apart by war and religious strife. Nevertheless, we must not be naïve. The prospect of peace and stability can only be realized if the world is assured Iran will not threaten its neighbors with nuclear aggression."

    Mike Bishop (R-MI, 8th)

    “Lifting sanctions while allowing the Iranian regime to simply slow their nuclear operations – in addition to not releasing the three Americans held captive under their watch – sends the wrong message to the world and is downright dangerous. I will remain highly skeptical of any deal without stronger provisions.”

    Rob Bishop (R-UT, 1st)

    “I’m concerned that this deal could do much to embolden the threat of terror in the Middle East and the United States. The potential lifting of sanctions frees up $150 billion for Iran to spend on further arming terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. In addition, no Middle-Eastern Sunni nations were represented in these negotiations. ISIS forces can use this fact to foster potential support among Sunnis who may be leery of the U.S. making deals with a Shia Iran.

    “This deal threatens the safety of America and her allies. A US President should be in the business of protecting the US, not simply seeking to secure a faux legacy built on bad deals.”

    Earl Blumenauer (D-OR, 3rd)

    “As we all carefully assess this agreement, we must remember that measuring the framework against the unobtainable is likely to exhaust the patience of countries like China, India, and members of the European Union that have been critical members of the international effort to sanction and isolate Iran. Such a fracture would be devastating because we’ve tried the go-it-alone approach with sanctions and it didn’t work. We must also compare any agreement to the alternatives. The American public has made clear they will not likely support another military engagement in the Middle East. Even if money were no object, there is no amount of U.S. troops, bombs and military acumen that could guarantee an Iran free of nuclear weapons. That’s a gamble we should not be willing to take.”

    Kevin Brady (R-TX, 8th)

    “Congress will have time to assess the proposed Iran agreement, but clearly this is not about Republican versus Democrats, it’s about true security versus false security at a key moment in global history. Does President Obama’s agreement stop Iran’s nuclear capability for the long term? Does it prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East? And does it make America and our allies like Israel safer? I suspect the answer to all three is ‘no’.

    Nothing less than complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program is acceptable.”

    Jim Bridenstine (R-OK, 1st)

    While I will keep an open mind, let’s remember who we’re dealing with: Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism. Tehran’s proxies effectively control four Middle Eastern countries: Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Iran continues to violate its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments and numerous UN Security Council resolutions. Just last week, top Iranian officials chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in the streets of Tehran. A nuclear weapons-capable Iran is a threat to the United States and our allies, especially Israel, and a destabilizing force in the world’s most volatile region. As a nuclear threshold state, Iran would also spur nuclear weapons proliferation across the Middle East as its Sunni Arab neighbors attempt to deter Iranian aggression.

    Susan W. Brooks (R-IN, 5th)

    “No deal is clearly a better outcome than a bad deal and I’m extremely concerned the Obama administration has negotiated a bad deal. My colleagues and I will leave no detail of the final negotiated terms unexplored as this decision comes with consequences that will reverberate for generations moving forward. If this agreement allows for a nuclear Iran and puts our security at risk, Congress must not support it.

    The Obama administration only has itself to blame for the skepticism it now faces from members of both political parties. Throughout this process, critical negotiating objectives have been repeatedly ignored or altered. Iran has practiced violence and deception for decades. The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran and thus cannot afford a deal with unacceptable terms.”

    Michael Burgess (R-TX, 26th)

    “Despite assurances from the Obama administration that these negotiations would end Iran’s nuclear programs and that sanctions would not be lifted until their nation met concrete demands, this deal reflects otherwise,” Rep. Burgess said. “This agreement means billions in sanction relief, and an open door to continue their reckless foreign policy agenda. “Though I am relieved to see negotiations conclude, this product – which paves the path toward a nuclear Iran – is a risk to our national security and global interests.”

    Bradley Byrne (R-AL, 1st)

    “From the start of these talks I have warned that President Obama and his negotiating team were desperate for a foreign policy victory, and I fear the safety of Americans and our allies in the Middle East will be at greater risk because of this deal.

    “Iran is no friend of the United States, and we should all be concerned about what they will do with billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Even Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey has stated that sanctions relief would allow Iran to send more money to terrorist groups in the Middle East.

    “Congress will now have an opportunity to closely scrutinize and vote on this agreement, and I call on my colleagues to look past the short-term rhetoric and instead focus on the long-term implications this deal could have on our national security and the safety of our allies abroad.”

    Michael E. Capuano (D-MA, 7th)

    I have always hoped for a negotiated resolution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The general outlines of the deal, made public this morning, appear reasonable and encouraging. However, I will carefully review the details and discuss the scientific aspects of the agreement with qualified scientists. I have never expected a perfect agreement because that is an impossible standard. For me, the most important question is, if this deal is not acceptable, then what does the United States do next? Some argue for continued sanctions but it’s clear to me that Russia and China won’t go along with that. Moreover, I fear Europe would not support the U.S. in continued sanctions so we would be left with unilateral sanctions and historically these have been ineffectual. Nor do I think a military option is prudent or feasible at this time. Congress has 60 days to review this agreement and I will carefully consider all aspects of it before making a final decision.

    Buddy Carter (R-GA, 1st)

    "I fear this will be a legacy making deal for the Obama Administration but not the legacy it is looking to make,” Carter said. “This dangerous deal threatens to unleash a nuclear arms race in the most unstable region in the world, imperils our closest ally Israel, and signals to other regimes that America will not maintain its resolve to combat extremism.”

    Kathy Castor (D-FL, 14th)

    The historic nuclear disarmament agreement announced today between the United States, Iran, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union requires thorough review and analysis over the coming weeks. My overriding concern is whether or not the agreement is in the national security interest of the United States. Iran must be blocked from proceeding any further towards developing a nuclear weapon. Aggressive, enforceable restrictions and thoroughly transparent inspections at any time are fundamental to approval of such an agreement. I have no illusions about the dreadful record and conduct of the Iranian regime, or the destabilizing influence Iran continues to have in the region. No matter what, all options must remain on the table in case Iran deviates from the terms of this agreement in any way.

    Here’s what we have been told so far: (1) The parties have negotiated a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Advocates say that every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. (2) The agreement is not built on trust; it is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities. (3) Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Under the agreement, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years. Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear weapon. (4) Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    Joaquin Castro (D-TX, 20th)

    “I commend Secretaries Kerry and Moniz for their tireless efforts negotiating this agreement and for their and President Obama’s steadfast commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This agreement has the potential to position the United States and our allies toward a future of peace and security. Initial readings of the deal’s text indicate it contains stringent accountability measures that protect against the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. Congress will now have a say in how the United States proceeds, and I hope that my colleagues will take time to thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluate the details of the agreement our negotiators achieved.”

    Curt Clawson (R-FL, 19th)

    “With mounting concern on the details over the Administration’s deal with the regime of Iran, the world's largest state-sponsor or terrorism, it is not in the interest of the American people to have the deal ratified by the United Nations before Congress can speak with a united voice. A deal with Iran is the Administration’s ‘Flounder’ moment. We all know what happens in Animal House when Flounder gave the keys to his brother’s car to his fraternity brothers. Why are we giving the keys to nuclear technology to the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world, who has also called for the elimination of Israel, our strongest ally in the region. Today I join with many others, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, in saying, ‘No deal is better than a bad deal.’”

    Stuff in the News: Foreign laws in Domestic Courts, Israeli Embassy, Labor, Business Start-Ups, Homes for Heroes

    Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) introduced H.R. 3052, legislation to safeguard the integrity of our Constitution and U.S. laws by affirming that federal courts must follow and uphold our laws rather than deferring to those of foreign nations. The legislation follows a February 2015 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) which found that “In recent years, foreign or international legal sources have increasingly been cited by the Supreme Court when considering matters of U.S. law.”

    U.S. Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Gene Green (D-TX) have introduced H. Con. Res. 62, expressing the Sense of Congress that the United States Embassy in Israel should be located in Jerusalem. In 1995, the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act requiring the President to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The legislation was passed to secure American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Successive administrations have used a Presidential waiver authority, included in the bill, to delay that transfer due to national security concerns.

    Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) in a U.S. House floor speech applauded Democrat presidential candidate’s goal of increasing American family incomes but noted that her “trickle down federal government dictates solution, while splendid rhetoric, misses the target entirely.” Brooks then detailed how the tsunami of illegal alien workers coupled with a second tsunami of lawful immigrant workers combine to explode the labor force and take job opportunities from, and suppress wages, of Americans.

    U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, has announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would make it easier and less costly for an entrepreneur to start a new business. Buchanan’s “Support our Start-Ups Act” (H.R. 2524) would quadruple the amount of start-up costs small business owners can deduct from their federal income taxes, raising it from $5,000 to $20,000.

    The bipartisan Homes for Heroes Act of 2015, which passed on July 14, 2015, establishes a Special Assistant for Veterans’ Affairs and an annual report on veterans’ homelessness. The Special Assistant will coordinate all the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) programs and activities relating to veterans and serve as a HUD liaison with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It also will direct the Secretaries of HUD and VA to report annually to Congress with respect to veterans homelessness and housing assistance. According to the National Coalition for Homelessness, on any given night in the United States, 49,933 veterans experience homelessness. Additionally, approximately 12 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Stuff in the news: Postal Service, Patient Access, Energy, Education, Homosexual Blood Donations

    U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations State Department Subcommittee, has been calling for an independent review of a State Department proposal to construct a brand new training center in Virginia, instead of using an established federal training facility in Georgia that could save taxpayers millions of dollars. Senator Perdue led a joint Georgia Delegation letter requesting additional information from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and introduced a provision that was included in the State Department Authorization bill. Similar language was included in the Senate Appropriations process. Recently, Senator Perdue visited the FLETC facility in Brunswick, Georgia and continues to push for Congressional oversight of this process.

    U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) joined his colleagues in introducing legislation to improve rural mail service and delivery and provide protections for post offices and postal employees in rural communities across the country. The Rural Postal Act of 2015 would place a two-year moratorium on postal mail processing facility closures, restore delivery standards and preserve six-day mail home delivery.

    U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced legislation to increase patient access to medical devices by removing government red tape. The Accelerating Innovation in Medicine (AIM) Act, authored by Portman and Heinrich, will streamline access to medical devices by giving patients the option to self-pay rather than going through the time-consuming Medicare coverage process. It will also allow doctors to present patients with more choices when deciding on the best care for them.

    U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced legislation, S.1755, to extend the Residential Energy Efficient Property Tax Credit (25D) by five years. The legislation would extend a successful tax credit that helps families pay for residential clean energy equipment, such as solar photovoltaics, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and small wind turbines.

    Affirming his belief that every child should have access to a high quality education, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), a leading voice for school choice in the U.S. Senate, has offeredS.Amdt. 2132 to the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) to allow Title I funds to follow low-income children and strengthen educational options for their parents. Currently being debated on the Senate floor, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the principal law governing the federal role in K-12 education.

    United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), and 79 of their congressional colleagues sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to the agency's draft guidance document, which, if finalized, would change the blood donation policy for men who have sex with men (MSM) from a lifetime ban to a one-year deferral from the donor's last sexual contact with another man. "While we appreciate the FDA's willingness to address this issue and release draft guidance to alter the current policy," the members wrote, "we continue to have deep concerns about many of the conclusions and statements made in the Draft, and about the lack of plan to move towards a fully risk-based system."

    Obama has successfully given Iran the ability to continue funding terrorism, thereby increasing terrorist activity throughout the world.

    Senator David Perdue (R-GA)

    "Let's be clear, this agreement is not final. Georgians and the American people, through Congressional representation, must sign off on the negotiated terms, and because of our bipartisan efforts Congress will have 60 days to do so. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I will review this agreement with the utmost scrutiny to ensure we remain steadfast in our efforts to halt the expansion of nuclear arms now and down the road.

    "Right now, I remain extremely concerned that this deal does not go far enough to fully prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability and ensure anytime, anywhere inspections access of all nuclear and military sites. If this requires walking away from such a deal and strengthening sanctions, I will encourage President Obama to consider this course of action. To be clear, rejecting this agreement is not condoning war, it is standing firm for peace and against Iranian aggression."

    Senator Rob Portman- (R - OH)

    “I look forward to reviewing details of the nuclear agreement reached earlier today in Vienna. As I have said since the start of this process, I will weigh this agreement on the merits. I will be reviewing whether it is enforceable—both through effective international monitoring and the ability to re-impose sanctions if violations occur while assuring that sanctions relief is not given unless and until Iran meets its commitments—and whether the agreement prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability. This is of the utmost importance for our own national security, as well as for our close allies in the region such as Israel. Congress has a responsibility to carefully review the agreement to ensure it is in the best interests of our national security.”

    Senator Jack Reed - (D - RI)

    “It has taken nearly two years of persistent, rigorous negotiations to reach this point. President Obama and his negotiating team - at every echelon, including our scientists and nuclear experts - deserve the nation’s thanks."

    Senator Harry Reid- (D - NV)

    “Today’s historic accord is the result of years of hard work by President Barack Obama and his administration. The world community agrees that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable and a threat to our national security, the safety of Israel and the stability of the Middle East. Now it is incumbent on Congress to review this agreement with the thoughtful, level-headed process an agreement of this magnitude deserves.”

    Senator James E. Risch - (R - ID)

    "This deal falls disastrously short of what the Obama Administration originally promised and gives the Iranian government what it desires. The West will have to live with a nuclear Iran and will abandon our closest ally, Israel, under this horribly flawed agreement."

    Senator Pat Roberts- (R - KS)

    “After months of delays in which Administration negotiated to Iran’s demands, President Obama calls this deal a success. The only way I can see a success is if the agreement denies Iran a nuclear weapons capability and does not provide the rogue nation with billions of dollars in sanctions relief. It’s imperative that Congress cautiously reviews this deal and ensures that it holds the Iranians accountable so that the world doesn’t become an even more dangerous place for the U.S. and our allies. That’s the standard by which I will judge the agreement when all of the details are submitted to Congress.”

    Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD)

    “I’ve said all along that anything short of stopping the Iranians from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Based on what we know so far, it appears this deal not only fails to meet this essential goal, it emboldens the Iranians, who will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief, a phased out lifting of a UN arms embargo and be allowed to test more advanced centrifuges over 10 years. Today’s testimony from General Selva confirms that under this deal, Iran will have the ability to continue funding terrorism, thereby increasing terrorist activity throughout the world.”

    Senator Marco Rubio - (R - FL)

    “I have said from the beginning of this process that I would not support a deal with Iran that allows the mullahs to retain the ability to develop nuclear weapons, threaten Israel, and continue their regional expansionism and support for terrorism. Based on what we know thus far, I believe that this deal undermines our national security. President Obama has consistently negotiated from a position of weakness, giving concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands, holds Americans hostage, and has consistently violated every agreement it ever signed. I expect that a significant majority in Congress will share my skepticism of this agreement and vote it down. Failure by the President to obtain congressional support will tell the Iranians and the world that this is Barack Obama's deal, not an agreement with lasting support from the United States. It will then be left to the next President to return us to a position of American strength and re-impose sanctions on this despicable regime until it is truly willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions and is no longer a threat to international security.”

    Senator Bernard Sanders - (I - VT)

    “I congratulate President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the leaders of other major nations for producing a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to learning more about the complex details of this agreement to make sure that it is effective and strong.”

    Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE)

    “Sadly, the Administration just lit the fuse for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. We all know Iran’s neighbors will not sit idly as the world's largest state-sponsor of terror becomes a nuclear-threshold state.

    Senator, Brian Schatz - (D - HI)

    “The accord announced in Vienna today marks a watershed moment in our pursuit to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. I will review the final deal to ensure that it effectively prevents Iran from acquiring the material it would need to develop a nuclear bomb, has sufficient limits on Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, and that the inspection and transparency regime for holding Iran accountable is robust and will protect the interests of the United States and its allies, especially Israel. If this is a good deal, it is the first step in a long road to blocking Iran’s access to a nuclear weapon, and we must remain vigilant to ensure Iranian compliance. Our guiding principle must continue to be distrust but verify.”

    Senator Jeanne Shaheen - (D - NH)

    “Throughout negotiations, I’ve been adamant that the United States must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that hardnosed diplomacy is the preferred means of doing so. Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation, which I supported, that allows the House and Senate to consider this weighty agreement in all its detail. It is critical that Congress take the time necessary to conduct this review. My support for this deal hinges on whether we can verify that Iran’s paths to obtaining a nuclear weapon are thoroughly blocked. I want to congratulate Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz and the rest of the negotiating team for their tremendous persistence in reaching this agreement, and I look forward to a thorough review with my colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee.”

    Senator John Thune - (R - SD)

    “Now that a deal has been struck, the onus is on President Obama to convince the American people that the contents of this deal are beneficial to the safety and security of our nation. I look forward to further reviewing details of the agreement, but I am deeply skeptical that it will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I am gravely concerned that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism will soon have access to billions of dollars and other resources to finance its campaign for increased regional influence.

    Senator Patrick J.Toomey - (R - PA)

    "I look forward to closely examining this nuclear agreement during the upcoming 60 day Congressional review period. Preliminarily, I have deep concerns that this deal will provide hundreds of billions of dollars to an untrustworthy Iranian regime's support for terrorism, while ushering in a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East."

    Senator Tom Udall - (D - NM)

    "The next critical step is for Congress to review the agreement, and I will be carefully considering the details, as well as the alternatives. It is vital for Congress to hear from our experts, including those at New Mexico's national labs, in order to understand how this deal will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I urge Congress to study the agreement thoughtfully - not with an eye to U.S. politics but on what will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or the materials to develop one. We all agree that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat that must be prevented. This is the greatest nuclear nonproliferation challenge of our time, and it is a challenge that we must meet."

    Senator David Vitter- (R - LA)

    “First, under its own terms, the deal accepts Iran eventually getting nuclear weapons. Second, there are huge holes in verification which, to me, make it certain that Iran will successfully cheat.”

    Senator Mark R.Warner - (D - VA)

    “I will review this agreement with the utmost attention to detail, given the incredible importance of getting an agreement of this magnitude right. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which I supported, Congress will have 60 days to analyze this agreement and carefully consider whether it substantially advances the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. In particular, I will pay close attention to the dismantling of Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program; ensuring an intrusive and reliable verification process; and ensuring a graduated process of sanctions relief entirely dependent upon Iran’s compliance, along with a process for re-imposing U.S. and international sanctions if Iran violates terms of the agreement.”

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    More Stuff in the News: Coal Miners, Defective Vehicles, Mexican Smugglers, Illegal Immigration, Same-Sex Marriage, Guns

    U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have introduced the Miners Protection Act. This legislation would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.

    Automotive industry executives who cover up or conceal the death and injury risks of defective vehicles or parts could face up five years in prison, under sweeping auto safety legislation filed in the Senate. The measure, sponsored by three leading Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee, comes in advance of a mark-up the panel will hold next week on a broader Republican transportation bill that includes highway, rail and port related provisions. In addition to the prospect of executives facing jail time, the bill also removes a $35 million cap on civil fines federal regulators could impose on automakers for safety violations, including failing to report dangerous defects.

    U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske today following the rupture of the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI), a sewage pipeline that transports up to 9.9 million gallons of wastewater from Nogales, Arizona to Sonora, Mexico each day, by smugglers who had dug a hole under a house in Nogales in an attempt to bring drugs across the border. Senator McCain also urged CBP to work with the city to fund the repairs to the IOI, close access to the tunnel, and address serious problems with border security that continue to harm the communities along Arizona’s southern border.

    On the current debate on illegal immigration, Senator John McCain - (R - AZ) said: "Arizona has been on the front lines of this serious problem for years. That’s why I partnered with then-President George W. Bush and Republicans and Democrats in Congress a decade ago and then again in 2013 to advance practical solutions to reform our broken immigration system in a humane manner and regain control of our border to protect our nation. In fact, our most recent legislation included provisions requiring investments in border security totaling some $6.5 billion and hiring an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents." (What good is hiring 20,000 border patrol agents if you are going to tie their hands?)

    Following last month’s Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, member of the Senate Finance Committee, has joined democratic colleagues in unveiling legislation to provide equal dignity for all legal marriages in the tax code. The bill, the Equal Dignity for Married Taxpayers Act, removes gender-specific references to marriage, recognizing LGBTQ Americans in the tax code.

    The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee threw bipartisan support behind an amendment sponsored by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley to help tackle climate change. The amendment enables the U.S. State Department to invest in the global Green Climate Fund. The amendment passed on a bipartisan 16-14 vote and was adopted into the Senate’s State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill.

    In response to the announcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that Charleston shooter Dylan Roof should have been prohibited from purchasing the firearm used in the murder of nine men and women last month, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have announced that they will call on the Administration to take executive action to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by closing a loophole in the law and putting an end to the “default proceed” rule. Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the “default proceed” rule currently allows federally licensed firearms dealers who have initiated a background check, but have not been notified by the FBI within three business days whether or not the sale of a firearm to a certain individual would violate law, to sell the firearm.

    Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced The Homeless Veterans Services Protection Act with cosponsor Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), which would prevent thousands of homeless veterans from losing access to housing services. VA’s proposed changes to the decades-old policy for homeless services would bar access for veterans who served less that than two years continuously, or who had an other than honorable discharge. This bill would ensure that those changes can never take place. Last week, Sen. Murray toured the Randall Apartments in Tacoma, a 35-unit complex that serves homeless veterans. She also met with representatives from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, local housing authorities, and community groups to discuss her new legislation.

    U.S. Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation that would prevent “sanctuary cities” from harboring violent and dangerous criminal aliens, known as the Protecting American Citizens Together Act (PACT Act). The PACT Act would require state and local law enforcement to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following the arrest of an illegal immigrant and detain an illegal immigrant if requested to do so by ICE. Additionally, if the Bureau of Prisons receives a request from ICE to transfer an illegal immigrant to their custody, that request will take priority over the request from state and local agencies. Under this legislation, localities will be required to follow the new requirements as a condition of receiving federal law enforcement grants.

    More Stuff in the news: Guns, North Korea, Energy, Education, Labeling Food

    U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) with NYPD Chief of Department James P. O’Neill, Everytown for Gun Safety, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and Harlem Mothers Save today announced the introduction of bipartisan gun trafficking legislation aimed at cracking down on the daily flow of illegal guns on our nation’s streets. Authored along with Republican Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015 would make gun trafficking a federal crime to provide tools to law enforcement to get illegal guns off the streets, away from criminal networks and street gangs, and to prosecute those who traffic firearms. Just nine weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the arrests of multiple members of an illegal gun smuggling ring under “Operation Redrum” which netted 93 guns ranging from 22 caliber pistols to assault weapons over a six-month period. The guns came from out of state and were trafficked through the Bronx. In 2013, 331 weapons recovered in New York State came from Georgia alone. According to NYPD, 90 percent of the guns used in New York City gun crimes come from out of state, including those used in the murders of Detectives Wenjian Liu, Rafael Ramos and Brian Moore. Just this week, gang violence was reportedly responsible for the shooting death of a father holding his one-year-old child. Currently, there is no federal law that defines gun trafficking as a crime.

    U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Bob Menendez (R-New Jersey) has introduced the 2015 North Korea Sanctions Act that would strengthen and expand sanctions against the regime in North Korea and those who might wish to assist them. The Senators introduced the bill following repeated violations of commitments by North Korea to end and dismantle its nuclear weapons development program and the perpetual brutal oppression on the vast majority of the North Korean people. Both Senators note that North Korea remains a significant threat to regional and global stability. (What makes Iran so special, then?)

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley made the following statement after the FBI acknowledged that inaccurate information was entered in the background check system and hindered follow-up analysis that should have prevented alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof from purchasing a firearm. “It’s disastrous that this bureaucratic mistake prevented existing laws from working and blocking an illegal gun sale. The facts undercut attempts to use the tragedy to enact unnecessary gun laws. The American people, and especially the victims' families, deserve better.”

    U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and U.S. Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.-03), the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, unveiled the Tribal Tax Incentive for Renewable Energy Act, a bill the lawmakers will introduce today to allow tribal governments to take advantage of the existing federal renewable energy investment tax credit in the same way any private developer already does.

    U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act passed the United States Senate. This amendment requires governors of states to be consulted during the development of a state education plan to improve education and workforce readiness. It also includes a 30-day “shot clock” for a state’s governor to approve the plan before it is submitted to the Secretary of Education.

    Senator John Hoeven cosponsored bipartisan legislation to protect small businesses from potential health care premium increases under the Affordable Care Act. The Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees (PACE) Act allows states to maintain the current definition of a small group market as 1-50 employees to prevent premium increases and disruptions for small and mid-size businesses. Hoeven joins prime sponsor Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on the legislation. Currently, almost all states define their small group market to include employers with 1-50 employees. Under the health care law, the definition of small business will expand to include employers with up to 100 employees starting January 1, 2016. Expanding the small group definition up to 100 could increase premiums for the vast majority of small employers and also prevent mid-size employers from keeping their current plans. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, the expansion of small group from 50 to 100 will cause both rate and benefit disruption for about 150 North Dakota groups which cover almost 20,000 North Dakotans.

    Following a letter from U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will delay new menu labeling requirements at supermarkets, grocery stores, and similar retail locations for one year. In May, Senators Collins and King, along with several of their Senate colleagues, urged the agency in a letter to delay the regulations so that these establishments in Maine and around the country, which often sell food for in-store consumption, would receive adequate time and guidance to comply with the new regulations. In a written response to the senators, the FDA has said that it will delay implementation of the rules until December 1, 2016. The new menu labeling requirements are the result of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that calls for a national, uniform nutrition-disclosure standard for foodservice establishments, primarily intended for restaurants. The FDA first released draft regulations to implement this provision in 2011, however, the agency also unexpectedly incorporated grocery and convenience stores because of the food sold at deli counters, snack bars, salad bars, and other in-store options. The FDA issued its final menu labeling regulations in December of 2014, and businesses originally had until December 2015 to comply with the regulations. Following the FDA’s decision, they will now have until December 2016 to do so. The agency plans to issue a draft guidance document in August 2015 to answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the menu-labeling rule and help stores as they work to comply.

    More Stuff in the News 7-13-15 (3)

    President Obama has announced that he will accelerate the drawdown of 40,000 troops. “President Obama’s decision to accelerate the drawdown of 40,000 active-duty Army troops is a dangerous and unwise gamble—one that America cannot afford to take. From Russian aggression in Ukraine to the Islamic State’s barbaric rampage across the Middle East, the threats we face today are more dangerous than ever. And we’re on the brink of reaching a deal that would allow the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism to maintain their nuclear program. In light of the concessions we’ve already made in these negotiations, the ayatollahs in Iran who lead chants of “Death to America!” are likely celebrating this news today," said Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Thursday. Senator Ted Cruz (R - TX) added: "Our national priorities, our global and economic influence, and the foremost Constitutional responsibility of homeland security are all supported by our military capabilities -- and the truth of the matter is that this President’s policies have made our need for our military ever greater."

    The Pentagon reported that 99 servicemembers took their own lives from January through March, including 57 active component servicemembers, 15 reserve servicemembers, and 27 National Guard Members. The Pentagon report comes days after a study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry analyzing nearly 10,000 suicide attempts among almost 1 million active-duty servicemembers during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2004-2009. The study found that suicide attempts by active-duty servicemembers during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were most common in newer enlisted servicemembers who had not been deployed. Last year, according to the Pentagon in new adjusted numbers, 442 servicemembers took their own lives last year, including 273 active component servicemembers, 79 reserve servicemembers, and 90 National Guard members. In 2014, for the third straight year, more servicemembers were lost to suicide than in combat.

    The Senate unanimously approved an amendment offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to the Every Child Achieves Act that would eliminate barriers to children receiving assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) homeless assistance programs. Current HUD regulations require homeless children and families to be certified as homeless before they can receive assistance, but obtaining that certification is overly burdensome. Homeless children and families are constantly on the move. They are frequently unable to provide documentation of their whereabouts or proof that they will only be staying at their current location, whether it be a motel or friend’s couch, temporarily. The amendment adopted by the Senate would allow school personnel to certify that children are homeless and eligible for HUD services by writing a letter on their behalf. This would make it easier for homeless children to receive the services they are already eligible for. Of course, a copy of that letter will go to CPS.

    The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 1359 – The E-Warranty Act of 2015. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) would modernize warranty requirements and allow manufacturers to save paper and printing costs by posting warranties online. The bill was passed unanimously out of the Commerce Committee in May.

    U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is pressing for new legislation that would update our tax code to reflect the Supreme Court's recent landmark decision on marriage equality. The bill, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and backed by the entire Senate Democratic Caucus, sets new precedent by removing gender-specific references to marriage, establishing dignity and recognition for LGBT Americans in the tax code. Introduction of the Equal Dignity for Married Taxpayers Act follows the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage, striking down state-level bans on such marriages. The bill ensures that the nation's tax law properly reflects the landmark civil rights decision, offering equal treatment to all married taxpayers.



    More stuff in the news...

    Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act, which would provide critical financial incentives to encourage investment in offshore wind energy. This legislation would create an investment tax credit that is redeemable for the first 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind facilities placed into service, amounting to approximately 600 wind turbines.

    U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the National Security Working Group, sent a letter to Secretaries Kerry and Lew pressing the Administration for more action to counter the financial networks that support ISIS. He urged Treasury to designate and levy new sanction on ISIS ‘middlemen’ who facilitate illicit smuggling of oil, antiquities, and other goods. Casey also urged the Administration to consider designating ISIS as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO), which could provide the Administration additional authorities in the effort to cut off the flow of money to ISIS. Despite operating largely outside the formal banking sector, reports including a 2015 analysis by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), indicate that ISIS may be accessing banks near territory it controls. Additionally the Assad regime may be allowing Syrian banks in ISIS-controlled territory to continue business as usual. In his letter Casey also asked for an update on the progress the Iraqi government has made in preventing ISIS from accessing bank branches that are connected to the country’s financial system.

    Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), the Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced the ACCESS (Access to Court Challenges for Exempt Status Seekers) Act, which would allow groups seeking 501(c)(4) status or other tax-exempt status to take the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to Tax Court if the IRS fails to act on an application for more than nine months.

    The U.S. Senate resumes consideration of major education reform legislation that got a boost Wednesday with unanimous approval of an amendment sponsored by U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to allow the use of federal funds to improve and modernize school libraries.

    U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which she serves, has approved funding for a number of initiatives that would empower women across the globe. The funding was directed as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 State, Foreign Operations & Related Programs Appropriations bill which must now be considered by the full Senate. At Senator Collins’ request, the bill includes $1.7 billion for gender programs and combatting gender-based violence. This funding supports Department of State and USAID efforts to promote gender equality as a component of their democracy and development work. For the fourth year in a row, the bill also includes $50 million to promote women’s political leadership including participation in political parties, elections, and leadership positions in local and national governments.

    U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) offered an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization that will encourage greater college access for low-income students by allowing them to earn college credits in high school. By providing students the opportunity to simultaneously pursue a high school diploma while earning college credits tuition-free, early college high schools and dual and concurrent enrollment programs improve secondary and postsecondary outcomes for students.

    U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded funding for his bold, bipartisan initiative to end modern slavery that was included in the Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The End Modern Slavery Initiative will create a powerful effort in concert with the private sector and foreign governments to help eliminate modern slavery around the globe.

    U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) appeared on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to discuss the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations. “This idea that we would release these sanctions and the arms embargo and give them more money, more weapons … seems crazy,” he said.

    Stuff in the news...or not...

    On July 9, 2015, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner joined Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to introduce the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, a bill to ensure that legal marijuana businesses can access banking services. The operative word here is "legal".

    A section of the Senate Bill 1732 (introduced by Senator John Thune on Friday), the Vehicle Safety Bill, which is to be rolled into the transportation bill, will allow rental companies to rent recalled vehicles to consumers. Now, I don't know about you, but if it's unsafe for consumers to own, wouldn't it be unsafe for consumers to drive?

    Senator Sherrod Brown (D - OH) cosponsored legislation to protect Ohio communities by taking unsafe oil trains off the tracks and giving first responders in local communities the resources they need should accidents occur. The Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2015 would build on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new regulations – finalized in May – to tighten safety standards on new and existing railcars, and update handling methods of hazardous and other materials throughout Ohio.

    Last June, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the D.C. NFL team name violates a provision of patent law banning “disparaging” registrations. Affirming that decision on July 8, 2015, Judge Lee ruled the standard for proving “disparagement” was met and cancelation of the team’s trademark was not a violation of the First Amendment.

    Why did Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta resign after two recent data breaches that affected close to 25 million individuals. It doesn't make sense, unless she had something to do with it that we are not hearing about on the news.