Equal Pay Day, 2015

By Rachna Choudhry

4/14/15: Equal Pay Day is a date chosen each year to symbolize how far into the current year women need to work to earn the same amount of money men earned during the previous year, according to the National Women's History MuseumOn this Equal Pay Day, April 14, 2015, POPVOX is spotlighting a variety of bills related to women's wages.

In 2013, the median woman working full-time all year earned 78 percent of what the median man working full-time all year earned. Although this gap generally narrowed between the 1970s and 1990s, it has largely stopped narrowing and has remained between 76 and 78 cents since 2001, according to the Council on Economic Advisors. “Studies have demonstrated that a significant portion of this gap cannot be explained by nondiscriminatory factors and that the promise of equal pay remains unfulfilled,” according to the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force

Background: In 1963, Congress passed and President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay lower wages to women doing substantially the same work as their male counterparts. The next year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, making it illegal to discriminate, including in compensation, on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.

In 2009, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which “restored the interpretation of the law that a pay discrimination claim accrues when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, whenever an employee is subjected to a discriminatory pay decision or practice, and each time a discriminatory pay decision or practice affects an employee, including each time the employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.”

President’s Response to Equal Pay

  • The President’s FY 2016 budget requests an $8.6 million, or 2.4 percent, increase in the EEOC budget, the agency which enforces the Equal Pay Act. (In FY 2015, there were 969 charged filed related to the Equal Pay Act.) 
  • Last year, President Obama signed an Executive Order “prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation. The Executive Order does not compel workers to discuss pay, nor does it require employers to publish or otherwise disseminate pay data—but it does provide a critical tool to encourage pay transparency, so workers have a potential way of discovering violations of equal pay laws and are able to seek appropriate remedies.” 

Congress Responds to Equal Pay

There are two bills pending before Congress that addresses the wage gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has the support of President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate, and the Workplace Advancement Act in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). While the Paycheck Fairness Act has failed to garner Republican support, the introduction of the Workplace Advancement Act by Republican Senators indicates that there is some common ground on the issue of wage discrimination. According to the Workplace Advancement Act’s bill text, “despite this significant progress, surveys suggest there is a concern among American women that gender-based pay discrimination still exists.”

Paycheck Fairness Act ( HR 1619 and S 862 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) “Builds upon the landmark Equal Pay Act signed into law in 1963 by closing loopholes that have kept it from achieving its goal of equal pay. The bill would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance, not gender. It also prohibits employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers. Under current law employers can sue and punish employees for sharing such information. In addition, it strengthens remedies for pay discrimination by increasing compensation women can seek, allowing them to seek both back pay and punitive damages for pay discrimination – conforming it to damages allowed in other discrimination cases. The bill empowers women in the workplace through a grant program to strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills, and requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to eliminate pay disparities,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Workplace Advancement Act (S 875)

Sponsors: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to strengthen equal pay requirements. “To prevent retaliation against employees who inquire about, or discuss, their salaries, while also reinforcing current law banning gender discrimination under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Last month, as part of the fiscal year 2016 budget, the Republican-led United States Senate passed an amendment offered by Senator Fischer on a bipartisan vote of 56 to 43. The amendment was supported by 53 Republicans and Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Donnelly (I-IN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

The Week Ahead in Congress: April 13 – 17

From our Hill Sources: Congress returns from recess in time for spring! And the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom—as is allergy season! House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) released a memo outlining the House Republican agenda for April, which includes “tax freedom and financial independence.” Meanwhile, the Senate will consider the recurring issue of Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payments for doctors and the “doc fix,” as well as Congressional review of an agreement with Iran and possibly a bill addressing human trafficking.

Congressional Review on an Iran Nuclear Deal

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote Tuesday, April 14, on whether to require Congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran. The Committee Chairman, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), believes “the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure any final deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable.” 

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (S 615)

Sponsor: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, according to the bill sponsors. “Would mandate the President submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the Administration from suspending Congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Senator Corker (R-TN), the bill sponsor, was one of seven Republican Senators who did not sign a controversial letter to Iran’s leaders warning that Congress could invalidate any nuclear agreement. And last week, President Obama telephoned Senator Corker “to talk to him about the commitments that Iran had made,” according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “The President said to him what he has said publicly, which is that he certainly has a lot of respect for the way that Chairman Corker has approached the situation; they have obvious differences. But the President made the case to him once again that the President believes that this principled approach to diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The conversation was not an opportunity for the two men to negotiate the terms of any sort of legislation, but rather just an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the chairman to underscore his view about the opportunity that now exists.” 

"Restoring Trust in the IRS"

According to House Majority Leader McCarthy’s memo to House Republicans, the House will consider two bills to “make sure Americans keep more of their hard earned money”:

Death Tax Repeal Act (HR 1105)

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) —Bipartisan— “Will finally end the death tax and ensure fairness for all family businesses,” according to the House Ways and Means Committee

State and Local Sales Tax Deduction Fairness Act (HR 622)

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) —Bipartisan— To make permanent the taxpayer election to deduct state and local general sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes.

In addition, House Majority Leader McCarthy said the House will vote on a series of bills that “will begin the process of restoring trust in the IRS, increasing transparency, fairness, and accountability”:

Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act (HR 1058)

Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) “Would ensure that taxpayers dealing with the IRS have the right to be informed and assisted, the right of appeal and the right to confidentiality, among others,” according to the bill sponsor.

IRS Email Transparency Act (HR 1152)

Sponsor: Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) “Would legally prohibit IRS officers and employees from using personal email accounts for official business,” according to the bill sponsor

Taxpayer Knowledge of IRS Investigations Act (HR 1026)

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) Would amend the tax code to permit the release of certain information regarding the status of ongoing investigations related to the improper disclosure of taxpayer information by employees of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, it is currently a felony for an IRS official to disclose such information to the public or to another government agency, which bars victims of wrongful IRS leaks from knowing the status of their no-longer private information,” according to the bill sponsor

Ensuring Tax Exempt Organizations the Right to Appeal Act (HR 1314)

Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) Amends the Internal Revenue Code to require the Department of the Treasury to prescribe regulations for allowing a tax-exempt organization to request an administrative appeal to the Internal Revenue Service Office of Appeals of an adverse determination, made on or after May 19, 2014, with respect to: (1) the initial or continuing qualification of such organization as tax-exempt, or (2) the initial or continuing classification of such organization as a private foundation or a private operating foundation.

IRS Bureaucracy Reduction and Judicial Review Act (HR 1295)

Sponsor: Rep. George Holding (R-NC) "The IRS has a troubled track record when it comes to approving organizations to operate as a 501(c)4, often forcing groups to wait months or even years to gain tax-exempt status. These indefinite delays, particularly when motivated by dislike for the groups’ views, make it impossible for these organizations to become operational in a timely manner—or, in some cases, ever. My bill will streamline this burdensome IRS process by allowing groups to declare their tax-exempt status rather than wait for endless amounts of time to gain approval,” according to the bill sponsor

Prevent Targeting at the IRS Act (HR 709)

Sponsor: Rep. James Renacci (R-OH) —Bipartisan— "Authorizes the IRS to terminate employees who target individuals based on their political beliefs," according to the bill sponsor

Fair Treatment for All Gifts Act (HR 1104)

Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) To provide a deduction from the gift tax for gifts made to certain exempt organizations.

Contracting and Tax Accountability Act (HR 1562)

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) —Bipartisan— To prohibit the awarding of a contract or grant in excess of the simplified acquisition threshold unless the prospective contractor or grantee certifies in writing to the agency awarding the contract or grant that the contractor or grantee has no seriously delinquent tax debts.

Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act (HR 1563)

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) “Makes individuals with seriously delinquent tax debts ineligible for federal employment,” according to the House Oversight Committee

“Financial Independence”

According to the House Majority Leader’s memo to House Republicans, another priority for April is a “a series of bills to promote a healthier economy, preserve consumer choice and help our fellow Americans achieve the dream of financial independence”:

Capital Access for Small Community Financial Institutions Act (HR 299)

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) “Would provide regulatory relief for small, community-based enterprises in an effort to boost the housing market. Purchasing a home is an important part of the American dream,” according to the bill sponsor. “With the continued stagnation in the housing market, I believe it is important to ensure all credit unions have the liquidity and ability to make home loans to their members.” 

Helping Expand Lending Practices in Rural Communities Act (HR 1259)

Sponsor: Rep. Garland Barr (R-KY) —Bipartisan— “Would provide individuals in rural areas the right to petition for the area to be properly reclassified as “rural” and relieve local community banks and credit unions from burdensome regulations that unfairly limit their ability to lend and help create jobs in their communities,” according to bill sponsors.  

Bureau Advisory Commission Transparency Act (HR 1265)

Sponsor: Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) Amends the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to apply the Federal Advisory Committee Act to each advisory committee and subcommittee of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Eliminate Privacy Notice Confusion Act (HR 601)

Sponsor: Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) —Bipartisan— “Would eliminate the current requirement that financial institutions have to mail all customers annual privacy notices explaining information sharing practices even when a financial institution’s privacy policies have not changed. This legislation would require banks and credit unions to provide information to customers only if privacy policies have in fact changed at their financial institutions,” according to the bill sponsor

Applying the Expedited Funds Availability Act to American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands (HR 1367)

Sponsor: Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS) Amends the Expedited Funds Availability Act to apply it to American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Extends by two business days, for American Samoa and the Commonwealth, any time periods established for large or redeposited check, repeated overdraft, reasonable cause, or other emergency exceptions to the 30-day funds availability requirements for deposits in an depository institution account by a new depositor.

Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act (HR 650)

Sponsor: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Amends the Truth in Lending Act to revise the exclusion from the meaning of "mortgage originator" of any employee of a retailer of manufactured homes who does not for compensation or gain take residential mortgage loan applications, for compensation or gain offer or negotiate terms of a residential mortgage loan, or advise a consumer on loan terms (including rates, fees, and other costs).

Mortgage Choice Act (HR 685)

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) —Bipartisan— Amends the Truth in Lending Act with respect to requirements for disclosure to a consumer of points and fees information about a consumer credit transaction, secured by the consumer's principal dwelling, but which is not a residential mortgage transaction, a reverse mortgage transaction, or a transaction under an open end credit plan, when the total points and fees the consumer must pay at or before closing will exceed 8% of the total loan amount or $400, whichever is greater.

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Advisory Boards Act (HR 1195)

Sponsor: Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) To direct the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to establish a Small Business Advisory Board to: (1) advise and consult with the CFPB in the exercise of its functions under the federal consumer financial laws regarding eligible financial products or services, and (2) provide information on evolving small business practices.

SAFE Act Confidentiality and Privilege Enhancement Act (HR 1480)

Sponsor: Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) —Bipartisan— “Provides assurance for financial institutions that privileged information shared between federal banking regulators and state regulatory agencies will be protected and remain confidential.

Human Trafficking Legislation and the Attorney General’s Confirmation

The Senate may also pick up its work on a bill to combat human trafficking, which stalled last month.

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S 178)

Sponsor: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) —Bipartisan— “Would empower law enforcement to further crack down on human traffickers in communities across the country while bringing about greater restitution and justice for victims. In addition to law enforcement provisions, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act helps victims rebuild their lives by using fines and penalties against perpetrators to improve the availability of restitution and witness assistance funds,” according to bill sponsors. (Bill text)

From our Hill Sources: The bipartisan bill, which was expected to pass without issue, hit a snag when Democrats noticed that it contained a provision extending the "Hyde Amendment" prohibition on using federal taxpayer funds for abortion-related services to the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund created by the bill. This would be a departure from past Hyde Amendment practice because fines imposed on traffickers, not federal taxes, finance the fund. While the Hyde amendment language was included in the bill that passed the Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote, Democrats said that it was not listed in the summary of changes they were provided and it went unnoticed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that a vote on Attorney General nominee, Loretta Lynch's, confirmation will not move forward until work on the human trafficking bill is completed. President Obama had nominated Lynch, a federal prosecutor, in November, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination in February.

Doc Fix Vote in the Senate

Before leaving for recess, the House approved legislation to address the recurring issue of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payments for doctors as part of a larger package, which also funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and extends all of the Medicare extenders and funding for Community Health Centers through 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to advance the bill until after recess. Now the Senate must pass it by April 15 to prevent a 21 percent cut to Medicare payments to doctors.

Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) —Bipartisan— Repeals the flawed SGR formula and replaces it with HR 1470, the bicameral, bipartisan agreement that moves the Medicare payment system toward improved value and returns stability to physician payments; Preserves and extends CHIP, fully funding the program through Sept. 30, 2017; Extends all of the extenders included in the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA, the most recent SGR patch) in addition to funding for Community Health Centers through 2017. Also includes two bipartisan Medicare bills, Medicare DMEPOS Competitive Bidding Improvement Act (HR 284), which makes modifications to the Medicare durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies competitive acquisition program; and the Protecting Integrity in Medicare Act (HR 1021), which strengthens Medicare’s ability to fight fraud and builds on existing program integrity policies. (Read bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Tax Reform

By Rachna Choudhry, 4/7/15

Tax reform has consistently been a topic of interest on POPVOX — so we are spotlighting it during tax season. Here's a look at some recently introduced tax proposals. Share your voice on POPVOX. (New to POPVOX? Check out this slideshow tutorial.) 

Tax Reform in the Budget

The House and Senate budgets called for comprehensive tax reform. The House budget proposal “simplifies the tax code to make it fairer to American families and businesses and reduces the amount of time and resources necessary to comply with tax laws”; and “substantially lowers tax rates for individuals and consolidates the current seven individual income tax brackets into fewer brackets.” The Senate budget plan creates a reserve fund to be used to pay for a tax overhaul or to “extend certain expiring tax relief provisions.” But neither the House nor Senate offer specific plans for tax reform.

The Fair Tax Act 

The proposal to repeal income, payroll and estate and gift taxes — replacing them with a national 23% sales tax — was first introduced in 1999. Former Rep. John Linder (R-GA) introduced the bill as HR 2525 in the 106th Congress in the House, with bipartisan support. While the bill had only seven cosponsors, four were Democrats. The Fair Tax Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2003 by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) with one Democratic co-sponsor (S 1493 in the 108th Congress). In recent years, the bill has lost its bipartisan support, and was introduced in the 114th Congress with 61 original cosponsors in the House, and two in the Senate — all Republicans.

The Fair Tax Act was re-introduced in early January by Congressman Rob Woodall (R-GA) in the House and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS):

Fair Tax Act (HR 25 and S 155)

Sponsors: Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) "To promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national sales tax to be administered primarily by the States," according to the bill summary. Repeals the income tax, employment tax, and estate and gift tax. Imposes a national sales tax on the use or consumption in the United States of taxable property or services. Sets the sales tax rate at 23% in 2017, with adjustments to the rate in subsequent years. Allows exemptions from the tax for property or services purchased for business, export, or investment purposes, and for state government functions. Prohibits the funding of the Internal Revenue Service after FY2019. 

Other Tax Reform Bills

Several proposals related to tax reform have already been introduced in the 114th Congress. Here are a few: 

Death Tax Repeal Act (HR 1105 and S 860 in the Senate)

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) —Bipartisan— “The Death Tax is still the number one reason family-owned farms and businesses in America aren’t passed down to the next generation,” according to the bill sponsor. “It’s the wrong tax at the wrong time and hurts the wrong people. After a family loses a loved one, why should Uncle Sam swoop in and take much of the nest egg they spent a lifetime building? Especially when it forces the survivors to sell their land or business just to try to keep what they worked so hard to earn.” — Passed by the House Ways and Means Committee — 

Permanently Repeal the Estate Tax Act (HR 725)

Sponsor: Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) Repeals the federal estate tax, effective for estates of decedents dying after December 31, 2014.

Sensible Estate Tax Act (HR 1544)

Sponsor: Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) “Would bring the estate tax rates back to the pre-2001 levels, levels that worked and helped drive growth for all Americans, with a maximum marginal rate of 55% and a $1 million exemption ($2 million for married couples) – both would be indexed for inflation beginning in 2000. Current law allows for a $5 million exemption at a maximum rate of 35%, which allows over 99% of estates to pass tax-free,” according to the bill sponsors

State and Local Sales Tax Deduction Fairness Act (HR 622)

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the deduction of State and local general sales taxes. — Passed by the House Ways and Means Committee —

Making Sales Tax Deduction Permanent (S 126)

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) “Would provide tax fairness for taxpayers in states that don’t have an income tax, and therefore, taxpayers can’t claim a state income tax deduction on their federal tax returns,” according to the bill sponsor

Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act (HR 1058)

Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) “Would ensure that taxpayers dealing with the IRS have the right to be informed and assisted, the right of appeal and the right to confidentiality, among others,” according to the bill sponsor. — Passed by the House Ways and Means Committee —

Seniors' Tax Simplification Act (HR 1397)

Sponsor: Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) “Under current law, seniors who collect Social Security aren’t able to file a 1040EZ and are forced to file more complicated tax forms – even though their finances are often simple. The Seniors' Tax Simplification Act would create one simple form, the 1040SR, for seniors who may receive the majority of their income through social security benefits. The bill would also lower the cost of compliance,” according to the bill sponsor

Repealing Presidential Public Financing (HR 412)

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) To reduce Federal spending and the deficit by terminating taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns.

Flat Tax Act (HR 1040)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) Amends the Internal Revenue Code to authorize an individual or a person engaged in business activity to make an irrevocable election to be subject to a flat tax (in lieu of the existing income tax provisions) of 19% for the first two years after an election is made, and 17% thereafter.

Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act (S 386)

Sponsor: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) —Bipartisan— “Would simplify and standardize state income tax collection for employees who travel outside of their home state for temporary work assignments. The bill would also help employers who must file withholdings and reporting requirements. Currently, individuals and employers face up to 41 different state income tax reporting requirements that vary based on length of stay, income earned, or both,” according to the bill sponsor

Repealing the 16th Amendment (HJRes 16)

Sponsor: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) “The federal government has the first lien on all productivity in America,” said Rep. King. “Ronald Reagan once said, ‘What you tax you get less of.’ Right now we tax all productivity. We need to turn that completely around and put the tax on consumption. That is why we need to repeal the 16th Amendment which authorizes the income tax. Replacing the current income tax with a consumption tax will ensure that productivity is not punished in our country, but rewarded,” according to the bill sponsor.

Alternative Maximum Tax Act (HR 144)

Sponsor: Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) "Would create a maximum level of taxation that any one individual can be subjected to from all levels of government combined – federal, state, municipalities, and other taxing authorities. Under this legislation, no individual would be responsible for a level of personal taxation greater than 50% of their income, and Jolly’s commitment is to then work to significantly reduce that threshold," according to the bill sponsor

Fairness in Taxation Act (HR 389)

Sponsor: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Would impose increased rates of tax with respect to taxpayers with more than $1,000,000 taxable income. 

Paying a Fair Share Act (The "Buffett Rule") (HR 362 and S 161 in the Senate)

Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) "Would help ensure that multi-million-dollar earners pay at least a 30 percent effective federal tax rate, and would generate over $70 billion in revenue over ten years," according to bill sponsors. "The legislation would apply only to taxpayers with income over $1 million – including capital gains and dividends.  Taxpayers earning over $2 million would be subject to a 30% minimum federal tax rate. The tax would be phased in for incomes between $1 million and $2 million, with those taxpayers paying a portion of the extra tax required to get them to a 30% effective tax rate. The bill also includes language to preserve the incentive for charitable giving."

Tax Code Termination Act (HR 27)

Sponsor: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — Bipartisan — "Sunsets the current IRS tax code by December 31, 2019, and calls on Congress to approve a new federal tax system by July of the same year," according to the bill sponsor.

The Tax Reform Act of 2014

In early 2014, the House Republican leadership began discussing comprehensive tax reform. The long-awaited proposal was finally introduced the day before the House adjourned in Dec. 2014. The Tax Reform Act received the coveted "HR 1" bill number for the 113th Congress, indicating its importance to the House leadership. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), who was also the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways & Means, has retired, and the bill has yet to be picked up for re-introduction in the 114th Congress. 

Tax Reform Act (HR 1 in the 113th Congress)

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for comprehensive tax reform. Flattens the code by reducing rates and collapsing today’s brackets into two brackets of 10 and 25 percent for virtually all taxable income, ensuring that over 99 percent of all taxpayers face maximum rates of 25 percent or less. Reduces the corporate rate to 25 percent. Increases the standard deduction. Taxes long-term capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, but exempts 40 percent of such income from tax. Repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for individuals. (Read more.)


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. 

The Week Ahead in Congress: April 6 – 10

From our Hill Sources: Congress is still in recess, but will return on April 13. In the meantime, here’s a look at the proposed Iran nuclear agreement and the “doc fix”—two issues that will certainly have Congress’s attention when they return. Also, there are bills pending in Congress about how legislation is crafted.

Iran Nuclear Agreement

On April 2, President Obama announced that the United States and the other P5+1 countries reached a “historic understanding” with Iran, which, “if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” And in return for Iran’s actions, our own country’s sanctions as well as international sanctions will be phased out. Other American sanctions, however, will continue to be enforced, including those related to Iran’s support of terrorism, its human rights abuses and its ballistic missile program. (Read the President's statement.)

According to the President, “this framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” Over the next three months, negotiators will finalize key details of the deal, but the framework includes these components:

  • “Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium, because it will not develop weapons-grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy-water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors—ever.”
  • “This deal shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.”
  • “This deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly—that is, in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program—from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.”

According to the President, “with this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.” And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Congress Responds

Shortly after the deal was announced, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) responded, urging Congressional review of the deal:

“My longtime concerns about the parameters of this potential agreement remain, but my immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief. Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted.”

Sanctions Amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution

As part of its budget resolution, the Senate voted last month to unanimously pass a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) supporting the “principle of immediately re-imposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions if Iran cheats on the interim nuclear deal or a final nuclear deal.” 

From our Hill Sources: This budget amendment is non-binding, which means it doesn’t carry the weigh of law, but the vote forced Senators to go on the record about Iran sanctions. This amendment draws language directly from the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, introduced earlier this year:

Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S 269)

Sponsor: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) —Bipartisan— “Would impose economic pressure on Iran if international negotiations do not yield a final nuclear deal by June 30th, and impose a Congressional review period of 30 continuous session days in the event of a final deal,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Congressional Review on the Iran Deal

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on April 14 on whether to require Congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran. The Committee Chairman, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), believes “the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure any final deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable.” 

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (S 615)

Sponsor: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, according to the bill sponsors. “Would mandate the President submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the Administration from suspending Congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.” (Read bill text)

In addition, Congress has proposed several bills related to a nuclear deal with Iran:

Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S 792)

Sponsor: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) “Would impose new sanctions on Iran beginning in July 2015, unless that country has reached a long-term, comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program with the United States. Under the bill, preventing those sanctions from being imposed would require that the agreement be submitted to the Congress along with reports analyzing the extent to which such an agreement could be verified, and assessing the effects of recent sanctions relief on the Iranian economy. The President could waive the sanctions for 30 days at a time under specified conditions,” according to the Congressional Budget Office

Iran Congressional Oversight Act (S 669)

Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “Would ensure that Congress has a central role in overseeing any nuclear deal with Iran. The bill would require the Administration to regularly report to Congress on Iranian compliance with any deal, and sets up an expedited process for Congress to reinstate sanctions and impose other penalties if Iran violates the terms of the deal,” according to bill sponsors. Specifically, the bill “requires the President to report to Congress at least once every 90 days on Iranian compliance with the Joint Plan of Action or any successor deal, and that the report be accompanied by an unclassified certification by the President, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, of whether Iran has complied with or violated such deal.” (Read bill text)

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (S 625)

Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “Would mandate the President submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement,” according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.” (Read bill text)

Resolution supporting negotiations (SRes 40)

Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “In support of ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. The resolution states that the Senate is prepared to enact additional sanctions against Iran if current diplomatic efforts fail, but refuses to prejudge the outcome. This resolution represents a different approach than that of the sanctions bill” (S 269), according to resolution sponsors. (Read resolution text)

Doc Fix Deadline Passes

Before leaving for recess, Congress got closer to addressing the recurring issue of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payments for doctors. Members of Congress agree that the Medicare SGR formula, which was passed by Congress in 1997 to control physician spending has failed to work, according to the House Way and Means Committee. The SGR formula is “a cap on aggregate spending on physicians’ services where exceeding the cap resulted in punitive recoupments in subsequent years.” It has led to 17 short-term patches enacted by Congress to prevent significant Medicare reimbursement rate cuts over the past decade. And under this formula, Medicare payments to doctors were scheduled to be cut by 21 percent on April 1, but the Department of Health and Human Services is holding off processing claims at the lower rate until April 15—giving Congress additional time to pass a fix.

The House had approved legislation to address it, but the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to advance the bill until after Congress returns from recess, April 13. The proposed bipartisan legislation “moves the Medicare payment system toward improved value and returns stability to physician payments,” ending the annual “doc fix” crisis: 

SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act (HR 1470)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) —Bipartisan— “Repeals the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and replaces it with a long-term sustainable plan. The bipartisan bill is an important advancement in long-fought efforts to comprehensively reform the Medicare system in order to promote higher quality care for seniors, physicians, and providers,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

Doc Fix Now a Part of a Larger Package

The SGR repeal bill (HR 1470) was added to a package, HR 2, which also funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and extends all of the Medicare extenders and funding for Community Health Centers through 2017:

Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) —Bipartisan— Repeals the flawed SGR formula and replaces it with HR 1470, the bicameral, bipartisan agreement that moves the Medicare payment system toward improved value and returns stability to physician payments; Preserves and extends CHIP, fully funding the program through Sept. 30, 2017; Extends all of the extenders included in the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA, the most recent SGR patch) in addition to funding for Community Health Centers through 2017. Also includes two bipartisan Medicare bills, Medicare DMEPOS Competitive Bidding Improvement Act (HR 284), which makes modifications to the Medicare durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies competitive acquisition program; and the Protecting Integrity in Medicare Act (HR 1021), which strengthens Medicare’s ability to fight fraud and builds on existing program integrity policies. (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: This larger package passed the House and is expected to be voted on by the Senate before April 15, when the lower rates for Medicare payments take effect.

Bills about Bills

Many POPVOX users have been curious about—and even doubted—the authenticity of bill names and less obvious provisions. That’s why we always encourage people to read the bill text before weighing in. Even Congress has had the same concerns. Check out these recently introduced bills and resolutions:

“One Subject at a Time” Resolution (HJRes 40)

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) Requires each bill, order, resolution, or vote that must be submitted to the President under the Constitution to embrace no more than one subject. Requires the subject to be clearly and descriptively expressed in the title of the bill, order, resolution, or vote.

“Read the Bill” Resolution (SRes 100)

Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) A resolution to provide sufficient time for legislation to be read. Makes it out of order in the Senate to consider any measure or matter until one session day has passed since introduction for every 20 pages included in the measure or matter in the usual form, plus one session day for any number of remaining pages less than 20.

Requiring Floor Votes within 60 Days of Passing Committee (HRes 185)

Sponsor: Rep. Peter Scott (D-CA) —Bipartisan— ”Currently, once a bill passes committee, the Majority Leader and the Speaker decide if and when that bill will receive a vote on the floor. This means that many bills that pass committee will never get a vote on the House floor, which is unacceptable. We should change that so that every bill that passes Committee receives a vote on the floor within 60 days,” according to the bill sponsor

”Duplicate Score” Resolution (HRes 45)

Sponsor: Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) —Bipartisan— “Every piece of legislation awaiting consideration by Congress would receive a duplication score by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, with the goal of providing Members the necessary knowledge to identify whether or not a new bill creates a new program or project that already exists within our government,” according to the bill sponsor

Honest Scoring Act (S 749)

Sponsor: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) “Would create a rule requiring the Senate to adopt “dynamic scoring” of major tax and spending legislation. Virtually all economists agree that major tax changes can alter economic growth rates, which in turn impact the revenue effect of those changes. However, currently the official “static” scores exclude these macroeconomic impacts. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) already have the models and resources to score the macroeconomic impact of major tax and spending bills at no taxpayer cost,” according to the bill sponsor

From our Hill Sources: The Honest Scoring Act was included as an amendment to the Senate budget resolution, which is non-binding and does not have the force of law, but it does get Senators on the record regarding this issue.


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

POPVOX Introduces Filter Bubble Wrap: A Partisan Filter for Legislative Information

 

Today POPVOX, the neutral nonpartisan platform for legislative information and civic engagement introduced its newest feature, the “Filter Bubble Wrap” to help users get a familiar partisan spin even when viewing neutral information available on POPVOX.

Filter Bubble Wrap allows a user to select “Democrat” or “Republican” to trigger a series of site changes designed to align with the experience of most Americans' news consumption. “A person selecting ‘Democrat’ will see a blue-themed site with Democratic legislators framed in a soft light,” POPVOX Lead Designtist, William Donnell said. "Those selecting 'Republican' will get a Red theme and more conservative design."

“A proprietary algorithm changes politically-charged words to fit the user’s worldview,” explained lead developer, Bryan Dease. “So whether you see ‘death tax’ or ‘inheritance tax’ in a bill description depends on your party selection.”

POPVOX co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Rachna Choudhry, noted that independent research has shown overwhelmingly that people want to be silo-ed and microtargeted. (Otherwise, why would Presidential candidates do it, amirite?) “Given the strength of election year messaging, people get information about public issues in very different ways. Think of Filter Bubble Wrap as a Google Translate for politics.”

POPVOX sees the potential for Filter Bubble Wrap to be applied not just to legislative information but to all kinds of communication.

POPVOX COO, Ben Harris, imagines a day in which a conservative mass email could be run through Filter Bubble Wrap and emerge “suitable for MSNBC.” “Imagine Fox News repurposing DailyKos content with just one click of a mouse. That's the potenital of FBW."

POPVOX co-founder and CEO, Marci Harris, thinks Filter Bubble Wrap could alleviate partisan gridlock: “'Compromise' in the traditional sense," she says, "will soon be disrupted by technology. Filter Bubble Wrap will make it possible for Members of Congress to speak the same language without actually speaking the same language.” 

___________

 

Happy April Fool's, everyone! 

 

Work and Family Policies

Paid Sick Days Support in the Senate

Last week, the Senate passed an amendment to the Senate budget to expand access to paid sick days, 61 – 39. The amendment would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days yearly, according to the sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and is modeled after the Healthy Families Act (S 497). “I am thrilled that the Senate showed strong support today for expanding access to paid sick days and giving more families some much-needed economic stability. No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” explained Senator Murray

From our Hill Sources: Since budget resolutions are not binding, this doesn’t mean that paid sick days will become law, but it’s a symbolic first step to have Senators on the record as supporting this issue. And this may be the work-and-family issue that gets attention as we near a Presidential campaign season. Fourteen Republican Senators voted for the paid sick days amendment, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH) and John Thune (R-SD).

Work and Family Legislation in Congress

The last significant federal expansion of leave was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993, and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth of a child. Since then, lawmakers have proposed legislation to guarantee paid time off and more flexibility of work hours.

Healthy Families Act (S 497 and HR 932 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsors. “Would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.”  (Read bill text)

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (or FAMILY Act) (HR 1439 and S 786 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) ”Would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation,” according to bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Flexibility for Working Families Act (HR 1450 and S 777 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) “Would ensure that workers have the right to request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retribution,” according to bill sponsors. “Workers could request temporary or permanent changes to: The number of hours the employee is required to work; The times when the employee is required to work or be on notice; Where the employee is required to work; Notifications of schedule assignments.” (Read bill text)

Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act (S 803)

Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) “Would allow voluntary workplace arrangements such as compensatory time and flexible credit hour agreements to be extended to hourly workers in the private sector,” according to the bill sponsors. “The bill would amend the FLSA to allow private employers to offer comp time to employees at a rate of one-and-one-half hours for every hour of overtime work. A completely voluntary process, an employee could still choose to receive monetary payments as their overtime compensation. This bill simply allows the option for employees to instead choose paid time off for overtime work.” (Read bill text)

Working Families Flexibility Act (S 233 and HR 465 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee. (Read bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Work and Family Policies in Congress

Last week, the Senate passed an amendment to the Senate budget to expand access to paid sick days, 61 – 39.

The amendment would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days yearly, according to the sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and is modeled after the Healthy Families Act (S 497). “I am thrilled that the Senate showed strong support today for expanding access to paid sick days and giving more families some much-needed economic stability. No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” explained Senator Murray

From our Hill Sources: Since budget resolutions are not binding, this doesn’t mean that paid sick days will become law, but it’s a symbolic first step to have Senators on the record as supporting this issue. And this may be the work-and-family issue that gets attention as we near a Presidential campaign season. Fourteen Republican Senators voted for the paid sick days amendment, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH) and John Thune (R-SD).

Work and Family Legislation in Congress

The last significant federal expansion of leave was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993, and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth of a child. Since then, lawmakers have proposed legislation to guarantee paid time off and more flexibility of work hours.

Healthy Families Act (S 497 and HR 932 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsors. “Would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.”  (Read bill text)

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (or FAMILY Act) (HR 1439 and S 786 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) ”Would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation,” according to bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Flexibility for Working Families Act (HR 1450 and S 777 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) “Would ensure that workers have the right to request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retribution,” according to bill sponsors. “Workers could request temporary or permanent changes to: The number of hours the employee is required to work; The times when the employee is required to work or be on notice; Where the employee is required to work; Notifications of schedule assignments.” (Read bill text)

Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act (S 803)

Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) “Would allow voluntary workplace arrangements such as compensatory time and flexible credit hour agreements to be extended to hourly workers in the private sector,” according to the bill sponsors. “The bill would amend the FLSA to allow private employers to offer comp time to employees at a rate of one-and-one-half hours for every hour of overtime work. A completely voluntary process, an employee could still choose to receive monetary payments as their overtime compensation. This bill simply allows the option for employees to instead choose paid time off for overtime work.” (Read bill text)

Working Families Flexibility Act (S 233 and HR 465 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee. (Read bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Congressional Ethics

Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced he will resign at the end of the month after allegations of improper spending of his Congressional funds, lavish spending on trips, mileage reimbursements and the "Downton Abbey"-style redecoration of his congressional office, which constituted an in-kind contribution. In light of his resignation, the Committee on House Administration said that it is reviewing regulations governing lawmaker spending. Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-MI) said that the committee “will review current House regulations and explore ways to strengthen the regulations governing official expenses, as well as ways to enhance the training and educational opportunities available to assist each office with compliance.”

Congressional Ethics Bills in Congress

There are several bills already pending before Congress to address Congressional ethics:

Ensuring Trust and Honorability in Congressional Standards (ETHICS) Act (HR 1037)

— Bipartisan — Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) Requires the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives to conduct ongoing ethics training and awareness programs for Members, officers, and employees of the House. (Read bill text)

Members of Congress Tax Accountability Act (HR 1564)

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) To require Members of Congress to disclose delinquent tax liability and to require an ethics inquiry into, and the garnishment of the wages of, a Member with Federal tax liability. (Read bill text)

End the Congressional Revolving Door Act (HR 319)

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) To provide that a former Member of Congress or former Congressional employee who receives compensation as a lobbyist shall not be eligible for retirement benefits or certain other Federal benefits. (Read bill text)

Requiring Congress to fly coach (HR 1339)

Sponsor: Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) To prohibit the use of official funds for airline accommodations for Members of Congress which are not coach-class accommodations or for long-term vehicle leases for Members of Congress. (Read bill text)

Prohibiting lobbying contacts (HR 929)

Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) To prohibit former Members of Congress from engaging in lobbying contacts. (Read bill text)

S 18

Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) To prohibit authorized committees and leadership PACs from employing the spouse or immediate family members of any candidate or Federal office holder connected to the committee. (Read bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

The Week Ahead in Congress: March 30 – April 3

From our Hill Sources: The House and Senate left for Easter recess on Friday, after approving Republican FY 2016 budget proposals. Congress will return on April 13, but in the meantime, here’s a quick recap and a closer look at some hot issues from our Hill Sources.

The House and Senate Pass Budgets

Last week, the House and Senate passed resolutions calling for spending up to $3.8 trillion in the fiscal year that starts October 1 and balancing the federal budget within 10 years. The two chambers will negotiate a compromise budget in mid-April, after they return. It’s important to point out that Congress’s budget resolution doesn't have the force of law, so it cannot alter the entitlements and other mandatory programs. The Congressional budget, however, provides a roadmap for their priorities in the fiscal year ahead, and we can expect future bills will propose more specific policy changes.

Take comprehensive tax reform as an example: The House budget proposal calls for comprehensive tax reform that “simplifies the tax code to make it fairer to American families and businesses and reduces the amount of time and resources necessary to comply with tax laws”; and “substantially lowers tax rates for individuals and consolidates the current seven individual income tax brackets into fewer brackets.” The Senate budget plan creates a reserve fund to be used to pay for a tax overhaul or to “extend certain expiring tax relief provisions.” But neither the House nor Senate offer specific plans for tax reform.

Reconciliation Instructions

Both the House and Senate budgets contain reconciliation instructions, which will help set parameters for legislation later in the year—which will need to be signed by the President and have the force of law. Reconciliation instructions give directions to a committee to pass legislation that changes existing law to bring spending or revenues to meet the budget resolution. A reconciliation bill that comes to the Senate floor does not need 60 votes—so it cannot be filibustered in the Senate, and has a 20-hour debate clock in both chambers. The House budget offers instructions for all House committees to achieve some deficit reduction and flexibility in determining how to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). On the other hand, the Senate budget only provides reconciliation instructions to the Finance and Heath, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees—the two committees with jurisdiction over the Affordable Care Act—requiring legislation to provide at least $1 billion in savings in ten years by July 31, 2015. These instructions may help the Republican-majority Senate repeal, replace or amend parts of the Affordable Care Act without a filibuster threat.

Share your voice on the House budget resolution, HConRes 27 and the Senate budget resolution, SConRes 11

Queen of the Hill

The House used a “Queen of the Hill” strategy—voting on two versions of the proposal and advancing whichever received the most support—to pass its budget proposal, HConRes 27. The version that passed, in a 219 – 208 vote, proposed additional defense funding—$38 billion more than requested by President Obama. This version also proposed privatizing Medicare in 10 years and repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Vote-a-rama

The Senate passed its budget, SConRes 11, in a 52 – 48 vote after a "vote-a-rama," a lengthy series of amendment votes that lasted until 3:20 a.m. on Friday—with a new amendment up for vote approximately every 20 minutes. Many of these amendments were offered to get members of the opposing party on the record on hot-button issues as we enter a Presidential election season. (See the full list of amendments.)

Not all Senators agreed with this strategy, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who explained: “There is no doubt that the process gets misused to just simply make the other side cast uncomfortable votes. I think that's unfortunate because I think the budget should be a serious process, and when we do a vote-a-rama—where we will vote 40 times into the wee hours of the morning with only a minute of explanation pro and a minute of explanation against the amendment—it's hard to say it's a dignified process worthy of the United States Senate, which is supposed to be the world's most deliberative body.” 

In the end, the Senate did pass some amendment, inlcuding supporting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"); guaranteeing paid sick days; extending Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits to legally married same-sex spouses; prohibiting a carbon tax and supporting Iran sanctions.

Paid Sick Days

Last week, the Senate passed an amendment to the Senate budget to expand access to paid sick days, 61 – 39. The amendment would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days yearly, according to the sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and is modeled after the Healthy Families Act (S 497). “I am thrilled that the Senate showed strong support today for expanding access to paid sick days and giving more families some much-needed economic stability. No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” explained Senator Murray

From our Hill Sources: Since budget resolutions are not binding, this doesn’t mean that paid sick days will become law, but it’s a symbolic first step to have Senators on the record as supporting this issue. And this may be the work-and-family issue that gets attention as we near a Presidential campaign season. Fourteen Republican Senators voted for the paid sick days amendment, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH) and John Thune (R-SD).

Work and Family Legislation in Congress

The last significant federal expansion of leave was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993, and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth of a child. Since then, lawmakers have proposed legislation to guarantee paid time off and more flexibility of work hours.

Healthy Families Act (S 497 and HR 932 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsors. “Would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.”  (Read bill text)

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (or FAMILY Act) (HR 1439 and S 786 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) ”Would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation,” according to bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Flexibility for Working Families Act (HR 1450 and S 777 in the Senate)

Sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) “Would ensure that workers have the right to request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retribution,” according to bill sponsors. “Workers could request temporary or permanent changes to: The number of hours the employee is required to work; The times when the employee is required to work or be on notice; Where the employee is required to work; Notifications of schedule assignments.” (Read bill text)

Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act (S 803)

Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) “Would allow voluntary workplace arrangements such as compensatory time and flexible credit hour agreements to be extended to hourly workers in the private sector,” according to the bill sponsors. “The bill would amend the FLSA to allow private employers to offer comp time to employees at a rate of one-and-one-half hours for every hour of overtime work. A completely voluntary process, an employee could still choose to receive monetary payments as their overtime compensation. This bill simply allows the option for employees to instead choose paid time off for overtime work.” (Read bill text)

Working Families Flexibility Act (S 233 and HR 465 in the House)

Sponsors: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee. (Read bill text)

Congressional Ethics

Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced he will resign at the end of the month after allegations of improper spending of his Congressional funds, lavish spending on trips, mileage reimbursements and the "Downton Abbey"-style redecoration of his congressional office, which constituted an in-kind contribution. In light of his resignation, the Committee on House Administration said that it is reviewing regulations governing lawmaker spending. Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-MI) said that the committee “will review current House regulations and explore ways to strengthen the regulations governing official expenses, as well as ways to enhance the training and educational opportunities available to assist each office with compliance.”

Congressional Ethics Bills in Congress

There are several bills already pending before Congress to address Congressional ethics:

Ensuring Trust and Honorability in Congressional Standards (ETHICS) Act (HR 1037)

— Bipartisan — Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) Requires the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives to conduct ongoing ethics training and awareness programs for Members, officers, and employees of the House. (Read bill text)

Members of Congress Tax Accountability Act (HR 1564)

Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) To require Members of Congress to disclose delinquent tax liability and to require an ethics inquiry into, and the garnishment of the wages of, a Member with Federal tax liability. (Read bill text)

End the Congressional Revolving Door Act (HR 319)

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) To provide that a former Member of Congress or former Congressional employee who receives compensation as a lobbyist shall not be eligible for retirement benefits or certain other Federal benefits. (Read bill text)

Requiring Congress to fly coach (HR 1339)

Sponsor: Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) To prohibit the use of official funds for airline accommodations for Members of Congress which are not coach-class accommodations or for long-term vehicle leases for Members of Congress. (Read bill text)

Prohibiting lobbying contacts (HR 929)

Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) To prohibit former Members of Congress from engaging in lobbying contacts. (Read bill text)

S 18

Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) To prohibit authorized committees and leadership PACs from employing the spouse or immediate family members of any candidate or Federal office holder connected to the committee. (Read bill text)


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Reforming the Criminal Justice System

Last week, an unlikely group of Senators—which included Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—participated in a colloquy on the Senate floor about reforming minimum sentencing. (Watch video or read the transcript

According to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), who led the group:

“Last year, the National Research Council of the National Academies issued a major study of incarceration in the United States. One of their main conclusions is that mandatory sentencing and dexcessively long sentences generally do not have a significant deterrent effect and are ineffective unless targeted at offenders with a very high rate of recidivism or extremely dangerous offenders. The National Research Council concluded: “[We] have reviewed the research literature on the deterrent effect of such laws and have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to justify the conclusion that these harsher punishments yield measurable public safety benefits.” 

Related Bills in Congress

The Senators also introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act:

  • Smarter Sentencing Act (S 502 and HR 920 in the House)

    —Bipartisan— "To modernize federal drug sentencing polices by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent drug offenses. With federal prison populations skyrocketing and about half of the nation’s federal inmates serving sentences for drug offenses, the proposed changes could save American taxpayers billions of dollars in the first years of enactment,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

Here’s a look at some other proposals in Congress related to criminal justice reform:

  • Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act (HR 1255)

    "Would go further and provide true 1 to 1 sentencing equality in terms of penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

  • Fair Sentencing Clarification Act (HR 1252)

    "Would allow all offenders, regardless of when they were arrested or convicted, to receive the benefit of the changes that Congress made in 2010 when it passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). That Act reduced the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine in federal law to 18-to-1,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)

  • Justice Safety Valve Act (HR 706 and S 353 in the Senate)

    —Bipartisan— "Would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors,” according to the bill sponsors. "would restore proportionality, fairness, and rationality to federal sentencing. It would also reduce the overcrowding in federal facilities, which are currently operating at between 35-50% above their rated capacity, posing risks to both inmates and officers,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)

  • Recidivism Clarification Act (HR 1254)

    "Would address the excessive, severe, and irrational mandatory consecutive penalties that are added onto existing mandatory minimums in certain federal drug cases, a practice commonly known as “stacking.” The current stacking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924, has led to grossly disproportionate, irrational, and excessive sentences that often do not fit the crime charged. The bill clarifies that sentences can only be “stacked” when the defendant is a “true recidivist”—meaning the defendant had a prior qualifying predicate conviction that had already been final. The bill would also provide relief to those who are already serving time under these unjust sentences, permitting them to petition for relief from excessive sentences, which a federal court, for the first time, will be able to grant in appropriate circumstances,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)

  • Prisoner Incentive Act (HR 1253)

    "Would address a flaw in how the Bureau of Prisons currently interprets federal law. Congress originally intended to allow federal prisoners to earn up to 54 days off their sentences each year if they follow prison rules and are well-behaved–commonly known as “good time credit.” However, due to the way in which the Bureau of Prisons calculates good time credit, the maximum the Bureau is providing prisoners is 47 days off – seven shy of the maximum Congress intended to provide. While a difference of seven days may appear to be insignificant, fixing this flaw would save approximately $1 billion every 9.5 years,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

  • Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act (HR 71)

    Amends the federal criminal code to direct the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, to release a prisoner who has served one half or more of his or her term of imprisonment if that prisoner: (1) has attained age 45; (2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and (3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations, according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

  • Formerly Incarcerated Voter Registration Act (HR 871)

    To direct the Bureau of Prisons to provide certain voting information to Federal prisoners upon their release from prison. (Read bill text)

  • US Sentencing Commission (HR 71)

    To add a Federal defender representative as a nonvoting member of the United States Sentencing Commission. (Read bill text)