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Gavel Down: Nov. 21 – 27

This week Congress was out for Thanksgiving. The President pardoned a turkey and signed six bills into law — including one he previously vetoed. A corporate merger strategically designed for tax benefit reignites the “inversions” talk in Congress and there are rumors of a deal coming on “Tax Extenders.”


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Most active bill on POPVOX this week:

President Pardons Turkey — Sets Off International Incident

With “Dad jokes” and a few pretty good one-liners, President Obama fulfilled his seventh turkey “pardon” this year for Thanksgiving. (Watch)

“Time flies, but turkeys don’t,” remarked the President — even drawing a giggle from his youngest daughter.

The turkeys, “Honest” and “Abe” were selected in a nationwide poll by the National Turkey Foundation. Unfortunately, a turkey named “Abe,” —  also the English spelling of the name of the Japanese Prime Minister — brought some (perhaps intentional) confusion in the Chinese media.

President Signed Sweeping Defense Authorization (that he previously vetoed)

On November 25th, President Obama signed S. 1356, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016” (NDAA) into law, explaining that he vetoed a previous version due to a disagreement on military funding levels that was later changed in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement. Though “deeply disappointed” with restrictions in the NDAA on moving detainees from Guantanamo, the President said he was signing the bill:

because it includes vital benefits for military personnel and their families, authorities to facilitate ongoing operations around the globe, and important reforms to the military retirement system, as well as partial reforms to other military compensation programs.  It also codifies key interrogation-related reforms from Executive Order 13491, which I strongly support.

Speaker Paul Ryan said: “By signing this legislation, President Obama is now required to come up with a real, comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS.”

(Read full summary of the bill from the House Armed Service Committee.)

How did your Representative or Senators vote on the NDAA? 


Five Other Bills Became Law This Week

The President also signed:

  • H.R. 208, the “Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act,” expanding access to Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to small businesses during major disasters;
  • H.R. 639, the “Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act,” to amends the effective date of Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs;
  • H.R. 2262, the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” which amends current law concerning the U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry; extends authority for use of the International Space Station through September 30, 2024; and provides authority to facilitate commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources;
  • S. 799, the “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which establishes activities at the Department of Health and Human Services to research and address prenatal and postpartum opioid-use disorder and neonatal abstinence syndrome;
  • S. 2036, the “Equity in Government Compensation Act,” (capping CEO pay and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)


Congress could vote on Major Tax Bill in Next Two Weeks

The tax media is reporting that Congress is working on a $700 million end-of-year tax package that could come up for a vote in the next two weeks:

House and Senate negotiators are working on a tax extenders package that would make the research credit permanent and delay the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac” tax on high-cost healthcare plans for two years …

According to tax lobbyists and House staffers, the tentative deal now under consideration is being developed by all congressional leaders and the White House. The extenders are likely to be attached to the omnibus budget legislation expected to pass Congress by December 11.   Tax Analysts

What are “Tax Extenders”?

“Tax Extenders” are carve-outs in the tax code that give special treatment to certain activities — and they are usually only authorized for one year and must be “extended.” That one-year, short-term policymaking means that there is a massive annual lobbying scramble for reauthorization from almost every corner of Washington. From the Research and Development (R&D) credit to encourage business innovation; the production tax credit (wind energy) and the solar tax credit that were enacted to encourage alternative energy; “bonus depreciation” for business capital expenditures, a $250 deduction for teachers who spend money out of pocket for classroom materials, low income and “new markets” tax credits to encourage development of affordable housing and in underserved areas, and many many many more. (Read the full list on POPVOX, also see: Meet the Tax Extenders from Politico)

Pfizer Deal Reignites Corporate “Tax Inversions” Debate

On Monday, American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, announced that it would merge with the Irish company, Allergan. While Pfizer is much larger, the combined company will officially be Irish, for tax purposes, becoming the latest (and one of the largest) “corporate inversions,” and reigniting discussions about the U.S. “worldwide” tax system. “Corporate inversion” is the practice of companies moving headquarters overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. The pending Pfizer deal received several mentions on the Presidential campaign trail from both Republicans and Democrats.

On December 1, the two tax-writing committees in Congress (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means) will hold hearings to examine international tax policy. The U.S. Treasury Department recently released new rules aimed at making the practice more difficult, but significant reform would require Congressional action. Several bills are pending to limit corporate inversions, including S. 198 from Senator Dick Durbin [D-IL] and H.R. 415 from Rep. Sander Levin [D-MI-9].

Congressional Action on Refugees Hits Bumps

Members of Congress responded to the Paris attacks with a host of bills aimed at limiting entry into the United States and discussions about ways to roll back the President’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.

  • A House bill (H.R. 4038) that passed last week to require heightened screening of Syrian refugees may face a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
  • While some Members of Congress have suggested blocking funding for Syrian refugees in a funding bill, the process is not straightforward. Most refugee assistance is financed by immigration fees and not dependent on a Congressional appropriation, which is how Congress normally yields its “power of the purse.”
  • Instead of limiting refugee entry, some Democrats are proposing to limit “visa waiver” access for people who have spent time in Syria.
  • The visa waiver program allows people with certain passports to enter the US without a visa, which many business groups support. In fact, two bills (S. 2091H.R. 1401) were introduced this Congress to expand the program.
  • In the wake of the Paris attacks, some Members are pushing for bipartisan legislation to bar gun sales to suspected terrorists. The Senate bill (S. 551) is sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein [D-CA] and the House bill (H.R. 1076) is sponsored by Rep. Peter King [R-NY].


#ICYMI (In Case You Missed It)

  • Some Senators are working on a bill to assist Puerto Rico, which is expected to default on its debt on December 1.
  • Most Americans feel that “their side” loses more than it wins in politics, according to a new study from Pew.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned several banks and individuals for assisting the government of Syria and facilitating Syrian oil purchases from ISIL


Weekend Reads

Speaker Ryan is “steering” the Congress toward more changes – Molly E. Reynolds, Brookings

See how Americans rate their own senators (Hint: much better than they rate “Congress” as a whole) – Reid Wilson, Morning Consult


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

POPVOX View From the Hill

The Week Ahead in Congress: Nov. 1 – Nov. 6

One step closer to a long-term highway bill;  a possible vote to override Defense bill veto; challenges to the Administration’s water rules, renewed discussion about military authorization and action in Syria… and much more!

A New Speaker

@SpeakerRyan: A new day. Photo cred: @SteveScalise


The House officially has a new Speaker: Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R, WI-1). You might have heard – after all, he just pulled a “Full Ginsburg,” appearing on all five Sunday talk shows!

Ryan is the 54th Speaker of the House and second in the line of Presidential succession (after the Vice President). At 45 years old, he is the youngest House Speaker in 140 years. Learn more about Speaker Ryan.




Now, here’s a look at what Congress is working on in the week ahead:

A Long-Term Highway Bill

Last week Congress passed a short-term highway “funding patch” to allow for time (until November 20th) to complete work on a long-term highway bill. This week, the House will vote on its own bill and then immediately appoint conferees to work with the Senate to resolve differences in the two bills.

The bipartisan $325 billion House bill would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs over six years. It requires that Congress come up with a way to pay for the final three years.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act (H.R. 3763) 

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA-9) 

– Bipartisan –

“The STRR Act helps improve the Nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, reforms programs and refocuses those programs on addressing national priorities, maintains a strong commitment to safety, and promotes innovation to make the system and programs work better. The proposal is fiscally responsible, provides greater flexibility and more certainty for states and local governments to address their priorities, and accelerates project delivery. The bill also extends the deadline for US railroads to implement Positive Train Control technology,” according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Increasing the Gas Tax to pay for the Highway Bill?

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D, OR-3) introduced an amendment to the transportation bill that would increase the gas tax by 15 cents – to 33.4 cents per gallon on driver gas purchases. This would be the first federal gas tax increase in 22 years.

My amendment will not only fully fund H.R. 3763, but also provide enough revenue to increase investment above the current, anemic levels of spending. A long-term transportation reauthorization should be fully funded with revenue that is sustainable, dedicated to transportation, and big enough to give states and local governments the federal partnership they need.”  Statement from Rep. Blumenauer

The amendment is identical to a bill Rep. Blumenauer introduced earlier this year:

Would raise federal gas and diesel taxes 15 cents over three years and index them to inflation. “In recent years, Congress has added to the deficit by transferring over $65 billion of General Fund revenue to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it afloat. In order to maintain current funding levels in the following years, the Highway Trust Fund will need over $15 billion a year by 2018 in addition to current gas tax receipts. Continuing down the current path will mean a 33% drop in federal transportation spending by 2024. The UPDATE Act would solve the problem by providing $210 billion over ten years,” according to the bill sponsor

Next Steps After the NDAA Veto

In October, President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 1735) – this third veto this year and the fifth of his presidency. (Read his statement)

According to the President:

The bill “underfunds our military in the base budget, and instead relies on an irresponsible budget gimmick that has been criticized by members of both parties. Specifically, the bill’s use of $38 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding – which was meant to fund wars and is not subject to budget caps – does not provide the stable, multi-year budget upon which sound defense planning depends.

From our Hill Sources: President Obama’s veto is not unprecedented: Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush all vetoed a NDAA.

Congress can now try to override the President’s veto—which requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House. While some Democrats in Congress did vote for the NDAA, it isn’t likely that there will be enough support to override the veto. The House, which voted 270-156 for the NDAA, is planning to hold a veto override vote on Nov. 5. (The Senate voted 70-27 to pass the bill, which would be enough to override a veto.)

Alternatively, Congress could work on a new NDAA bill, which would incorporate last week’s bipartisan budget deal’s funding levels. The deal raises budget caps for defense and nondefense spending by a total of $112 billion over two years, and provides $32 billion in funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund—$5 billion less than what was vetoed by the President.

Disapproving New Water Proposals from the EPA

The Senate may work on two proposals to address the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Rule that expands federal authority over all ‘waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.

On Oct. 9, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, temporarily suspended implementation of the final WOTUS rule, questioning “… specific scientific support substantiating the reasonableness” of certain parts of this rule.

The Senate will consider:

— Bipartisan —
The bill “would direct the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to “issue a revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that protects traditional navigable water from water pollution, while also protecting farmers, ranchers and private landowners. The revised rule would not include “things such as isolated ponds, ditches, agriculture water, storm water, groundwater, floodwater, municipal water supply systems, wastewater management systems, and streams without enough flow to carry pollutants to navigable waters.” – Sen. Barrasso Press Release

Resolution disapproving the WOTUS rule (S.J.Res. 22)
Sponsor: Sen. Joni Ernst (R, IA)

Nullifies the rule submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act and published on June 29, 2015.

U.S. Troops in Syria

The Obama Administration announced last week that it would send approximately 50 special operations troops into Syria in an advisory role. The U.S. Air Force is also deploying A-10s and F-15s to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Some in Congress are re-emphasizing the need for Congress to consider an authorization for use of force (AUMF).

Earlier this year, President Obama sent to Congress a draft AUMF for Iraq and Syria:

The President’s Draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)

– Submitted to Congress on Feb. 12, 2015 –

Would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving US or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. Would also authorize the use of US forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D, CA-13) – the only Member of the House who voted against the AUMF in 2001 – issued a statement urging repeal of the current AUMF for Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that Congress should, “repeal this blank check for endless war and re-establish Congress’s long abdicated responsibility to debate and authorize military action.”

 Comprehensive Solution to ISIL Resolution (H.J.Res. 30)

Sponsor: Rep. Barbara Lee (D, CA-13)

“Requires the President to submit to Congress a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” ISIL within 90 days of enactment, according to the sponsor. “Advances a comprehensive strategy that is regionally-led and incorporates critical political, economic and diplomatic components and “re-establishes Congress’s Constitutionally-mandate role in war making.”

Homeland Security Bills in the House

Department of Homeland Security Insider Threat and Mitigation Act (H.R. 3361)
Sponsor: Rep. Peter King (R, NY-2)

 — Bipartisan — 
“To establish the Insider Threat Program,” according to the House Homeland Security Committee.

Department of Homeland Security Clearance Management and Administration Act (H.R. 3505)
Sponsor: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D, MS-2)

“To improve the management and administration of the security clearance processes throughout the Department of Homeland Security,” according to the House Homeland Security Committee.

Fusion Center Enhancement Act (H.R. 3598)
Sponsor: Rep. Lou Barletta (R, PA-11)

“To clarify and enhance the partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the national network of fusion centers,” according to the bill sponsor. “A fusion center is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that share resources and information to improve their ability to detect, prevent, and respond to terrorist or criminal activity.”  

Partners for Aviation Security Act (H.R. 3144)
Sponsor: Rep. Donald Payne (D, NY-2)

 — Bipartisan —  
“Requires the TSA to consult with the Aviation Security Advisory Committee regarding modifications to the prohibited items list,” according to the bill sponsor.

From our Hill Sources: In 2012, the TSA changed its prohibited items list to allow small knives and sporting goods equipment to be stowed in carry-on luggage and eventually allowed on planes. TSA ultimately reversed its position—after much feedback from advocates and constituents. In addition to requiring that the TSA consult with key stakeholders when making changes to the prohibited items list, this bill requires a TSA report on the Transportation Security Oversight Board.

Department of Homeland Security Support to Fusion Centers Act (H.R. 3503)
Sponsor: Rep. Martha McSally (R, AZ-2)

“To require an assessment of fusion center personnel needs,” according to the bill sponsor. “Requires the Department of Homeland Security to assess if additional DHS employees assigned to fusion centers would improve information sharing. In addition, the bill establishes a program to provide higher security clearances to local intelligence analysts to improve threat awareness.”

From our Hill sources: After the attacks of September 11, 2001, threat analysis and information sharing centers, known as fusion centers, were established around the country. These fusion centers are manned with local and federal law enforcement and intelligence personnel and help disseminate information about threats between local, state, and federal authorities.



Also in the House This Week

Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494)
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce (R, CA-39)
 — Bipartisan —  

“The bill will help the United States and partner countries counter the terrorist organizations, rebel groups, and international criminal syndicates that are profiting from international wildlife trafficking,” according to the bill sponsor.

“With its high profit margins, the illicit trade of wildlife has become an extremely lucrative funding source for terrorist groups and international gangs. As rhino horn now sells for tens of thousands of dollars a pound, poaching is one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world. Tackling this growing problem conserves some of the world’s most iconic species and strengthens our national security. This bipartisan legislation will aid the global fight against the rampant poaching that is plaguing the world.” – Rep. Ed Royce

To direct the President to develop a strategy to obtain observer status for Taiwan in the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) (H.R. 1853)
Sponsor: Rep. Matt Salmon (R, AZ-5)

— Bipartisan —  
“This bill will require the President to develop a strategy to obtain observer status for Taiwan in INTERPOL. Specifically, it requires an official request for observer status for Taiwan, active urging of member states to assist in the effort as well as a status report to Congress.” Taiwan was a member of INTERPOL from 1964 until 1984, but was removed when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) applied for membership, according to the bill sponsor.

“Taiwan’s observer status would promote stability and security in the Asia Pacific region and assist Taiwan in protecting the safety of its citizens by combatting criminal activity through access to INTERPOL’s global police communications systems.”  

Expressing concern over anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement within the Palestinian Authority (H.Res. 293)
Sponsor: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL-27)
— Bipartisan —  
“Expresses concern over anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement and calls on the Palestinian Authority to immediately discontinue all official incitement. In order to help restore some peace and stability within the region, the Obama administration needs to do more to support Israel. We must hold Abu Mazen accountable for his inflammatory statements at the UN General Assembly and urge him to take accountability for the current wave of violence and to take measures to de-escalate the situation.” 


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the safety and security of Jewish communities in Europe (H.Res. 354)
Sponsor: Rep. Chris Smith (R, NJ-4)

— Bipartisan —  
“Urges the US Administration to work closely with European governments, law enforcement agencies, and intergovernmental organizations – including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks,” according to the bill sponsor.


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.