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Sunday, March 1, 2015

The First Fifty Days

January 6, 2015. That's when the 114th Congress got sworn in (some of us felt like we were being "sworn at"). At any rate, Feb. 23rd marked the 50th day of the takeover of both Houses of Congress by Republicans. So how or what are those Republicans-in-control doing so far? Well...I suppose the answer depends on which side of the political divide you may fall. So perhaps its best just to make a list of the major issues undertaken so far in terms of bills passed by one House or the other (or by both) since Jan. 6th when Republicans took over. (The listing of bills and their content is taken mainly from www.opencongress.org)


1.   Jan. 6 - H.R. 22: "Hire More Heroes Act of 2015" Ayes - 412   Nays - 0
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt employees with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration from being taken into account for purposes of determining the employers to which the employer mandate applies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Letter from Georgia constituent: "H.R. 22 is about taxes and counting people, in this case veterans, for the purpose of lowering tax burdens for businesses. This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code Sec. 4980H  to add a provision to exempt any employee with coverage under a health care program administered by the Department of Defense, including the TRICARE program, or by the Veterans Administration, from classification as an eligible employee of an applicable large employer for purposes of the employer mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to provide such employees with minimum essential health care coverage. 
Lastly, I believe there are privacy issues in the U.S. from asking about a person’s health during an interview and in the long-term, would it legally (allow) businesses to deny veterans access to an employer-sponsored plan even if they are counted?"
 


My comments: This is the first major bill passed and its Title can't even tell the truth! It doesn't deal with hiring more Veterans; it protects corporations from having to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)! Thus, under the guise of a "jobs for vets" bill, the Republican Right-wing radical agenda begins: attack Obamacare! But that's not all. On Jan. 8th, the House passed H.R. 30 the 'Save American Workers Act of 2015.' Rather than saving or protecting or creating jobs, it changed the definition of 'full-time work' so that many employers can escape the mandate in the ACA of providing healthcare coverage. The Congress passed this bill to raise the number of hours required for full-time work to 40 hours from the previous standard of 35 hours.

2.  Jan. 7 - H.R. 26: "National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act"
             Ayes - 416   Nays - 5.

Otherwise known as the "Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act," this legislation does the following: extends the Terrorism Insurance Program through 2020, reduces federal share of payments beginning Jan. 1, 2016, to 80% of insured losses, caps aggregate industry losses and federal share of them through 2020; redefines 'acts of terrorism" as those which are certified by Secretary of the Treasury (previously by Secretary of State) and directs the Treasury Sec. to issue final rules for certification after suitable study. Requires President to appoint at least one member to Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Establishes NARAB without contingent conditions as an independent nonprofit corporation to prescribe, on a multi-state basis, licensing and insurance producer qualification requirements and conditions; to provide a mechanism for the adoption and multi-state application of... just about all aspects of licensing, appointments, supervision, setting fees, membership criteria.(This bill passed the Senate on Jan. 8th). 

Constituent Comment: "I am writing as your constituent in the 10th Congressional district of Pennsylvania. I oppose H.R.26 - National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act of 2015. I do not want banks trading SWAPS and then robbing the hard-working Americans who are forced to fund their illicit Trading Games on Wall Street. Enough is Enough! Banks Must keep these at-risk funds separate on their books and cover their Own losses.

My comments: it all comes down to the second prong of the right-wing attack against restrictions on banks and Wall Street firms: privatize regulations and oversight, exempt certain groups from liability (including banks that deal in 'swaps,' which is what Elizabeth Warren railed against but her amendment was defeated so she voted 'Nay' on the Senate bill) and reduce any liability of government for losses due to terrorism. Is it possible that the insurance industry helped bought congressmen write this bill? 
The same day - Jan. 7th - the attack continued with passage of H.R. 37 (276-146) - the "Small Company Disclosure Simplification Act" (Otherwise known as the "Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act" , it basically lifts restrictions, changes reporting requirements, opens up more swaps dealer operations, restricts role of the SEC and delays compliance with the Volker Rule for some banking entities and financial companies in relation to investment in debt securities).

In other words, these bills make it much easier for banks and financial entities to bilk the public once again without being liable themselves for losses. By the way - there is no "job creation."

3.  Jan. 9 - H.R. 3: "Keystone XL Pipeline Act"  Ayes - 266   Nays - 153

Keystone XL Pipeline Act Authorizes TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities specified in an application filed by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State on May 4, 2012. Deems the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement regarding the pipeline issued by the Secretary of State in January 2014 to fully satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and any law that requires federal agency consultation or review, including the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Maintains in effect any applicable federal permit or authorization issued before enactment of this Act. Declares that this Act does not alter any federal, state, or local process or condition in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is necessary to secure access from an owner of private property to construct the pipeline and cross-border facilities.
 Jan. 29 - S.1: "Energy Efficiency Improvement Act (XL Pipeline)  Ayes - 62  Nays -36 Although there were many attempts to amend this bill in the Senate, the amendments failed, and the bill essentially passed the Senate in the same form as it passed the House.

Constituent Comment: "I oppose H.R.3 - Keystone XL Pipeline Act. All we are is a conduit for Canadian oil to leave through our ports in the Gulf. The majority of the jobs created are temporary until the pipe line is completed. Also, why isn't anyone asking why the Canadians don't build their pipe line to their costal cities (i.e. Vancouver, BC), I think the answer is, because the Canadian citizens didn't want to risk their environment on it. If so, then why should we take a risk for a Canadian company that their own citizens weren't willing to take. Anyone who votes for this must be on someone else's payroll, because they surely aren't considering our prosperity."

My Comments: Another piece of the Republican agenda is to attempt to put themselves in a better light related to "job creation." They have failed miserably since 2008 amid Bush's Great Recession to do anything positive in terms of stimulating the economy. Instead, they chose to oppose and block the President's agenda at every instance (even though contained therein were Republican measures!), and thus attempt to slow the recovery so the President would have to take the blame. Their strategy worked in both 2010 and 2012, as Republican gains in states and the House of Representatives, and now the Senate, were built on the false premise that the President failed us. He did not. The recovery is solid, despite rhetoric that gives a false impression that there are wide gaps in this recovery (if there are any gaps, they were created by Republican obstructionism on jobs, infrastructure repair, health care reform, wage increases and banking restrictions, as well as on tax breaks and social service improvements for the working poor and the middle class).

This legislation to approve the Keystone pipeline is a double-barreled attack: it promotes temporary jobs and therefore appears to be a Jobs bill; it keeps us focused on fossil fuel production (although we won't get any of the 'sludge' coming from Canada -- it's all going overseas!); thus providing an opportunity to emphasize the primacy of oil versus alternative fuels as well as more denial of climate-change-by-human-hands.

The approval of the Keystone Pipeline bill is one of the biggest bamboozles ever! It shows conclusively that Republicans have no intention of facing the primacy of alternative fuels as a life-saving, planet-saving, nation-promoting endeavor.  Fortunately, the President recently vetoed the Act, putting the ball back in the Houses of Congress for an override vote by a 2/3's count of those voting in each House: requiring 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House.

 
4.  Feb. 3 - H.R. 596: "To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 
Ayes - 245   Nays -189   
"Provisions of law amended by that Act's health care provisions are restored. Specified committees of the House of Representatives must report legislation within each committee's jurisdiction with provisions that: foster economic growth and private sector job creation; lower health care premiums; preserve a patient's ability to keep their health plan; provide people with preexisting conditions access to affordable health coverage; reform the medical liability system to reduce unnecessary health care spending; increase the number of insured Americans; protect the doctor-patient relationship; provide states greater flexibility to administer Medicaid programs; expand incentives to encourage personal responsibility for health care coverage and costs; prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and provide conscience protections for health care providers; eliminate duplicative government programs and wasteful spending; or do not accelerate the insolvency of entitlement programs or increase the tax burden on Americans.

My Comments: Republicans evidently don't much care whether or not over 11 million people have been helped by the Affordable Care Act. They believe it's more important to convince as many as possible that the ACA raises taxes, supports abortion, is a give-away to undeserving "welfare queens" and a burden on taxpayers at the same time. None of that has been proven to be true, but Republicans don't deal in truth -- they much prefer false rhetoric and made-up crises. They would rather denigrate the ACA than admit that it does what it promised: lowered premiums, covered many thousands of uninsured people whose use of emergency rooms and quick care clinics were costing us all a lot in premium increases. Their greatest fear is that a majority will begin to see Obamacare as a good thing that is working to hold down costs and improve coverage. Now that 11.5 million people know its benefits first hand, the reality of the situation is becoming clearer and clearer.

Republicans want to take us back to the days (not very far removed) when insurance companies could restrict health care coverage so that they could increase their already heady profit margin. Note how previous health care act provisions are "restored." All that is on their table in this bill is a required report from "specified committees (unspecified here) to come up with legislative suggestions that meet a vague list of concepts, such as: foster economic growth and private sector job creation; provide people with preexisting conditions access to affordable health coverage; reform the medical liability system to reduce unnecessary health care spending; ; protect the doctor-patient relationship. All of these admonitions are already being ignored by Republicans and we have little hope that they have the capacity to do better than nothing.

Then again, this repeal Act is somewhat specific telling those committees to lower health care premiums (when have Republicans ever told private businesses to cut their profits?); preserve a patient's ability to keep their health plan (most who want them already have them!); provide states greater flexibility to administer Medicaid programs (as have the Ryan Budgets); expand incentives to encourage personal responsibility for health care coverage and costs (get those "lazy people" to buy their own insurance); prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and provide conscience protections for health care providers (oh yes, make sure that those employers with "religious objections" can override government laws - called 'sharia law' in some nations!); eliminate duplicative government programs and wasteful spending or do not accelerate the insolvency of entitlement programs or increase the tax burden on Americans (Yes, we know by now -- don't spend government money on "the unworthy" like poor children, people with disabilities, or single mothers who need reliable child care. Please don't over-burden the 1% who have to pay minimal government-subsidized taxes some of which might go to un-deserving people).

While the major bits of legislation in the first 50 days have been touched upon, there is a mixture of primary and secondary legislation that also needs some attention. Let us list a few without much comment because they pretty much speak for themselves.

 1.  Jan. 13th - H.R. 185: Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015     Ayes - 250   Nays - 175
To reform the process by which Federal agencies analyze and formulate new regulations and guidance documents. This bill amends the Administrative Procedure Act to revise and expand the requirements for federal agency rulemaking by requiring agencies, in making a rule, to base all preliminary and final factual determinations on evidence and to consider the legal authority under which the rule may be proposed, the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with the rule, any reasonable alternatives for the rule, and the potential costs and benefits associated with such alternatives. Additionally, the bill:
(1) sets forth criteria for issuing major guidance (agency guidance that is likely to lead to an annual cost on the economy of $100 million or more, a major increase in cost or prices, or significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or ability to compete) or guidance that involves a novel legal or policy issue arising out of statutory mandates; and
(2) expands the scope of judicial review of agency rulemaking by allowing immediate review of rulemaking not in compliance with notice requirements and establishing a substantial evidence standard for affirming agency rulemaking decisions
.


My Comments: if only rule-making could seriously consider the effects on the lives of the people it affects, we would be further down the road toward fiscal and social sanity. These stringent requirements place upon rule-makers an almost impossible task because they target numbers and costs that are un-measurable until tested or evaluated. In other words, the Congress has the cart before the horse simply to satisfy their yearning for metrics and "adverse effects." But not to worry, Congress is even worse at oversight than they are at problem-solving or at requirements for keeping regulations ever harder to promulgate and more deceptive in their composition.

2.  Jan 14th - H.R. 240: Homeland Security Appropriations Act 2015   Ayes - 236  Nays - 191

Provides appropriations for Departmental Management and Operations for the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management. Provides appropriations for Security, Enforcement, and Investigations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and the U.S. Secret Service. Provides appropriations for Research, Development, Training, and Services for U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Science and Technology, and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Sets forth permissible, restricted, and prohibited uses for funds provided by this Act.

My Comments: a political football deflated more than once by Speaker Boehner during its tortured life. It also passed the Senate on 2/27, so is on its way to the President for signature. Although it contains some suspect provisions, it will probably be signed because it lasts just a week so we can soon start the hostage negotiations all over again!

3.  Jan 21 -HR 161: Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act  Ayes - 253  Nays - 159
To provide for the timely consideration of all licenses, permits, and approvals required under Federal law with respect to the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of any natural gas pipeline projects. Amends the Natural Gas Act to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve or deny a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a pre-filed project within 12 months after receiving a complete application that is ready to be processed. Requires the agency responsible for issuing any federal license, permit, or approval regarding the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of a project for which a certificate is sought to approve or deny issuance of the certificate within 90 days after FERC issues its final environmental document regarding the project.

My Comment: let's get those gas lines humming quickly so we can threaten the environment and the lives of people who live nearby.

4.  Jan. 22 - HR 7 - No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015          Ayes - 253   Nays - 169  (passed House; not yet voted on in Senate; veto threat from President)
TITLE I--PROHIBITING FEDERALLY FUNDED ABORTIONS
(Sec. 101)
Prohibits the expenditure of funds authorized or appropriated by federal law or funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by federal law (federal funds) for any abortion. (Currently, federal funds cannot be used for abortion services, except in cases involving rape, incest, or life endangerment.) Prohibits federal funds from being used for any health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. Prohibits the inclusion of abortion in any health care service furnished by a federal or District of Columbia health care facility or by any physician or other individual employed by the federal government or the District.
(Sec. 201) Amends the Internal Revenue Code to exclude from the definition of "qualified health plan" after December 31, 2015, for purposes of the refundable tax credit for premium assistance, any plan that includes coverage for abortion. Excludes from the definition of "qualified health plan," for purposes of the tax credit for small employer health insurance expenses, any health plan that includes coverage for abortions

My Closing Comments:  It's all right here in black and whiteWe do get it -- we just don't agree with it. The Right-wing wants regression, repression, retribution, and responsibility applied to the welfare queens and the 47% of us who are takers. They prefer to give out favors to the elite of this country because they believe that those millionaires and billionaires are the innovators, creators, sustainers of status quo; that they are the leaders, the profit-makers, the successful economic generators. They are the salvation of our democracy and the progenitors of the efficiency found in a Plutocracy. Besides, they are the providers of the money that is needed to win elections and to prosper both during office-holding and afterward.  The plutocrats of the Koch Brother's cabal are already calling the plays, as it were. Just look more closely at the 50-day record of this Republican Congress and you will see the "Kochtopus" agenda written all over it. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have delivered on what has been hashed out in the secret meetings called by the Koch Brothers. There it is in living color:
          Destroy the Obama legacy - repeal ObamacareRemove the regulations and restrictions on business and corporations let Capitalism be unfettered and all of us will prosper
Protect the oil and energy cartels -- let them rule the world; and let Koch Industries lead the way. Use the XL Pipeline as our symbol.
Deny the science behind climate change; let factories and cars and machines pour forth their chemical waste; promote U.S. primacy in oil production instead
Pretend to create jobs or to protect workers, but attack all that gives labor unions their power: bargaining rights, pension benefits and protections, fees from non-union workers, 40 hour standard to be eligible for healthcare coverage, wage increases, lack of family or sick leave and especially allow movement of jobs and businesses to other countries without penalty
Promote (Evangelical) Christianity as the religious and moral foundation of the nation; downplay separation of church and state; emphasize religious freedom: impose beliefs on others such as no abortion, no contraception coverage under healthcare plans, teach creationism and downplay the importance of science
Continue to attack big government and devolve programs and operations to the states
Privatize as many government functions as is possible; we run things better!
I confidently predict that the next 50 days will follow this same pattern. After all, legislation is not being written based on a problem-solving model. It is being written based on what an elite cabal thinks is best for this country. Trouble is, they tend to think this country has a viable and capable population of around 400-500 people.

FIGHT BACK: Be informed - Inform Others - Prepare NOW for 2016 - become active. Encourage and support progressive Democrats to run for office at all levels. Get involved in someone's campaign. If you need some advice, ask your local Democratic Committee what you can do to help! Or, consider joining a Progressive organization like Organizing For Action, MoveOn, Bold Progressives, Citizen Action, Public Citizen, Democracy For America, Progressives United (for further information, all have websites online).