GOP Conference Restores Hope for Earmark Return

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan stifled a move by a House GOP conference last week to restore the use of direct congressional spending, known as earmarks, by promising his colleagues a vote on the matter early next year. 

Ryan’s move appears to have ended, for now, discussions around whether to roll back the five-year-old earmark moratorium. 

Support has been building for years among Republicans to restore the use of earmarks, which former Speaker John Boehner notoriously brought to in end in 2010 in an effort to curb government spending. At the time, Boehner and his colleagues argued that earmarking appropriations bills bred corruption and lead to wasteful spending for congressional pet projects. However, proponents of earmark revival argue that the ban has simply ceded the “power of the purse,” as provided to Congress in the Constitution, to the executive branch.

Although several attempts to lift the ban over the last five years have proven fruitless, last week’s conference is the most significant indication to date of widespread support for an earmark revival. 

In a closed-door meeting, the House Republican Conference met to adopt GOP rules for the new Congress. The conference was expected to  vote on two amendments concerning the use of earmarks on appropriations bills. The first amendment would have allowed Members of Congress to direct appropriations to federal, state or local government projects. The second would have modified the moratorium to allow lawmakers to direct Army Corps of Engineers funding for projects. 

Allegedly fearing a populist backlash just one week removed from Donald Trump being elected on the promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Ryan urged his colleagues not to act on either amendment. Ryan’s efforts suggests there was enough support in the room to lift the moratorium. Since the original ban was only adopted by the House GOP as its rule, not as a House rule, a simple majority vote in the conference would have been enough.

In return for pulling the amendments from consideration, Ryan promised his members a more thorough review of earmarks and a vote on the measure by the end of the first quarter of 2017.

While significant, any effort to revive earmarks will likely face a wall of powerful opposition. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a former Indiana congressman, have all been staunch critics of the funding strategy at one point or another. 

Nevertheless, earmarks may well be on their way back – even in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

Previous CFM Posts On Earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/just-dont-call-it-an-earmark.html?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/2016/7/12/hoyer-lays-out-congressional-reform-agenda?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

Rebuilding Nation’s Infrastructure on the Cheap

Decaying infrastructure could reduce U.S. economic output and jobs in the next decade. President-elect Donald Trump has a $1 trillion investment plan, but his plan doesn’t involve any new federal spending, which could be a big problem.

Decaying infrastructure could reduce U.S. economic output and jobs in the next decade. President-elect Donald Trump has a $1 trillion investment plan, but his plan doesn’t involve any new federal spending, which could be a big problem.

Candidate Donald Trump promised massive investment to modernize decaying American infrastructure. He reiterated that promise in his post-election acceptance speech, attracting applause from Democrats who see such investment as common ground with the new Republican president-elect. 

However, when you look at the devilish details of Trump’s infrastructure investment plan, its most startling provision is the absence of any new federal spending. That’s right, a $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan with no new federal spending.

The Trump plan rests on the belief that $140 million in federal tax credits will entice private contractors to invest the remainder through what are called Public/Private Partnerships or PPPs.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “PPPs are agreements that allow private companies to take on traditionally public roles in infrastructure projects, while keeping the public sector ultimately accountable for a project and the overall service to the public. In PPPs, a government agency typically contracts with a private company to renovate, build, operate, maintain, manage or finance a facility. Though PPPs are not optimal for many transportation projects, they have been shown to reduce upfront public costs through accelerated or more efficient project delivery. PPPs don’t create new money, but instead leverage private sector financial and other resources to develop infrastructure.”

That description probably doesn’t match what many state and local officials wanted to hear to address their long lists of infrastructure projects. Experts estimate there is a $3.32 trillion backlog of infrastructure projects inAmerica

Business leaders may not be happy either. The American Society of Civil Engineers predicts decaying roads, bridges, waterways and airports could reduce the U.S. gross domestic product by $4 trillion between now and 2025, which could equate to 2.5 million fewer American jobs.

The Pros and Cons

The private side of PPPs require a revenue source to pay off the balance of the investment. For roads and bridges, this typically means tolls. For water infrastructure, this means higher rates. While not a new idea in Washington DC, this model of financing is not typical in the United States. However, the PPP movement has gained steam, particularly with Republicans in Congress who oppose raising taxes.

PPPs have a mixed record in this country. PPPs have been given credit for expediting project delivery, lowering costs and delivering projects that never would have gotten off the ground. However, while there have been examples of success, some PPPs have gone bankrupt leaving taxpayers and local governments holding the bag.

Recent failures include Texas Route 130, the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia and the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. Failures typically arise from faulty toll modeling or changing traffic dynamics over time. 

It’s rumored that PPP was a model originally considered for the Columbia River Crossing Project. However, the project didn’t pencil out for private contractors because they couldn’t prevent motorists from avoiding tolls by using the I-205 bridge. This is not an uncommon problem for PPP investors. 

One example from Orange County required the State of California to pay more than $200 million to get out of a non-compete clause with a PPP developer. Traffic in the area got so bad that Caltrans wanted to add capacity in the region, but the non-compete with the PPP prevented capacity expansion projects.

In addition, PPPs can’t solve most transportation problems. Transportation PPPs can only be undertaken in highly populated areas with the traffic to generate enough consistent toll revenue to finance the cost of the project. Adding tolls to new or existing roads is not a popular concept in Oregon and Washington. Also, PPPs generally don’t work well for public transit projects.

Today, 75 percent of all PPP projects are concentrated in five states – California, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Virginia. Massive transportation projects in Oregon or Washington might benefit from PPPs, such as the proposed Salem Crossing. They probably won’t work that well in rural and sparsely populated areas – the places where Republicans dominate.

You can expect Democrats, and perhaps suburban Republicans, to push for an equally robust investment, but using a mix of more traditional tools, such as matching grants.

As Vice President, Federal Affairs, Joel brings to CFM broad public policy experience as a senior Congressional aide and successful private sector lobbyist.

 

Trump Stages Stunning Upset to Win Presidency

Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset in the 2016 presidential race as Republicans retained control of Congress, giving the political party a clear path to move an agenda that includes repeal of Obamacare and major tax cuts.

Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset in the 2016 presidential race as Republicans retained control of Congress, giving the political party a clear path to move an agenda that includes repeal of Obamacare and major tax cuts.

America woke up to news of a stunning victory by Donald Trump, who gained the White House because of a sneaker wave of white, rural and anti-establishment voters. One commentator equated the Trump win to a primal shout from America’s heartland.

Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede well after midnight and before Trump had attained 270 electoral votes. Trump called on the country to come together and said the “forgotten people” in America wouldn’t be forgotten during his administration. He also pledged to help America reclaim its destiny, build world-class infrastructure and achieve stronger economic growth.

Tuesday's primal shout was greeted by plummeting futures in U.S. financial markets and dire predictions about Trump policies on trade, international relations and taxes. Republican congressional leaders, who managed to hold onto to control of the House and narrowly in the Senate, now must find a way to govern in partnership with their iconoclastic party leader after spending much of the campaign running from his shadow. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to Trump.

Despite pre-election predictions, Trump flipped the electoral firewall Hillary Clinton’s team anticipated as he won narrow victories in the battleground states of Florida and North Carolina, rolled to strong Rust Belt wins in Ohio and Iowa and captured nail-biter wins in blue states Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Exit polls indicated that undecided voters who showed up at the polls went 2 to 1 for Trump. 

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin attributed Trump’s success to his commanding TV persona that “created a direct link with American voters,” almost regardless of what he said or what policies he advanced

Other commentators noted that Trump has political doppelgängers in other countries who espouse nationalistic, nativist views and kindle political kinship through social media. A Republican commentator wryly observed that Trump is the first presidential candidate to defeat both major political parties.

Democrats, who were salivating just days ago about keeping the White House and regaining control of the Senate, now face a grim reality of being shoved to the side aisle as Republicans have a clear path to repeal Obamacare, gut Dodd-Frank financial reforms and select conservative Supreme Court judges.

Clinton came close to busting through the glass-ceiling of the presidency, but her failure to excite elements of the Obama coalition, including African-Americans and Millennials, may have denied her the edge she needed to win key states such as Michigan and North Carolina.

There was evidence that Latino voters turned out in strong numbers, giving Clinton a victory in Nevada, holding Trump’s victory over Clinton in Texas to single digits and making Arizona a late-night projection. You could see the fingerprints of Latino voting in the apparent defeat of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The higher turnout was linked to Trump’s call to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and his unflattering characterizations of Mexicans.

Massachusetts and California voted to legalize recreational marijuana use and Arizona didn't. California  voters rejected repeal of that state’s death penalty.

Voting and Hacking on November 8

 NBC reports that U.S. security officials are bracing for Russian-backed election-day cyberattacks aimed at disrupting voting or casting a shadow over election results.

 NBC reports that U.S. security officials are bracing for Russian-backed election-day cyberattacks aimed at disrupting voting or casting a shadow over election results.

“NBC Exclusive: White House Readies to Fight Election Day Cyber Mayhem”

This is an astonishing and deeply troubling headline to appear just five days before a national election that already has had its shocking moments.

NBC’s report begins, "The U.S. government believes hackers from Russia or elsewhere may try to undermine next week's presidential election and is mounting an unprecedented effort to counter their cyber meddling.”

Russian involvement in the election has been a persistent issue in the presidential campaign, first with the seeming bromance between GOP nominee Donald Trump and then by the slow-drip release by Wikileaks of emails hacked from the Democratic Party’s servers to embarrass Hillary Clinton.

Whatever the state of U.S.-Russian relations, meddling in a U.S. presidential election by Russia would seem unprecedented and unprovoked. Russian President Vladimir Putin routinely blames the United States for interfering in Ukraine’s presidential election, apparently dislikes Microsoft and thinks Trump may be more amiable to Russian interests. It’s also possible Trump’s personal financial interests are tied in with the oligarchs surrounding Putin.

There are reports Russian interests helped to finance opposition from a pro-Russian coalition in parliamentary elections in Montenegro, where a central issue was whether the small Balkan country should seek membership in NATO. When the pro-NATO ruling party won the election, the pro-Russian forces cried foul and said the election was rigged. Russia denied any involvement, as it has with hacks into U.S. political groups.

Because elections in the United States are conducted by local and state authorities and the vast majority of elections aren’t conducted online, some experts question the viability of a major cyber attack on actual voting. But U.S. officials say the October attack of Department of Homeland Security computers had all the earmarks of a cyberattack drill. And the cyber attacks that denied service and shut down Twitter a few days ago showed there are lots of ways to meddle. 

The NBC story raised the prospect of a fake document dump that implicates a candidate in “an explosive scandal without time for the news media to fact check it.” The goal would be to “sow confusion” and cast a shadow over election results.

While American voters have divided up based on their respective views of Clinton’s trustworthiness and Trump’s temperament, the specter of foreign intervention in the election has gone largely unnoticed, which made the election eve story by NBC more startling.

Many political observers believe the results of the 2016 presidential race are destined to be challenged over issues such as purged voting lists and attempts to suppress voter turnout. They probably never thought a challenge might involve the slippery fingers of a foreign power.

Congressional Control Depends on Down Ballot Voting

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

James Comey’s letter to Congress on Friday is, if nothing else, a helpful reminder that anything is possible between now and November 8. While no prediction is safe at this point, one can still speculate about what the 115th Congress will look like for the Pacific Northwest, where some members of Congress may need to update their business cards come January.
 
If Democrats take control of the Senate, Oregon and Washington’s senior senators are expected to make significant moves in both party and committee ranking. However, their junior counterparts will likely earn a promotion as well.
 
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the 10th Democrat on the full Senate Appropriations Committee and the Ranking Democratic Member of its Subcommittee on Agriculture. This powerful panel writes the budgets of the Department of Agriculture, Farm Credit Administration and Food and Drug Administration. If Democrats pick up a net of four Senate seats in November, Merkley will likely move up a few rungs in the full committee ranks and be first in line to chair the agriculture subcommittee.
 
Merkley is the first Oregonian on Senate Appropriations since Senator Mark O. Hatfield retired at the end of the 104th Congress in 1996. Oregon senators could hold two gavels in the Senate for the first time since Hatfield and Bob Packwood chaired the Appropriations and Finance committees, respectively. 
 
In Washington, Senator Maria Cantwell is the Ranking Democratic Member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Although Cantwell has been an influential transportation advocate in Congress – perhaps most notably as the author of freight mobility grant funding in the FAST Act of 2015 – the gavel of Senate Energy & Finance would likely be hers to refuse if the Senate flips. 
 
In the House, the status quo will likely prevail as Republicans are expected to hold onto their House majority for what would be the 4th straight Congress. For House Democrats in Oregon and Washington, that means retaining current positions and a slight rise in their party and committee rankings.
 
Republicans Greg Walden (OR) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) would hang onto their coveted positions in majority leadership, while newer Republican members such as Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA) may move up a few rungs in their assigned committees. 
 
Similarly, Oregon’s senior House Democrat Peter DeFazio will remain Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Jim McDermott’s (WA) retirement will likely allow Earl Blumenauer (OR) to move up a spot or two on the Ways and Means Committee. 
 
What party controls each congressional chamber will influence the degree of gridlock in the next Congress, regardless whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the White House. House Republicans already have already threatened a barrage of investigations if Clinton prevails and Senate Republicans have talked about blocking Clinton Supreme Court nominees. Democratic control of the Senate – or even a stronger minority – could be a major barrier to Trump initiatives.

The consequences of the election underscore the importance of voting – and voting on down ballot races.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Wyden, Murray Could Move Up in Democratic Landslide

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Washington Senator Patty Murray are positioned to gain major committee chairmanships if Democrats succeed November 8 in regaining control of the US Senate.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Washington Senator Patty Murray are positioned to gain major committee chairmanships if Democrats succeed November 8 in regaining control of the US Senate.

Rising speculation that Democrats will take back control of the US Senate is particularly significant in the Pacific Northwest as both Washington and Oregon’s senior senators would be poised for prime promotions.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is in line to regain the gavel of Senate Finance and Washington Senator Patty Murray could chair Senate Appropriations or gain a leadership position.

It wasn’t that long ago that political pundits doubted whether Democrats could grab back control of the Senate. However, Donald Trump’s recent follies and corresponding plummet in national and swing state polls have made that a more realistic scenario. And Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton are pressing hard to make it happen.

While general consensus concedes the House will remain Republican, the Senate would flip if Democrats capture a net of four seats. Senate Republicans hold a 54 – 46 (two independents caucus with the Democrats) advantage over Democrats. A Vice President Tim Kaine would break a 50-50 tie. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Democrats now have a 73 percent chance of taking control of the chamber – up 15 percent from last week.

Democratic candidates for Senate are likely to pick up seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, and close races in the following six states will likely decide what becomes the majority party in the Senate: Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As of today, Democrats lead in all 6 races and have a better chance of winning in each than they did a week ago.

The Democrat’s fortune looks so good that the Cook Political Report announced today it expects Democrats to pick up between 5-7 seats in the Senate.

Since early voting is already underway in 27 states, Republicans don’t have much time to mount a comeback. Assuming current trends prevail and Democrats occupy 50 or more Senate seats (and Clinton is elected president), Wyden and Murray will be standing in high clover.

Wyden is the Ranking Democratic Member of the high-profile Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy, trade deals, Medicare and Medicaid and bonded debt of the United States. Wyden held the Senate Finance gavel briefly in 2014 before Republicans won control of the Senate.

While Senator Wyden’s next gig is somewhat easy to predict, the senior senator from Washington, Patty Murray, appears to have more options to consider.

The upcoming retirement of Democratic Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, leaves an open door for a new top Democrat on one of the most sought after panels. While no senator has officially thrown a hat in the ring, a Democratic majority and the chairmanship would be the cherry on the ice cream sundae.

Murray, a dealmaker respected on both sides of the aisle, is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate. However, with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) reportedly interested in the gavel as well, some have speculated Murray could instead challenge Durbin for the No. 2 position in leadership. Albeit unlikely, if Murray were to challenge Durbin, the appropriations chairmanship could then serve as a consolation prize for the loser.

The third and final option for Murray would be to serve as chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A post she may prefer over any other, especially under a Clinton presidency likely to undertake major health care and education initiatives through the committee. She could be a great partner for Clinton on refining the Affordable Care Act.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell also can be expected to move the political hierarchy with Democratic control of the Senate. 

If Democrats recaptured the House, too, Oregon and Washington’s congressional delegations would be in strong positions, including Congressman Peter DeFazio being positioned to champion a major transportation and infrastructure initiative.

It is too early to predict how the election will turn out, but it is never too early to speculate on what could happen the day after the election.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Election Attention Shifts to What Happens Post-Election

Drooping poll results for Donald Trump have shifted the political conversation from the election to the post-election and what President Hillary Clinton would push for in Congress. The speculation could be surprising.

Drooping poll results for Donald Trump have shifted the political conversation from the election to the post-election and what President Hillary Clinton would push for in Congress. The speculation could be surprising.

The 2016 presidential election took a turn this week that signaled the race to watch now will be what happens next January.

Donald Trump’s hot-mic tape with lewd comments about women may have sealed his fate, but it also set in motion a cascading reaction among high-ranking Republicans worried about a possible electoral sweep that could return Democrats to control in the Senate and even the House.

Speaker Paul Ryan convened his fellow House Republicans to say it is every man for himself in local congressional elections and urged them to do what’s necessary for the GOP to retain control of the House. Ryan said losing congressional control would give Hillary Clinton a “blank slate” to pursue progressive policies.

The worry expressed by Ryan contrasts with conventional wisdom of just a few weeks ago. It was assumed whoever won the presidential election would face an obstinate Congress. If Clinton won, Republicans would stymie her campaign proposals on taxation, trade and immigration. If Trump won, Democrats would block some of his more extreme measures on taxation, trade and immigration.

With leading Republicans now in panic mode, observers are beginning to picture different scenarios in 2017 when there is a new president and Congress. Here are a few of those scenarios:

  • Clinton and Congress, with a thinner GOP majority, collaborate on tax reform, increased support for child care, reduced college student debt interest and greater federal assistance to industries and workers affected by globalization and technology change. Also expect a more aggressive approach toward terrorism at home and abroad.
  • Clinton and Democratically controlled Senate push for higher taxes on wealthy individuals, more assistance for working parents, free or reduced college tuition for students from middle-income  families and tougher trade policies.
  • Clinton and a Democratically controlled Congress will go further and seek a public option for individuals under the Affordable Care Act, pay equity, a higher federal minium wage, comprehensive immigration reform and restoration of some Glass-Steagal limitations on banks and investment firms.

While campaigns present the opportunity for political candidates to express policy priorities, election outcomes shape the world of possibilities when candidates are in office.

Consider Obamacare as an example. No one, including President Obama, argues that changes aren’t needed.  Clinton has defended Obamacare and says changes should improve it. Republicans have called for repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with something else, which hasn’t exactly been spelled out in detail. Building off Bernie Sanders’ campaigned on a Medicare for all platform, which has morphed into a Democratic platform plank to insert a public option into the Obamacare health exchanges. What changes have political legs in 2017 will depend entirely on how political power lines up in the White House and Congress.

The same could be said for tax and trade changes and for immigration legislation, which has been the signature issue of the Trump campaign. Democrats will say a Trump defeat amounts to a voter repudiation of his anti-immigrant positions and clears the path for Congress to adopt legislation that addresses issues from border security to vetting immigrants from places like Syria to treatment of the 12 million undocumented men, women and children who live work and go to school in the United States.

The Trump meltdown paradoxically may make it easier for Clinton and Congress, even one still controlled by Republicans, to collaborate on major legislation. Both political parties have been assailed for bickering more than legislating, which may be a greater long-term political liability than the festering discontent of Trump supporters who aren’t likely to disappear after the election.

Collaboration, however, may not extend to every issue. The best example is legislation to address gun violence. Clinton has called for tighter background checks to prevent people with criminal backgrounds or a history of mental illness from obtaining guns. The National Rifle Association, perhaps anticipating a Trump defeat, has directed all its political attention at Clinton, claiming she is an enemy of the Second Amendment – a claim that may have a lot to do with the voter vitriol aimed at Clinton and her candidacy.

As the first female president, Clinton will understandably press for policies of importance to women. Tougher laws against sexual assault and domestic violence would probably find receptive audiences among both Democrats and Republicans following the 2016 election. Clinton support for Planned Parenthood funding and retaining reproductive freedom might find the same resistance in the halls of Congress.

There is still nearly a month to go before the election, and anything can happen. But this week, you could feel the mood of at least the political elite shift from who will win to what will happen when Clinton wins. That question will be answered when the heads are counted in Congress next January.

The Not-Quite-Dead Trade Deal

This man who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee could have the last say on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal passes during the congressional lame duck session after the November 8 election that will be won by a major party candidate who has vowed to oppose the TPP.

This man who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee could have the last say on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal passes during the congressional lame duck session after the November 8 election that will be won by a major party candidate who has vowed to oppose the TPP.

The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the controversial trade deal could sneak through Congress after the November 8 election and be signed by President Obama before he leaves office next January.

 

Like most major policy issues, the TPP doesn’t have a clear path to approval. But it does have a pretty obvious gatekeeper – Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, who assumed the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee when Paul Ryan became House Speaker. The TPP has to make it out of this committee to have a chance of passage.

 

Brady, like Ryan, has been a supporter of the TPP and free trade in general. Brady has not revealed what he plans to do, perhaps intentionally to avoid becoming a presidential candidate punching bag or embarrassing GOP nominee Donald Trump.

 

Action on inaction in Congress on the trade deal will likely have more to do with politics than policy. 

 

Organized labor, which has trash-talked the TPP, leaned on many Democrats to come out in opposition, despite President Obama’s strong endorsement of the deal. That means the TPP will need very strong support from Republicans in the House and Senate to pass.

 

If Trump wins the presidency, a GOP-led Congress may want to get the trade pact inked before he takes office. If Hillary Clinton wins and the GOP retains control over both houses of Congress, the calculation might change. Congressional Republicans may want her to face the political backlash of going back on her campaign promise to oppose TPP or repudiate the Democratic president she will succeed.

 

While opponents and proponents can disagree over the relative merits of labor and environmental provisions in the TPP, it does seem clear that failure to pass the trade deal would doom any chance to renegotiate it in the near future. That would raise fears, which Obama has stoked, that the future of trade in the Asia Pacific region, which represents 40 percent of the worlds Gross Domestic Product, could be shaped by China and may not favor U.S. interests.

 

Much has been made about industry lobbyists guiding U.S. strategy in the negotiations over the TPP, but that isn’t a major deviation from past practice. Issues involving intellectual property, for example, are enormously complex and require expertise from companies and individuals that have been on the frontline of battling to preserve their property rights.

 

Any trade deal produces winners and losers, and that is a fair way for a Member of Congress to judge whether or not the deal is in the best interest of his or her constituency. The best trade deals are ones that attempt to address future problems, not remediate past problems. But all trade deals fall short in some way or another. Critics, for example, say the TPP does little to address currency manipulation by trading partners that compete unfairly with U.S. products and services.

 

Advocates for trade deals such as TPP argue protectionist provisions can boomerang and industries impacted and workers dislocated by globalization should be addressed by better conceived and funded domestic policies. Passage of TPP by Congress in its looming lame duck session may focus the policy debate and political firestorm on what a well-conceived and well-funded domestic policy would look like.

New African American Smithsonian Showcases Horror and Beauty

The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in the shadow of the Washington Monument and with a festival of Free Sounds. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in the shadow of the Washington Monument and with a festival of Free Sounds. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens Saturday, just before the first presidential debate in a contest in which charges of racial bigotry have been regularly tried.

President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, has openly encouraged GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump to visit the new Smithsonian museum before the November 8 election.

This pair of shackles is one of many relics of slavery, America's darkest chapter, on display inside the museum.

This pair of shackles is one of many relics of slavery, America's darkest chapter, on display inside the museum.

Situated perhaps symbolically on the last available museum site on the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument, the new museum traces the journey of a slice of America’s people who arrived in chains, suffered through segregation and still experience discrimination in the workplace and on the streets.

As the Museum celebrates its opening with a three-day Freedom Sounds Festival, protests continue in Charlotte and Tulsa over controversial police shootings of black men. Congress is hung up on a spending bill to keep the federal government running, in part because of a refusal to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, water users and Louisiana flood victims.

Backers were forced to raise private funds to build the museum because of congressional opposition. Senator Jesse Helms said if Congress funded a museum recognizing African Americans, other groups would demand equal treatment. Congress finally authorized the museum 13 years ago.

The building makes its own statement with a black-brown metal façade that contrasts sharply with the white marble sister Smithsonian museums surrounding it. The museum’s tiered design draws inspiration from African architecture, and the façade pays homage to the skill of black freemen metalsmiths in the Deep South. Architect David Adjaye, who designed the museum, said the architecture intentionally “speaks another language.

Chuck Berry's shiny red Cadillac is one of many thousands of African American artifacts on display in the new museum. 

Chuck Berry's shiny red Cadillac is one of many thousands of African American artifacts on display in the new museum. 

The exhibits and 36,000 displayed artifacts center on the life of black Americans from tiny plantation cabins and punishing neck chains to pioneering jazz musicians and Chuck Berry’s cherry red Cadillac. However, exhibit designers sought to make the museum appeal to a wider audience by showing how African American culture has become embedded in all American culture.

“It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture,” the museum’s website declares. Designers also attempted to place the arrival of Africans in America as part of an ongoing global migration that at once has increased diversity and underscored human unity.

Restricting Free Trade to Save Free Trade

Globalization has come under sharp scrutiny in the 2016 presidential election, exposing deepening political fault lines. Harvard professor and author Dani Rodrik offers ideas for how to save international trade by giving individual nations a license to restrict trade to protect domestic economic and political institutions. (Illustration by Andrew Holder/New York Times)

Globalization has come under sharp scrutiny in the 2016 presidential election, exposing deepening political fault lines. Harvard professor and author Dani Rodrik offers ideas for how to save international trade by giving individual nations a license to restrict trade to protect domestic economic and political institutions. (Illustration by Andrew Holder/New York Times)

Globalization has gotten a black eye in the 2016 presidential election and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, but populist opponents have offered few tangible alternatives other than a trade war, rejecting the Trans Pacific Partnership or trying to renegotiate existing trade deals.

Dani Rodrik, a Harvard professor and author, offers suggestions in a New York Times op-ed that will annoy populists, labor unions and globalization cheerleaders. He says to preserve free-flowing trade – and the democracies the engage in it – will require giving individual nations the autonomy to protect their own interests. 

“Globalization has deepened the economic and cultural divisions between those who can take advantage of the global economy and those who don’t have the resources and skills to do so” Rodrik wrote. “Nativist politicians like Donald J. Trump have channeled the resulting discontent as hostility to outsiders: Mexican or Polish immigrants, Chinese exporters, minorities.” 

Rodrik’s solution is to cap “hyper-globalization” and replace it with a form of globalization with increased national autonomy. For example, he says nations should be able to place restrictions on cross-border transactions that involve worker or environmental rights violations.

That sounds eerily similar to the kind of trade restrictions that globalization and free-trade agreements have sought to eliminate. Rodrik claims some trade trimming will be necessary to salvage the basic idea of free trade, which he notes has “pulled 700 million people out of poverty." “Globalization,within limitations,” he says, “has been good economics. Globalization, within limits, can be good for our democracies, too.”

In his op-ed, Rodrik offers four specific suggestions:

  • Give individual nations the autonomy to choose trade-related institutions that best represent their interests and reflect their risk-tolerance.
  • Countries should be able to prevent “regulatory arbitrage” whereby corporations circumvent national labor or environmental laws by moving operations to offshore locations.
  • International economic negotiations should pivot on domestic policy autonomy combined with increased trade transparency to ensure both sides keep their commitments.
  • Global governance should focus on enhancing democracy, not globalization.

“Global governance cannot overcome major problems like inequality, social exclusion or low growth,” Rodrik says. “But it can help by devising norms that improve domestic policy transparency, public deliberations, broad representation, accountability and use of economic evidence in domestic proceedings.”

Interesting by its omission is mention of reforms to trade adjustment assistance, which has drawn criticism for being inadequate and training dislocated workers for jobs that don’t exist in their community – or at all.

The fundamental question raised by Rodrik’s call for a “little-less-free trade” is whether a little would turn into a lot. Nations already file actions alleging unfair trade practices that range from “dumping” products at low costs to self-serving tariffs that make imported products noncompetitive. The license to protect domestic economic interests could embolden industry, labor and environmental advocates to push for greater protections, which could trigger what amounts to trade wars between nations or international regions.

Rodrik also doesn’t address the issue of globalization of financial markets, which dwarf the movement of goods and services across national boundaries. Restricting the flow of money is considerably more complex and can be tied up with another international bugaboo – concessionary tax policies and tax havens.

None of this discounts the value of the conversation Rodrik’s op-ed started, which highlights the many moving pieces that must be addressed to find a balance that benefits consumers without unduly exposing workers to economic discoloration and ultimately posing a challenge to democratic governance.

Parallel Press Conferences Posing as Debates

What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

Presidential debates command attention even if they are just parallel press conferences, not real debates.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held a real debate 150 years ago. They posited, rebutted and pontificated. Modern-day debates just skip to the pontification. They don’t answer questions. Instead, they speak over questions to appease their political base.

When contemporary debates were introduced in the 1960 presidential race, the news media urged candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy to question each other, like Lincoln and Douglas. They balked, insisting the questions come from the news media. And thus the softball question was born.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

Debate moderators can’t win. Their questions are questioned. When they challenge candidate deflections and dissembling, they are blasted as aggressive. When they throw darts at one candidate and marshmallows at the other, they are lambasted as unfair – or inept. Ask Matt Lauer – he just moderated a candidate forum that was supposed to be a parallel press conference.

Few people think presidential debates determine the outcome of the race. At best, a candidate can make a clever comment that defuses a potential issue. Like Ronald Reagan promising not to hold Walter Mondale’s youthfulness against him. Bingo. The Reagan age issue disappeared as fast as Mondale’s chances to win. Lloyd Bentsen cut Dan Quayle down to size by telling him he was “no John Kennedy.”

At worst, a candidate can make a fatal gaffe, like Gerald Ford insisting there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Luckily, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson wasn’t debating when he responded to a question on MSNBC's Morning Joe about how he would handle the conflict in Syria. His clueless answer: “What is Aleppo?"

Debates can underscore candidate tendencies, such as Chris Christie sounding like a prosecutor in a televised courtroom. Or Marco Rubio drinking water and sweating, Bernie Sanders waving his arms and Richard Nixon scowling. Nixon wanted the debate cameras to stay locked on whoever was speaking, not the other candidate’s reaction. He lost that debate and his scowling image became his campaign likeness.

The 2016 presidential candidates broke new ground. The 17-candidate GOP primary required a much larger stage and a lesser-card warm-up debate. The Democratic debate often crept into the policy weeds, requiring viewers to consult a political thesaurus to understand what in the world the candidates were talking about.

The tone of the debates this year has been decidedly uncivil. There was little love lost between Lincoln and Douglas, but they didn’t interrupt each other or hurl insults. That was reserved for the presidential primary debates. Policy discussions were a dreaded distraction. Viewership has never been higher as you pictured people leaning forward in their recliners waiting eagerly for another zinger. 

The bellicose theatrics of debates are egged on by social media. Millions of tweets are posted during debates that excoriate the candidates, the moderators and the crowd. The debates have become more like prize fights or celebrity survival races.

The first presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is less than two weeks away and anticipation is building, while expectations continue to drop. Clinton reportedly has been boning up for weeks. Trump is expected to wing it. Many assume the debate will feature Trump dodging substance and Clinton wallowing in it.

Harvard history professor Jill Lepore laments the fallen state of modern debates. In a recent article, Lepore quotes Walter Cronkite, “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud our political campaigns have become” as candidates dictate terms that “defy meaningful discourse” and “sabotage the electoral process.”

Like presidential candidates before them, Clinton and Trump have circled each other to ensure the most favorable settings and least objectionable moderators. But Lepore has a plot with a historical precedent.

She suggests channeling Phil Donahue, who in the 1992 Democratic primary in New York introduced Bill Clinton and Jerry brown, then “sat back in his chair and never uttered another word. Under bright lights with no reputation-salvaging escape, Clinton and Brown were forced to address each other for an “unmoderated, uninterrupted” 90 minutes.

Can you imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump asking each other questions and civilly talking about issues for 90 minutes? Interestingly enough, now Trump is also calling for a debate with no moderator. Maybe that's the format we should follow after all.

Another Government Shutdown Deadline Approaches

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

If you think the presidential race seems repetitious, think about the prospect of another federal government shutdown. That might just happen on September 30 if Congress can’t pass legislation to fund continuing operations.

This potential shutdown has all the hallmarks of earlier ones – the right-wing faction of the House GOP caucus is balking at a short continuing resolution to push major budget decisions past the November 8 general election when a new president will be elected and Senate control could flip from Republicans to Democrats.

The 42-member Freedom Caucus wants to avoid an omnibus spending package in a lame-duck session of Congress. GOP House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have expressed support for approving a continuing resolution this month that would maintain existing spending levels until around Christmas.

If Freedom Caucus members hold firm, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be staring at the same dilemma that bedeviled and ultimately unseated his predecessor, John Boehner – turning to Democrats for the needed votes to approve a spending bill. Democrats have their own priorities and have stymied Republican proposals of late.

House Republicans are huddling to find a work-around after Congress returned earlier this week after a seven-week recess. Preventing a government shutdown is just one of many spending issues up in the air at this point.

Congress left town in July without approving a spending measure to combat the Zika virus, which has emerged as more of a threat in Miami and potentially other parts of the South than previously anticipated.

The presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is tightening up as the candidates seek to distinguish themselves on a range of issues, including national security, which will be the subject of an NBC-sponsored commander-in-chief forum tonight. Before the event, Trump said he favors releasing the Pentagon budget from the spending constraints that apply across the board to all federal agencies.

Some conservatives in Congress have echoed Trump's view, but they face the problem of what to cut to compensate for higher defense spending. Democrats, including President Obama, oppose selectively excusing defense spending from overall spending constraints.

Congressional Democrats and Obama appear in policy lock-step in support of a short-term spending bill that will push bigger budget questions beyond election day. That position is buttressed by the serious prospect that Democrats could regain control of the Senate though the GOP majority in the Senate hasn’t warmed up to the idea of closing down the federal government.

There is little question the budget priorities of a President Clinton and a President Trump would differ substantially, which makes the looming stalemate over a stopgap continuing resolution even stickier. It also raises the question of whether an actual government shutdown would help or hurt Trump or Clinton.

Trump has positioned himself as a political outsider with the personal experience of knowing how the system works and what needs to change. Clinton has a hard time escaping the “insider” label, but can be expected to argue that now is not the time to threaten or shutter the federal government, given the precarious momentum of the economic recovery and a flurry of foreign threats.

The Freedom Caucus may be wary of Trump in the White House, but they worry more about a Clinton victory in November, combined with a Democratic takeover in the Senate. They may argue now is potentially the last time they have the leverage for major cuts in federal spending and a budget boost for the military. What will be interesting to watch in the next three weeks is whether the Freedom Caucus actually has the leverage it imagines.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

The Arm of Congress That Doesn’t Sleep

Behind every successful Member of Congress is a hardworking, usually out of-camera-range district staff that advises on local projects, helps people get lost Social Security checks and makes sure their boss arrives at his appointments. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio was a congressional staffer before he was elected.

Behind every successful Member of Congress is a hardworking, usually out of-camera-range district staff that advises on local projects, helps people get lost Social Security checks and makes sure their boss arrives at his appointments. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio was a congressional staffer before he was elected.

While Congress is on frequent recess and routinely at odds, congressional district staffers operate in a starkly different reality. Unencumbered by the dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, they play a critical role in the communities they serve.

While those inside the beltway may think they’re at the center of the universe, sometimes the most meaningful congressional action happens at the hands of a local staffer. Every day, far away from the news cameras lining the Capitol Rotunda, district staff members solve important problems for hometown constituents. In fact, a congressman representing his district often takes the shape of a field representative unraveling Social Security tie-ups or helping a constituent navigate bureaucratic red tape.

CFM represents clients in Washington, D.C., many of which are municipalities in the Pacific Northwest. As federal lobbyists for municipal clients, congressional district staff are our valued partners. After we identify local projects and priorities, we coordinate to make the case for federal funding in Washington. They help us nudge along federal agencies when they’re moving slow, weigh in with support for a client’s grant project and advise their boss to shed light on a local issue when appropriate.

They are also the full-time eyes, ears and mouth of a member in the communities they represent. They attend community events, local government meetings and meet face-to-face with constituents and local stakeholders on a daily basis. As such, we often rely on their local knowledge as a barometer.

Members of Congress are often required to be two places at once. In order to be effective, they must spend significant time in D.C. to build relationships and increasingly, raise money for their next campaign. However, the more time they spend in D.C., the harder it is to stay in touch with constituents and keep abreast of their concerns. District staff help alleviate this inherent dichotomy, providing the political linkage lawmakers themselves have a hard time sustaining. 

Paralyzing partisanship has plagued Congress in recent years, and the public has taken notice. Approval ratings for the institution as a whole are at record lows. However, it’s reasonable to assume that district staff play a role when many of those same voters – despite feeling fed up with Congress – think their local representative is still doing a good job. 

While the district office may not be as prestigious as the Capitol building, it’s fertile ground for political victories. District staff aren’t hamstrung by D.C. dysfunction, and can routinely achieve results, like helping a city mitigate congestion by securing a federal transportation grant, or issuing press releases to bring national attention to local issues.

So, as Congress members return to Washington after extended visits to their districts over this historically long recess, it seems apt to salute the men and women who spend each day working in those district offices – they're some of the hardest working, most productive people in Congress.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

The Dog Days of Trustworthiness

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Questions of trustworthiness dog the Clintons, and they shouldn’t be surprised.

As the fall presidential election approaches with Hillary Clinton in the lead, the Clintons have begun to position themselves for returning to the White House. They have put someone in charge of the transition and begun to discuss separation from the Clinton Foundation.

The only problem is they are late to the party.

After questions arose about pay-for-play influence-peddling, the Clintons are talking about drastically shrinking the size of the Clinton Foundation if Clinton wins the election. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea would leave the foundation's board, and Bill Clinton says he will stop fundraising for the foundation.

Fine, but why didn’t these declarations come much earlier? Why didn’t they exist when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state? Instead, they came after big-headline stories about possible favors and special access for Clinton Foundation donors. There may very well be an explanation for the favors and access, but there is hardly an excuse for not anticipating this would be an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Worse, the allegations fit to a larger narrative of the Clintons as political insiders who play loose with the rules.

The Foundation flap overlaps Hillary’s Clinton's painfully chronic email fiasco. The latest twist involves former Secretary of State Colin Powell denying that he encouraged Clinton to use a private email server. He says he gave advice on managing private email after she already had set up hers. It’s not an indictment, just another off-center, not-quite-true explanation that inflames Hillary haters and creates a media feeding frenzy.

If Clinton was facing anyone but the unpredictable and inexplicable Donald Trump, she may find herself in a political free-fall. Trump has picked up the issue and could make it his comeback cause. Even if Clinton wins the presidency, these apparent ethical lapses and tone-deaf media responses could deny her a solid mandate and weaken her ability to govern.

James Carville, the hominy grits political guru who guided Bill Clinton, tried to explain the Clinton predicament in an interview on the Today show with little success. You have the feeling that in private, Carville scolded the Clintons for failing to vet their vulnerabilities a long time ago as opposed to allowing these stories to become the equivalent of slow-drip campaign chemotherapy.

The Clinton Foundation has indisputably done much good. As a former president, Bill Clinton has used his status and clout to good effect and worthy ends. Yet, Hillary Clinton’s ambition to become president, strongly supported by her husband and daughter, should have aroused the usually keen political instincts of this very political family. They should have looked forward to contemplate Hillary’s historical presidential quest and proactively recognized and removed obstacles and provided clear, accurate explanations for behavior that raises eyebrows, even among supporters.

Yes, right-wing critics have dished out disinformation – or at least information without any supporting data – about Hillary Clinton, most recently about her health. But all the more reason to have your guard up, not in hibernation. In the game of politics, the Clintons, of all people, know you can’t declare a mulligan.

Now Hillary Clinton is left with pulling a heavy ball and chain of suspicion through the final 75 days of what seems like an indeterminable presidential campaign. It didn’t have to be like this. And it would be a shame if the Clinton Foundation wound up paying the price.

The Dids and Didn’ts of Congress

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Due to earlier than usual presidential nominating conventions, federal lawmakers are in the middle of a seven-week recess – one of the longest summer breaks in the legislative branch’s history. With Congress out of town for another month, here is a look at some of the things it did and didn’t accomplish, and what to expect when it returns in September.

Congress Did:

Get Out of the Gates Early

The House typically kicks off the appropriations process, but that was held up by a GOP intraparty dispute over top-line spending levels. So the Senate took the wheel and got off to the fastest start in the modern budget era when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its first spending bill in mid-April. The full Senate made more history when it passed the first appropriations bill on May 12, the earliest official start to the appropriations process in the chamber’s history.

Find Success in Committee

Each chamber moved all 12 (24 total) annual spending measures out of committee for the second straight year and onto the full Senate and House floors for consideration. Things were looking good early on, however, much of their committee success is attributed to unofficial agreements to hold off on controversial policy riders until the spending bills reach the floor. Unsurprisingly, just eight of the 24 bills approved by appropriations committees have made it past a floor vote to date.

Address the Opioid Epidemic

Both the House and Senate, with overwhelming bipartisan support, cleared the final version of legislation aimed at combating opioid prescription and heroin abuse, which President Barack Obama quickly signed into law. In addition to a few policy provisions, the bill creates a number of new grant programs to be administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. However, it may take some time for this new money to find its way to local health departments and law enforcement agencies. Funding for the bill’s grant programs is dependent on appropriators designating money for them. Although some spending bills include money to address opioid addiction as a whole, only the House measure to fund the Justice Department includes specific money for those programs.

Reauthorize the FAA

After months of negotiation and just two days before expiration, both chambers eventually came together on a package to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs at current funding levels through September 2017. This measure is the result of both chambers abandoning their original, more wide-ranging and controversial FAA bills in favor of a short-term continuation. In addition to continuing current FAA programs, the bill contains a variety of policy measures that aim to increase airport security while easing security lines and further regulating drone use. 

Congress Didn’t:

Return to ‘Regular Order’

With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, party leadership vowed to restore “regular order” to the appropriations process and expected to spend this summer touting their successes to constituents. Unfortunately, there were too many partisan and intraparty hurdles to clear in fiscal year 2017 and “regular order” was nowhere to be seen.

One of the biggest obstacles from the start was the refusal of certain House Republicans to embrace the bipartisan budget agreement reached last December that set the top-line spending level at $1.07 trillion for FY 17 defense and domestic discretionary programs. Conservatives voted against the compromise measure in December, but the agreement passed because former Speaker John Boehner relied on Democratic votes to win passage. Conservatives still oppose the plan and spent recent months pressing the Republican Caucus to present a plan that reduces mandatory spending by at least $30 billion.

Without a budget agreement in place, House appropriators were procedurally allowed to move forward in May and began marking up spending bills at the $1.07 trillion level. Unfortunately, that turned out to be just the first obstacle. Repeated attempts by members of both parties to attach controversial policy riders to spending packages after they cleared committee proved to be the demise of the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process. Lawmakers spent days and weeks engaged in contentious debate over spending levels and policy issues, all while the White House issued veto threats on multiple measures should they eventually pass.

With time running out before the new fiscal year begins on October 1, “regular order” is now a fond memory. When lawmakers return in September, they’re expected to abandon the normal appropriations process and seek a continuing resolution to avoid another government shutdown.

Address the Zika Virus

Months ago, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion from Congress in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus domestically. Congress did not promptly comply. After weeks of partisan bickering and disagreement, negotiations finally fell apart in June and Congress left town without approving any funding for the mosquito-borne virus. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have spent most of the summer blaming each other for the failure and remain no closer to an agreement.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has since shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, for Zika-related prevention and treatment.

Pass Gun Control Legislation

Following the Orlando massacre, House and Senate Democrats persistently demanded action to address the recent spate of gun violence. Their frustration culminated in an extraordinary sit-in on the House floor, refusing to yield until House Speaker Paul Ryan promised floor votes on a myriad of gun control measures.

Keeping in line with the theme of the 114th Congress, there was ultimately no legislative action taken. However, it may not be the end as some Democrats have promised to keep introducing gun-related amendments to future legislation until a version is passed.

Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

Republican leadership decided not to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the American people should  “appoint” a nominee by voting for a new president this fall. If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the White House, McConnell may be tempted to allow confirmation of Garland to proceed in a lame-duck session.

What to Expect:

A Continuing Resolution

Congress is slowly coming to terms with the reality that the fiscal 2017 appropriations process is a goner and a continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. This will be lawmakers’ number one priority when they return in September, but there are a few things that could get in the way of a timely agreement.

A CR is a stopgap funding measure meant to fund the government temporarily in the absence of appropriated funding levels. Thus, the primary battle will likely take place over how long the CR will last. For the last two years, lawmakers have agreed on CRs extending to December 11, giving them enough time to put together a final omnibus appropriations package. That may not be an option this year as conservatives would rather push a CR push spending decision into March 2017 to bypass the lame-duck session and avoid a trillion-dollar omnibus.

Further, intraparty disputes over the top-line spending limit and partisan scuffles over Zika and gun control are also expected to complicate the CR discussions come September.

Criminal Justice Overhaul

Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will take up legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system this September. The Speaker has identified a number of bills being marked up by the Judiciary Committee as part of the package that will see the floor next month. These individual measures will come together in a package to change everything from sentencing requirements to federal criminal procedures.  

Zika Funding

Despite their failure before recess, recent Zika cases in the United States will surely highlight congressional inaction and may force some kind of political agreement. House and Senate Republicans agreed on a $1.1 billion conference report, but Senate Democrats ultimately blocked the measure citing controversial “poison-pill” amendments. Among them are provisions that would ease EPA regulations and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving any Zika money.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Clinton Joins in Zika Finger-Pointing

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the Zika blame game as she condemned Congress for failing to provide funding to combat the deadly disease after a Texas infant died from Zika-related complications.

In Februrary, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to respond to the spread of the Zika virus abroad and prepare for its feared arrival in the United States. Despite multiple proposals from both chambers in the following months, Congress left town in July without an agreement on Zika funding. 

Negotiations came to a screeching halt when Senate Democrats blocked a last-ditch, $1.1 billion package to fight the virus. Democrats were on board with the funding level, but pulled their support when provisions were added in conference to relax EPA regulations, protect the flying of the Confederate flag and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus.

With Congress in the middle of its seven-week summer recess, a newborn baby in Texas with Zika-related birth defects has died. The news comes alongside four new Zika cases reported in Florida.

While both parties have spent the past few weeks blaming one another for inaction, Democrats have taken a new approach. Several top Democrats, including President Obama, have urged Republican leadership to cut the recess short and return to Washington to pass a bipartisan measure at the funding level requested by the administration.

After the news in Texas broke, Clinton joined the blame game. In a speech in Florida, Clinton urged Republicans to come back to Washington and “pass the bipartisan funding package the Senate passed.” Clinton was referring to the original $1.1 billion compromise package reached by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), absent the controversial policy riders that emerged in the conference report.

Republicans have yet to budge and repeatedly point to the proposals Democrats rejected. In a recent op-ed, House Speaker Paul Ryan writes, “[Democrats] blocked our plan not once, but twice – a blatant ploy in an election year.” The Speaker added, “Because of their actions, this funding is in limbo. It shouldn’t be.”

Although the recent Zika cases may not cause Congress to trim its recess, Zika funding will certainly remain a hot topic when members return.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, to be used for Zika-related prevention and treatment.   

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

The Slow Suffocation of U.S. Market Competition

Elizabeth Warren says competition is dying a slow death in the American marketplace, hurting consumers, small businesses, innovation and workers.

Elizabeth Warren says competition is dying a slow death in the American marketplace, hurting consumers, small businesses, innovation and workers.

While Donald Trump’s poll numbers slump and Hillary Clinton continues to stumble in explaining her use of a private email server for official State Department business, Elizabeth Warren has plopped a major public policy option on the table. She has called for stronger antitrust action to restore competition to U.S. markets, from banks to cable operators to technology companies and health insurers.

In an election punctuated by insults and insinuations, Warren said, “Today in America, competition is dying. Consolidation and concentration are on the rise in sector after sector. Concentration threatens our markets, threatens our economy and threatens our democracy.” It’s only surprising that the presidential candidates haven’t raised the topic.

Warren gave the keynote speech at New America’s Open Markets program the day after she appeared alongside Clinton to endorse her. Her premise was that “reigniting competition” in a broad range of increasingly monopolized markets will benefit consumers, small businesses and workers.

“The first problem is that less competition means less consumer choice,” the Massachusetts senator said. “When consumers can purchase similar products from multiple competitors, they force market players to constantly seek out new ways to reduce prices and increase the quality of goods and services to get their business.”

Lack of competition “can lock out smaller guys and newer guys,” she said. “Google, Apple and Amazon have created disruptive technologies that changed the world, and every day they deliver enormously valuable products. They deserve to be highly profitable and successful. But the opportunity to compete must remain open for new entrants and smaller competitors that want their chance to change the world again.”

Revenue of Top 200 U.S. Corporations as Percentage of Total Business Revenue, U.S. Economy, 1950–2008

Source: Data for the top 200 corporations (see notes) were extracted from COMPUSTAT, “Fundamentals Annual: North America” (accessed February 15, 2011). Total revenue was taken from “Corporate Income Tax Returns” (line item “total receipts”) Statistics of Income (Washington, DC: Internal Revenue Service, 1950–2008).

Source: Data for the top 200 corporations (see notes) were extracted from COMPUSTAT, “Fundamentals Annual: North America” (accessed February 15, 2011). Total revenue was taken from “Corporate Income Tax Returns” (line item “total receipts”) Statistics of Income (Washington, DC: Internal Revenue Service, 1950–2008).

When competition declines, small businesses can be wiped out. Warren cited the “Walmart effect” created by a single company delivering more than 30 percent of the products Americans consume and controlling critical supply chains.

Key Facts From Warren's Speech:

  • The number of major U.S. airlines has dropped from nine to four in the last 10 years, due to consolidations. Last year, those four airlines brought in a record profit of $22 billion.
  • Five companies control more than 83 percent of national health insurance market.
  • CVS, Wallgreens and Rite Aid own more than 99 percent of the drug stores in the U.S.
  • Four companies own about 85 percent of the U.S. beef market, and three control nearly half of all chicken in the U.S.
  • More than half of all cable and internet subscribers in America have service through Comcast, which has consolidated by buying up rival companies.

Concentrated markets tend to lead to concentrated political power, Warren asserted. “This is a big one, and it should terrify every conservative who hates government intervention.... Concentrated markets dominated by a handful of powerful players, on the other hand, don’t produce the consumer benefits that flow from robust competition. Instead, benefits are sucked up by a handful of executives and large investors.” Their lobbying, in turn, focuses on protecting their market advantage and resisting restoration of competition.

The ultimate victim of market concentration, Warren said, is America’s middle class. People at the top get richer, she claimed, while others struggle. “Concentration is not the only reason for rising economic insecurity, but it is one of them. Concentrated industries result in concentrated profits. It’s the ultimate price squeeze."

Her solution is to hold the line on what she called anti-competitive mergers, give close scrutiny to so-called vertical mergers and require all federal agencies to promote market competition. Warren also believes that businesses can’t be allowed to become “too big to fail.”

“For much of our history, Americans organized and protested against the forces of consolidation,” Warren concluded. "As a people, we understood that concentrated power anywhere was a threat to liberty everywhere. It was one of the basic founding principles of our nation. And it threatens us now.”

The market threat Warren points to is easily of greater consequence to average Americans than Mexican immigration or careless handling of sensitive emails. In the 90 days between now and Election Day, perhaps it will be mentioned on a presidential stage.

The Trade Lesson the Wine Industry Taught

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm gave an impassioned speech on economic togetherness at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was a lesson she may have learned from the wine industry, which challenged legislation that gave her wineries a home field advantage.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm gave an impassioned speech on economic togetherness at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was a lesson she may have learned from the wine industry, which challenged legislation that gave her wineries a home field advantage.

Before last week's Democratic National Convention, Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, was best known for defending the auto industry and trying to give her in-state wineries an online edge.

At the convention, Granholm gave one of the most under-reported speeches of the week in which she identified herself with the frustration of dislocated manufacturing workers, but said they need a champion with plans, not promises.

Critics panned the part of her speech where she re-imagined lyrics from music legend Carly Simon with, "You're so vain, you probably think this speech is about you." But that missed the heart of the speech, which touched the national nerve about how to address the many people left behind by economic progress.

"I'm a fierce Democrat. But I know there are Democrats and Republicans across the country who want to create jobs in America. Liberals and conservatives. Public sector and private industry. Because we're not in this alone – we're all in this together."

Granholm recalled how Michiganders like her resented how globalization shifted good-paying manufacturing jobs to low-paying nations overseas. Her response: Quit bitching and start pursuing advanced manufacturing opportunities.

Then the Great Recession hit and the U.S. automobile industry went into a death spiral. "In 2008, we elected a Democratic President for us to work with," Granholm said. "And you know what he did? He saved the American auto industry. And then that renewed auto industry paid America back in full. And that's what we can do when we work together."

In simple terms, the former governor of Michigan spelled out the plan to address the impact of global trade, international financial flows and technological innovation. Stop complaining. Don't yield to fear-mongering. Trust people with real plans and the guts to implement them.

"Some people are worried. Some people are angry. I get that," Granholm said. "But the answer isn't to tear our country down, it's to build our country up. Not to build walls that keep the rest of the world out but to keep building the industries and universities that the rest of the world wishes they could get into."

Hillary Clinton has stumbled in her attempts to deliver the message that Granholm capsulized in a paragraph. It was perhaps the best testimonial Clinton could have received.

Granholm learned about economic togetherness the hard way. During her governorship, Michigan enacted legislation to allow Michigan wineries to ship wine directly to Michigan residents, but it also prohibited out-of-state wineries from the same privilege. Wineries challenged the law, and one like it in New York, which eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was ruled unconstitutional.

Attorneys representing Michigan and New York argued in Granholm v. Heald that states had carte blanche authority to regulate liquor sales and distribution. A majority of the Supreme Court disagreed and said the dormant Commerce Clause prevents unfair restraint of trade between states.

The chastened former governor who appeared on the DNC stage in Philadelphia bore the scars of trying to give the home team an even greater home field advantage. "Our great country spans a continent," she said, "but we're all connected to each other, no matter where we live. When a miner in Virginia has the dignity of a new job in the advanced steel industry, we all have dignity.... When the autoworker in Detroit builds the electric vehicle, that drives all of us forward.”

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Michelle Obama’s Breakthrough Speech

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

Presidential nominating conventions are runways for politicos to show off their stories and styles. Occasionally, there are breakthrough speeches that launch political careers or send them to new heights.

Ronald Reagan went from revered actor to governor of California and serious presidential timber with his speech to the GOP National Convention in 1964. Barack Obama emerged from the relative obscurity of an Illinois state senator in 2004 to become a U.S. senator and a serious presidential contender in 2008.

Michelle Obama may have scored a breakthrough moment Monday at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Some commentators rank her remarks as among the best convention speeches in decades. While Hillary Clinton’s nomination broke through the penultimate glass ceiling in America, Michelle Obama’s speech broke through to reach the hearts of millions of Americans.

Poynter broke down the First Lady’s speech and credited its strong appeal to Obama’s use of the first person, touching anecdotes and a narrative built around “kids.” These qualities gave her speech universality and made it much more than a stump speech in support of Hillary Clinton.

“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Obama set the tone in her first paragraph: "You know, it's hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be President. Remember how I told you about his character and conviction, his decency and his grace — the traits that we've seen every day that he's served our country in the White House."

She kept her central narrative personal. "I also told you about our daughters — how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world. And during our time in the White House, we've had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women — a journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington, when they set off for their first day at their new school."

And about the first morning the Obamas were in the White House, she recalled, “I will never forget that winter morning as I watch our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

"I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

Perhaps her most memorable line was, “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high” and the most touching anecdote was about the young black boy who wondered whether President Obama’s hair felt like his, prompting the President to bend over and let him find out for himself.

Apart from the technical skill, beautiful writing and polished delivery, Michelle Obama’s speech transported listeners far beyond the current political battlefield into what it means to lead a nation and the stakes of presidential decision-making.

"What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children, that's what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere." 

Whether Michelle Obama elects to pursue a political career of her own after the Obamas leave the White House, her speech turned fertile groundwork. She will be known for planting a vegetable garden, pushing for school lunch nutrition and supporting the families of military veterans, but perhaps she will be best known for the speech she gave on a platform in Philadelphia in 2016 that wrapped up to its conclusion with:

"So don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth."

'Obamacare’s Kindest Critic'

Obamacare has been assailed from the political right and left, but its namesake took an unusual step in publishing a critique that suggested ways his legacy achievement could be perfected and expanded.

Obamacare has been assailed from the political right and left, but its namesake took an unusual step in publishing a critique that suggested ways his legacy achievement could be perfected and expanded.

Republicans are convening in Cleveland this week and can be expected to bash Obamacare nonstop, but constructive criticism of the Affordable Care Act came last week from an unanticipated quarter – Barack Obama.

Signing his critique as Barack Obama, J.D., the President described how his legacy achievement could be perfected by adding a public health insurance option and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug rates, which is currently prohibited.

The New York Times called Obama “Obamacare’s kindest critic” and said his suggestions have the appearance of a memo to his hoped-for Democratic presidential successor, Hillary Clinton.

“Presidents usually wait until their memoirs to review their work,” the Times editorialized, but in this case Obama used the sixth anniversary of the act to make observations about his handiwork in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Health care costs are still too high, he wrote, and 29 million people still lack coverage.”

One of Obamacare’s “failings” is an incomplete expansion of Medicaid in 19 states that chose not to accept federal financial assistance to pay for expanded coverage.

But Obama points to the actual failure of providing coverage for 9.1 percent of the U.S. population. Obamacare reduced that total from 16 percent, but there are still people who can’t afford health care, often because they lack the money for co-pays and deductibles in addition to health insurance premiums.

Unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigned hard on a Medicare-for-all health insurance plan that captured a lot of attention and rekindled interest in a single-payer system. Obama’s recommendation to add a public option to the health insurance exchange is a more targeted version of the idea, which possibly could win bipartisan support if aimed at rural areas with few private-sector health insurance choices, the Times said.

Clinton has expressed support for a public option. The Times notes Clinton has also voiced interest in allowing Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to enroll in Medicare.

The Obama view on Obamacare is that it isn’t going away any time soon, but it should be improved and perfected as part of a continuing drive to put a blanket of health insurance coverage over all Americans.

Not everyone agrees. Leading Republicans continue to call for repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with something else, which has largely been ill-defined. The Obamacare health care exchanges are under pressure as costs continue to rise and some insurers lose money. Efforts in Oregon and elsewhere to promote coordinated care and integration of physical and mental health care have registered some positive results, but are still in an extended trial stage. Employers have largely retained private health insurance coverage for employees, but have blunted cost increases by opting for plans with higher deductibles and co-pays and trimmer provider networks.

“What Mr. Obama has done is unusual – asking someone else to burnish a legacy of which he is personally proud,” the Times said. “If the candidates (and Congress) pay attention, his request may also do a world of good for millions of Americans for whom decent health care remains out of reach."