House of Representatives

Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee quietly changes lobbyist-paid travel reporting requirements for lawmakers

The Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee has removed a requirement that lawmakers report trips paid for by lobbyists on their annual financial disclosures, according to National Journal, making it easier for them to hide which special interest groups are paying for them to travel:

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

“This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “There’s no legitimate reason. There’s no good reason for it.”

Free trips paid for by private groups must still be reported separately to the House’s Office of the Clerk and disclosed there. But they will now be absent from the chief document that reporters, watchdogs, and members of the public have used for decades to scrutinize lawmakers’ finances.

“The more you can hide, the less accountable you can be,” Sloan said of lawmakers. “It’s clear these forms are useful for reporters and watchdogs, and obviously a little too useful.”

Constitutional conservatives like Raúl Labrador are changing the way Washington does business

Raul Labrador

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash took to Facebook after last year’s vote for Speaker of the House to explain why he picked little-known Idaho sophomore Congressman Raúl Labrador:

I voted for Raúl R. Labrador to be Speaker of the House for the 113th Congress of the United States of America. As I said at the time, Raúl would defend liberty and work honestly with Democrats on debt reduction. He would make a great Speaker.

The vote was one of a dozen “not John Boehner” votes cast by conservative Republicans, likely in protest of a decision to strip a number of them of Committee assignments.

Rep. Labrador abstained from voting for Speaker at the time.

Gracy Olmstead, writing in the American Conservative, details Labrador’s background and appeal as a leader within the conservative ranks of the Republican caucus. Of Labrador and the other recently-elected independent-minded conservatives, she notes:

Today Labrador sees himself as one of a “core group of conservatives” who are bringing change to Congress. He describes them as young and independent, “conservative-leaning-libertarian types,” all willing to defy the establishment in an effort to get things done. One might reasonably assume that Sen. Mike Lee, Congressman Amash, and many from the Liberty Caucus fit within this cohort.

A Boehner-less House isn’t just good for conservatives, it’s good for the Republican Party

There have been several stories in recent months about House conservatives discontent with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), which, some have speculated, means that his job could be in jeopardy when the new Congress convenes in January. But there’s also suspicion that he may not stick around next year.

Yeah, Boehner is running for reelection, recently dispatching two primary challengers, but he hasn’t done much to put an end to the guessing game. He bought a condo in South Florida earlier this year and one of his top aides bolted for a job with the health insurance lobby. Boehner recently, when asked, said he couldn’t guarantee that he’d finish another term as Speaker.

There’s also Boehner’s attitude toward members of his own conference. He openly derided House conservatives last month over their attitudes on immigration reform. He, of course, denied that he was mocking his conservative colleagues, though he did meet with them behind closed doors to control the damage he’d done.

Obama is so out of touch with reality he’s blaming the Framers of the Constitution for the rejection of his unpopular agenda

President Barack Obama is now blaming the framers of the Constitution for his political problems. At a recent fundraiser, he lamented the Constitution’s design and structure of the Senate, calling it a “disadvantage” for his agenda and the Democratic Party:

At a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago Thursday night, Mr. Obama told a small group of wealthy supporters that there are several hurdles to keeping Democrats in control of the Senate and recapturing the House. One of those problems, he said, is the apportionment of two Senate seats to each state regardless of population.

“Obviously, the nature of the Senate means that California has the same number of Senate seats as Wyoming. That puts us at a disadvantage,” Mr. Obama said.
[…]
The president also blamed “demographics” for the inability of the Democratic Party to gain more power in Congress, saying Democrats “tend to congregate a little more densely” in cities such as New York and Chicago. He said it gives Republicans disproportional clout in Congress.

“So there are some structural reasons why, despite the fact that Republican ideas are largely rejected by the public, it’s still hard for us to break through,” Mr. Obama said.

The structure of the Legislative Branch was forged out of the Connecticut Compromise — “compromise,” there’s a word about which President Obama knows nothing — that was essential to breaking gridlock at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. States got proportional representation based on population in the House and, to settle concerns of smaller states, the Senate was compromised of two members from each state.

The House should pass the USA FREEDOM Act as-is and dare Obama to veto it

There’s some very concerning news on the push inside the House of Representatives to end the NSA’s bulk data collection programs. Negotiations with the White House could mean that the USA FREEDOM Act will be further watered down before it heads to the floor for a vote, potentially putting the best NSA reform measure in jeopardy:

Privacy advocates are worried that a bill intended to reform the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) is being watered down before it heads to the House floor.

“Last stage negotiations” between members of the House and the Obama administration could significantly weaken provisions in the NSA bill, people familiar with the discussions say.

“Behind the scenes, there’s some nervousness,” one House aide said.
[…]
While pro-reform advocacy groups and members hailed the House bill as a positive first step, many lamented the revisions and said the legislation will be in trouble on the floor if it undergoes further changes.

There is a “growing chorus of concern” that the bill that makes it to the floor for a vote could be a less meaningful version of what passed the Judiciary and Intelligence committees with overwhelming bipartisan support, the aide said.

Though the measure was somewhat watered down before it passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, the USA FREEDOM Act remained the best of the proposed measures to end the NSA’s bulk data collection programs, and it has broad, bipartisan support. Further changes could make the reforms in the measure unacceptable to privacy advocates both inside and outside of Congress.

Trey Gowdy to lead House’s search for truth on Benghazi

Trey Gowdy

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced this afternoon that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) will lead the select committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attack on the American outpost in Benghazi, Libya.

“With four of our countrymen killed at the hands of terrorists, the American people want answers, accountability, and justice,” Boehner said in a statement. “Trey Gowdy is as dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come. His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel.”

Boehner announced plans to hold a vote, which could come as early as this week, to establish a select committee on the Benghazi attack, a decision was spurred by the disclosure of previously unreleased emails between White House and Obama administration officials.

“I know [Gowdy] shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration. I plan to ensure he and his committee have the strongest authority possible to root out all the facts. This is a big job, but Rep. Gowdy has the confidence of this conference, and I know his professionalism and grit will earn him the respect of the American people,” Boehner added.

Boehner announces vote to establish select committee on Benghazi

Following disclosures of previously unreleased emails between White House and Obama administration officials, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced early this afternoon that he will establish a select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.

The Weekly Standard reported this morning that Boehner was “seriously considering” a select committee due to a previously unreleased email showing that a White House official urged then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice “[t]o underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy” when she appeared on Sunday talk shows following the attack.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the email hadn’t not been released prior to this week because it was “not about Benghazi.” Promos from those Sunday talk shows show that Rice’s appearances on revolved around the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in the Libyan city.

“Americans learned this week that the Obama Administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the People’s House,” Boehner said in a statement. “These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen.

House conservatives looking to oust Boehner

Rumors of a conservative rebellion in the House of Representatives are beginning to get more attention. The Atlantic reports that 40 to 50 Republican members are ready to oust Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and replace him with someone willing to work with conservatives in the ranks:

The conservatives’ exasperation with leadership is well known. And now, in discreet dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and in winding, hypothetical-laced email chains, they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. Some say it’s enough to coalesce behind—and start whipping votes for—a single conservative leadership candidate. Others want to cut a deal with Majority Leader Eric Cantor: We’ll back you for speaker if you promise to bring aboard a conservative lieutenant.

But there’s a more audacious option on the table, according to conservatives involved in the deliberations. They say between 40 and 50 members have already committed verbally to electing a new speaker. If those numbers hold, organizers say, they could force Boehner to step aside as speaker in late November, when the incoming GOP conference meets for the first time, by showing him that he won’t have the votes to be reelected in January.

Audit the Fed bill nearing majority support in the House

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act (H.R. 24) is just a handful of cosponsors away from a majority of the House of Representatives, though the measure remains stalled in the committee with jurisdiction.

The Audit the Fed cause was picked up by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) after Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) retired. The Georgia Republican introduced the measure on the first day of the 113th Congress with just five cosponsors. By the end of January 2013, another 97 members had added their names to the bill.

Since that time, however, the total number of cosponsors has more than doubled. The Audit the Fed bill now has 204 cosponsors* (186 Republicans and 18 Democrats), just 14 away from a majority of the chamber.

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act would require the central bank to open certain information to the Government Accountability Office currently excluded from audits in subsection (b) of 31 USC 714. This would include the Federal Reserve’s agreements and transactions with foreign central banks and discussions between the Treasury Department.

Hurdles obviously remain. The measure has not yet been reported out of the House Financial Services Committee, though its chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), expressed support for the measure in the past. He isn’t a cosponsor.

Email privacy measure gaining support in the House

Though the ongoing controversy and revelations about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs have slowed any legislative action to reform loopholes in outdated electronic communications laws, The Hill reports that the Email Privacy Act is picking up steam in the House of Representatives:

The Email Privacy Act from Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has 181 co-sponsors in the House, and the authors are “still pushing to get more,” according to a Yoder spokesman.

“There’s a lot of growing support for that bill,” said Mark Stanley of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “A lot of members of Congress see this as a common sense thing.”

More than 40 lawmakers have signed onto the bill since November, pushing the total close to the magic number of 218, which would represent a majority of the House.
[…]
Passage of legislation to limit warrantless email searches appeared to be a done deal last year until revelations about National Security Agency surveillance rocked the debate.

The focus on the activities of the NSA shifted Congress’s focus from law enforcement access to national security, shunting the email issue aside.

 


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