President Donald Trump declared Thursday he would not sign a bill to keep funding the government because it doesn’t provide billions for a border wall with Mexico. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says Trump is ‘throwing a temper tantrum.” (Dec. 21)
WASHINGTON – After Democrats take control of the House Thursday, they will move to immediately set a different direction through new rules.
The package of changes range from those encouraging diversity – such as allowing religious headscarves to be worn on the House floor – to tougher ethics rules and tweaked legislative procedures that will make it easier to raise taxes.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to be elected speaker, helped secure the votes she needs by agreeing to some changes sought by moderates aimed at easing the passage of bills with broad bipartisan support. That provision even earned the package the support of one Republican, Rep. Tom Reed of New York, who said Wednesday he will take the rare step of crossing party lines to vote for it.
But the changes still face opposition from some liberal members who argue new budget rules will make it harder to expand social programs.
Because most Republicans – who set their own rules when they were in charge – are expected to oppose the changes, Democrats likely can’t lose more than 18 votes to enact the package.
Here’s a look at some of the proposed changes:
Making it easier to raise taxes but still hard to increase spending
Democrats want to end a GOP rule that required supermajority support from three-fifths of House members to raise taxes. They also want to reinstate a “pay as you go” – or PAYGO – rule requiring tax cuts or new spending programs be offset with new taxes or spending cuts. (Republicans only required new spending to be offset.) A few Democrats say they will vote against the entire package arguing PAYGO will keep Democrats from expanding health care coverage and making other “critical investments” in education and infrastructure.
“PAYGO isn’t only bad economics,” tweeted Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., “…it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg.”
But Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said if Democrats want to pay for such programs by raising taxes on the rich or on corporations as some have suggested, PAYGO will help them do that.
Goldwein called the budget rules changes “sensible,” but said they will only matter if lawmakers follow them. “They can waive them at any point,” he said.
Combating climate change
Combating climate change was a key campaign issue for Democrats in 2018 and Pelosi responded by relaunching a special House panel to shine a light on the issue.
The 15-member bipartisan panel, to be headed by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., will have at least six Republicans and have until March 31, 2020 to issue policy recommendations.
But the panel has key limitations. It won’t have the power to subpoena documents or depose witnesses. It could get caught up in a turf war with some of the standing congressional committees that oversee the environment. And it will have submit its recommendations to those congressional committees which ultimately will decide whether to act on them.
The Democratic House proposal toughens some rules governing the conduct of members – and may lead to further tightening down the line.
Major provisions include a requirement that House members reimburse taxpayers for any settlements that are the result of discrimination by that member based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and disability, among others. The change is in reaction to revelations in recent years that taxpayers paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle such claims.
All House members would be required to go through annual ethics training, under another provision. Previously, only new members were required to take the training.
Lawmakers would also be banned from serving as an officer or director at a public company. Craig Holman, with the good government group Public Citizen, said this provision is the result of the indictment of Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., for insider trading involving a pharmaceutical company on whose board he sat. No other members serve on the boards of public companies, Holman said, but about 190 House members hold other positions involving public or private firms. The same provision calls for the House ethics committee to develop regulations by the end of 2019 to address other involvement by members in companies that could pose a conflict of interest. Holman said he would like to see a ban on members trading stock in companies that do business that falls under the oversight of their committees.
The changes allow Democrats to get involved in the pending challenge to the Affordable Care Act now that a federal judge in Texas has ruled the landmark health care law unconstitutional. The Trump administration is not defending parts of the law, including its popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions. A group of Democratic states and congressional Democrats have said they plan to appeal the ruling, which will next head to the Fifth Circuit.
Fighting food stamp changes
After House Republicans failed last year to enact an expansion of work requirements for food stamp recipients, the Trump administration announced in December plans to tighten rules on its own. Democrats’ rule package directs the House to explore ways to respond to the administration’s proposed changes.
Promoting, protecting diversity
The rules ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, an Office of Diversity and Inclusion is created to increase diversity in the congressional workforce. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit that attempts to improve the socioeconomic status and civic engagement of African Americans, has issued a series of reports in recent years highlighting the lack of diversity among congressional staffs.
One issued this fall that looked at the staff makeup of the congressional delegations in six states found, for example, that none of the senators had a top black staffer. In December the group launched an online tool to track newly hired top staff of new and returning members.
What’s in a name?
Democrats want to “honor our commitment to workers by putting labor back in the Committee on Education and Labor.” The Republicans called the panel the “Committee on Education and the Workforce.”
Also, the word “government” would be dropped from the name of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The change is intended to emphasize that the investigative panel’s jurisdiction covers both government and the private sector. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who will chair the committee, said he plans to examine the opioid crisis and the cost of prescription drugs while also investigating the Trump administration.
Contributing: Ledyard King, USA TODAY.
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