Originally Published in SFGate

By Elise Viebeck and Paul Kane

 

WASHINGTON - There is a restiveness in Washington as a new Congress convenes this week.

Democrats will take control of the House at a time of startling upheaval in the federal government. A confrontation between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall has partially shut down the government for almost two weeks, with no end in sight, hinting at more conflict in the year to come.

The House's transformation from a body consumed for eight years by Republican infighting to one dominated by Democrats will be complete as members are sworn in Thursday.

At the center of this drama is a massive class of about 100 freshmen taking the oath of office, including 63 Democrats whose victories pushed Republicans out of power in the biggest party gains since the post-Watergate election of 1974. This group has the chance to be a historic class based on its size and, more important, the unique background of many newcomers, from the military and intelligence agencies to past Democratic administrations and community activism.

"Their strength is in their unity," said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who helped elect many of the freshmen as the party's campaign chairman. "To pass legislation out of the House, you need 217 other members raising their hand with you. . . . The new members, 63 strong, are already a quarter of the way there, to be able to deliver those policy shifts."

But this group includes several young, liberal rising stars and nearly two dozen moderates representing Trump-won districts, potentially competing factions whose priorities Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will have to balance when she likely becomes speaker. Those tensions are poised to shape legislative efforts on infrastructure, climate change and health care as the party heads toward the 2020 presidential primary.

Ambitious freshmen may find themselves colliding with the more pragmatic amid the hyperpartisanship of the Democratic search for a nominee to challenge Trump.

Will the freshmen change Washington, or will Washington change them?

Lujan, who is assuming a new leadership position as assistant speaker, predicted that the freshmen will bring about a "complete shift with getting things done" in 2019.

"They're not asking permission to do things," said Lujan, who plans to serve as a liaison between leadership and the freshmen. "They're going to lean in and we're going to achieve success."

The chamber will be more diverse than at any time in its history. Thirty-three women and 20 people of color are poised to join House Democrats. Caucuses representing African-American, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and LGBT lawmakers will see their numbers grow.

More than 20 will have previous military or intelligence service experience, from former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, to former CIA operative Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.

The House will welcome countless historic "firsts" - the first Muslim female members, the first Native American female members, the first black women elected from Connecticut and Massachusetts and the first Latinas elected from Texas.

Five freshmen will be 32 or younger, including the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, 29-year-old Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

In contrast, House Republicans are projected to be about 90 percent white men, with only one woman - bison farmer Carol Mille of West Virginia - joining as a new member.

Pelosi praised the number of Democratic women - "up to 95" in the House this year.

"It'll be a Congress where we will observe the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote. How appropriate, that we have so many women members to celebrate here for that," she said in November.

It is not clear how the House's demographic changes will alter legislation.

Among the identity-based caucuses, the Congressional Black Caucus will be the largest, with 55 members, including nine House freshmen. In a sign of its power, members will include five committee chairs and 28 subcommittee chairs.

"What all of this means for Congress is an expansion of ideas and a new inclusion of experiences that will, in the end, lead to better legislation," incoming CBC chairman Karen Bass, D-Calif., said in a statement.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus also will have more power than at any time in recent history after adding at least 20 lawmakers. Projected to include about 40 percent of House Democrats, the group will be the largest values-based caucus, with several members in Democratic leadership.

Co-chairman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the CPC has overhauled its operations to prepare for the new Congress: adding staff, expanding its fundraising and creating nonprofit groups that will help coordinate pressure campaigns with major players on the left.

"We're building an inside-outside strategy that will help us in key negotiations," Jayapal said, describing discussions about a "mechanism" - perhaps a scorecard - that would hold self-described liberals to their ideals.

An early priority on the left will find a home with the Select Committee on Climate Change, which Pelosi revived. But divisions have emerged between liberal activists and House committee chairmen on whether the panel should focus on the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal to get the United States off fossil fuels by 2030 that has been likened to the Marshall Plan.

CPC Co-chairman Mark Pocan, D-Wis., played down tensions within the party, saying they were being oversold by Republicans and K Street lobbyists.

"We're going to come out of the gate as unified Democrats around the issues we campaigned on - raising the minimum wage, an infrastructure bill, prescription drug costs and [political reforms]," he said. "It's going to be the Senate and the White House that will be our bigger barriers."

Liberals have drawn considerable media attention since the election, thanks to popular figures like Ocasio-Cortez and the left's interest in who will run for president in 2020.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a member of the Progressive Caucus who will chair the Rules Committee, called for Democrats to push for bold ideas as they take control of one chamber of Congress.

"The bottom line is, you don't get anything if you don't ask for it. And if we're going to have to compromise, let's not have our opening legislation be the compromise, which we're going to have to compromise even more on," he said.

Liberal growth in the House will be matched - if not outmatched - by the rising number of centrist Democrats, after two dozen incoming members won districts Trump carried in 2016.

The moderate New Democrat Coalition inducted 30 members-elect in late November, with Chairman Jim Himes, D-Conn., praising them as "thoughtful, service-driven leaders who will work across ideologies to get things done."

"We are laser-focused on growing the pie, creating jobs in every part of the country, and building an economy where businesses innovate and create more economic opportunities for more people in more places," Chairman-elect Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., said in a statement.

The moderate Blue Dog Coalition is also poised to gain members, with at least seven freshmen already in the fold, according to Chairman Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.

"At a time of so much discord in our national politics, people are looking for somebody who's willing to just put them first and be less about party politics and just be about getting stuff done," Murphy said. "If you wait until the stars align so that the parties and the people you want are in the seats that you want, you may never have an opportunity to get something done."

Leaders of the identity-based caucuses cheered their growing numbers.

Four incoming House members are LGBT, doubling the chamber's number of LGBT lawmakers. Three freshmen are Asian American or Pacific Islander, bringing the total membership of the Asian Pacific American Caucus to 19, a record.

"This increase in AAPIs in the House means AAPI communities will have a louder voice, and our needs will be harder to ignore," Chairman Judy Chu, D-Calif., said in a statement.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus will grow from 31 to 39 members, the largest number since its founding.

CHC Chairman-elect Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said the group looks forward to "working with leadership to achieve equal opportunities . . . while at the same time holding this administration accountable for using immigrants and the Latino community as [Trump's] go-to political piñata."

Several new members are expected to focus their attention on specific policy issues, driving them into the general debate.

Rep.-elect Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose son was fatally shot six years ago, is focused on gun control. Rep.-elect Katie Porter, D-Calif., a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is prioritizing campaign finance reform. Rep.-elect Deb Haaland, D-N.M., one of Congress's first Native American women, is calling attention to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

And Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., a former ocean engineer, is working on a bill to ban drilling off the Atlantic coast.

"They're experts in their fields," Lujan said. "The records of service that they've all put together, the ideas, especially the fresh ideas that they're bringing to our nation's capital - that should all be unleashed."

 

Originally Published in The Washington Examiner

By Nicole Russell

 

The Democratic Party’s biggest voting bloc, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has appointed IIhan Omar, the far-left Democrat from Minnesota who took Keith Ellison’s spot, to a leadership role. This is a rather unprecedented move even for Democrats, and this willingness to elect not only freshmen politicians to larger roles, but extremely progressive members of Congress, may be a canary in the coal mine demonstrating what Democrats want to try to do (or prevent) the next two years.

The Star Tribune reports that electing Omar to a leadership position in this caucus is “altering the dynamics of Congress” because the Congressional Progressive Caucus is so large, with nearly 95 members.

“Top Democratic leaders have proactively sought conversations with Ilhan Omar and some other progressive stars to make sure that their views are firmly at the table,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which endorsed Omar.

Omar’s goals are as progressive as her predecessor, Keith Ellison’s — a man she described as “like a big brother to me.” She wants the government to implement infrastructure packages such as “funding roads, bridges, and broadband Internet — and a measure that would institute publicly funded political campaigns and automatic voter registration” and “also advocating for a proposed constitutional amendment to undo the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allows corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited money in political campaigns.”

“The progressive caucus is a stronger organization than ever before, and so [Omar] is going into an organization which is in a better position to set policy than ever before,” Ellison told the Star Tribune. The Progressive Caucus has been around a long time, since before the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Then-Rep. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats started it in 1991.

But even a recent Vox piece admitted “While the caucus has remained a symbolic voice of the Left in the House, it’s struggled to drive policy.” Time will tell if the Congressional Progressive Caucus accomplishes what it wants to — even with a far-left newbie in a leadership role.

 

Originally Posted in Vox

By Alex Ward

 

More than 50 prominent figures and former officials have signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his colleagues to end America’s involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The signatories — including two former US ambassadors to Yemen, leading legal scholars, top Saudi Arabia experts, a Nobel Peace Laureate, a former key aide for Secretary of State Colin Powell, and MIT linguist Noam Chomsky — want McConnell and other senators to support a bill that could forever remove US troops from the Yemen war, which will likely be put to a vote on Wednesday.

“[D]irecting the President to halt all offensive activities alongside Saudi Arabia against the Houthis unless such actions are first approved by Congress ... would spell the likely end to the broader conflict,” reads a copy of the letter obtained by Vox, which is due to be delivered to Senate leadership on Tuesday.

The lead authors of the letter, legal experts Bruce Ackerman and Laurence Tribe and former US ambassadors to Yemen Barbara Bodine and Stephen Seche, argue that Trump’s support for the war is unauthorized by Congress and therefore illegal. Ackerman and Tribe advise the Congressional Progressive Caucus which has pushed the Senate and House hard to end America’s role in the Yemen war.

They support a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would force President Donald Trump to stop backing Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other coalition members in their fight against the Houthi rebels within 30 days. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the top Democrat in the chamber, is facing pressure from activist groups like MoveOn to co-sponsor the bill.

If Trump wants to recommit troops to the war, he would then have to seek authorization from Congress to do so. The US helps the Saudi-led coalition by providing them with intelligence, selling them arms and ammunition, and until recently fueling planes in the conflict that has left tens of thousands dead, and millions more suffering from starvation and disease.

The bipartisan bill invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR), which states that if US troops are involved in “hostilities” abroad “without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.”

“Successive administrations have basically defined the word ‘hostilities’ out of existence, and so Sen. Sanders believes it’s important that Congress reasserts itself and engages in a more open and robust debate about where, when, and how our nation fights in war,” a Sanders aide told me.

The WPR also allows a simple majority in Congress to strike down any military action, which means it would pass with a 51-49 vote.

In March, the same bill failed in a 55-44 vote. But if the bipartisan bill passes this week, it would be the first time in US history that the Senate voted to say America’s involvement in a war was unconstitutional.

It’s very likely that a similar House bill, also based on the WPR, would then pass in January when the Democrats take over. At that point, Trump does have the ability to veto the measures — but it could prove politically costly to do so. Follow-up congressional action and lawsuits would almost assuredly take place, as it would appear that Trump aimed to expressly defy a mandate from lawmakers.

What to watch for ahead of, during, and after the vote

There are a few things to watch for related to this week’s vote.

First, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will brief all senators in a classified setting on Wednesday morning about America’s involvement in the conflict inYemen. Two congressional sources told me that McConnell specifically asked for the briefing ahead of the vote because he was “concerned” that the Sanders resolution would pass. One of those sources said the White House asked McConnell to request the briefing. A spokesperson for McConnell acknowledged the briefing but wouldn’t comment on anything else.

It’s therefore possible that the briefing will compel Republicans to vote as a bloc against the measure.

However, some high-level Republicans may vote for the Sanders-backed bill. The one to watch is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who recently became a member of Republican Senate leadership. Over the weekend she rebuked Trump by saying the president has been too soft on Saudi Arabia both for its war in Yemen and for the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October. It’d be jarring to see a top Senate Republican openly defy not only Trump but also McConnell.

And finally, it’ll be important to watch how Trump reacts if both the Senate and House pass their bills to end America’s participation in the Yemen war. Trump could veto both bills but he would certainly face an open congressional revolt. At that point, the situation could turn into a crisis as lawmakers seek to assert their ability to authorize America’s wars.

Still, this week could show just how dissatisfied Congress really is with the Yemen war and America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia as a whole — and how Trump has handled both.

Originally Published in Townhall

By Zachary Petrizzo

 

Democrats are set to take over control of the House of Representatives come January 3, 2018, with progressive colleagues who aren't taking marching orders well while also pushing back on their party leader's priorities. 

Notably, the impact of a subcommittee seat and first-year member of The House is rather small, but loud progressive candidates have made their voices known within their own party ranks. This has appeared to produce only what is the beginning of a long road for a political and policy "confused" party that is un-unified at best. 

Let's remember, most of these members still have wet paint on their D.C. office walls. 

Among the leaders of the far left socialist movement becoming the mainstream Democrat Party, include Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar and Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are forging ahead with new tactics that are set to disrupt and create disorder for the Democrat Party as we know it today.   

One of the biggest "bully pulpits" the young progressives will inherit are leading roles as unappointed "spokespersons" for the growing and new class of Progressive Caucus members. 

Currently, the Progressive Caucus has 78 representatives who are members, which might soon rise to be as high as one hundred members of the Democratic Party. This would have repercussions that could impact and sway a vote for the Speaker of The House.  

This leaves Pelosi only one option, to stand up and fight hard for their far left agenda tickets including a "New Green Deal" and "Medicare for All," which were promises these socialist candidates ran on. 

Will the far left continue to drag the once "Democrat Party" to become the "Socialist Party," I guess that remains to be seen...

Congresswomen-elect Cortez lead the efforts to create a new "Select Committee for a Green New Deal" in exchange for backing Pelosi for Speaker... Pelosi agreeded maybe in the hopes that her office would not be protested? 

Will Pelosi soon be yelling for "Impeachment" of President Trump, as Speaker of The House? Maybe...

Originally Published in The Hill

By Naomi Jagoda

 

A coalition of progressive organizations are launching an effort to push House Democratic leadership to appoint several notable liberal lawmakers to key committees with jurisdiction over economic issues.

The organizations — which include Justice Democrats, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Democratic Socialists of America — say they want more progressive lawmakers on the committees to keep the Democratic Party accountable to voters rather than corporate donors.

"As nearly every major potential Democratic presidential contender embraces progressive ideas like Medicare For All, free college, and ending mass deportation and incarceration, we need progressive champions on key House committees that would fight to pass these policies under a Democratic administration, not centrists who would simply cave to their big corporate donors," Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas said in a statement.

The groups want Democratic leaders to name Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-N.Y.) to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues including taxes, health care, trade and Social Security. The groups want Jayapal to receive a waiver so that she could serve on Ways and Means while also retaining her seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Jayapal will be a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus next year, and Khanna will be the group's first vice chair. Ocasio-Cortez became a rockstar among progressives when she defeated House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in a primary earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for Khanna confirmed that the congressman is interested in a seat on Ways and Means.

Additionally, the groups want Democratic leaders to name Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to the House Appropriations Committee, which overseas the funding of federal agencies, and Rep.-elect Katie Porter (D-Calif.) to the House Financial Services Committee, which overseas banks, lenders and insurance companies.

Tlaib will be one of the first two Muslim-American women to serve in Congress and is expected to be a leading progressive voice in the incoming freshman class. Porter is a former student and research partner of progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Seats on the Appropriations, Ways and Means and Financial Services committees are much-sought-after, and it can be difficult for freshmen members to get appointed to the panels. Members of the more centrist Blue Dog Democrats and New Democrats will also want seats on the committees.

The progressive groups noted that Jayapal reportedly received a commitment from presumed next House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get progressive caucus members more seats on the top committees.

“Imagine what the world would look like if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were in the middle of the discussion about repealing the Trump tax cuts for corporations on Ways & Means," said Adam Green, executive director of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "And if Elizabeth Warren's protégé, Katie Porter, were on the Financial Services Committee holding Wall Street accountable. And if Rashida Tlaib were on Appropriations getting money to places like Flint, Michigan, that have been left behind." 

The groups said that they plan to get members of the public to tweet, call and meet with Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders as part of their effort to get prominent progressives on the committees.

A spokeswoman for Pelosi had no comment on the progressive groups' efforts.

Originally Published in Beltway Breakfast

By Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2018 – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Wednesday agreement to limit herself to no more than four more years at the helm of congressional Democrats may assuage objections to her assuming the speakership, at least from the left flank of the party.

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said Tuesday that Pelosi’s ability to win the vote to become House Speaker in January 3 is all but assured, said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, the caucus co-chairs.

They said, however, that they expect that Pelosi to honor her commitment to ensure that Progressive Caucus members are allocated 40 percent of the seats on congressional committees.

“We are ready to do the work of real, accountable democratic reform,” said Pocan, who has been caucus co-chair since 2017. The other co-chair, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, is retiring at the end of this year, and Jayapal is stepping into his spot.

With the large incoming freshman class of Democrats elected in 2018, the ranks of caucus are expected to swell to about 90 in the session that begins on January 3, 2019. The caucus was formed in 1991 by Rep. Bernie Sanders, then an independent congressman from Vermont. Sanders, now a senator, is the caucus’ only member from the upper chamber.

When will there be fresh blood in top Democratic leadership?

While some progressives might hope for fresh leadership, Pocan said that members on “planet earth” acknowledged the reality that three veteran lawmakers will be the principal leaders of the Democratic Caucus: Pelosi, age 78; Maryland’s Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader, age 79; and South Carolina’s James Clyburn as Majority Whip, age 78.

The sit-down with Pocan and Jayapal took place on Tuesday, before Pelosi’s deal with several members of the Democratic Caucus to limit herself to three terms as speaker. The deal also includes the option of a fourth term if the leaders could obtain support from two-thirds of the Democratic caucus. The compromise agreement, announced on Wednesday, would also apply Hoyer and Clyburn and well as Pelosi.

As each had served in those posts from 2007-2011, when Democrats last held the majority in the House. Wednesday’s agreement four-term agreement (including time already served) would signal an anticipated departure from those leadership roles by the end of 2022.

Although it was unclear whether Hoyer had agreed to the proposal, in a statement Pelosi said: “I am comfortable with the proposal, and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not.”

“Over the summer,” she said, “I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic caucus.”

Pelosi gets a boost from her ‘mansplaining’ brinksmanship with Trump

Pocan and Jayapal lauded Pelosi’s skills at negotiation, which were visible after a highly contention public discussion in the Oval Office between her, Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and President Donald Trump. The flare-up centered on Congress’ willingness to fund the border wall proposed by Trump.

The meeting had happened just before the sit-down, and Jayapal said that Pelosi was “damned good” at negotiating.

“She knows how the process works, understands how the [Democratic] caucus works,” said Pocan. “You don’t want to ever be on the other side.”

They said Pelosi’s skills and passion will serve Democrats well on hot-button issues like immigration, as well as areas where there might be greater agreement between Democrats and the White House. Those issues include infrastructure spending and regulating, or jawboning down, the price of prescription drugs.

“She has a deep sense of the immorality of what the president is doing on the wall, and his political scapegoating of immigrants with the caravan,” said Jayapal.

Jayapal is an Indian-American immigrant who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She had just come from her committee’s hearing with its sweeping cross-examination of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who is also an Indian immigrant.

At the hearing, Jayapal made mention of her own ethnic background, as being born in the same Indian state as Pichai. Pichai did not make any reaction to Jayapal’s comment.

Progressives eager for infrastructure legislation with federal spending

Pocan highlighted what he saw as the Democrats’ three-fold priorities for the upcoming session: Access to health care, infrastructure investment and increasing wages, and countering the culture of corruption from the Trump administration.

He said progressives were particularly enthusiastic about infrastructure investment, and predicted that a $1 trillion infrastructure investment would prevail from the House, as “there is vast support” for that sum.

That’s only half of what the progressive caucus has called for. But even the progressive caucus’ preference for $2 trillion doesn’t match the $4 trillion-$6 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers has said would be necessary to properly rebuild America’s infrastructure, said Pocan.

 

Originally Published in the Washington Post

By Jeff Stein

 

House Democrats have backed off a proposed rule that would have made it more difficult for them to raise taxes and pass their most ambitious goals, an early victory for the left-flank of the party that is about to take control of the House.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, told lawmakers Tuesday he will not advance “supermajority” rules requiring three-fifths majorities to approve tax hikes for most taxpayers, according to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

An existing rule created by House Republicans requires a three-fifths supermajority vote in the House to approve any income tax increase. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders proposed leaving the supermajority intact for most taxpayers, while scrapping the requirement for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans and for corporations. But some liberal organizations and lawmakers said that did not go far enough, arguing that even the weaker rule would make it nearly impossible to enact progressive legislation such as Medicare-for-All or free universal college.

“We’re very glad to see that one go away,” said Pocan, who added the progressive caucus repeatedly expressed their disapproval of the proposal. “We ran in 2018 on increasing access to health care, and increasing people’s wages. ... Anything that took us off this conversation does not serve us well.”

The fight comes amid a broader battle in the Democratic Party over taxes, as an incoming crop of freshman lawmakers push the party to embrace social programs that require larger tax increases. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) were the first two Democratic lawmakers to publicly express their opposition to the rule.

Democrats also face internal divisions over leadership’s support for the “pay as you go” rule (known as “PAYGO”), which would require new spending or tax cut legislation to be paid for without adding to the deficit.

Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the rule was unnecessary to prevent Democrats from hiking taxes on the middle class. He also noted that House Republicans waived their rule to pass their tax law in 2017, because the legislation did raise taxes on some families.

“Unlike the House GOP, at the end of the day, the Democratic majority doesn’t need an arcane rule to keep our promise to protect middle class taxpayers,” Connelly said in an email.

But conservatives are likely to pounce on the move. Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, said Republicans may use the rule change to accuse Democrats of moving toward raising taxes on the American middle class.

“Republicans will likely use this to say Democrats are doing this to raise taxes, and it’s true,” Riedl said.

The richest fifth of taxpayers are those who make more than $108,000 annually, said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Originally Published in The Intercept

By David Dayen

 

FOR YEARS IN the House of Representatives, a simple majority was all that was needed to pass legislation — unless that bill included a tax increase. In that case, it required a three-fifths majority, thanks to a rule implemented by former Speaker Newt Gingrich after the 1994 Republican wave.

After Democrats swept the midterms this November, party leaders suggested that they would reform the rule. Under Democratic rule, a supermajority would only be needed for tax increases that affected the bottom 80 percent of earners.

But fiscal policy has become a flashpoint in the ongoing struggle between the party’s center and its progressive wing, and the left pushed back. The new policy was an improvement, the Congressional Progressive Caucus argued, but would still handcuff the party’s agenda in a number of ways, blocking some tax policies aimed at the rich that may incidentally implicate a handful of regular people and making passage of core progressive priorities like “Medicare for All” difficult

On Tuesday, the Progressive Caucus announced on Twitter that the new rule had been defeated.

Democratic leaders had put the supermajority requirement into a rules package that will be voted on January 3, the first day of the new Congress.

The initial proposal faced immediate criticism from progressives, who argued that policies like tuition-free higher education or “Medicare for All” could not be accomplished without some shared tax burden beyond the top 20 percent. It would have made repealing the Trump tax cuts, and using the proceeds for progressive priorities, rather tricky.

While items on the progressive wish list are likely unable to pass under Republican control of the Senate and the White House, progressive Democrats want to pass them through the House to signal the party’s priorities to the nation and build support for when Democrats retain full control of government.

The rule could have always been waived by the House Rules Committee. But the optics of putting in a supermajority tax requirement for anything, which Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., described as “kind of a Republican argument,” would have put unnecessary shackles on a Congress that already has high legislative hurdles and numerous veto points.

“The removal of this harmful provision will help progressives pass#CollegeForAll, #MedicareForAll, & other bold proposals that will deliver meaningful relief for working families,” said the Progressive Caucus in a statement on Twitter. “We appreciate the willingness of@RepMcGovern & the House Democratic Leadership to work with the Progressive Caucus on this critical issue.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is the presumptive incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over setting the rules for the House in the next Congress.

Still outstanding is another rules provision regarding requiring “pay-as-you-go” offsets. That concept, which Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has been promoting for some time, would mandate that all new spending is offset with budget cuts or tax increases. Progressives have similarly grumbled at that, again arguing that it would handcuff a bold agenda. Especially given the complete lack of interest from Republicans in deficit reduction policies, it would create a one-way ratchet, constraining the activist impulses of liberal policymakers while giving conservatives free rein to blow giant holes in the tax code.

Republicans waived the three-fifths rule in order to pass the Trump tax plan because it contained massive tax increases to offset some of the tax cuts.

Because Pelosi is still working to nail down the 218 votes needed for her to become speaker, the Progressive Caucus has leeway to make certain demands in a short window before the next Congress. It has already used that to secure a commitment to proportional representation on key committees that set domestic policy, and to win a spot for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., as one of three members of the leadership panel that divvies up those committee seats.

Other factions have used this leverage as well. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of centrists backed by a coterie of billionaires and Mark Penn, got Pelosi to sign off on a series of rule changes that fast-track bipartisan bills and amendments to the House floor.

Correction: December 12, 2018

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly included the carried interest loophole as a policy that could be implicated by Pelosi’s version of the three-fifths rule. Pelosi’s rule applied only to income tax increases.

Originally Published by the Washington Post

By Jeff Stein

 

A leading House Democrat is vowing to investigate the fiscal board overseeing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, arguing that its push to slash government spending violates its congressional mandate to help the island’s economic recovery.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Thursday he will use the committee’s authority to probe the board’s alleged conflicts of interest, as well as its proposals for having Puerto Rico pay back its creditors.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board, created through a 2016 law signed by President Barack Obama, is pushing steep reductions to public spending in Puerto Rico to pay off the more than $70 billion it owes bondholders. Puerto Rico’s annual general fund budget is approximately $9 billion.

Tight budgets have already forced Puerto Rico to reduce city budgets, close about 300 schools, and more than double tuition at its public universities as the economy nears its 13th consecutive year in recession.

Grijalva and other critics have attacked the fiscal board’s plans as “austerity” measures that will only exacerbate Puerto Rico’s economic malaise and lead residents to flee the island, while the board says Puerto Rico must pay off its debts to encourage long-term investment.

“The control board, with some of the proposed cuts, has aggravated the recovery and made it more difficult,” said Grijalva, whose Natural Resources committee oversees issues related to Puerto Rican affairs. “It’s our responsibility as a committee — now as a majority — to treat the citizens of Puerto Rico as coequals.”

Grijalva said he will push for the committee to visit Puerto Rico and conduct a “fact-finding” mission about the board and economic recovery, which could be followed by oversight hearings.

In a statement, a spokesman for the fiscal board pointed to a letter it sent last month to Democratic members of Congress that cited projections of a ballooning Puerto Rican deficit in the long-term.

“The Commonwealth must implement additional structural reforms, as well as use the shorter-term surpluses to manage those longer-term deficits,” wrote José B. Carrión III, chairman of the board. “Doing so would enable the Commonwealth to reach fiscal balance, improve the Island’s competitiveness, and increase the resources available for managing the Commonwealth’s long-term liabilities and, critically, reinvest in the people of Puerto Rico.”

The letter by Carrión also strongly denies that the board has exacerbated Puerto Rico’s economic woes, instead blaming the local government for its alleged refusal to implement the board’s proposed cuts.

The question of how to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has become increasingly urgent as the island tries to recuperate from Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people and caused an estimated $43 billion of dollars in damages.

Since the hurricane, the fiscal board has increased its estimates of what Puerto Rico should pay its bondholders, since the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on the island to help it recover from the storm, according to Democrats' letter. Puerto Rico’s state government has feuded with the board’s impositions but has little recourse, because it does not choose who is on it.

The White House selects the members of the board off a list created by members of Congress, with each party able to select its own slate. Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, has a delegate in Congress, but that delegate does not have voting power.

On Thursday, Democratic lawmakers also sent a letter to the fiscal board demanding a full accounting of its proposals. Their push marks a turn in the Democratic Party away from the Obama administration’s support for the board’s policies of cutting social services to heal its financial wounds.

The letter, organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was signed by three leading contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — as well as more than two dozen House Democrats.

“The financial control board is imposing massive austerity by people who nobody elected,” said Federico de Jesús, principal of FDJ Solutions, a consulting firm, and the former deputy director of the Puerto Rico governor’s office in Washington. “House Democrats should be looking into whether the debt restructuring deals are sustainable and can be paid without inflicting more harm than good.”

Puerto Rico’s economy entered a tailspin from which it never recovered in the mid-2000s, in part because a special tax credit that had boosted manufacturing on the island was phased out. By 2015, Puerto Rico’s governor had declared the island’s debt “not payable,” but Puerto Rico was barred from filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy under federal law.

Congress in 2016 passed Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which created the board and tasked it with restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt.

The latest negotiation proposed by the fiscal board would require Puerto Rico to make hundreds of millions in payments a year for the next four decades, said Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, a professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York who has also worked at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.

The board and Puerto Rico’s governor have feuded over the board’s authority, as the government has ignored some of its mandates, prompting court battles. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, approaching a reelection bid in 2020, recently approved millions in holiday bonuses for government employees earlier this month over the objections of the fiscal oversight board.

Puerto Rico’s economy shrank by 8 percent in the year that ended this June, according to the Wall Street Journal, and the unemployment rate remains more than three times that of the mainland United States.

“Economic experts have warned this approach is likely to exacerbate a downward economic spiral and population loss that has afflicted Puerto Rico for over a decade,” the letter from Democratic lawmakers states. “We strongly urge you to adjust your current policy approach.”

The letter also demands an “accounting and a justification” for the budget the board has allocated for 2018 to 2023. In March, a federal judge overseeing Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case approved nearly $50 million in legal fees for the board. Proskauer Rose filed for $15.9 million, and O’Melveny & Myers did so for more than $16 million. The costs of the legal fees are paid for by island residents.

“The amount of money the board has been paying for lawyers is a scandal, and people in Puerto Rico are very mad about it,” said Ramón Luis Nieves, a former state senator in Puerto Rico who has been critical of the board. “We know they need real counsel, but the rates are outrageous.”

The letter also questions whether fiscal board members have conflicting allegiances, noting that two of them have worked for Santander Bank, which helped underwrite Puerto Rico’s mounting debt obligations. That has raised the prospect that the same people deciding how much bondholders get paid back stand to benefit financially.

Grijalva said he will use the committee’s authority, potentially including its subpoena powers, to investigate potential conflicts of interest on the fiscal board.

Originally Published in Roll Call

By Lindsey McPherson

 

The newly elected House Democratic leadership team for the 116th Congress will be more progressive, diverse and younger in terms of both age and length of service compared to the current one. 

That should generally please Democrats who called for changes in their leadership team, despite the top three long-reigning leaders remaining in charge. 

House Democrats will have 14 elected leaders for the next Congress. The only position that remains unsettled is that of speaker. California’s Nancy Pelosi, who has served as the top Democratic leader since 2003, is the party’s nominee to get the gavel, but she currently lacks the votes she’ll need to win a Jan. 3 floor vote.

The other 13 Democratic leaders the caucus selected during two days of intraparty elections last week were:

Although it will have two representatives to leadership, the freshman class is also requesting monthly meetings with the speaker, majority leader and majority whip on its legislative priorities, according to a letter 46 members-elect sent to Democratic leadership Monday.

Exactly half (seven) of the elected Democratic leadership team for the 116th Congress is part of the current 11-member elected leadership team. Besides gaining the position of speaker after taking back the chamber, Democrats added the position of DPCC chair to oversee the co-chairs as a landing spot for Cicilline and elected two freshman representatives instead of one.

Five of the 14 elected Democratic leaders next year will be women, one more than in the current Congress.

There will be one more black member serving in elected leadership next year with Neguse joining. With Jeffries moving up to the No. 5 post and Clyburn remaining in the No. 3 role, it will be the first time that two African-American members have served in the top tier of leadership at the same time. 

Luján’s ascension to the No. 4 post will make him the highest-ranking Latino ever in the House, according to a Congressional Hispanic Caucus statement. (However, California Rep. Tony Coelho, a Portuguese-American, was a CHC member and served as majority whip, the No. 3 slot, from 1987 to 1989.)

Luján will be the only CHC member serving in leadership next year. The group had three leaders this year with Luján, who chaired the DCCC, and two Californians — Linda T. Sánchez as caucus vice chair and Tony Cárdenas as caucus representative for members serving five terms or less. 

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus will still have one member in leadership with Lieu joining as Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa ends her term as the freshman representative. Hanabusa is not returning to Congress next year after an unsuccessful run for governor.

The absence of a woman of color on the new elected leadership team, and frustrations over California Rep. Barbara Lee’s close loss to Jeffries in the caucus chair race led Pelosi to appoint Lee as a co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. She will join current Steering co-chairs Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Eric Swalwell of California atop the panel that makes committee assignments. Although the Steering co-chairs are appointed, they are still considered part of the leadership team and participate in its weekly meetings.

Comparison with GOP

House Republicans, meanwhile, will have an elected leadership team that is half of the size of the Democrats’ in the 116th Congress. But of those seven elected leaders only one, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, is a woman and none are members of color. 

Republicans do have a younger leadership team than Democrats. The GOP leaders have an average age of 52 and have served an average of three full terms in Congress. 

The new Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have an average age of 56 and have served an average of five full terms in Congress. Comparatively, the outgoing Democratic leadership team, when they started the 115th Congress, had an average age of 59 and had served an average of 6.5 terms.

Geographically, there’s more diversity in House Democratic leadership with five members from the West, four from the Northeast, three from the South and two from the Midwest. That’s one more Midwesterner and one less from both the South and Northeast than the outgoing leadership team.

Republicans do not have any leaders from the Northeast but have three from the South and two each from the West and Midwest. 

Ideologically more progressive

Ideologically, the Democratic leadership team for the 116th Congress will be more progressive than the current one.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus will have nine members in the leadership ranks: Jeffries, Clark, Cicilline, Lieu, Dingell, Cartwright, Raskin, Hill and Neguse. 

As the largest ideological caucus, the CPC had felt underrepresented this Congress with only three of its members, Jeffries, Cicilline and Sánchez, in elected leadership. 

The New Democrat Coalition, meanwhile, will only have two members in leadership next year: Bustos and Hill. The coalition has three members — Bustos, Cárdenas and Hanabusa — on the outgoing leadership team.

The Blue Dog Coalition remains without official representation in leadership, but the Problem Solvers Caucus gains a seat with Dingell joining. 

Correction 2:19 p.m. | There are five women among the 14 Democratic leadership team positions and nine members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.