Category Archives: Congress

Congressmen oppose TVA ‘floating homes’ ban

Members of a congressional panel took issue Friday with a new Tennessee Valley Authority policy that requires removal of floating homes from public waterways controlled by the utility, reports Michael Collins.

Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, blasted the policy as “an arbitrary decision” that would harm tourism-dependent communities and as an unnecessary distraction from the TVA’s mission of producing low-cost energy.

“This is yet another example of the federal government getting involved without seriously evaluating the consequences,” said Meadows, R-N.C.

Even the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, said that while he agrees with TVA’s position that no one has permanent “squatting rights” on public waters, the utility should find a compromise that will protect reservoirs without harming families who already own floating homes. Continue reading

Cooper balks at naming courthouse for Thompson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – All but one of Tennessee’s congressional delegation members want the new federal courthouse in Nashville to be named after the late actor-politician Fred Thompson, but the lone holdout says there’s no need to rush.

Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat who lost to Thompson in the 1994 Senate race, is the only one of the 11 delegation members not to sign on to legislation to dedicate the building to the Lawrenceburg native who died last year at age 73.

“I am not against Fred Thompson,” Cooper said in an email. “He beat me fair and square decades ago. I am not against it being named for a Republican.

“But is rushing through a bill at the last minute in Congress, without any public input or discussion, the best we can do?”

Cooper said it should be up people in Middle Tennessee to decide the name of the courthouse that’s being built after years of delays. And if they end up choosing Thompson, Cooper said he’d have “no problem” with that.

Thompson was a Tennessee-trained lawyer, prosecutor, hard-driving Senate counsel during the Watergate hearings, movie and TV actor and even a fleeting presidential hopeful in 2008. He commanded audiences with a booming voice, folksy charisma and a 6-foot-6 frame.

Thompson starred the “Law & Order” TV series and appeared in at least 20 motion pictures including “In the Line of Fire,” ”The Hunt for Red October,” ”Die Hard II” and “Cape Fear,” while also fostering a lobbying career in Washington. Upon his return home in early 1990s to run for the Senate, Thompson leased what would become his signature red truck to drive around the state to cast himself as a man of the people.

Cooper at the time derided the truck as a cynical prop to deflect attention from Thompson’s inside-the-Beltway status, arguing that his Republican opponent was in fact a “Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special-interest lobbyist.”

Thompson nevertheless ended up winning more than 60 percent of the vote.

Fred Thompson courthouse coming to Nashville?

Joint news release from Tennessee congressmen
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 22, 2016 – U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) along with U.S. Representatives Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.), Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) today introduced a bill to name the new Nashville federal courthouse in honor of former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. 

Senator Alexander said: “Fred Thompson was one of Tennessee’s most celebrated public figures. After graduating from Vanderbilt University law school, he served in Nashville as Assistant United States Attorney. In 1973, Sen. Howard Baker named him minority counsel in the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings. In 1994, Tennesseans elected him United States Senator. He was an actor in more than 20 movies. It is appropriate to name the new federal courthouse in honor of Fred’s distinguished career as an attorney, Senate investigator, and United States Senator.”

Senator Corker said: “Fred Thompson served the people of Tennessee and our country with great distinction. Through his many different roles in public life, Fred never forgot where he came from, and our state and country miss his common sense approach to public service. I was proud to call him a friend and am pleased to join my colleagues to honor his life in this way.” Continue reading

Contempt and a walkout on Blackburn’s abortion panel

Republicans on a House panel investigating the practices of abortion providers voted Wednesday to recommend that a biomedical company and its CEO be held in contempt of Congress, reports Michael Collins.

The vote came after Democrats stormed out of the meeting in protest.

All eight GOP members of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives voted to proceed with contempt charges against California-based StemExpress and CEO Catherine Spears Dyer, saying they defied congressional subpoenas to turn over accounting records and other documents.

“A subpoena is not a suggestion,” said the panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. “It is a lawful order, and a subpoena must be complied with.”

Democrats argued the panel had no authority to bring contempt charges and accused Blackburn and the other Republicans of a political “McCarthyesque witch hunt” intended to drive fetal tissue providers out of business.

“We would not participate in what we view as a very illegitimate process,” the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, said after all six Democrats walked out of the meeting just before the contempt vote.

The contempt charges now go to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration and then onto the full House.
The House is expected to adjourn soon for its October recess, so it’s unlikely the full committee will take up the charges until after the November election, Blackburn said.

Wednesday’s chaotic meeting was the latest display of partisan warfare splitting the 14-member investigative panel. It was formed last year after videos surfaced that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue and organs. Planned Parenthood said the videos were deceptively edited, and a number of state investigations cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

Regardless, the investigative panel has plowed ahead with its probe of companies involved in fetal tissue procurement, including StemExpress, which provides research labs with cells, fluids, blood and tissue. The company collected fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and sent it to researchers before ending its association with the abortion provider in August 2015.

Corker seeks delay of Saudi Arabia lawsuit vote

Two leading Republican voices on national security — Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham — want to postpone a vote on whether to override President Barack Obama’s promised veto of legislation to let families of 9/11 terrorist attack victims sue Saudi Arabia, reports Bloomberg News.

The delay would give senators more time to consider the likelihood its enactment would “backfire on us” because “once we create the opportunity for U.S. citizens to sue another government we also open the door for the same thing to happen to us,” said Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker and Graham are raising concerns about the foreign policy ramifications of the legislation even though it sailed through both chambers and was sent to the president a day after the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest has said Obama will reject the legislation, though he hasn’t announced the timing of the planned veto.

Corker said in an interview that he hopes “the veto will come back after we are gone” so the Senate doesn’t vote on overriding it until after “a couple-months cooling period takes place.” The Senate could leave town by the end of next week if it completes work on a stopgap spending bill to fund the government when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Corker and Graham are at odds with many of their colleagues in both parties including Republican Whip John Cornyn, who has pressed for a pre-election vote. A co-sponsor of the bill, Cornyn challenged Obama in a floor speech not to “leave the families dangling” and promptly issue a veto to enable a vote before Congress adjourns this month to go home and campaign.

Corker said a delay may allow the Senate to consider changing the bill. “Having some time go by could end up causing some constructive things to occur,” the Tennessee Republican said. “Might not, but I’m certain that by next Friday that won’t happen.”

South Carolina’s Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who also heads the Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which writes the spending bill for U.S. embassies and diplomatic programs, said he wants to “buy some time here” to “make the bill more palatable but also be in the interest of the families.”

Graham said that the legislation threatens U.S. relations.

“The Saudis let me know in no uncertain terms that they see this bill as a hostile act,” he said. “I want to make sure that the families are taken care of here, but I have come to the conclusion that the person to blame for 9/11 is bin Laden.”

Note/Update: Sen. Corker’s staff has sent along this additional comment since this post first appeared: “Unless the White House offers a solution that appropriately addresses both sovereign immunity issues and the concerns of 9/11 families, the veto override will likely be overwhelming.”

Alexander, other GOP senators, propose Obamacare ‘options’

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14—A group of eight United States Senators today introduced emergency, one-year legislation that would give states the authority to allow Americans who rely on Obamacare subsidies to have more options to buy health insurance unavailable on the failing Obamacare exchanges, and waive any penalty if they do not find a plan that suits their or their family’s needs.

Senate health committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said: “If you aren’t on Medicare or Medicaid and don’t obtain your health insurance through your employer, you are probably one of the nearly 11 million Americans who purchase their insurance on their own through the Obamacare exchange in your state.

“And you’ve probably read in the news that rates may be 60 percent higher next year than they were this year for the same insurance policy. And come November, nearly a third of the nation’s counties will have only one insurer for you to choose from when you have to buy health insurance on the regional Obamacare exchange as the market collapses and insurance companies are leaving the Obamacare exchanges in droves. This legislation would allow your state to give you the option of buying health insurance wherever you can find it whether on or off the Obamacare exchange.”

“This one-year solution is not a substitute for the long-term need to repeal and replace Obamacare with step-by-step reforms that transform the health care delivery system by putting patients in charge, giving them more choices and reducing the cost of health care so that more people can afford it,” he continued. “That would require a Republican president next year, but it gives Americans a real solution for next year and lets them know that we are on their side. Even if we have a Democratic president next year, we cannot continue without making big, structural changes soon to avoid a collapse of our nation’s health insurance markets.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said: “More than 11,000 people in my home state recently learned that they would have to find a new health care plan after an insurer announced that it would be leaving the New Hampshire partnership exchange next year. Higher premiums and fewer choices are impacting real people today, and hardworking Granite Staters can’t afford to keep taking these hits. Our legislation would provide a temporary means to lessen the burdens of ObamaCare on New Hampshire families and individuals by allowing eligible individuals to use a subsidy to purchase health insurance outside of the exchanges, which may offer less expensive options than plans available through the exchanges.  This bill will help bring back some much-needed flexibility and choice in the health insurance marketplace, both of which ObamaCare has limited.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said: “In more than half of all counties in America, there will be only be two or fewer carriers offering coverage on the Obamacare exchange. Hard-working families facing higher premiums because of Obamacare deserve relief.  This legislation will give families more choices in 2017, as Republicans work to replace this failed law with real reforms that will make health care more affordable for all Americans.”

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said: “Time has shown that Obamacare is resulting in fewer and more expensive choices for the American people.  This legislation would increase options for families in Mississippi and elsewhere to obtain health insurance without being locked into troubled Obamacare exchanges,”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said: “I have worked for years to limit the damage and harm done to real people by Obamacare, a partisan policy that promised marketplace competition and higher quality health plans at lower costs and instead delivered the exact opposite. This bill would provide necessary relief to Wisconsinites who, under Obamacare, would be penalized for not purchasing a product that they cannot afford or does not meet their needs. It will allow the state to provide Wisconsinites receiving subsidies more options that just those offered on the Obamacare exchanges for 2017.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said: “Ohioans need immediate relief from the skyrocketing cost of Obamacare. Premiums have increased in Ohio more than 90% since the President’s health care law went into place. This bill would provide individuals who have suffered under the high costs and fewer choices of Obamacare more options to receive coverage—which means more competition which in turn brings down costs. After eight years of stagnating wages, slow economic growth, and a rising cost of living, Ohioans deserve the relief this legislation would provide, not a health care system they can’t afford.”                                                             
The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would:

        Give states with a failing Obamacare exchange the authority to allow residents to use their Obamacare subsidy to purchase any health plan of their choice, even those off the exchange, for the 2017 plan year.

        If the state chooses to use this authority to allow residents to use subsidies outside of the exchange, the legislation will waive the Obamacare law’s requirement that you must buy a specific health care plan or pay a fine of as much as $2,000 for a family of four next year.

A summary of the State Flexibility to Provide Affordable Health Options Act is available online HERE.

Blackburn’s ticket scalping bill clears House

The U.S. House has approved a bill that seeks to stop scalpers from using computer-hacking software to instantly gobble up online tickets for concerts and other live entertainment events, reports Michael Collins.

The Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which passed by voice vote late Monday, would make the use of so-called ticket bots an “unfair and deceptive act” subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., now heads to the Senate.

Scalpers often use bots to evade computer security and buy mass quantities of tickets for concerts and other live events immediately after the tickets go on sale online. They then resell the tickets at much higher prices.

“For years, ticket scalpers have been taking advantage of computer-hacking software to overwhelm online ticketing websites with requests,” Blackburn said. “These anti-consumer tactics have no place in our society, and it’s time we take action to protect fans of live entertainment.”

The bill would make use of ticket-buying bots a civil offense and allow the FTC to take action against online scalpers that use them. Individual ticket buyers also could sue for damages if they are shut out because scalpers used a ticket-buying bot.

Fleischmann: Let states reduce federal deficit

News release from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann
Washington, D.C.— Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R – TN) introduced H.R. 5933—the Returned Exclusively For Unpaid National Debt Act or the REFUND Act. This bill will allow states to identify unwanted federal funds and send that money back to the federal government to pay down the national debt.

“With our nation almost $20 trillion dollars in debt, it’s time to find innovative solutions to help balance our budget. We must tackle the fiscal challenges facing our country on every level in order to give future generations a chance for economic prosperity,” said Fleischmann. “I introduced the REFUND Act so Washington could see firsthand budgetary responsibility and debt reduction can begin at the state level.”

The opposite of a federal mandate, Fleischmann’s legislation gives states a voluntary avenue to designate returned federal funds solely for debt reduction. In doing so, the REFUND Act prevents those funds from going back to federal agencies simply to be redistributed, as is currently the case.

In a previous Congress the National Taxpayers Union named the REFUND Act its number one ‘“No-Brainer’ bill Congress should pass for taxpayers.” In addition, they called the bill “a common-sense measure toward short-circuiting the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ approach to accepting and spending federal grant money that has been a major contributor to Washington’s overspending problem.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also introduced an identical bill in the Senate, S. 744.

TN congressmen plead for $60M fed funding

All 11 members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation have signed a letter asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to help the state keep $60 million in highway funds that are in jeopardy because of a new state DUI law, reports Michael Collins.

“Based upon our review of both the state and federal laws and the purpose behind both laws, it seems that both the State of Tennessee and the federal government have the same objective of penalizing impaired driving and that the common sense thing to do is to resolve this matter promptly,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are available to assist in any way that would be helpful.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed the state last week it’s in danger of losing the highway money because of the DUI law passed earlier this year.

The law, which took effect July 1, changed the impaired-driver threshold from a blood alcohol content of 0.02 to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 for drivers between 18 and 20.

The change means the state is no longer in compliance with the federal zero tolerance law, which requires states to set 0.02 as the blood-alcohol level allowed for drivers under age 21.

As a result, federal transportation officials say they must withhold 8 percent of federal highway funding from the state. If the state is not in compliance by Oct. 1, it will forfeit $60 million in highway funding.

Tennessee argues it can enforce the 0.08 standard because another state law makes it illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess or consume any alcoholic beverage. Federal officials are expected to decide by Friday if that qualifies as compliance with the federal zero tolerance law.

If they decide it doesn’t, Gov. Bill Haslam would have to call the General Assembly into special session to repeal or modify the new DUI law or petition the federal government for a waiver until the Legislature begins its regular session next January.

“We hope you will work with Tennessee to find a solution that will allow our state to retain desperately needed highway funds,” the state’s congressional lawmakers said in their letter to Foxx.

TN GOP lawmakers not opening their wallets to Trump

Excerpt from a Tennessean report on presidential campaign fundraising in Tennessee, which overall shows Hillary Clinton still leading in money collection though Donald Trump has grained ground in the last couple of months:

Not one of the nine Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation – including U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn who had a primetime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who was considered a vice-presidential candidate – have written a check to Trump, a trend that has expanded beyond Tennessee.

Only two Republican members of Congress have donated to Trump, according to a Fortune analysis of his latest campaign contributions.

In Tennessee, Reps. Jeremy Durham, Kelly Keisling and Bill Sanderson and Sen. Mae Beavers, who served as chairman of the state’s delegation to the RNC, are the only lawmakers to give money to the billionaire this election cycle.

By comparison, at this same point in the 2012 election, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney received at total of $24,000 from four of Tennessee’s Republican members of Congress, including Blackburn, and three state lawmakers – House Speaker Beth Harwell and Sen. Jack Johnson and Beavers.

Romney also received two $2,500 donations from Gov. Bill Haslam during the same time period. Although Haslam has not written a check to Trump, his father, James Haslam II, who also donated to Romney in 2012, has given the presidential candidate $2,700.

Clinton, meanwhile, has received $7,700 from five Tennessee Democratic lawmakers – or 15 percent of the 33 seats the party holds between Congress and the state legislature – during the 2016 election cycle.

The Democratic lawmakers to give to Clinton are: U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Reps. Craig Fitzhugh, Harold Love and Raumesh Akbari, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

During the same time period in the 2012 election, President Barack Obama received $2,100 from five Democratic state lawmakers.