TIME Congress

House GOP Mulls Short-Term Funding for Homeland Security

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported, a use of executive powers that is setting up a fight with Republicans in Congress over the limits of presidential powers on Nov. 21, 2014 in Washington.
J. Scott Applewhite—AP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported, a use of executive powers that is setting up a fight with Republicans in Congress over the limits of presidential powers on Nov. 21, 2014 in Washington.

The proposal would head off a government shutdown this year

House Republican leaders are considering funding the Department of Homeland Security through the first few months of next year in order to allow the next Congress—and new Republican-controlled Senate—to rebuke the President on his recent decision to defer deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants.

Announced Tuesday morning before the House Republican conference, the plan would fund all aspects of the government through September 2015 with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces Obama’s executive action. Congress must pass a government funding bill by Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown.

The proposal was met with mixed reviews from Republican members, some of whom prefer a plan to fund the entire government through the next fiscal year and others who are looking at other ways to express their frustration, including a disapproval resolution officially stating that Obama doesn’t have sufficient legal authority to carry out the executive action. House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that “no decisions have been made at this point.”

“I don’t think there’s enough support for it yet,” said Florida Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, a member of the whip team designated to drum up votes. “I think we’ve got to flesh some of that out. I think the members by and large are leaning that way … But I think there’s some questions that need to be answered by some of the more conservative ones who want to vote for it but I think they’re wrestling over what the details are going to be.”

Republicans have few options outside of supporting bipartisan immigration reform to counter the President’s executive action. A lawsuit would most likely fail, according to prominent legal scholars, and Obama holds the veto pen. Even when dealing with must-pass legislation, like the package of bills to fund the government, Republicans know they can’t overplay their hand and threaten a government shutdown that would bolster the President.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a box here,” said Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “We’re in a tough position.”

The Republican plan will face opposition from the Administration and from Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said last week that “we will not be enablers to a Republican government shutdown, partial or otherwise.” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a hearing Tuesday that a short-term spending bill through March would be a “very bad idea” as it would hamper border security efforts.

TIME Military

Obama Leans Toward Tapping a Retread to Run the Pentagon

Ashton Carter
Lee Jin-man—AP U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter listens to reporters' question during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on March 18, 2013.

Ash Carter has spent years in near-the-top Defense Department jobs

The Obama Administration knows what it is getting by preparing to nominate Ashton Carter to be its fourth defense secretary. More importantly, Ash Carter knows what he’d be getting into.

That’s because the whip-smart doctor of theoretical physics served in Obama’s Pentagon from 2009 to 2013 (as well as Clinton’s Pentagon, from 1993 to 1996, as assistant secretary for international security policy.)

He knows all about the commander-in-chief’s purported micromanagement—something that Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, Obama’s first two defense chiefs, complained about. He has apparently concluded it’s not as bad as they assert—or, even if it is, it’s something he can live with.

“Carter was a veteran of the department who had worked for and advised many secretaries, and was the rare leader who understood both the policy and budget sides of the agency,” Panetta wrote in his memoir, Worthy Fights, released in October. “He was a wonk, a nuclear physicist and author, but he’s also a compassionate commander who would slip out on weekends to visit wounded soldiers at Bethesda and Walter Reed.”

Carter is by far Obama’s safest, most predictable choice (sure, his nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate, but even with Republicans in charge beginning next month, that’s not going to be tough—after all, the Senate already confirmed him as deputy secretary).

Carter has been a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and an adviser to Goldman Sachs. Since September, Carter has worked at New York’s Markle Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to improving national security, technology and health care.

Several leading contenders for the post to replace Chuck Hagel already have dropped out. Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate, said he wasn’t interested shortly after Hagel announced his departure. Reed will have to be content serving as the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee (he would have become chairman, following the retirement of Carl Levin, but the GOP landslide last month dashed those hopes).

Michèle Flournoy, who served as the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian official before leaving in 2012, also took herself out of the running last week. While she cited family concerns, she plainly would prefer to run the Pentagon under President Hillary Clinton. That’d make her the first woman to run the Defense Department, and under a female commander-in-chief, to boot.

Carter’s 2011-2013 background as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, largely responsible for the building’s day-to-day management, primes him for the military’s tough budget environment. He’s also an expert on nuclear weapons and military technology, having served as the Defense Department’s top weapons buyer from 2009 to 2011.

Carter is a graduate of Yale—bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history—and Oxford, where he earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics. In 2006, while at Harvard, Carter and his mentor, former defense secretary William Perry, urged President George W. Bush to threaten to destroy North Korean missiles that might be outfitted with nuclear warheads.

Unlike Hagel—who served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam and was wounded twice—Carter has never worn a U.S. military uniform. And, also unlike Hagel—twice elected as a Republican senator from Nebraska—Carter hasn’t engaged in partisan politics.

Of course, given Hagel’s vague tenure and unceremonious dumping from his Pentagon post, the value such experience affords may be dubious.

TIME Congress

Senate Dismayed by House Tax Extension Bill

Reid-Nevada Governor
Scott Sonner—AP Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., talks to reporters in his Reno, Nev. office on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. He said he doesn't intend to waste his time raising money for Democrat Bob Goodman in an unlikely bid to unseat popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in November. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Proposal would retroactively extend dozens of tax breaks through the end of 2014

The Senate greeted a House Republican tax relief plan with exasperation, resignation and outright opposition hours before it was even officially announced Monday night.

The package, created by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, would retroactively extend through the end of 2014 dozens of tax breaks worth around $45 billion over the next 10 years. Many senators would prefer to either cut or make permanent many of the tax “extenders,” or—in their wildest dreams—actually pass a comprehensive tax reform bill, which could make the perennial holiday ritual obsolete.

After a closed-door meeting with other Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon promised a fight over the House legislation.

“The reality is you don’t just say ‘it’s my way’ and that’s it,” said Wyden. “We’ve got quite a ways to go. This game is not over.”

“A lot of one-year bills lock in the breaks for the businesses and don’t lock in or cover a lot of the social needs,” said Wyden.

When asked if he would support the House bill, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said he would “absolutely not.”

“No way shape or form,” he added. “And nobody in that meeting was [supportive of it]. Not one.”

Last week the White House issued a veto threat on a roughly $400 billion proposal hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Republicans because it failed to renew expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which are due to expire in 2017. Rockefeller said that he’s focused on those provisions and the Health Coverage Tax Credit, which supports retirees who lost their health care coverage when their company goes under or abroad.

“They’re friendly to us, that’s all I can say,” says Rockefeller of the White House’s position.

Republicans could have more leverage in determining the extenders policy next session when they control both chambers of Congress, but some Senate members are dissatisfied with the latest House legislation, as the year-to-year schedule continues to cause businesses heartburn. While most affected companies assume that Congress will eventually grant them their tax relief, it’s still a “bit of a complicated expectations game” of what they believe Congress will do, according to Joseph Rosenberg, a Tax Policy Center senior research associate.

“Most of the provisions expired a year ago,” says Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a member of the Finance Committee who prefers a longer deal. “So we aren’t really making much progress—we’re just catching up to where we are.”

“We’re going to have to deal with it again after the first of the year,” he adds.

Portman, like many Senate Finance committee members, prefer a two-year extension for some of the tax provisions, and to make parts of the tax code permanent, like tax relief for research and development. The R&D credit is one of the most expensive in the House bill—$7.7 billion over 10 years—but it has bipartisan support.

In April, the Senate Finance Committee passed a $85 billion package extending the over 50 tax relief provisions for two years; on Monday ranking Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said he preferred that deal to the one introduced in the House. But some Republican senators say that in a crunch the House bill might prove to be the best option.

“My preference obviously is to write the [tax code] in stone so businesses can make legitimate decisions,” says Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho. “[Businesses] have had to live with this before—and they’ve been able to to the best of their ability—but it is not a good deal … Going through this every year is just not a good way to do this.”

Still, Risch says it’s fair to say that he will “probably” support the House legislation. “This is a pragmatic place,” he says.

TIME Congress

Why Facebook Rants End Careers on Capitol Hill

Climber
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Elizabeth Lauten from the office of Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.

A response of "no comment" could be of use on social media sites, too

Congressional staffers have long been held to a higher standard than the rest of us when it comes to what you can’t say. And for good reason, since their words are seen as a reflection of their bosses, who just happen to run the country.

But it used to be a little easier to live up to that standard. Avoiding sharing your inflammatory opinions used to be as simple as telling a reporter “no comment” and hanging up. But these days, social media sites like Facebook —with its ever-demanding question “What’s on your mind?” — are like a siren song, luring staffers to their doom.

Consider Elizabeth Lauten, who one Facebook rant ago was a spokeswoman for Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn. Though she apologized for writing in a status update that President Barack Obama’s teen daughters should “try showing a little class” when appearing at televised public events after their teen angst was broadcast at the National Turkey Pardoning ceremony, by Monday morning she had resigned.

Lauten’s case is just the latest example of someone getting in trouble at work for a social media post that went viral. But for Congressional staffers, those rants, selfies and status updates are much more likely to get them in hot water.

“If you’re a manager at Walmart and you post something about Barack Obama or John Boehner, it’s much different than if you work for Barack Obama or John Boehner,” noted Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation.

As a management consultant for members of Congress and a former Hill staffer, Fitch says Congressional staffers should recognize that what they do is subject to a different degree of scrutiny than most private employees. And press secretaries, the public voice of members, are held to even higher standard. As a precaution, he says, staffers should get a second set of eyes on their posts before pressing send.

“Having someone else look at what you’re about to publish is just generally a good idea,” Fitch says. “It was a good idea in 1965 when your statement was being published and 2012 when you’re putting it on Facebook.”

In Lauten’s case, the target of her ire was also poorly chosen.

Rebecca Gale at Roll Call, who runs a blog on career advice for Congressional staffers, says staffers should also be mindful of the fact that attacking the children of officer holders is typically off-limits.

“Democrat or Republican, high-ranking or low, kids are usually trotted out for the campaign photo and Christmas card, then tucked away in private lives. Sling mud all you like between parties and opponents, but political courtesy (if such exists) deems insults to kids off limits,” Gale wrote.

The bottom line: If you work on Capitol Hill, the next time Facebook asks “What’s on your mind?” you should probably answer “No comment.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A Baltimore all-girls high school robotics team is bucking the trend for women in STEM education.

By Andrew Zaleski in the Baltimore Sun

2. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of bounty, but “a refusal to be defeated by what so gravely threatened.” Today, we need the same.

By James Carroll in the Boston Globe

3. Congress — yes, that Congress — is about to pass a vital update to the Freedom of Information Act.

By Jason Leopold at Vice News

4. Discrimination against LGBT people isn’t just a civil rights violation, it’s bad economic policy.

By M. V. Lee Badgett at the New America Foundation

5. The truth is out about Russia. The EU must focus on the Balkans and think about the future.

By Judy Dempsey in RealClearWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

How Will Congress React to Ferguson Decision?

Rand Paul TIME 100
Win McNamee—Getty Images

Capitol Hill's response to the Darren Wilson decision may be limited to empathy

As the fires of unrest smolder in Ferguson, Mo., some members of Congress expressed their solidarity with the protesters of the Michael Brown grand jury verdict sparring police officer Darren Wilson from charges connected to the August 9 shooting.

“I know this [is] hard,” tweeted Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights hero, on Monday. “I know this is difficult. Do not succumb to the temptations of violence. There is a more powerful way.”

“Only love can overcome hate,” he added. “Only nonviolence can overcome violence.”

But the official response from Capitol Hill may not amount to much more than empathy, as the Republican leaders who control both chambers of Congress next year appear unlikely to support efforts reigning in police departments from obtaining Pentagon gear like mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. Such bills aren’t focused on reducing incidents like the Brown shooting but the danger in the aftermath, in which protesters are confronted by a threatened police force with military-grade weapons and technology.

After the Brown shooting, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri led hearings diving into the lack of police training with such weapons and if police departments should have to purchase body cameras before obtaining military equipment. In September, McCaskill announced some of the results of her investigation, finding that over a third of the supposedly “excess” military equipment provided to police departments was barely used, if at all. She also found police departments armed for Iraq-level warfare, with 49 of 50 states having more MRAP vehicles than their state’s National Guard. McCaskill recently told BuzzFeed that she would continue her efforts to investigate how the police are trained, but stopped short of calling to bar the departments from receiving military equipment in the first place.

“We learned we have no oversight and the people that are doing these programs aren’t even talking to one another and there hasn’t been any rhyme or reason to who’s received this equipment, whether or not they’ve been trained, and how they are utilizing it,” she told BuzzFeed. “So we’re now looking more at an oversight function of those issues. I’ve visited with other senators who are interested, including some of my Republican colleagues, and we’re going to try and sit down between now and the first of the year and see if we can come up with some guidelines.”

Her Democratic colleagues in the House appear to be pretty glum about the prospects for reforming how the police obtain Pentagon equipment.

A spokesman for Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, who plans on reintroducing his bill to limit police militarization next session, sees the effort as “really an education campaign” due to opposition from Republican leadership, according to the Huffington Post. But Democrats are also divided if there should be an outright ban on transfer of this equipment or if there should simply be more stringent requirements and training for officers who will use it.

Some libertarian-minded Republicans have also joined the call to demilitarize the police, including Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who wrote in a TIME op-ed less than a week after the Brown shooting that “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.” On Tuesday, Paul’s office confirmed that he will introduce his own bill addressing police militarization next year. He’s working with retiring Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on the legislation and will talk to other senators “over the coming months” to garner support, according to an aide.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. “White people who are sick and tired of racism should work hard to become white allies.” Here’s how.

By Janee Woods in Quartz

2. We can’t afford to ignore the innovative history of developing countries as we face the impact of climate change.

By Calestous Juma at CNN

3. Aeroponics – growing plants in mist without any soil – may be the future of food.

By Bloomberg Businessweek

4. The Obama White House is still struggling to separate policy from politics, and Defense Secretary Hagel is the latest victim.

By David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy

5. Fewer, better standardized tests can boost student achievement.

By Marc Tucker, Linda Darling-Hammond and John Jackson in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

Rand Paul’s Declaration of War Against ISIS Divides Civil Libertarians

Georgia Senate Candidate David Perdue Campaigns With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Jessica McGowan—Getty Images Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to an audience of supporters of Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue during a campaign stop in McDonough, Ga. on Oct. 24, 2014.

Some think a formal declaration of war would set limits, others worry where it would lead

Less than a week after rebuffing civil libertarians over a National Security Agency reform bill, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has divided them over a new draft to declare war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria and strip the authority President Obama uses to fight terrorism across the Middle East. Paul released his draft Monday and intends on introducing it in December.

The measure would set unprecedented limits on the Obama Administration, defining ISIS as the enemy and limiting ground combat forces to protect U.S. armed forces from “imminent danger,” attack “high value targets” and advise intelligence operations. The authorization only lasts for a year before Congress would have to re-up it.

The chances of the bill passing the president’s desk are slim, so to say—Congress has not declared war since World War II—but it is interesting as it puts a likely Republican presidential contender on the same side as the New York Times editorial board on the question over whether or not the U.S. needs to act under a new legal authority to fight ISIS while dividing civil libertarians.

Some civil libertarians, angered by Obama and former president George W. Bush, who used authority granted by Congress in 2001 and 2002 to fight the War on Terror years later, praised the measure as an attempt to finally restore the checks and balance system.

“It is the most muscular and assertive use of congressional authority under the Constitution of any of the proposals that are out there so far,” says Chris Anders, a senior legislative counsel in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “We have a president deciding on his own once again to take the country to war without following the Constitution.”

Anders said that Paul could be more specific in defining the objective, enemy and geographic limitations, but thinks that with additional information and hearings Paul can tighten up his draft.

“I think given the information that is available right now, that’s probably about as good as you can do,” he said.

While Paul will face fierce opposition from the scores of defense hawks on Capitol Hill, he is not alone in providing the Administration with new authority to fight ISIS. A spokesman for Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff, who has pushed along with Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Robert Menendez of New Jersey for new congressional authorization, found a few things he liked in Paul’s plan, including the new limits on the length of the mission and how troops are used.

“Senator Paul’s resolution tracks the bill introduced by Rep. Schiff in key respects—repealing the 2002 authorization, sunsetting the new authority and the 2001 authorization contemporaneously, and limiting the use of ground troops against [ISIS],” says Patrick Boland, Schiff’s spokesman. “While the limitations on ground troops differ in key respects, Senator Paul’s bill is another important contribution to the debate over a new war authorization and adds support to the effort Senator Kaine and Schiff have been making to press for a Congressional debate and action on this key issue during the lame duck session—hopefully his entry into this debate will help jumpstart the conversation on a new authorization which should begin immediately.”

But Paul will face criticism from a vast array of viewpoints—from the Administration and foreign policy hawks to noninterventionists and civil libertarians, who are still smarting over Paul voting “nay” last week to debate a bill to reform the National Security Agency after arguing that it didn’t go far enough. Anders called it a “real mistake” and the “best opportunity this year to rein in the surveillance program.” He added, however, “we have to deal with these issues one at a time.”

Paul could be in more trouble with other civil libertarians on the proposed declaration of war. The libertarian magazine Reason published an article Monday criticizing the lack of “meaningful restraint” for ground forces, noting the “slippery-slope nature of American military adventurism.” And John Mueller, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, told TIME that Paul would be better positioned as a noninterventionist, or as he calls it, on the “side of the angels.” Despite the viciousness of ISIS, Mueller believes that the threat has been “massively exaggerated” and that the notion of Islamic militants threatening the security of the United States is “vastly overblown.”

“If he really wanted to be smart on the merits of it politically, he could be the only candidate opposing getting involved in another miserable war in the Middle East,” says Mueller of Paul.

“The danger with declaring war is that you’re stuck with it,” he said. “That’s a real disadvantage.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Rand Paul Wants to Declare War Against ISIS

“War cannot be initiated without Congress”

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said in a new interview that Congress should formally declare war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) as a way to limit the engagement against the militant group and take war powers back from President Barack Obama.

“War cannot be initiated without Congress,” Paul told the New York Times in advocating for the first formal declaration of war since World War II. Paul is circulating a resolution to do just that.

A likely 2016 presidential candidate whose libertarian-leaning foreign policy is viewed skeptically by many conservatives and mainstream Republicans, Paul is likely to face backlash from members of his own party who don’t want to limit the President’s authority when it comes to fighting ISIS.

“Conservatives are mad at him about immigration. And they’re mad about him using executive authority on Obamacare,” Paul said. “But this is another example where he doesn’t have much respect for Congress, and some conservatives don’t quite get that.”

MORE: The reinventions of Rand Paul

Paul told TIME earlier this year that his support for fighting ISIS, which has taken control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria, “doesn’t mean you give up your principles of thinking war is the last resort.”

[NYT]

TIME Congress

House Sues Obama Over Health Care Law

Barack Obama
Jim Bourg—AP President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, 2014

"The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution"

House Republicans sued the Obama Administration on Friday over how it has implemented the health care reform law, taking legal action after threatening to do so for months.

The House sued the cabinet secretaries for the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury, and filed the case in the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C., House Speaker John Boehner’s office said. At issue are administrative tweaks the Administration has made during the course of implementing the law.

“Time after time, the President has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”

The lawsuit went unfiled for months after House Republicans first floated it. Legal experts have been skeptical of its chances of success.

Boehner said in July that the House would sue President Barack Obama for twice delaying the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that businesses with more than 50 full-time employes provide insurance or pay a fee—a provision Republicans oppose anyway. The suit also alleges that the law does not allow the executive branch to transfer funds to insurance companies to reduce out-of-pocket payments for low-income enrollees, as Congress has not appropriated the money for that purpose. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that those cost-sharing subsidies for low-income Americas—those at two-and-a-half times the poverty level, or $11,670 to $29,175 a year for an individual—will cost $175 billion over the next ten years.

Republicans had trouble finding a lawyer to pursue the case, but Boehner found his man this week in George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley, who had testified in favor of such a lawsuit this summer. House Republican aides have suggested the lawsuit could be expanded to include the Obama’s executive actions taken this week to grant temporary legal status to millions of immigrants in the country illegally, but Turley has said in the past that expanding the lawsuit would weaken it.

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed the lawsuit as a political stunt.

“After scouring Washington for months, Republicans have finally found a TV lawyer to file their meritless lawsuit,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement Friday. “While the American people want Congress to get serious about creating good-paying jobs and strengthening the middle class, House Republicans are paying $500-an-hour in taxpayer money to sue the President of the United States. The fact is, this lawsuit is a bald-faced attempt to achieve what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the political process.”

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