The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.
Lawmakers have left the building.
Congress is gone until September, but before blowing town, the Senate signed off on a sweeping budget deal that suspends the debt ceiling and provides some certainty for the next couple of years.
The package split Midlands Republicans, with some defending it as a necessary, if flawed, compromise, and others bashing it.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is expected to announce his reelection plans Monday even as he draws a primary challenger.
In other news:
Hyten promotion moves forward
The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced Gen. John Hyten’s nomination to be the military’s second-highest officer.
That bipartisan decision came after committee members heard from both Hyten and a former aide who has accused him of sexually assaulting her.
Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, has denied those allegations, and an Air Force investigation resulted in no action against him.
The full Senate is expected to weigh Hyten’s nomination when it returns in September.
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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, convened a hearing last week to promote the benefits of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some members of his committee have questioned whether the new agreement would really be superior to NAFTA.
Among the witnesses praising the USMCA was Werner Enterprises President and CEO Derek Leathers. The Omaha-based trucking company has grown significantly over the years as a result of trade with Canada and Mexico, Leathers testified.
“I saw firsthand how NAFTA has transformed North America into the most competitive trading bloc in the world,” he said.
But he also talked about how NAFTA was enacted at a time before same-day shipping and other industry evolutions.
“Technological advances have redefined the trade environment to such a degree that NAFTA is outdated,” Leathers told the committee. “The USMCA is a timely and necessary update.”
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack also was at the witness table for last week’s hearing. Vilsack served as U.S. agriculture secretary in the Obama administration and is now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Vilsack said the new agreement has significant advantages for farmers, particularly dairy producers, and noted that 28 % of the country’s food and agricultural exports go to either Mexico or Canada.
“Exports matter to the American food and agriculture industry,” Vilsack said.
That would patch a lot of potholes
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week unanimously approved an infrastructure bill that represents the largest amount of funding for highway reauthorization legislation in history: $287 billion over five years to maintain and repair the nation’s roads and bridges.
Committee member Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, touted the measure’s inclusion of her proposals to address rural mobility by providing better accessibility data in transportation planning. It also includes her legislation to allow states the option of using federal highway funding for lock and dam rehabilitation and modernization.
“Every Iowan — from our farmers and manufacturers, to our families and small businesses — relies on our state’s infrastructure day in and day out,” Ernst said in a statement. “States, like Iowa, need certainty to be able to deliver the transportation infrastructure projects that keep our people and economy moving.”
Meet the Nebraska state senators
Here are the 49 state senators of Nebraska's 106th Legislature. You can click here to find your state senator.