The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.
Flooding makes for hot topic on the hill
Democrats cited the flooding repeatedly in the debate over the Green New Deal. That nonbinding resolution calls for an aggressive approach to climate change. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced the measure, which includes ambitious goals for the next decade on protecting the environment but also delves into areas such as housing and jobs.
Supporters say the resolution is just the kind of sweeping call-to-arms needed to confront the looming environmental crisis. Critics, meanwhile, have derided it as a liberal wish list and government intervention into many aspects of American life.
Senate Republicans sought to put Democrats on the spot by bringing the measure up for a vote last week. All Republicans voted against it, as did a few Democrats. Most Senate Democrats simply voted “present,” saying Republicans weren’t engaging in good faith and stressing that robust action is required on climate change.
About the same time, one Republican House member was arguing in a committee hearing that the resolution represents an economic hit to the poor. He said it sounds great to rich elites who can easily sustain the extra costs in housing and other areas.
Ocasio-Cortez responded by saying that concern for clean air and water isn’t elitist. She cited children in the south Bronx suffering from asthma, residents of Flint, Michigan, poisoned by lead-contaminated water and those suffering in the Midwest.
“This is about our constituents and all of our lives,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Iowa, Nebraska, broad swaths of the Midwest are drowning right now, underwater. Farms, towns that will never be recovered and never come back.”
War between the districts
Nebraska’s all-GOP congressional delegation gathers each week they’re in session for a breakfast with visiting constituents. At the most recent session, talk turned to which House district has the most military firepower.
Rep. Adrian Smith represents the sprawling 3rd District that covers most of the state.
Smith pointed out that his Omaha area colleague Rep. Don Bacon is a retired Air Force brigadier general and that Offutt Air Force Base is located in the 1st District, represented by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
“Western Nebraska is not known for our military installations but we do have missile silos in western Nebraska,” Smith said. “My district can probably blow up Fortenberry’s district, even though he has the base.”
The comment brought some chortling from both the audience and other delegation members.
When breakfast emcee Sen. Deb Fischer took back the microphone, she noted that Congress had recently returned from a recess.
“We weren’t here last week so we’re all feeling a little feisty,” she said.
Legislative versus executive branch
Sens. Ben Sasse and Chuck Grassley joined several Republican colleagues recently to introduce legislation aimed at reining in federal agencies.
At issue are court rulings that have granted a general deference to administrative agencies’ interpretation of the statutes adopted by Congress.
Critics say that approach has allowed agencies to stretch their authority beyond congressional intent.
The senators’ legislation would require that courts decide for themselves “all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional and statutory provisions and rules made by agencies.”
“This bill tries to restore some accountability by making sure that judges don’t automatically defer to Washington’s alphabet soup of bureaucracies,” Sasse said in a press release.
Democrats made their own “separation of powers” argument when lawmakers took up a resolution to shut down President Donald Trump’s border wall emergency declaration. They described that move as reasserting congressional authority after the president sought to circumvent Capitol Hill and unilaterally divert billions to building the wall.
Trump vetoed the measure and House Democrats fell short of the number of votes required to override.
All Republican lawmakers from Nebraska and Iowa sided with the president in that fight, citing the importance of border security.