Recent Happenings in Federal Affairs: Gorsuch Sworn in with Donnelly’s Support

Senator Joe Donnelly joined a select few Democrats last week to announce support for President Trump’s pick to the U.S. Supreme Court: federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch.

Donnelly stated, “I have said consistently that part of my job is to carefully review, debate and vote on judicial nominations, including nominees to the Supreme Court. It is my obligation as senator to consider the qualifications of each nominee that comes to the Senate floor to determine if he or she can faithfully serve on our nation’s highest court. I take this responsibility very seriously.

“After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, conducting a thorough review of his record and closely following his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe that he is a qualified jurist who will base his decisions on his understanding of the law and is well-respected among his peers.

“I was deeply disappointed by the way the most recent Supreme Court nominee, judge Merrick Garland, was treated by the Senate, but as senator, I can only vote on the nominee that comes to the Senate floor. However, I believe that we should keep the current 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.”

Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday.

In other news:

  • Responding to the requests from a bipartisan cohort of Indiana elected officials, newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced he will visit the U.S. Smelter and Lead Superfund site in East Chicago on April 19. Senators Donnelly and Todd Young, congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01) and Gov. Eric Holcomb each had invited Pruitt to visit after his appointment to the position. The area has been the focus of concern for local, state and federal officials since the magnitude of the environmental (water) lead contamination became clear.
  • Representative Luke Messer (IN-06) last week called on Congress to come back, instead of breaking early for Easter, to repeal and replace Obamacare. In a floor speech addressing his colleagues in the House, Messer said, “Congress is leaving for Easter break with work undone. For seven years, we’ve told the American people we would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, and we have legislation that provides that opportunity. … We need to do what we said we would do.” Earlier, Messer joined members of the House Republican leadership – led by Speaker Paul Ryan – to announce an amendment to the American Health Care Act that safeguards patients with pre-existing conditions in a way that will also lower premiums. This amendment creates the $15 billion new federal risk-sharing program that will help states reduce premiums by reimbursing health insurance issuers for high-cost individuals beginning in 2018. The proposal by congressmen Gary Palmer of Alabama and David Schweikert of Arizona is modeled after a program in Maine.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) has introduced the Head Start Improvement Act, a bill to reform the Head Start early childhood education program. The legislation would give states increased flexibility in spending the Head Start dollars they receive from the federal government to better meet the specific needs of low-income children. The bill would provide Head Start block grants directly to eligible grantees, which include states, territories and federally-recognized Indian tribes. He got the idea from state Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who has suggested this as part of the larger pre-K pilot program at the state level. “As a father of three young girls, I understand the importance of making sure our kids receive the best education possible,” said Banks. “Unfortunately, Head Start is failing to make a significant contribution to student development, and it is clear that Head Start needs a new start. Giving states, local officials and parents greater control over the Head Start program will result in better tailored pre-K programs for Hoosier students.”

Around the Horn With What Happened in D.C. Last Week

As expected, President Trump signed many executive orders this past week aligning with campaign promises for sweeping change. Some of these include:

  • Encouraging federal agencies to dismantle large parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the very controversial individual mandate requiring people to purchase insurance
  • The official withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a move the Indiana Chamber opposes
  • Freezing federal hiring
  • Advancement of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines
  • Illegal immigration activities – directing dollars to begin construction of a wall on the southern border and the boosting of federal agency efforts to stop illegal immigration
    On a related note, the President’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, issued a memo telling federal agencies to put a freeze on any new regulations and a 60-day hold on regulations that have not yet taken effect.

The members of the President’s cabinet that have been sworn in to date by Vice President Mike Pence: retired Marine General James Mattis as Defense Secretary, retired Marine General John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) as Director of the CIA and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) as UN Ambassador.

Rex Tillerson’s nomination for Secretary of State made it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate. Meanwhile, Betsy DeVos, nominee for Education Secretary, had her committee vote postponed until January 31. Indiana’s senior senator, Joe Donnelly, has announced that he will not support her nomination; watch his announcement of that decision.

Around the Horn on Federal Legislative Issues

As part of the Indiana Chamber’s robust federal advocacy program, Caryl Auslander will be working with the Indiana delegation (both in Washington, D.C. and here in Indiana) throughout the year. Look for additional stories and coverage of our federal efforts on your behalf in these reports and through other communications.

Below are some of the top recent Indiana news items:

  • Congressman Trey Hollingsworth spoke on the House floor in support of the REINS Act during his first week on the job; the measure to curb unnecessary government regulation passed the House on Wednesday. Hollingsworth has also been placed on the House Financial Services Committee.
  • A Hoosier connection remains on the House Ways and Means Committee with Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN 2) receiving a nod; Sen. Todd Young was most recently on this important committee.
  • Chairman alert: Rep. Susan Brooks (IN 5) has officially taken the helm of the House Ethics Committee.
  • This week, freshman Rep. Jim Banks (IN 3) presided over the House floor debate of a statement of opposition to the recent U.N. Resolution on Israel; the measure passed the House easily.
  • Newly sworn-in Sen. Young was assigned to four important Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
  • Retirement is on hold for former Sen. Dan Coats, who was announced as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence.
  • Indiana’s now senior Sen. Joe Donnelly was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service; Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • Senators Donnelly and Young were successful in getting the Government Publishing Office to formally designate Indiana residents as “Hoosiers” (bye-bye “Indianans”) and celebrated with this video announcement.
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg threw his hat into the ring for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Sen. Donnelly’s Visit Highlights an Active Month for Our Congressional Affairs Committee

donnellyWhile the presidential election may be the talk of D.C. and the media, this is also a busy time of the year for federal policy conversations for the Indiana Chamber.

In mid-August alone, Sen. Joe Donnelly, Senate candidate Evan Bayh and state Sen. Jim Banks, the Republican candidate for congressional District 3, met with our congressional affairs committee members to discuss issues important to Indiana. And Congresswoman Susan Brooks (District 5) was the keynote speaker for our Indiana Conference on Energy Management, advocating for the need for both sustainable and affordable energy.

While we may never agree on all matters with our congressional members, their overall willingness to engage, listen and act – by and large – in the best interest of the Hoosier business community and residents is a longstanding hallmark of Indiana’s delegation. And we are very appreciative for that.

Donnelly, who is not up for re-election, shared his thoughts on a variety of issues during his nearly hour-long visit. For one, he contends the gridlock in Congress is overblown: “What you see on TV bears no reflection to what is reality.” He stressed that 80% of the time the group works together, but the 20% – which often features high profile issues – is what drives the media reports. And “time after time, the Indiana delegation works together.”

Whether that’s Brooks with Donnelly on the law to combat opioid abuse, signed by the President last month, or Indiana’s senior senator, Dan Coats, and Donnelly – joined by District 9 Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Young – leading the charge to suspend the medical device tax for two years. And these are just two of the many examples.

Incidentally, these are among the efforts that led to Donnelly being presented with the U.S. Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award at our office last week; the honor is for his continued commitment to job creation and economic growth.

Some Legislators Pushing to End U.S. Senate Elections

For politicos, Indiana's 2012 U.S. Senate primary and election had it all: Drama. Faction rivalries. Gaffes. But if it was up to some legislators, the ultimate victor would not be left up to the general voting public.

Some Georgia Republicans are seeking a repeal of the 17th Amendment, and want state legislators to start appointing Senators in order to bring more power back to the states. The Huffington Post writes:

The resolution calls on Congress to begin the process of repealing the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which provided for the direct election of senators. State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), the main sponsor of the resolution, told the Douglas County Sentinel that moving the power back to state legislatures would allow for the original intent of the Constitution.

“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke told the paper. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”

In the text of the resolution, Cooke cites Madison's writing in the Federalist Papers, specifying that members of the Senate would be "elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures."

The resolution says the 17th Amendment has prevented state governments from having a say in federal government and that repealing the amendment would hold U.S. senators accountable to the states. The federal government has grown in "size and scope," it says, in the century since the amendment was adopted.

The 17th Amendment was adopted out of concern for state-level corruption influencing Senate elections, which Cooke said would not be the case now.

“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” Cooke told the Douglas County Sentinel. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”

Chamber Poll: Senate Race Tied, Pence Has Advantage in Gov. Race

Richard Mourdock (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) are in a statistical dead heat for the open U.S. Senate seat, with 17% of voters in that race still undecided, according to a new statewide poll released today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

By a 41% to 39% margin (within the survey’s margin of error), Mourdock enjoys a slight lead over Donnelly.  In addition to the 17% of respondents who are undecided, 3% support Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.

In the election for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence (R) holds a commanding 50% to 32% lead over John Gregg (D), with Libertarian Rupert Boneham supported by 3%.  In that race, 15% of respondents are still undecided.

The scientific public opinion poll of 600 registered voters statewide was conducted by Market Research Insight from August 6-9, 2012.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4% and utilized live interviewer telephone surveys to maximize accuracy. Dr. Verne Kennedy, senior analyst for Market Research Insight, served as project director for the poll. Kennedy has conducted more than 200 public opinion surveys in Indiana over the past two decades.

When poll respondents were asked to identify their political affiliations, results were 46% Republican and 38% Democrat, with 16% identifying as independents. Mourdock and Donnelly achieve similar support levels among their respective party voters, but 41% of self-identified independent voters are still undecided.

“As typical, both Democrats and Republicans are relatively polarized, favoring the candidate for their party,” Kennedy says. The 16% of Indiana voters who say they are completely independent will likely determine the outcome of the Senate race.

“Mourdock has the advantage in the election because more of the 17% of undecided voters on this race identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats,” Kennedy explains. “For instance, among those voters undecided on the U.S. Senate race, 33% indicated their support for Pence for governor compared to 6% who support Gregg in that race.”

The public opinion poll was commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). Learn more by viewing the polling report and crosstabs.

UPDATED: Our Congressmen Agree on Something! (Paperwork is Terrible)

Any time eight members of a nine-person Congressional delegation can agree on something these days, it must be a good thing. That is the case with the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011.

H.R. 4 is expected to be considered on the House floor today and the subject of a vote on Thursday. The 273 co-sponsors include all six Indiana Republicans (Larry Buschon, Dan Burton, Mike Pence, Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young) as well as Democrats Andre Carson and Joe Donnelly. Only Pete Visclosky is missing from the co-sponsor list, which, of course, doesn’t disqualify him from supporting the bill.

For those who don’t recall the provision or prefer to block it out in order to try and get a good night’s sleep, a section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that small business owners file a 1099-MISC with the IRS for all payments of $600 or more to a vendor in a tax year. In other words, just about everything. In a regulatory world gone awry, this might be the biggest nightmare of all if allowed to proceed.

The repeal earlier passed the Senate 81-17. Let’s hope common sense prevails in the House this week. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council has additional background and facts.

UPDATED: Thankfully, the U.S. House has voted to repeal this ridiculous measure. Surprisingly, despite being listed as a co-sponsor, Indiana Rep. Andre Carson voted against the measure. All eight other Hoosiers representatives sided with the majority in a 314-112 vote. The Senate has passed a slightly different version, so a compromise will need to be reached. Journal of Accountancy has the story.

Pelosi Facing Bite from Blue Dogs?

The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition has been a rather enigmatic lot in recent years. And its members get grief from liberals for being too conservative and/or too corporate, yet Indiana’s Blue Dog Congressmen (Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill, Joe Donnelly, etc.) are constantly blasted in the conservative blogosphere for being — pardon me for this — "lapdogs" for the Obama administration.

But now, it seems Speaker Pelosi may be taking genuine heat from this caucus. Roll Call explains:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made passing a jobs agenda her top priority this year, but an anti-deficit insurgency led by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), the administrative co-chairwoman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has forced Pelosi to scale back her ambitions.

With concerns about deficits rising and rank-and-file Democrats fearing losses in November, Blue Dog clout has soared in recent weeks, and liberal priorities from health care benefits for the jobless to tens of billions of dollars in aid to the states have ended up on the chopping block. In the tumult, Herseth Sandlin has emerged to head a new generation of Blue Dogs as old-guard members such as Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) are heading for the exits or lowering their profiles.

The pivotal moment came shortly before the Memorial Day recess, with Pelosi planning to push through a nearly $200 billion package of tax cut extensions, doctor payments, jobless benefits and state aid. But Herseth Sandlin warned the measure didn’t have the votes and would have to be trimmed significantly.

“While we’ve been invited to share our concerns and leadership has listened, not everyone is hearing us,” she told reporters at the time.

Within a day, Democratic leaders were forced to carve their bill nearly in half in a mad scramble for votes.

And this week, the leadership’s plans for a war spending bill had to be cut back in the face of demands from Blue Dogs that add-on aid for states and money for the Pell Grant program be fully offset. The bill will include just $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs — less than half the amount sought by leadership and President Barack Obama…

Blue Dogs won another victory in this year’s budget battles by extracting a $7 billion cut from Obama’s budget request — a level that will likely force cuts to some domestic spending programs treasured by liberals.

So what do you think? Genuine uproar within the party that could alter its platform, or just contrived friction that will ultimately mean nothing?

UPDATE: Also discovered this article, contemplating a possible Blue Dog coup to overtake Pelosi’s speakership. Doesn’t seem likely, but an interesting thought.

Following the Bouncing Election Ball

Random observations and insights from Election Day thus far:

  • Seems that the Secretary of State’s election division received as many inquiries about liquor stores being open (the law was, in a common sense move, changed earlier this year to allow alcohol sales while the polls were open) than problems at the polls. Good news there.
  • A caller to The Times in Northwest Indiana bragged that he voted straight Republican today. The newspaper’s response, on its blog, was: Well, duh!
  • There were early reports (around 7 p.m.) that U.S. Senate frontrunner Dan Coats had practiced his victory speech from the podium at the Indianapolis Marriott. Guess he didn’t mind tempting fate a bit.
  • Interesting to see those U.S. Senate and other TV ads airing in the final minutes before the polls closed. Candidates seeking a last-minute push? Nah! Just the intricacies of televison scheduling.
  • Indy Star’s Matt Tully notes on Chamber webcast that all Republicans leading the congressional primaries were doing so with less than 50% of the vote (current Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski did move up to 57% a short time later in dominating her race to challenge Joe Donnelly)

An Early Look at the 2010 Congressional Vote

Politicos tell us it’s never too early to look ahead to the next election. Washington’s CQ Politics does so for Congress, rating 100 House districts in play in some form in the 2010 mid-term elections.

CQ has eight of Indiana’s nine incumbents in the safe category. They are Visclosky, Donnelly, Carson and Ellsworth on the Dems’ side, and Souder, Buyer, Burton and Pence for the Republicans. Baron Hill (9th District) is in the Democrat Favored listing.

Key items to watch, according to CQ:

  • Democrats will likely lose a portion of their 256-178 (one current opening) advantage. The party in charge of the White House typically loses seats during the first mid-term vote (although the GOP and President Bush were an exception in 2002)
  • Swing seats will be a big focus. In 49 districts, voters favored John McCain for president but elected a Democrat to the House; conversely, 34 districsts backed President Obama but put a Republican in the House
  • Of the 100 seats rated competitive, 59 are held by Democrats. Only three are viewed as toss-ups, a slightly higher numbers as highly competitive and the majority as slightly competitive

Much can change, however, over the next 15 months.