Author Archives: maggie

Blog: What Will Happen to the 2015 Federal Budget When Congress Returns in September?

What Will Happen to the 2015 Federal Budget When Congress Returns in September?

Carolyn Burstein
August 28, 2014

The Fiscal Times reminds us that Congress has only successfully passed 13 spending bills on time since 2001, and during election years has enacted a federal budget only 25% of the time. So I guess we should not be surprised that everyone is anticipating a “continuing resolution” (CR) as a near inevitability this year with mid-term elections soon upon us and only about 12 days of congressional activity remaining in September before recess.

However, since the successful negotiations of Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) and congressional approval of their two-year budget deal in December 2013 following the government shutdown in October, most pundits expected the passage of the 2015 budget to be a relatively easy exercise.

Instead, the House has passed only four of 12 appropriation bills for 2015, the Senate has passed none, and, of course, no appropriations bills have been enacted. It appears that the acrimony and partisanship that have dominated the run-up to the midterm election process has also seeped into congressional dealings and ended any thought of bipartisan agreement on the 2015 budget.

The appropriations Chairs – Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY-05) have conscientiously used the numbers from the December budget deal in drawing up their respective budgets and accompanying legislation, but action in the Senate has been stymied by a disagreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Essentially, the argument between Reid and McConnell boils down to a failure to find a mutually agreeable process for approving amendments to the spending bills. AAS Blogger Joshua Shiode describes the machinations and jockeying between Reid and McConnell as a “complicated dance surrounding the appropriations bills,” or in less colorful language, one might consider it a “test of wills.”

As some legislators pointed out, part of the problem was an unanticipated emergency request from the president for $3.7 billion to deal with the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America at our southern border, which disrupted the appropriations process. But unexpected issues are a significant part of governmental decision-making, so clearly this interruption was not a causal factor in playing havoc with what was already a chaotic process.

By mid-July, Mikulski, who had earlier hoped to complete all individual spending bills prior to October 1, was already acknowledging that an overall omnibus bill would be needed to wrap up fiscal year 2015 work. As late as last week, at an event in her home state Mikulski said she planned in early September one more push at an omnibus bill even it was a long-shot, before conceding the need for a continuing resolution. Roll Call indicated in its August 11 edition that Mikulski would use the 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill as the vehicle for a catchall package because Congress had recently agreed to a groundbreaking bill for veteran’s health care, and VA medical care could be the impetus for moving to an omnibus. However, her House counterpart, Harold Rogers, who frequently worked closely with her on strategy, was less sanguine about the successful possibility of an omnibus, and conceded that a continuing resolution was probably inevitable.

With all due respect to Senator Mikulski, whose formidable power to help achieve passage of legislation is legendary, Rogers is more likely to be correct. Here’s why. Both houses of Congress have given themselves approximately 12 legislative days before recessing for campaigning for the midterms. Prior to the summer recess, the House and Senate passed divergent bills on President Obama’s request for supplemental funds to deal with the humanitarian crisis on our southern border. This unfinished business will probably be taken up in early September.

Another controversial issue that is bound to consume valuable time is the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, whose expiration occurs on September 30. A highly unusual coalition of Democrats, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups are supporting its reauthorization. In a strange twist, House Republicans, many influential with the leadership, oppose its reauthorization as “crony capitalism” as well as corporate welfare.

In an early session of the Senate in September, Harry Reid plans to begin consideration of a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank for five years. If time runs out, Reid plans to attach it to must-pass legislation, such as the continuing resolution. It isn’t at all clear that Mikulski will have the time she would require to gather momentum for an omnibus bill or even to get it to the floor, given Reid’s penchant for a rather authoritarian approach to his leadership role.

If the leadership and the majority in both the House and Senate decide to pass a continuing resolution, the area of disagreement may well center on its timing. If the Republicans are confident of winning a Senate majority, they may vote to extend the resolution into February or March of 2015 so that their party will have the opportunity to change the federal budget before fiscal year 2016. By the same token, if the Democrats fear losing their Senate majority, they would more likely vote to extend the continuing resolution only to the end of the lame duck session. And, of course, the reverse is true. The key issue is that the ensuing contention will be time-consuming, when only a few days remain to deal with significant matters.

Regardless of all the uncertainties that September will bring and given the gridlock for which the 113th Congress is well-known, it is more than mere conjecture that this Congress will approach its budgetary responsibility with a continuing resolution – another example of “kicking the can down the road” (an overused but apt cliché).

Blog: Paul Ryan, It Takes More than Love to Fill a Lunch Bag

Paul Ryan, It Takes More than Love to Fill a Lunch Bag

Shantha Ready Alonso
March 10, 2014

In Summer of 2012, NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus hit the road to confront Paul Ryan for using Catholic Social Teaching to justify cuts to vital nutrition, health, and other social safety net programs. He still doesn’t get it. Call him at (202)225-3031.

At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Rep. Ryan was talking about his belief that government nutrition assistance programs are ineffective. To make his point, he shared a story:

“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson… She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”  

NETWORK agrees that it would be wonderful for every child to go to school with a full lunch bag lovingly packed by a caregiver. Yet, Rep. Ryan has been a powerful voice in Congress for cutting programs that help parents fill their kids’ lunch bags. Feeling the squeeze of working full-time on poverty wages or being unable to find a job, many parents who love their children are unable to feed them enough. Many are also trimming their food budgets due to Congress’ cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and failure to renew Unemployment Insurance. Call on Paul Ryan to support policies that will ensure that kids’ lunch bags are full: a just minimum wage, a robust Earned Income Tax Credit, renewed Unemployment Insurance, and restoration of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Call Paul Ryan at (202)225-3031. Let him know: It takes more than love to fill a lunch bag.

Here’s what you might say:

Hello, I’m __ (name) from (faith community/organization & city). I heard the story Rep. Ryan told at the CPAC conference last week about the little boy and how he believed a brown paper lunch bag would make him feel loved. I agree it would be wonderful for every child to have their lunch lovingly packed by a caregiver daily. That’s why I support policies that fill lunch bags: the Earned Income Tax Credit, an increase in the minimum wage, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and restoration of Unemployment Insurance. All those policies put money in parents’ pockets to be able to send their children to school with a nutritious lunch. I’m glad Rep. Ryan is on board with the EITC. It’s time he saw the light and supported the other three policies, too. 

Please share this message with to anyone who you know wishes to hold Paul Ryan accountable.  While you’re at it, you also might want to check out Sister Simone’s comments about Paul Ryan’s new report on poverty

Oh, and by the way, the Washington Post fact checked the story about the little boy and the brown bag, and its not even true. The Post ranked it with four Pinnochios. The story came from a book called The Invisible Thread.

Blog: Signs of Hope– House Republicans Co-Sponsor CIR

Signs of Hope– House Republicans Co-Sponsor CIR

Jessica Brock
October 29, 2013

“You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God…”  (Eph. 2:19).

These were the opening words of the first reading from yesterday’s liturgy, proclaiming unity and inclusion rather than division and distrust. As these words were proclaimed, new signs of hope emerged in efforts to unify a divided Congress and to include our immigrant brothers and sisters as full members of our society.

Sunday, Congressman Jeff Denham (CA-10) announced that he will cross over the border of party lines to become the first Republican co-sponsor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (“H.R. 15”). This morning, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) joined her fellow Republican in co-sponsoring H.R. 15 – another sign of hope. Their commitment to bipartisan solutions to fixing our broken immigration system is a true sign of leadership. Their witness to the common good and support of H.R. 15 brings us one step closer to comprehensive immigration reform that will benefit the 100%. We are hopeful that more members of Congress will follow their example and co-sponsor H.R. 15, which provides a pathway to citizenship and protects family unity. Update 10/30/13: Representative Valadao, a Catholic member of Congress from California, whose district we visited during NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus for immigration reform, has become the third Republican to co-sponsor H.R. 15.  We are so pleased to see him aligning with Catholics across the country to take serious action to promote immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship and protects family unity.

H.R. 15 is the only comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House gaining any traction, and it is one of only a few bills providing solutions to aspiring Americans who are currently in the country and are undocumented. H.R. 15 was introduced by Congressman Joe Garcia (FL-26) on October 2, 2013, and at present it has 187 co-sponsors (185 Democrats, 2 Republicans). H.R. 15 is similar to S. 744, a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate (68-32) on June 27, 2013. The key difference between H.R. 15 and S. 744 is the removal of the Corker-Hoeven (“Border Surge”) amendment from the Senate bill. Instead of the inhumane and expensive border security provisions added to S. 744, H.R. 15 incorporates H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act of 2013. Also known as “the McCaul Bill,” H.R. 1417 is a bipartisan bill unanimously passed by the House Homeland Security Committee in May 2013.

H.R. 15 creates several new immigration categories including Registered Provisional Immigrant (“RPI”) status. RPI status will be offered to undocumented immigrants who have been present in the United States since December 31, 2011, who are admissible to the US under current law, and who meet other requirements. After six years, a person with RPI status could be eligible to renew her RPI status, and after ten years with RPI status, an individual could apply for Legal Permanent Resident status (“green card”). Undocumented individuals who use the RPI track will be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years in LPR status. This means that the pathway to earned citizenship is at least 13 years long for the majority of aspiring Americans. DREAMers will have shorter wait times to apply for Legal Permanent Resident status and citizenship through the RPI track.

We know that a major problem with our current, broken system is that there are visa backlogs that cause people to wait years before being united with their families and loved ones. H.R. 15 addresses visa application backlogs in worker and family application processes, and it works to clear these backlogs within seven years. In addition, it provides the possibility of carrying over unused visa quotas from one year to the next. H.R. 15 also addresses agricultural and other workers (both high- and low-skilled) through other visa programs.

H.R. 15 makes use of various organizations, committees, and reporting devices in most parts of its legislative scope. This means various groups will monitor and dialogue about immigration and border security policies and implementation of those policies over time. This communal and reflective approach offers a greater possibility of respect for the common good in decision-making, a principle of Catholic Social tradition. In contrast, a strict quota system like that proposed by the Corker-Hoeven amendment and other piecemeal legislation does not offer the possibility of responding to dynamic and diverse circumstances with input and oversight from multiple stakeholders. H.R. 15 also specifically addresses the need to help new immigrants acclimate to the United States and the need to protect and monitor the human rights and humanitarian needs of migrants.

Sign up to receive immigration updates from NETWORK’s immigration team: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e7ono53lhi1o9hez/start

Take action! Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative’s office (or email your representative’s office) to ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 15 or thank them for doing so already!

Other resources include:

Blog: REJOICE! Federal Judge Orders Release of Names of SOA/ WHINSEC Graduates

REJOICE! Federal Judge Orders Release of Names of SOA/ WHINSEC Graduates

Marge Clark
April 23, 2013

NETWORK continues to be supportive of the School of the America’s Watch (SOAW), in opposing our nation’s training of military leaders from Central and South America. Many NETWORK members are at Fort Benning with me each November, in prayerful protest to this violent, abusive use of our tax dollars.

Each year SOAW friends come to Washington and pressure members of Congress to close the School, to cut its funding, and at the very least again demand public release of graduates of the School. Once, in what seems a long time ago, we got the release of names and nations of graduates, and release of the texts used: books of torture techniques.

At the point that the name of the school was changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the text cites were withdrawn and names and nations of students and graduates were kept secret.

But, now a great success! See below, from www.soaw.org:

Oakland, CA – In a rare reflection of judicial independence, United States District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton from the Northern District of California ordered the Pentagon to release the names of who trains and teaches at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), a U.S. military training school for Latin American soldiers that has been connected to torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas. Human rights activists had taken the U.S. government to court over its refusal to release the information, and won.

Blog: The Guys With The Guns, and The Money, Won This Round

The Guys With The Guns, and The Money, Won This Round

Rachael Travis
April 18, 2013

This has been an unbelievably difficult week, feeling a bit like a nightmare that concluded with a cold bucket of water being thrown on me. That cold bucket of water was the reality that money really can speak louder than the voices of constituents. When it became apparent on Wednesday evening that the Manchin-Toomey amendment was going to fail my heart sank.

My heart didn’t sink because I necessarily thought the amendment would pass; instead it sank because I realized that those 45 Senators who voted against it weren’t representing their constituents in voting against the amendment, they were representing the NRA.

Attached is a list of the 45[1] Senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment on Wednesday April 17. Along with their picture is included the number of people from their states who have been killed due to gun violence as well as the amount of money they accepted from the National Rifle Association in their most recent election. We have also provided their office phone number and their Twitter handles, we encourage our members who are represented by these Senators to contact them and tell them that their vote was unacceptable.

We at NETWORK believe that the Manchin-Toomey amendment was not perfect. But, it was a good first step towards reducing gun violence in our country. The result of this vote exposed just how powerful the gun lobby is in Washington, D.C.  Leading up to the vote it was reported that 90% of Americans supported extending background checks, meaning that the Manchin-Toomey amendment should have passed not with a simple majority, but with an overwhelming majority. Instead the amendment failed to get the 60 votes needed.

As the previous paragraph would suggest, it has been a frustrating couple of weeks to be a small lobby with not a lot of money to spend. The silver lining to all of this frustration is that we now know which Senators were more interested in representing their corporate donors than their voting constituents, and now that we know who they are, it will be easier for constituents to go after them. And that is just what we at NETWORK are asking you to do. Continue to tell your Senators that, as a constituent, you demand they support the Manchin-Toomey amendment when it returns.

Senator Reid has pulled the amendment from being considered for the time being and has said that the Senate will come back and work on this bill.


[1] Harry Reid is excluded from this list because his no vote was a procedural vote that would allow the amendment to be brought back up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Blog: Women United against Gun Violence

Women United against Gun Violence

Jean Sammon
February 19, 2013

Women, nearly unanimously, support a multi-pronged response to gun violence that includes stronger gun laws and anti-bullying measures, mental health services and counseling hotlines. This is one of the major findings from a poll initiated by Women United for Gun Violence Prevention.

I attended the meeting of this new group in Washington on February 5, and came away convinced that this group of determined women will make a difference in the gun violence debate. Many who spoke at the meeting, including several congresswomen, were personally affected by gun violence. The take-away message is that Congress needs to hear from women.

The media also needs to hear from us, said a communications consultant, because media commentators are trying to prolong the fight. I expressed concern about pundits who keep saying that Congress won’t do anything about guns. He suggested we tweet them to tell them to stop saying that.

We also need to use social media to get the message out that gun laws work: state gun laws have reduced gun violence. (See smartgunlaws.org/gun-law-statistics-and-research/ and www.bradycenter.org/xshare/pdf/reports/brady-law-15years.pdf )

The poll shows that women, across party lines, understand the problem and are ready to take action. We got a short lesson on how to be heard: be grounded, be personable, smile with your eyes and be serious with your mouth, tell a story and put a face on the issue. And if you are talking to a member of Congress, remind them that women vote!

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I also attended the session on gun violence at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering where Vincent DeMarco, leader of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence spoke about the importance of advocacy for the following points:

  • Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check.
  • High-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians.
  • Gun trafficking should be made a federal crime.

Also last week, our friends at Americans United for Change sent me some questions to ask members of Congress at town hall meetings or other occasions.

I hope this blog entry gives you some additional resources and incentives to join the effort to reduce gun violence.

Blog: Friday Afternoon Reflection on a Week of Catholic Turmoil – Signs of Hope Ahead?

Friday Afternoon Reflection On A Week Of Catholic Turmoil – Signs Of Hope Ahead?

Stephanie Niedringhaus
May 25, 2012

This week began with Monday’s news about lawsuits being filed by a group of Catholic dioceses, universities and others challenging HHS regulations that insurers cover contraception. Because of NETWORK’s long history of working on healthcare issues, our Executive Director, Sister Simone Campbell, was immediately asked to comment, and she appeared that evening on Hardball with Chris Matthews to present her views.

Today, an op-ed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl appeared in the Washington Post. In it, he claimed that the lawsuits are not about money or even about contraception. They are, he stated, about “religious freedom” and the Bill of Rights.

Are they really about religious freedom – or are they about something else? Many believe that politics and power are actually at the heart of this battle.

When the administration first proposed the insurance mandate regarding contraception a few months ago, NETWORK stood with other Catholic groups and individuals in opposition. The administration quickly proposed an accommodation that would address some of the earlier problems regarding conscience protections. We then expressed our gratitude that “through thoughtful consideration of the competing needs of people of different faith perspectives the administration has found a way to honor faith-based conscience objections.” We have also continued to support ongoing negotiations as details are ironed out.

Why, then, were the lawsuits filed this week, many months before the regulation is even to take effect and while negotiations about the administration’s proposed accommodation are still going on? Why do so many conservative pundits stubbornly refuse to admit that this accommodation was even made – or that negotiations about its details continue to this day? Questions to ponder.

Also, we cannot ignore the fact that the Bishops are about to begin their highly financed, PR-driven “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign next month. A little publicity this month regarding the lawsuits can’t hurt.

And it is no coincidence that this is an election year.

Commonweal’s recent editorial about the Bishops’ campaign raises an important point: “This initiative is being launched during an election year in which one party has assumed the mantle of faith and charges the other with attacking religion. The bishops need to do much more to prevent their national campaign from becoming a not-very-covert rallying point for the Republican Party and its candidates.”

Early signs are not entirely promising. Some prominent Bishops have been quoted making highly disparaging comments about President Obama, with Bishop Daniel Jenky even comparing him to Hitler and Stalin. Cardinal Timothy Dolan went on CBS news this week, where he described the Church’s “horror” at “straightjacketed, handcuffing” and “strangling” religious exemptions in the administration’s HHS proposal.

But, thank God, we have also learned that some Bishops are expressing serious reservations about current tactics. E.J. Dionne gave hope to many Catholic moderates in an op-ed this week. Describing the lawsuits filed on Monday, he wrote, “But the other side of this news was also significant: That the vast majority of the nation’s 195 dioceses did not go to court. It turns out that many bishops, notably the church leadership in California, saw the litigation as premature.”  And referencing the “Fortnight for Freedom,” he noted that “there are reports that some bishops will play down or largely ignore the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, scheduled for June 21 to July 4, in their own dioceses. These bishops fear that it has become enmeshed in Republican election-year politics and see many of its chief promoters, notably Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, as too strident.”

So where do we go from here? Can Catholics come together again to focus more strongly on our Gospel mission, or will our Church become more and more caught up in conservative Republican efforts to deny President Obama a second term?

Time will tell, and prayers are needed.

Blog: Our Reaction to President Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

Our Reaction to President Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

Simone Campbell, SSS
June 23, 2011

President Obama announced his plan for drawing the Afghanistan war to a close…eventually. We at NETWORK believe that this war should end soon. Military leaders have said that there is no military solution to stability in Afghanistan. The president said that long-term peace is up to the Afghan leaders. So why the long timeline and no final withdrawal date?

It seems to us that it is because of “mission creep.” What started out as crippling Al Qaeda (which the president says is accomplished) has changed to be ending Taliban rule. This is not a mission that the U.S. has a strategic interest in pursuing.

While the president says that we are being “strategic as we are resolute,” it is imperative that there be real peace negotiations among all of the players in the country and the region.

In our view, the pressure to achieve a lasting peace would be enhanced if there was not the specter of 3 more years of war. A real end date in the next 18 months would focus the attention of all parties to take responsibility for their country.

NETWORK’s checklist for what should be in the speech:

  • Troop withdrawal of at least 30,000 troops in the next 6 to 9 months. The president called for a reduction of 33,000 troops in 14 months.
  • A plan for investment in development efforts which includes supporting democracy in Afghanistan and training Afghan forces to secure the state. The president referenced the need to support the Afghan government, but did not announce a plan for how to do it.
  • A plan for political negotiations in Afghanistan which includes engaging all regional actors. The president spoke of a summit in Chicago in May 2012 hosted by NATO allies and partners. It was not clear if this would include regional actors as well and if this would be larger than a military summit. We urge the president to use this announced meeting to move ahead on the diplomatic front and end the military operation.
  • A timeline for total U.S. troop withdrawal and a shift of security and leadership over to Afghanistan by at least January 2014. The president did use the 2014 date for a complete shift of responsibility to the Afghan government, but did not specify when in 2014. The United States does not need three more years in which to accomplish a transition to Afghan control.
  • A long-term peacemaking plan that supports a democracy by the people and for the people of Afghanistan. There was no mention of a specific plan for the support of democracy in Afghanistan. The president referenced that as a desired result by did not put forward any specific initiatives.