5 Issues Begging for Congressional Attention
With Congress in a dead freeze midway through the summer months, there’s a long backlog of issues that need to be addressed by the legislature, preferably sooner rather than later. With midterms preventing a thaw until after the partisan power balance is settled and congressional members off for the next five weeks on vacation, the problems really begging for an immediate solution are even more clear. Five items are currently being considered, but most of them are unlikely to make it through with enough votes, and some of them are laughably unlikely to see the light of days. But for a quick update on what’s being done, and what needs to be done, here are five major items most in need of congressional action.
1. NSA reform
Let’s start with one of the few items that might actually make it through party division with bipartisan support: the National Security Agency reform bill. The bill comes just months after a bill from the House of Representatives, which passed in May, but took criticism for leaving loopholes open and generally being far to loose to be as effective a limit on surveillance power as is needed. The newest bill has been introduced as of Tuesday, backed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and would be a sort of corresponding bill to go alongside the House’s USA Freedom Act. “If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago,” said Leahy in a statement on the floor. “This is a debate about Americans’ fundamental relationship with their government — about whether our government should have the power to create massive databases of information about its citizens.”
The bill follows a year of intense scrutiny of American surveillance and data collection after Edward Snowden — former NSA contractor — release incriminating documents from his former employers revealing fairly extensive oversteps in power. The bill allows for phone record acquisition, but only in a “targeted manner” and requires that this more reporting to the public be done. Bulk collection would be removed and a limited “call detail records” collection is allowed “if the government can demonstrate reasonable articulable suspicion that its search term is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.” While some argue that the bill still doesn’t go far enough, it does do slightly more to prevent government collection by specifically disallowing collection from a service provider’s “broad geographic region, such as a city, zip code, or area code.”
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) both criticize the bill for not preventing warrantless searches. “Congress needs to close this loophole, and we look forward to working with Chariman Leahy and our colleagues to address this issue when the bill comes before the full U.S. Senate,” they said, according to The Guardian. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for his part has voiced support for the bill, saying, “I am honored to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle toward delivering this bill to the President’s desk for his signature.”
While surveillance reform may have some bipartisan hope, border control and immigration reform likely does not. Members of the GOP are looking to put a new border funding bill to a vote which would send $659 million to help aid in the current crisis and tighten the border. However, more than anything, it looks to be an attempt to patch together a conservative bill before members leave on recess. Especially if certain provisions are added, as Sen. Ted Cruz hopes for, it’s unlikely to go far.
Specifically, Cruz is looking to place an anti-amnesty provision in the bill, an item he’s introduced separately in the Protect Children and Families Through the Rule of Law Act. “It is disappointing the border security legislation unveiled today does not include language to end Obama’s amnesty,” said Cruz on Tuesday.
With an extreme influx of underage and unaccompanied illegal immigrants along the Southern border of the U.S. many on the right are blaming President Barack Obama for encouraging the illegal crossing with amnesty rhetoric, but legislation from the House isn’t likely to be the solution in the present atmosphere. Immigration reform will likely have to keep waiting.
Problems with the Veteran health care service have literally lost lives, as has been shown this year. Whistle blowers have drawn attention to inhumane wait times, fudged records, and quotas beyond reason. An audit of the VA has shown major problems, with a White House investigation saying it found “significant and chronic systemic failures.”
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted on and easily passed a VA bill to give $16.3 billion additional funding to veteran medical treatment. The Senate is expected to pass a bipartisan plan that was opened up on Monday in which $10 billion would go to veterans outside the VA who can’t get appointments and $5 billion would go to increasing doctors and nurses. The issue of money is complicated somewhat by finding where the money should come from. Even so, it’s likely to pass in the Senate.
4. Obama lawsuit
Actually, this may not really count as a issue that’s exactly begging for congressional attention. But it would be nice to have it over with, if nothing else. Unfortunately, based on the vote that took place in the House of Representatives, it could drag on for a while as it was voted to continue with the suit. The issue is one that’s predictably split almost perfectly across the two parties. Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), claim the president’s use of executive orders constitutes an overstepping of his office and an overuse of power.
“They (Congress) have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive action to help people. So they’re mad because I’m doing my job,” said Obama in response to Wednesday’s vote during a speech in Kansas City.
Impeachment doesn’t seem to be the tune Boehner’s specifically playing anymore, though many Republicans are still calling for it. The House’s passage of Republican’s bill empowering them to sue the president doesn’t mean the federal court will choose to take the case, but it does mean more time and attention will be put to the matter going forward.
5. Sexual assault
Surprisingly, another bipartisan bill may pose an eventual solution or at least aid towards reform for sexual assault cases at university and college campuses. A bipartisan bill is being worked on in the Senate with the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, and the House has a bill of its own, one or both of which might make it through before 2015.
According to a White House study almost one out of every five women (22 million) are raped during their life. One out of seventy-one men, or 1.6 million, face the same crime. Campuses are of particular concern because the system for handling rape cases has been shown to be particularly flawed. For example, NPR reports that nearly 20 percent of 200 schools in a Senate survey show that they still have athletic departments making decisions on rape cases that involve their athletes.
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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS