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Senate side of the U.S. Capitol. Picture by Humberto Sanchez

The Senate last week sent President Donald Trump a bipartisan deal to raise spending by $320 billion over the next two years and suspend the statutory limit on federal borrowing through 2021 after approving the package Thursday and before heading out on their August recess.

Trump took to Twitter Thursday before the Senate vote to encourage Republicans to support the package.

“Budget Deal is phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!,” he said. “Two year deal gets us past the Election. Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!.” 

Budget deal

The Senate approved the measure on a 67-28 vote, with 23 of the 52 Senate Republicans opposing the bill. Republicans in both chambers were reluctant to support the package over concerns about the deficit, which is expected to surpass $1 trillion before the end of the year, according to White House estimates.

The vote came after the House approved the measure the week before. The House left for their summer break in late July. Only 65 House Republicans voted for the package, while 132 opposed it.

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen voted for the package. Cortez Masto said that she backed the bill, in part, to help prevent a government shutdown, but also raised concerns about the ballooning deficit. She praised increases in defense and nondefense spending, which she said were “good news for Nevadans.”

“I voted in favor of today’s bipartisan budget agreement because the fiscal brinksmanship in Washington must end,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “While I have concerns over the continued growth of the federal deficit because of this President’s tax giveaway to the rich and corporations, this bipartisan agreement also has a lot of good news for Nevadans.”

Rosen cited the bipartisan nature of the deal and said the funding would go to important domestic programs, such as health care, education and those that help veterans. The state is home to more than 200,000 veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This bipartisan budget agreement will allow Congress to support critical domestic programs, providing Nevadans with access to quality health care, education, and other services and resources that support working families, small businesses, and our local economy,” she said in a release. “It will also allow us to fully support our servicemembers and veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country,”  

Rosen also said she lent her support in order to help avoid a government shutdown.

“It’s going to put a lot of things to rest for the time being,” Rosen said in a brief interview Thursday.

While Congress still has to approve the 12 annual appropriations bills in order to keep funds flowing to maintain government operations, the deal helps put off a shutdown by setting the top-line spending levels for fiscal 2020 and 2021. 

Congress was on track to bust existing top-line spending levels put in place by a 2011 law designed to rein in spending. Breaking the cap limit would have triggered $125 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration set to go into effect next year.

But the deal reverses the sequestration cuts that would have been triggered had Congress not acted. Those cuts would hit defense and domestic programs favored by both parties.

Instead, the deal raises spending by $320 billion over existing spending limits, which includes a $165 billion increase for defense and $131 billion for non-defense spending over the next two years. 

The deal also includes $77 million in offsets and would suspend the statutory debt limit, which is the amount the federal government is allowed to borrow, through July 2021. The move prevents a default on the nation’s debt, which would trigger a ratings downgrade that would raise borrowing costs for the government. The nation was poised to hit the limit as soon as late summer, according to the Treasury Department

Nominations

The Senate also confirmed 13 District Court judges, including 10 by roll call vote. District courts are the federal trial courts of general jurisdiction. They are lower courts compared to courts of appeals, also known as circuit courts, which hear appeals of federal district court decisions and are also authorized to review the decisions of many administrative agencies.

Of the 10, Cortez Masto and Rosen opposed seven, which were all decided on roughly party-line votes. Her opposition included William Stickman for district judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania; he was confirmed on a 56 to 34 vote.

The three nominations Cortez Masto and Rosen supported were all approved by decisive votes, including James Hendrix to serve as a district judge for the Northern District of Texas. He was confirmed 89 to 1.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell initially pushed to approve 19 judges, but ultimately settled on 13 as the recess approached. Six other nominees are expected to get a vote once the Senate returns the week of Sept. 9.

Looking to make good on a campaign promise to put more conservative judges on the bench, as of Aug. 1, the Senate has approved 144 of Trump’s judicial nominees, which are lifetime appointments. That includes 99 District Court judges, 43 appellate court judges and two Supreme Court judges. That is more than President Barack Obama, President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, at the same time in their presidencies, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The feat will be part of Trump's legacy and also that of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell because of the lasting impact on the nation as a result of the rulings the judges will issue during their time on the bench.

The confirmations come after Senate Republicans voted in April to speed up the confirmation of the president’s nominations. Under the new process, enacted without support from Democrats, the Senate can continue to debate a nominee for up to two hours, rather than 30, after voting to cut off debate.

The Senate also approved Kelly Craft to be the ambassador to the United Nations. She was approved on a 56 to 34 vote with only five Democrats supporting her nomination. Cortez Masto and Rosen both opposed Craft.  

Rosen cited Craft’s inexperience as the rationale for her opposition. 

“It's an important position on the world stage,” Rosen said in a brief interview Thursday. “You're on the Security Council. Experience matters, so does understanding the global interactions between our friends, allies and adversaries and I just don't believe she has any experience.”

Prior to being confirmed as U.N. ambassador, Craft served as the ambassador to Canada. She assumed office in October 2017, but before that had little diplomatic experience, according to  

New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, who is ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“At her confirmation hearing, Craft displayed a lack of depth on basic foreign policy issues at her nomination hearing,” Menendez said in a release.

Menendez also said that she was absent from her office in Canada, spending more than 300 days, or 58 percent of her tenure, away from her post between October 2017 and June 2019.

According to a story from Politico, “Craft was frequently absent from her post in Ottawa, raising questions about her level of engagement with the job.”

But as a Kentucky native, Craft had the backing McConnell, who argued that she was a crucial member of the administration who helped negotiate the trade deal between the U.S, Canada and Mexico. 

Miscellany 

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that he visited the Nevada National Security Site with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday.

The visit comes after the disclosure last month by the Department of Energy that it inadvertently sent shipments of radioactive waste over six years to the Nevada National Security Site that did not meet disposal requirements.

"I appreciate Sec. Perry and senior DOE officials for providing a tour of the NNSS yesterday,” Sisolsak said in a statement issued Friday.

Sisolak said he is still working with DOE to address the matter and how it can be prevented in the future.

I remain committed to holding them accountable and establishing a more transparent working relationship with the State of Nevada and the many local communities impacted by the Department’s actions,” Sisolak continued. “I will remain diligent in ensuring all of the questions in my July 5 letter and the subsequent inquiries from Nevada’s Division of Environmental Protection are fully and honestly answered by the DOE. As always, my top priority continues to be the health and safety of the citizens of Nevada."

After the two Democratic presidential debates last week, Rosen shared her thoughts ahead of a candidate forum in Las Vegas on Saturday hosted by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Asked whether it is more important for candidates to push big progressive ideas or take a more pragmatic approach, Rosen said that she supports the more moderate approach.

“What I would like to do is have the candidates hear from all Nevadas, hear what everyones talking about, and I want them to pull that together to be pragmatic, to be a problem solver,” Rosen said. “I can tell you, I ask everybody this question: What keeps you up at night. And no matter whether they’re visiting me here in Washington or I am going around the state, it all boils down to those kitchen table issues.  ‘Am going to be ok? Is my health care oh? Are my kids going to have a good school? Will I be able to retire?’”

“So I want us to focus on those issues that help families succeed first and then we can move out to broader issue, immigration, the environment and all of that,” Rosen continued. “But at the kitchen table is where it all starts.”

The Las Vegas event will be co-moderated by Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston and Huffington Post DC bureau chief Amanda Terkel, and live-streamed on HuffPo and on IndyTV.

While the Senate was wrapping up its final week before recess, Nevada’s members of the House were back in their districts, including Rep. Dina Titus, who appeared on MSNBC four times to discuss her decision to call for the House to begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Titus told Joy Reid on Tuesday that the testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who appeared before two House panels before the members left for their recess, moved her to speak out on impeachment. She also cited the White House’s refusal to provide documents or allow witnesses to testify in the various committees, including one Titus leads, that are investigating the president. 

‘It’s been an accumulation of things that really led me to this point,” Titus said. “The fact that they have not answered our questions, they have not provided information, they won’t come and testify, hiding behind executive privilege, all of that in addition to the Mueller testimony.”

“The people who are calling me here in my district in Las Vegas since the Mueller television [appearance] have just increased in number and intensity in favor of just moving forward with this impeachment inquiry,” she continued. 

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei has posted a few pictures of his travels around his district, including to “the rurals.”

“This week, I traveled out to the rurals to meet with county commissioners and city councilmen in Lovelock, West Wendover, Wells, and Elko,” Amodei said. “While in Elko, I also had the opportunity to meet with the Chamber of Commerce, the National Weather Service, the Elko BLM, and the County Sheriff’s Office. I’ll be ending my week by providing a Washington Update at the Rotary Club of Incline Village and meeting with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Basin Fire Chiefs.”

Rep. Susie Lee threw out the first pitch at the annual Nevada police and fire softball game on Thursday. The previous Saturday, she weighed in on Trump’s attacks on the Baltimore congressional district of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the administration.

“Another instance of when I feel our country has sunk deeper into a divide that I hope we can repair,” she wrote on Twitter,  The personal, racist attacks against @RepCummings are undignified, and an unnecessary distraction from the real work we need to do for the American people.”

Trump issued a series of tweets attacking Cummings, including calling his district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, who also came to Cummings’ defense, sat down with The Nevada Independent on Thursday. 

He declined to call Trump a racist, but said that his policies and actions are just that.

“What concerns me the most are the president’s racist, discriminatory and hateful actions and policies. That’s what’s most concerning to me,” Horsford said. “I don’t know the man, his heart or his beliefs, but I do know what he’s doing to our country based on his actions and his policies and they’re not good for our country.”

Horsford also talked extensively about his opposition to Medicare-for-all, which he said would take “health care away from people that have it now.”

On Friday, Horsford visited Yucca Mountain, where the DOE wants to build a repository to store the nation’s nuclear waste. Horsford and most Nevada lawmakers oppose the project. He said he visited the site, along with three other House members “to find alternatives to Yucca Mountain and identify solutions for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste; solutions that don’t threaten Nevadans.”

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

 

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
Legislation sponsored:
S. 2427 – A bill to amend title 31, United States Code, to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue quarter dollars in commemoration of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes
S. 2383 – A bill to establish minimum standards of disclosure by franchises whose franchisees use loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.
S. 2324 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the military departments to encourage women members of the Armed Forces who separate or retire from the Armed Forces during fiscal year 2020 to participate in the Women's Health Transition Training Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2403 – A bill to authorize the Secretary of Transportation to provide loans for the acquisition of electric buses and related infrastructure.
S. 2330 – A bill to amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to provide for congressional oversight of the board of directors of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and to protect amateur athletes from emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and for other purposes.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation sponsored:
S. 2392 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to create a Pension Rehabilitation Trust Fund, to establish a Pension Rehabilitation Administration within the Department of the Treasury to make loans to multiemployer defined benefit plans, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2309 – A bill to require the Secretary of State to submit a report on potential benefits and impact to the United States of establishing a joint United States-Israel cybersecurity center of excellence.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 4096 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to require an annual report on veteran access to gender specific services under community care contracts, and for other purposes
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 4108 – To direct the Secretary of Education to make grants to support early college high schools and dual or concurrent enrollment programs.

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