In The News
While it is not quite an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, the metaphor is close enough: Freshman House Democrats who roared into the majority in January with ambitious legislative plans are increasingly facing the reality of a Senate majority leader who has little interest in what they want. The latest reality check came on Wednesday when a substantial portion of first-year House Democrats — 62 members — urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to act on H.R. 1, a sweeping House-passed bill that seeks to fortify ethics rules for public officials, overhaul campaign finance and expand access to voting. In a letter to the Kentucky Republican, the Democrats stressed how they pledged action on those three pillars as their first priority of the 116th Congress. Several of the signatories staged a press conference Wednesday in front of the Capitol where they implored the Senate to act.... The For the People Act, introduced by Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes passed the House in March with 235 Democratic co-sponsors. The companion bill in the Senate, S 949, was introduced by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall in March but no action has been taken since.
Maryland lawmakers are asking the directors of the FBI and the Secret Service to provide a briefing at the conclusion of the ransomware attack against the City of Baltimore.The letter, addressed to FBI director Honorable Christopher Way and Secret Service director Honorable James Murray, was sent Thursday, just over two weeks after Baltimore City network was infected with ransomware. U.S. senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and congressmen John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings, and Dutch Ruppersberger and are asking the agency directors to answer six questions following the conclusion of the attack and subsequent investigations. The legislators want to know: the identity of the attackers and methods used, what resources were available to the city to respond to the attack and regain control of its systems, what resources were provided to the city, what resources are available to assist the city in enhancing its cybersecurity against similar attacks in the future, details for other attacks in other municipalities and states, and the steps taken by the agencies and governments, and what additional funding and authority Congress could provide to assist in recovery and against similar attacks in the future.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other Maryland lawmakers have lots of questions for the FBI about the ransomware attack on Baltimore City government computer systems. The lawmakers are seeking a briefing on, among other topics, what federal resources were provided to respond to the attack and how the city can enhance its cybersecurity. In a letter being sent Thursday to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secret Service Director James Murray, the legislators also ask for the attackers’ identities and details about similar cases in other states. Baltimore officials said the attack earlier this month knocked email and payment systems offline and halted the city’s real estate market operations…. “As you know, this attack has caused significant disruptions to the daily operation of City services, delaying at least 1,500 pending home sales and affecting how residents pay bills and other obligations,” said the letter, signed by Van Hollen and fellow Democratic senator Ben Cardin. Reps. John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger — all Baltimore-area Democrats — also signed.
After a White House meeting on infrastructure fell apart yesterday, lawmakers were left picking up the pieces, with the odds of Congress passing a broad package looking slimmer than ever. Instead, it seems likely Congress will pursue a narrower surface transportation bill. That would happen through the reauthorization of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, which is set to expire in October 2020…. House Democrats have made climate change a top priority in the 116th Congress, and infrastructure is no exception. Most recently, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week released a package aimed at addressing climate change, clean energy, grid modernization and more. The package, dubbed the "Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow's (LIFT) America Act," would specifically provide more than $33 billion for clean energy, including $4 billion for the deployment of more renewables on the grid…. Democrats on the House panel spoke in optimistic terms about passing major infrastructure legislation that would address the climate crisis…. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said at the hearing an infrastructure deal should address the grid. "Modernizing our electric grid is a smart investment, from helping obviously to address carbon emissions to promoting reliability and affordability," he said.
Top House Democrats on Tuesday savaged the Trump administration’s plan to blow up the Office of Personnel Management, calling the effort to close the major federal agency a backdoor power play to weaken the federal workforce. The hostile reception, alongside tepid support from Republicans, left the plan’s chances in doubt and raised the possibility that the administration would dismantle some of the agency’s functions on its own, even if Congress fails to pass legislation to do it…. The proposed breakup, which has consumed the personnel agency for more than a year, would pull apart OPM and its 5,565 federal employees and divide it among three other departments…. Critics say the proposal is a ploy to politicize the civil service by installing political appointees close to the White House…. [Acting OPM director, Margaret] Weichert said the staff is so bogged down by technology problems that it cannot carry out its core mission of enacting policies to improve the 2.1 million-strong civil service — particularly by raising morale — and conduct succession planning for an aging workforce…. But the most pointed criticism was left to Democrats, who, while acknowledging the problems with OPM’s legacy computer systems, questioned the administration’s motives in breaking up a department with a government-wide role. “It just sounds like you’re proceeding on a wing and prayer here,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) told Weichert, calling her justification “quite facile and a kind of double talk.”
House Democratic committee leaders recently introduced a comprehensive election security bill that would commit more than $1 billion in grants to secure America’s election systems and mandate states to use paper ballots for votes. This could be the first election security directive that Congress passes since foreign actors shook up the nation’s 2016 election through a hacking and disinformation operation…. Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Md., [Bennie] Thompson, [D-Miss.] and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced the Election Security Act in an effort to protect future elections from “malevolent attacks and foreign interference.” The legislation is a key provision of the H.R.1 For the People Act, which is a reform bill that was recently passed in the House and involves a total rehaul around election integrity and ethics. The standalone bill gives the Election Security Act two possible paths forward, a committee representative told Nextgov. Aside from requiring states to use paper ballots and authorizing more than $1 billion in funding grants to help states improve election security, the bill would also establish cybersecurity standards for voting systems vendors and require that voting machines be manufactured in the United States. The legislation would also order voting systems to be tested nine months prior to elections and require the president to produce a national strategy around protecting democratic institutions. Under the bill, the Director of National Intelligence would also be required to conduct threat assessments at least 180 days ahead of elections and the Homeland Security Department would be directed to expand the assistance it provides to state election officials, including expediting their security clearances.
The day after our nation commemorated the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., the House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the For the People Act, to strengthen voting rights, take big money out of politics, and clean up corruption on Capitol Hill. Before the vote on March 8, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a foot soldier for civil rights who marched in Selma, implored lawmakers to recognize their moral responsibility to restore access to democracy…. Democracy is foundational to America’s highest values. From its base grow equity and justice, and freedom and opportunity. But when people’s voices are blocked from civic participation — as they increasingly are today — our hard-won progress becomes vulnerable. Americans are hungry for change. State by state, voters cast their ballots last November for measures like automatic voter registration, redistricting reform, and rights restoration for formerly incarcerated people. The For the People Act would implement those changes nationwide. It would also create a small donor matching system for funding campaigns, which would empower everyday Americans and lift up the historic number of candidates who have pledged to take no corporate PAC money…. When our democracy is closed to the people, we cannot make progress on civil and human rights issues like immigration, affordable health care, educational equity, and economic security. Similarly, without government accountability and transparency, the people lose their power to ensure lawmakers represent their interests. The government in turn loses legitimacy among the people. When our democracy is in peril, so too are our civil rights. The For the People Act offers a transformative vision for democracy that puts the American people and our shared values first. Importantly, it also commits to restoring the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Rep. Lewis was beaten and bloodied as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for daring to expand access to our political process. Fifty-four years later, we are again at a crossroads — and not one of politics, but of what is right and just. Leader McConnell, let the senators vote.
Rep. John Sarbanes tells Lawrence O’Donnell that Trump has made Democrats "more determined" to conduct robust oversight in the wake of his stonewalling efforts and refusal to provide any witnesses or documents before congressional committees. Lawrence also discusses with Matt Miller and Adam Jentleson.
U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes on Wednesday criticized insulin producers for their lack of transparency in setting prices. “I do not buy the argument that the patient is going to be worse off, the consumer is going to be worse off, if we have complete transparency,” the Baltimore County Democrat said at a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and reform subcommittee. “I think the lack of transparency is allowing for a lot of manipulation….” Last week, the committee heard testimony from a diabetic patient who rationed her insulin to make it last longer because she couldn’t afford her next bottle. Also at that hearing, the committee explored the influence of pharmacy benefit managers, companies that negotiate prices for insulin with insurance companies and uninsured consumers. The testimony led Sarbanes, whose 3rd District includes a part of central Anne Arundel County, to question whether witnesses were optimistic that businesses could be transparent in their negotiations for the drug. On Wednesday, Sarbanes asked why the general public does not have access to information about how the net price of the drug is often negotiated to a significantly higher cost for the patient through price benefit managers. “Should it be a trade secret? is that the problem? Like proprietary?” Sarbanes asked one pharmacy benefit manager company executive. “The reason I am able to get the discounts that I can from the manufacturer is because...,” Amy Bricker, senior vice president of Express Scripts, started. The congressman cut her off: “It’s a secret.” “Because it’s confidential,” Bricker responded. “Yeah, because it’s a secret,” Sarbanes said. Sarbanes then asked if the executives would support Congress taking steps to make the process transparent…. The Maryland lawmaker condemned what he called “hocus pocus” negotiations going on behind closed doors, saying that the whole price-setting system for insulin is “screwed up.” “They’ve managed to figure out a way to structure the system so they can be negotiating at a level that always protects, it appears to me, the profits of the companies and PBMs at the expense of the patients,” Sarbanes said.