The Big Lagoon Rancheria had a major victory this month after an en banc decision granted Big Lagoon the authority to pursue the construction of a casino on tribal land in trust. In 1994, the United States accepted into trust an 11-acre parcel of land on which the Tribe sought to build a casino. The Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) allows tribes to operate class III gaming only after entering into a tribal gaming compact with the state. When negotiations stalled, Big Lagoon brought suit against California, and in 2007 the district court ordered the parties to come to an agreement after finding that the state had not negotiated in good faith.
California appealed, and pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri (2009), the Ninth Circuit found that because Big Lagoon was not federally recognized in 1934, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to accept land into trust for Big Lagoon. The three-judge panel concluded that since the 11-acre parcel was not tribal land, Big Lagoon lacked standing to compel California to negotiate.
However, the Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc panel vacated the previous decision and reinstated the district court’s holding that state violated IGRA by failing to negotiate in good faith. If California had wanted to contest the original acceptance of the parcel, the state would have had to do so under the Administrative Procedure Act within the six-year statute of limitations. The en banc panel’s ruling helps restore some certainty to tribes recognized after 1934 by preventing collateral attacks on tribal land in trust beyond the statute of limitations.
With Republicans winning control of the Senate in the November election, all the committees will get new leaders, though all have been around for years.
The heads of the 13 major committees and Veterans’ Affairs are some of the most senior members of the Senate. Three are octogenarians and four are in their late 70s. Only one new leader will be a woman; Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is in line to take over the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A look at the powerful senators and their issues:
Kansas’ Pat Roberts, 78, will consider renewal of child nutrition programs that have been pushed by the White House and expire next year. Roberts has criticized efforts to make school lunches healthier, calling for studies on the costs of the program and economic impact on schools.
Roberts has been a recent dissenter on the normally bipartisan panel, voting against the five-year farm bill that Congress passed in May. Roberts supported the bill’s boost in crop insurance for farmers but said other subsidies needed more changes. He called the entire bill “a look in the rear-view mirror.”
Like his Republican counterparts in the House, Roberts has championed cutting back spending for food stamps, saying the farm bill’s estimated cut of $8 billion over 10 years was insufficient.
Roberts held the gavel of the House Agriculture Committee 20 years ago and during his tenure he helped write the 1996 farm bill.
The gavel of the powerful panel responsible for drafting approximately one-third of the federal budget will return to Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, who turned 77 in December and was just re-elected to a seventh term.
Cochran was in charge during the last two years of the previous GOP majority and was a driving force behind more than $100 billion in funding to help Gulf Coast states recover from Hurricane Katrina. He was also a big practitioner of earmarks, those home-state goodies such as highway projects, economic development grants and university research dollars.
GOP leaders have banned earmarking, but Cochran is sure to back Navy shipbuilding efforts. Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, which makes a variety of Navy ships such as modern destroyers, is Mississippi’s largest private employer.
Republicans are expected to use the 12 spending bills to challenge Obama on policy issues, such as health care, financial services, immigration and the environment.
Leading the committee has been a long-sought goal for 78-year-old John McCain of Arizona, the former Navy pilot, Vietnam prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008.
McCain, who has hinted he might seek a sixth term in 2016, stands as one of Obama’s fiercest critics on national security, casting the administration as weak and ineffective in countering threats overseas. He has repeatedly called for arming and training moderate Syrian rebels and favors more U.S. forces in Iraq to battle Islamic State militants.
McCain has been critical of Pentagon contracting. Increased examination of defense manufacturers and acquisition policy is certain. The Pentagon can largely forget about scrapping the A-10 Warthog aircraft, which McCain heavily favors, and can expect close scrutiny of the costly F-35 fighter jet.
BANKING, HOUSING AND URBAN AFFAIRS
The wily Richard Shelby, 80, makes a return tour as head of the committee. High on his agenda will be changes to the financial overhaul law enacted in response to the 2008 crisis, known as Dodd-Frank. The 2010 law that brought stricter regulation of banks and Wall Street has been a burr in the side of Republican lawmakers, and the GOP-controlled House has passed numerous bills to unwind it.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the next majority leader, put it plainly at his day-after-the-election news conference: “The Banking Committee is certainly going to look at Dodd-Frank.” The big banks, he said, “are doing just fine under Dodd-Frank. The community bankers are struggling.”
Besides bank rules, the committee under the Alabama senator also may focus on curbing the authority of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau over auto lenders and credit card companies. The bureau was created by the financial law.
Also likely to get committee attention is legislation to reshape the housing finance system and wind down mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Shelby succeeded as head of the panel from 2003 to 2007 in blocking bank regulation proposals.
In a surprise, Wyoming’s Mike Enzi will become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee after Jeff Sessions of Alabama stepped aside. Sessions had been the top Republican on the committee the past four years.
Enzi, 70, said he will work to craft a budget “that cuts spending, targets executive overreach and reduces the size of government.”
He will be called upon to craft a budget framework that could serve as a template for follow-up legislation to repeal Obama’s health care law and, perhaps, tackle expensive benefit programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION
South Dakota’s John Thune, 53, faces a heavy workload — reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and Amtrak, net neutrality and transportation.
The committee will have to address the auto safety portions of the highway bill in the aftermath of General Motors faulty ignition switch recalls, now linked to more than two dozen deaths, and the Takata air bag recalls, also linked to several deaths. Proposals to toughen federal oversight of the auto industry are likely. Some lawmakers have called for eliminating the $35 million cap on how much the government can fine automakers in such cases.
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
An energy policy expert from an energy-producing state, the 57-year-old Murkowski wants to unlock as much of America’s energy as safely possible.
Murkowski has argued for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, as well as Alaska’s offshore, and has opposed regulations that block energy production. She believes EPA regulations to curb coal-fired power plant pollution to deal with global warming will threaten the reliability and raise the costs of electricity.
She supports exporting U.S. natural gas and has led the charge on pressuring the administration to lift restrictions on exports of crude oil. She has backed the immediate approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which McConnell has said will be first on the new agenda.
Murkowski, unlike others in the GOP, believes global warming is happening and that Alaskans are already experiencing the effects of rising water temperatures and thinning ice.
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
The likely ascent of Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, 79, represents one of the biggest sea changes on a Senate committee with Republicans in charge.
Inhofe, one of Congress’ most vocal deniers of the scientific consensus of climate change, wrote in a 2012 book that global warming was “a hoax.” He will replace Californian Barbara Boxer, who introduced climate change legislation in 2009 and was an ally of the environmental community and Obama.
Inhofe, by contrast, is a thorn in the side of the Environmental Protection Agency and has argued that more regulation will kill the economy and jobs. Inhofe has called on the EPA to abandon stricter rules on refinery air pollution and to reject their own scientists’ recommendation to tighten a standard for the main ingredient in smog. Inhofe is likely to boost oversight of the agency and try to thwart its agenda at a time when Obama wants to shore up his climate legacy.
The 2010 health care law is in the GOP’s crosshairs, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, 80, is likely to use his position to take the first step at chipping away at it.
Hatch has called the law’s tax on medical devices “stupid” and is determined to roll it back. He is likely to gain some Democratic support for the effort.
Hatch could be a free-trade ally for Obama if the president pushes more trade agreements.
Overhauling the nation’s complicated tax laws also is a priority for Hatch. But it’s a heavy lift.
Administration officials say Obama will offer new specifics in the coming year on how he would like to reshape corporate taxes, which now feature the highest rate in the industrialized world. But bridging the divide between Republicans and Democrats on major tax legislation would require a level of bipartisanship that has largely been absent during Obama’s first six years as president.
Hatch has worked with Democrats in the past; his friendship with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts is legendary. Hatch will need to work with Democrats again if he is to advance an overhaul of the tax code.
Tennessee’s Bob Corker, 62, has criticized Obama’s foreign policy as tepid in dealing with Russia, Libya and Syria. Like several other Republicans on the committee, Corker has deep reservations about the administration’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Some Republicans have said the GOP will push new penalties this month that target Tehran.
Secretary of State John Kerry has asked Congress for new war powers in the fight against the Islamic State group. Corker has raised the possibility that he could work with the administration on the issue.
Obama’s ambassadorial picks and other nominees would face a rough outing before the committee.
HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS
Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, 74, is a former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, governor and president of the University of Tennessee.
A lawyer by trade, he helped form a corporate childcare company in the private sector. Alexander said he wants to fix President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law that’s been due to be renewed since 2007 and update the Higher Education Act.
He’s called the health care law a “historic mistake” and supports repealing it. He’s also said modernizing the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration is a necessity, and he is seeking to examine the FDA’s process for drug and device review. On workers’ issues, he’s sought to turn the National Labor Relations Board into what he says is more of an umpire role.
A farmer, not an attorney, Iowa’s Charles Grassley, 81, has been on the Judiciary Committee since his 1980 election to the Senate. But this will be his first stint as its chairman.
In that post, many expect him to continue his long-running interest in protecting whistle-blowers who reveal details of alleged fraud by government contractors and others. He’s also expected to continue oversight of programs like the Justice Department’s bungled “Fast and Furious” operation, under which federal agents lost control of guns they were tracing to Mexican drug lords. Many also expect him to work on legislation easing federal regulations on businesses.
Grassley opposed last year’s Senate-approved bipartisan immigration bill, arguing that it needed to do more to secure the country’s borders before granting legal status to people in the U.S. illegally. He’s also pressed for more information about the National Security Agency’s ability to gather information on Americans, though he’s cautioned that the agency must be able to protect national security.
A decade ago, Grassley spent time as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and played a role in winning approval of President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts and the 2003 addition of prescription drug benefits to Medicare.
HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, 59, has been a tough questioner of administration officials about the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The question will be whether the panel’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation opens another Benghazi inquiry in Congress as well as other reviews of the Democratic administration.
Under the leadership of Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, the committee focused primarily on the internal workings of the sprawling Homeland Security Department, including low morale ratings from rank-and-file employees and contracting issues.
Johnson has focused on those rankings in the past and led an investigation of complaints from whistle-blowers about the department’s former acting inspector general. His report, co-authored with Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, prompted DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to suspend the former top internal investigator.
While the committee has addressed immigration issues in the past, senators on this panel have not taken as prominent a role as their counterparts on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the coming months, however, any administrative changes put in place by Obama are almost certain to be reviewed.
Georgia’s Johnny Isakson, 70, has stressed mental health needs of veterans and voted in favor a bill to provide two-year funding for veterans’ benefits, so veterans would continue to receive benefits even in a government shutdown.
Aides say Isakson’s priorities as chairman would include oversight of the new Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which was approved this past summer in response to a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care and falsification of records to cover up delays.
Isakson strongly supports a provision in the law that makes it easier for veterans to seek Department of Veterans Affairs-paid care from local doctors. Bringing competition into the VA health care system will improve services, he says. Isakson also said the new law provides an opportunity for the VA to assess the quality of it leadership and management, and said underperforming executives and managers should be fired.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Kimberly Hefling, Joan Lowy, Alan Fram, Marcy Gordon, Matthew Daly and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.
The Congress is now in recess, but unlike last fall during a government shutdown (that is so last year), more has been accomplished as we all await what happens in the midterm elections. The lawmakers will not return until after the midterm election for about a week and then go out again for the Thanksgiving holiday and return for a lame duck session in December. It is expected a vote on the War will be taken up at that time.
The polls are leaning toward the Republicans taking the Senate, the budget impasse last year does not seem to be having much long term negative affects on the party. But the elections are still in the category of too close to call for several key states like Alaska, Kansas and North Carolina. Stu Rothenberg that writes a political blog for Roll Call has just given his prediction of a Republican Wave in his blog:
“… I’ve witnessed 17 general elections from my perch in D.C., including eight midterms, and I sometimes develop a sense of where the cycle is going before survey data lead me there. Since my expectations constitute little more than an informed guess, I generally keep them to myself.
This year is different. I am sharing them with you.
After looking at recent national, state and congressional survey data and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave.”
Who won the Democrat and Republican Gift Exchange: Roll Call Article by Nathan Gonzales Dec. 24, 2013
Instead of fruitcake, each party gave the other a sparkling set of potentially potent political opportunities. And regardless of whether it was intended, there is a common theme among the gifts on both sides.
5 Gifts From Republicans to Democrats
Ted Cruz: The junior senator from Texas nearly single-handedly changed the trajectory of the midterm elections to a referendum on the tea party and the government shutdown. The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov might have bailed out Cruz by shifting the focus back to the Affordable Care Act, but there is still almost a year left for the senator to rise again.
The tea party: One of the only entities less popular than President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party is the tea party. However you want to define it, the tea party is the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats. Whether through rhetoric, tactics or damaged candidates, Democrats will use this gift in races across the country to try to bring down Republicans, even ones who aren’t part of the movement.
The government shutdown: Democrats are determined to make the 2014 elections a referendum on the tea party and an unpopular Congress led by the Republican House majority. The government shutdown was a gift that played right into Democrats’ hands. Even though it’s over and may not happen again, Democrats will remind voters about it next year and use Republican votes for the piecemeal bills as evidence that they voted to “shut down the government.”
Georgia GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s retirement prompted a crowd of Republicans to jump into the race to succeed him. At a minimum this gift could produce a damaged and financially broke GOP nominee after a bitter runoff on July 22. Or even better for Democrats, Republicans could nominate a potentially unelectable candidate. Georgia isn’t a swing state yet, but this gift could make the Senate race competitive next year.
Tom Latham’s and Frank R. Wolf’s Retirements. Democrats have been waiting for both GOP congressmen to leave so that they could seriously challenge their seats in Iowa and Virginia, respectively. Republicans apparently decided to grant Democrats an early Christmas miracle when both men announced their retirement on the same day. Democrats have a great opportunity to win both seats next year, unless their party’s gifts to Republicans get in the way.
5 Gifts From Democrats to Republicans
An unpopular president: There may not be a bigger gift this season than an unpopular president before the midterm elections. Obama’s job rating stands at about 42 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove, according to the HuffPost Pollster average. Obama’s job rating stood at 45 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove before the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans made major gains in the House and Senate. Of course the president’s standing can improve, but it won’t be easy.
“If your like your health care plan, you can keep it”: Even as the White House and some Democrats on the Hill are working to make this gift irrelevant, it is likely to be the one that keeps on giving next year. Obama’s now nuanced campaign promise is more than a policy issue. It risks damaging his credibility, which can be much more difficult to recover. And some Democratic incumbents are on the record saying the same thing. Politifact added to the gift by declaring the statement the 2013 “Lie of the Year.”
The Affordable Care Act: This is practically a re-gift from 2010, but Republicans won’t turn it down. Some optimistic Democrats believe the ACA will ultimately be a gift to their party, as people start to enjoy the benefits. But some Democratic strategists and candidates see it as that gift you get that you can’t return or even give away. The legislation continues to be very polarizing and particularly unpopular in right-leaning districts and states where the battle for the majorities will take place.
Rep. Jim Matheson’s retirement: Cycle after cycle, Republicans failed to defeat the Democratic congressman from Utah. But his recent retirement announcement opens up the 4th District, and makes it a very likely GOP takeover.
Senate retirements: If Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Tom Harkin of Iowa hadn’t announced their retirements, we wouldn’t be talking about Republicans having a chance at winning a Senate majority next year. A couple of them could have faced competitive races, but not all of them. The open seats are a huge gift from Democrats to Republicans.