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Dispatches from Capitol Hill and the executive branch

Must-Pass Budget Bill Stalls Over Global-Warming Fight

With a White House veto threat looming, top Senate Democrats on Thursday froze progress on a key spending bill.

At issue: a Republican attempt to attach language to the measure that would block President Obama's plan to use the Environmental Protection Agency to address power plants' contributions to global warming.

The declaration signals Obama's determination to uphold the recently unveiled global-warming rule, which stands to become the linchpin of the president's environmental legacy.

Congress has until the end of September to approve the spending bills needed to stave off another government shutdown, but the fight over climate action raises another hurdle to passing this section of the budget—which would lay out the next fiscal year's worth of finances on energy and water programs.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the chair of the Senate panel where the bill was set to be marked up, said the legislation would have to be voted on eventually, but that she pulled it from consideration Thursday after receiving word from the White House that the president would veto any anti-EPA riders.

"The amendment was a bill killer," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another Democrat on the panel, said during the hearing. "If it didn...

Chemical Safety Board Chairman Asked to Resign Over 'Toxic' Work Environment

The chairman of the Chemical Safety Board hit a buzz saw of criticism on Thursday at a House hearing that brought multiple calls for his resignation, with sparks flying over an allegedly dysfunctional investigative agency accused of retaliating against whistleblowers and stifling inspectors general seeking evidence.

Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the independent 43-person accident-investigating agency with an $11 million budget, found himself at the center of a new report from two House committees quoting whistleblowers inside the agency portraying a “toxic work environment.” They also alleged that general counsel Richard Loeb retaliated against them for disclosing management problems to the Office of Special Counsel and blasted Moure-Eraso for invoking attorney-client privilege and declining to hand over certain emails sought by inspectors general.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, assembled witnesses that included inspectors general and governmentwide Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, threatened Moure-Eraso with criminal contempt and called upon him to resign.

The Chemical Safety Board chairman’s failure to turn over documents “is a criminal obstruction of this committee’s work,” Issa said. “If my attorney has not received them by the end of the week, I will issue my own subpoena mirroring...

Senators: Social Security Isn't Going About Closing Field Offices the Right Way

The Social Security Administration, which has shuttered dozens of field offices across the country to save money over the last few years, has not sufficiently examined or justified the rationale behind those decisions, according to a new report from a Senate panel.

The agency doesn’t involve local communities in the decision-making process until after it has decided to close an office, and has failed to weigh several factors when it eliminates in-person service, including the impact on employees, or whether Internet access is available for the affected population to seek government services online, the Senate Special Committee on Aging concluded.

SSA does take into account the demographics of an area when considering eliminating an office, including the age of the population, distance between offices, and the number of people who visit it, said Nancy Berryhill, deputy commissioner for operations at the agency, during a June 18 Senate hearing on the issue.

“I want to stress that our service to an area does not stop when we decide to consolidate an office,” Berryhill testified. “The public still has many options for receiving convenient service, including face-to-face meetings at another nearby office, getting help over the telephone, using online services, and...

A Solution to Paying for Infrastructure Projects That Doesn't Involve the Postal Service

Two senators are working on a bill to raise the federal gasoline and fuel tax to boost the Highway Trust Fund. Finally. Sens. Bob Corker (a Republican) and Chris Murphy (a Democrat) are working on a bill that would raise the federal gas tax by 12 cents over two years to fund infrastructure projects, according to Politico . It's the simplest way to make sure the people who use the roads pay for the roads, but also involves embracing political kryptonite.

The Highway Fund will run dry by late August. Via
Department of Transportation .

The gas tax, which pays for projects like fixing decrepit bridges and paving highways, hasn't been raised in over two decades, an oversight made even worse by the arrival of fuel efficient cars. It's not a coincidence that America is, once again, weeks away from depleting its Highway Trust Fund. Not surprisingly, Republicans and some Democrats aren't enthusiastic about the idea of raising taxes. As we've explained before , for years Congress has avoided raising the tax, but has also failed to come up with a long-term solution to pay for the fund.

This time around Republicans briefly toyed with the idea of...

Expect a Supreme Court Decision on Recess Appointments Soon

The Supreme Court term will likely end next week, but there are still more than a dozen cases awaiting a ruling. Among those are several potentially major decisions on issues like the contraceptive mandate, free speech, and presidential recess appointments. Thursday is the next decision release day, leaving just a few more days in June for the court to unload its large pile of remaining opinions. Or, in rare cases, postponing a case until next term. 

In all, the court has yet to issue decisions on 13 cases, or 14 if you count two cases that both dealing with warrantless cell phone searches separately. (Updatewith Thursday's three unanimous decisions, the court now has either 10 or 11 opinions left, again depending on how you're counting. We've updated the list below with the short version of each of those decisions.

So the end of term crunch is going to be a busy one. Here a rundown of the remaining cases, and what's at stake in each one.

The Big Ones 

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Sebelius.These two cases, considered together, challenge the health care reform law's contraceptive mandate. There...

Play of the Day: Hillary Clinton's Biggest Challenger from the RNC is a Squirrel

Republicans might have an answer to Hillary Clinton's possible presidential run, and it comes with a lot of nutty puns. The same squirrel who was seen during President Obama's ACORN controversy is now making the rounds on Hillary's book tour. He even reads the National Journal.

Plus: Fox News is still upset about Benghazi, Joe Biden is mistakenly called the president at the World Cup, and Colorado reaps the benefits of its recreational marijuana legalization.

Deficit Hawk's Potential Replacements Jockey for His Mantle

While conservatives in some states are trying to boot incumbent Republicans from office this year, folks in Oklahoma are looking for more of what they already have.

Sen. Tom Coburn's surprise retirement has left the two main Republicans vying for his seat scrambling to define themselves before the June 24 primary. To do so, both sides are leaning on comparisons to the man they seek to succeed.

"What this race is coming down to is a question of, 'What would Coburn do?' " Republican pollster Bill Shapard said of the contest between Rep. James Lankford and former state House speaker T.W. Shannon. Shapard, who's in the midst of conducting new polling on the race, said GOP respondents have shown enormous respect for Coburn—as well as a strong desire to maintain his legacy. Voters he spoke with overwhelmingly indicated it was important that their new senator "vote like Tom Coburn," the pollster said.

But just what it is Coburn would do is a tough question given the senator's occasional unpredictability. Both campaigns have laid claim to key elements of Coburn's philosophy.

Shannon's campaign points to their candidate's debt-reducing record in the state House as...

The Government Has a Proud, Long History of Reforming Washington's Football Team

The decades-long controversy over the Washington Redskins' name has hit a climax. On Wednesday morning, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the team's name and logo, calling the name "disparaging to Native Americans." The office can't stop the team from using the name, but it can (at least pending a court reversal) bar the right to registration protections.

This is the second time the office has issued such a judgment. The first time was as part of a case that began in 1992, but that decision was appealed by the team and ultimately overruled by a federal court due in part to a lack of substantial evidence that the name is disparaging.

The Redskins organization hasn't yet addressed Wednesday's judgement, but said there will be a statement later today. Team owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly said that he will never change the name.

"Daniel Snyder may be the last person to realize this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor Wednesday after the decision came down, "but it's just a matter of time until he's forced to do the right thing and change the name...

As Bills Pile Up, Congress Starts Contemplating a Lame Duck Session

It may only be June jitters, but murmurs of a potentially busy and raucous congressional lame-duck session in November and December are already building as unfinished work stacks up and legislative days before the Nov. 4 elections dwindle.

When lawmakers break June 26 for their Independence Day recess, they will have just 28 scheduled work days left in Washington before voters go to the polls to decide the makeup of the new Congress that will convene in January.

But the stack of unresolved legislation in this Congress is growing higher and higher, including a bill to renew dozens of tax breaks that expired last December and the full array of appropriations bills for the new fiscal year starting on Oct. 1. Decisions are also needed on miscellaneous tariffs, terrorism risk insurance, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, rechartering the Export-Import Bank, replenishing the Highway Trust Fund, and passing a new surface-transportation bill.

“We’ve got to start getting things done,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday, conceding that a busy postelection scenario in November and December is emerging.

But even then, Hoyer said, lawmakers’ ability to accomplish things as the lame-duck Congress serves out its final weeks at year...

Why Cantor's Downfall Is Bad News for EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency is already facing a war on multiple fronts as it works to review its smog standards this year. Environmentalists have vowed to fight to get the standards as low as possible to get maximum health benefits, while industry groups have been lining up to fight what they say is the most costly environmental regulation to come out of the administration.

And now Eric Cantor's upset loss has put one of the ozone rule's congressional critics—House Whip and presumed next Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy—in position to keep fighting it from the top.

EPA by December will propose a revision to its regulation for ground-level ozone—or smog—that is linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. It's part of the regular review of its air-quality standards required under the Clean Air Act, and the agency is expected to lower the standard from the 75 parts-per-billion level set under the George W. Bush administration.

The critics have familiar talking points: Compliance will require costly pollution controls and limits on transportation, and a state or region in violation can face heavy fines. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are particularly sensitive to this rule since EPA's last...