The 116thUnited States Congress began on January 3, 2019 and quickly set a record in the nation’s history for being in session during the government’s longest shutdown, ever. A shutdown occurs when Congress has not passed, and the President has not signed, the legislation that enables the U.S. Treasury to provide the funds needed by one or more (or all) federal departments and/or agencies.
This is a funding gap, and it can cause many agencies to limit their activities or shut down entirely. Employees are often “furloughed” without pay, and yet many are required to continue working because their jobs are essential to protection of property or safety of human lives.The TSA, for instance requires employees to show up and work though they are not paid. Does that mean that Congressional members and staff are furloughed? Yes and no.
What many do not realize is that a shutdown does not mean that Congress does not meet according to its regularly planned schedules (Senate and House). In fact, the members of the House and the Senate are still doing daily work, having hearings and speaking on relevant topics. For instance, the House of Representatives voted to approve back pay for all federal employees when the shutdown comes to an end at a 411 to 7 majority during one of their first days in session.
NOTE: The President and members of Congress are always paid through a government shutdown, even though some donate their earnings and speak openly about a wish to be furloughed at such times, too. However, it is through Constitutional law that the President and Congress are kept on active pay at all times and not something they do by choice.
So, government is still partially working, and House Representatives and Senators are still legislating, or attempting to. That includes Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who has already sponsored or co-sponsored seven bills during the short time that the 116th Congress has been in session.
About Senator Casey
Before we look at the seven bills that Senator Casey has already co-sponsored in the new Congressional session, it is helpful to look a bit at his work over his past two terms. We’ll also consider his major campaign supporters and contributors and the industries that toss him the most financial support. While this is done in order to assess whether this has driven any of his legislative initiatives or inspired his participation in the creation of new laws, it also offers a bit of insight into his career and political stances, in general.
Senator Robert Patrick Casey, Jr. has been a United States Senator for Pennsylvania since 2006. He has a long history in politics first serving as his home state’s Auditor General from 1997 to 2005 and then as its Treasurer from 2005 to 2007. He is a graduate of College of the Holy Cross and has a law degree from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America.
He was a practicing attorney until 1996, when he won the seat as the state’s Auditor General. He had made an attempt at Governor of Pennsylvania (a role his own father served) in 2002 but did not get his party’s ballot. He became the first Democrat to be re-elected to the Senate in the state of Pennsylvania since the early 1960s, and the first Democrat from his state to get a third term in the Senate,winning in the 2018 election cycle.
In his years before becoming a Senator, his work as Auditor General and State Treasurer saw him tackling issues that remain a focal point in his legislative work. For example, he strove to make government far more accountable and responsive to its citizenry, he was a loud voice for child care, safer nursing homes and elder rights, and was outspoken in the fight to reform “Megan’s Law” as a means of ensuring stronger community safety for children in Pennsylvania.
On his official website, the Senator says that he believes that “all public service is a trust, given in faith and accepted in honor,” and because of that, his emphasis during his three terms has been (and remains):
- Creating family-sustaining jobs
- Financial security
- Protections for children
- Safety in the United States
- Respect for America abroad
- The promotion of accountability and honesty in government
- Preservation of the dignity of the vulnerable
- Advocating for his constituency
To those ends he has worked hard to sponsor and pass legislation for the disabled, including the Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act that supports families around the country to save for long term care for loved ones with disabilities. He has also helped to create and pass such laws as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, to help educate students and prevent sexual assault.
The Senator is also one of America’s most outspoken advocates for children, and fights for better equality in education. He has introduced laws around higher quality preschool education and care, as well as the Continuum of Learning Act that should ensure early learning is part of the educational system. He is also a strong advocate for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs that support vulnerable children and families.
He is also one of the supporters of the Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act of 2014, which re-authorized programs providing medical care to kids and teens. Additionally, he led the effort to re-authorize the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) bill that was passed into law and funded more than 50 independent children’s hospitals to train residents. Lastly, he has also supported an expansion of paid leave that would allow workers the opportunity to care for sick loved ones or newly born children.
Senator Casey’s Primary Interests
As noted, the Senator focuses a great deal of his energy on improving the economy, stating that his goal is to “an economy that works for everyone and fights to ensure that all Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to participate in a fair job market.” His greatest emphasis is on growing the incomes of the middle class by doing things like seeking to boost minimum wage, improve protections in place for workers, and fight for equal pay for equal work.
His work on the Senate Finance Committee has been part of his ongoing effort to achieve those goals, but also to ensure that small business owners have ways to make capital investments crucial for job creation. He has also been in favor of tax cuts that help businesses to add more workers to their payrolls, and to offer tax breaks to those involved in research – a major economic driver. He has been in favor of laws to cut tax policies that allow American businesses to outsource jobs overseas, and has been outspoken on China’s undervaluation of its own currency that cost U.S. jobs.
Middle class families being able to survive as well as set aside money for retirement is also a focus of the Senator, and he strives to protect both Medicare and Social Security to ensure older Americans’ the stability they need. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Aging and worked to combat common scams used on the elderly while also helping to create legislation ensuring that discrimination against older workers (due to age) is unlawful.
Infrastructure is another emphasis of Senator Casey’s, focusing on the bridges, ports and roads that are a key issue in his home state economy. For this, he has given full support to programs designed to create jobs and enhance local economies. In his own state, he has been an advocate for a Delaware River project that would bring much more cargo and hauling opportunities into the Port of Philadelphia while creating thousands of additional jobs.
He also passed the River Act, another infrastructure program focusing on the country’s many waterways as a source of economic growth and the creation of almost a quarter of a million new jobs.
National security has also been a major emphasis of the Senator and to uphold his belief that diplomacy and military leadership are vital to national security, he has served in the National Security Working Group, and served as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for the Middle East and South/Central Asia.
He has also been involved in the fight against ISIS by working to cut off their financing sources and boost efforts to shrink their territorial holdings. He was also a Senate leader in the call to bring sanctions against Iran as a means of forcing them to negotiations. He was in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eliminated Iran’s abilities to build nuclear weapons, and once that country tested ballistic missiles, it was Senator Casey who made a call for stronger sanctions.
Senator Casey’s Ongoing Committee Work
In his 12 years of service as a United States Senator, he has served on the following Senate Committees:
- Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
- Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
- Special Committee on Aging
Clearly, each of the four committees on which he has served reflect the same areas on which he has focused throughout his career.
Does this mean that industries and organizations related to those areas provide the Senator with the greatest levels of support? Does it also mean that the legislation on which he has added his name for the 116th Congress reflects these same interests?That takes a bit of analysis into the industries that supported his campaigns for office and also at his largest contributors, overall.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Bob Casey’s Campaign During the 2017-2018 Elections
According to sources Senator Casey was a top recipient from the following industries during the last election cycle (the 2017-2018 cycle). Note that those with a #1 next to them indicate that he was the Senator who received the highest amount from that specific industry, i.e. an “industry favorite”.
- Construction Services (#1)
- Dentists (#1)
- Food & Beverage (#1)
- Food stores (#1)
- Lawyers/Law Firms (#1)
- Lobbyists (#1)
- Medical Devices & Supplies (#1)
- Miscellaneous Unions (#1)
- Pharmaceutical and Health Products (#1)
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing (#1)
- Private Equity and Investment Firms (#1)
The Senator also rated very high in contributions from accountants, cable and satellite TV production, chemicals, food processing and sales, health services, hospital and nursing homes, nurses, agricultural services, defense aerospace, food and kindred products manufacturing, industrial unions and securities and investing.
However, that does not mean that those industries were his biggest contributors in general. Specifically, the top 20 industries that contributed to his Campaign Committee were (in ranking order):
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Securities & Investment
- Real Estate
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Health Professionals
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes
- Business Services
- Leadership PACs
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Non-Profit Institutions
- Human Rights
- Health Services/HMOs
On top of this, and for this past cycle, the top individual contributors to his campaign were:
- Blank Rome LLP (Law Firm)
- UPMC Health System (#1 hospital in the Pittsburgh, PA area)
- Comcast Corp (Telecommunications with headquarters in Philadelphia, PA)
- Kessler, Topaz et al (Law Firm)
- Exelon Corp (National Energy Provider)
- Air Products & Chemicals Inc (Industrial Manufacturer of gases and related products/services)
- Reed Smith LLP (Law Firm)
- Blue Cross/Blue Shield (Health Insurance)
- University of Pittsburgh
As you can see, there were many specific industries and interests supporting the Senator in his run for his third term. A heavy balance were legal firms, and as he is already a co-sponsor of seven bills, and firmly committed to legislating around his causes, it makes sense that he has backing from legal firms and organizations.
Senator Casey’s 7 Bills for the 116th Congress – To Date
Knowing the Senator’s areas of specific focus and interest along with the industries that give him backing, as well as the biggest contributors, it can be interesting to watch the sorts of committee work, legislation and activities he will do in this Congress.As of this writing, he has put his name to seven different bits of legislation, most very different from one another. Some do reflect his clearly established goals as a legislator in the past, and others are unique and reflective of this current period in American politics.
This bill was introduced by Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders on January 10, 2019. It was cosponsored by 23 other Senators – all Democrats (except for Senator Sanders who is Independent) and including Senator Casey along with Senators Booker, Baldwin, Blumenthal, Brown, Cantwell, Gilibrand, Harris, Hassan, Heinrich, King, Leahy, Klobuchar, Manchin, Merkley, Reed, Shaheen, Smith, Stabenow, Udall, Van Hollen, Warren, and Whitehouse.
As a sitting member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, it makes sense that Senator Casey is an “original co-sponsor” of the bill. This is not the first time it has come before the Senate, however, since it was already introduced once before in 2017. Called the Affordable Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, it was originally a companion bill to Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act (HR 1776/S. 771).
This was an act proposed as “a comprehensive set of policies, seeks to lower prescription drug costs through transparency and accountability, innovation, increasing access and affordability of prescriptions, and increasing choice and competition.”
The Affordable Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act as first introduced by Senator Sanders aimed at making it “lawful for wholesalers, pharmacies and individuals to import lower cost medications, first from Canada, and then after two years, potentially from other OECD countries with systems of pharmaceutical regulation comparable to the U.S.”
Even a cursory exploration of the new bill shows that it is full of safety protocols that include everything from FDA approval of all foreign manufacturers to rigid registration guidelines. The goal is to reduce the costs of medications while also safeguarding the quality of products purchased. As one source indicated, “In 2016, 45 million Americans did not fill a prescription because of costs… Public programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs continue to grapple with dramatic price increases that are crippling their budgets.”
Clearly, this legislation could help all Americans obtain more affordable medications and release themselves from the grips of drug companies that have such a stronghold on prescription medication prices. To date, the only action taken on it was for its introduction to the Senate.
This is another bill in a second iteration as this previously appeared in 2017 and was noted then as the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2017”. Just as this 2019 version was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, so too was the previous version. In the earlier version, however, Senator Casey’s name appears in the listing of co-sponsors, even though he was the only Senator up for re-election in the 2018 cycle. This earned him a great deal of scorn from the GOP who pointed out his previous stance on 2nd Amendment rights.
However, the horrific Sandy Hook shootings took place just weeks after his 2012 election. Since that time, he has been a strong proponent for changes in gun laws, and one source notes “Casey has backed major gun control proposals since then. He introduced his own bill following the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year that would have barred those convicted of hate crimes from buying guns. “
Introduced on January 9, 2019, this new bill was “read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary”.
Although no text has yet been submitted, the bill originates from the Senate Judiciary Committee and has co-sponsorship from Senators Murphy, Blumenthal, Schumer, Durbin, Murray, Reed, Carper, Menendez, Cardin, Klobuchar, Whitehouse, Gillibrand, Schatz, Mazie, Warren, Markey, Booker, Van Hollen, Duckworth, Harris, Casey, Sanders, Smith, Wyden, Hassan, Shaheen, Warner, and Merkley. Again, this legislative initiative is supported almost entirely by Democratic senators with the exception of Sanders (a Vermont Independent).
Because no text for the bill has yet to be submitted, its contents may only be guessed at. Yet, it is also fair to suspect that the language will not vary widely from the bill attempted in 2017. At that time, the legislation sought was aimed at making it a crime to “knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon (SAW) or large capacity ammunition feeding device (LCAFD).” And the actions taken involved the Committee on the Judiciary holding a hearing.
It can be assumed that further clarifications of automatic weapons will be included in the language of the bill, and in an attempt to avoid infringing on gun rights while reducing the immense damages that automatic feeding devices cause.
With close to half of the Senate supporting this bill, it remains a mostly partisan effort on the part of the Democrats along with Senator Sanders (Independent) of Vermont. Introduced to the Senate by Senator Christopher Murphy of CT, on January 8, 2019, it does not yet have any text available.
A companion to HR8, which is “to require a background check for every firearm sale,” it was immediately a controversial set of proposals. Analysis of HR8 is widely available as the text was released. Both bills are described as “universal background checks” by proponents and opponents alike, and those against the bills say that they represent overbroad legislation that would make it a crime to “simply hand a firearm to another person”.
At issue here is the dislike of mandatory background checks, which opponents to the legislation insist do nothing to prevent criminals and dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms. However, those responding to the introduction of S.42 have yet to see the text and can neither agree with or oppose its concept. It specifically says “firearm sale,” implying that handing a gun to another person is not going to become a criminal matter.
This is a divisive issue and it is not the first (or likely the last) time it is going to come before Congress. In fact, similar legislation was introduced in October of 2017 by a similar group of Senators, including Senator Casey. This was the S.2009 Background Check Expansion Act, which was introduced in the Senate but never gained traction.
Late in 2018, however, Senator Casey went on record with his support for more rigid gun laws after a synagogue shooting in his state of Pennsylvania left 11 dead. In an interview, the Senator said his agenda, “includes fighting for tougher gun laws while respecting the Second Amendment rights…We have got to have a universal background check bill that should be in place, a limitation on the magazine so you don’t have one person able to shoot hundreds of bullets in a public place.” As noted, he also sought stronger gun laws after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida.
Both of these goals (universal background checks and limitations on magazines) are reflected in legislation he has co-sponsored during this 116th Congress. To date, the only action taken on this bill is its introduction to the Senate.
Another bit of legislation that resulted from a Committee that Senator Casey participates in – the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee – this bill is sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. It was introduced on January 3, 2019 and has a second, longer title: “A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to clarify the Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction over certain tobacco products, and to protect jobs and small businesses involved in the sale, manufacturing and distribution of traditional and premium cigars.”
As noted, Senator Casey has long advocated for small business protections and tax breaks, and so this bill is a logical extension of such goals. Unlike the previous bills, there is a full text available, and experts say that it is a form of legislation designed to “protect the premium cigar industry from ongoing federal regulations that pose an existential threat.”
Basically, the bill aims at creating a formal, federal definition of “premium” cigars and exempts this category from the FDA’s “Deeming Rule”. Like the other bills co-sponsored by Senator Casey already reviewed, this too is identical legislation introduced during the 115th Congress. The reason that it is important to those in the Premium Cigar industry in the U.S. is that blocks government overreach into the industry. Bipartisan support came because the current scenario heavily impacts small businesses in states with a cigar industry presence.
It was only in May of 2016 that the FDA expanded its tobacco regulatory authority, and mostly due to the rapid rise of electronic cigarettes, to “other products meeting the definition of a tobacco product” which is the Deeming Rule. This put the long-established cigar industry at risk for regulations it has never before encountered, and so lobbyists have worked hard to get this legislation in place.
The Deeming Rule has faced court challenges since being put in place, and though this is mostly from the vaping and e-cig industries, the cigar makers have not ignored the potential hazards that it poses. Prior to the creation of the Deeming Rule, it was strictly cigarettes, roll your own tobacco and smokeless or chewing tobaccos that were regulated, studied and reviewed by the FDA. Should cigars come under such scrutiny, it might easily create an entirely new set of guidelines, regulations, limitations and standards that the industry would be required to rapidly implement.
It is a bill that has bipartisan sponsorship, including Democratic Senators Casey, Manchin, and Menendez along with Republican Senators Gardner, Cotton, Ernst, Barrasso, Inhofe, Kennedy (LA) and Boozman.
Introduced by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia on January 3, 2019, this bill has a second title: “A bill to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer certain funds to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan, and for other purposes.” Co-sponsored by four other Senators, including Kaine, Warner, Brown, Jones (AL) and Casey, it is a partisan backed initiative by the Democrats.
Though a reiteration of earlier efforts, this 2019 version seeks to “secure our nation’s retired miners pensions by: 1) shoring up the 1974 Pension Plan which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis, 2) ensuring that the miners who are at risk due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare, and 3) extending the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal for ten years. This tax is critical for supporting the Black Lung Disability Trust fund, which provides healthcare and benefits to more than 25,000 miners and their dependents.”
As Senator Casey explained, “It is our responsibility to keep our promises to the men and women who built our great nation. I won’t stop fighting until we’ve secured healthcare benefits, pensions, and an extension of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund for coal miners and their families. I hope Congressional Republicans will join our mission to address this crucial issue in rural America.”
The top five coal producing states are Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kentucky, with Ohio and Alabama in the top 15. The Senators supporting this legislation are from key coal producing states. This bill is from the Senate Finance Committee and the only actions taken to date are its introduction.
Introduced to the Senate on January 3, 2019 by Senator Benjamin Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), this legislation was passed/agreed to in the Senate and passed the Senate without amendment by voice vote on January 10, 2019. It was then passed/agree to in the House “On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 411 – 7”. On January 14, 2019 it was passed to the President.
Its official title is “A bill to provide for the compensation of Federal and other government employees affected by lapses in appropriations.” The full text is available, but the basic gist of the bill is that all federal employees will be fully compensated once the ongoing government shutdown comes to an end.
As one report explained, this legislation will “guarantee that furloughed federal employees will be paid retroactively and stipulates that all employees shall be paid as soon as possible after the lapse in appropriations ends.” Additionally, the language in the bill makes clear that employees with previously approved leave occurring during the shutdown can take their scheduled leave without any sort of penalty or risk to their employment.
A report on January 14, 2019 further clarified that “employees will receive their standard rate of pay, ‘at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.’”
The language is very clear about whom the bill covers, and specifies employees of the District of Columbia (DC) Government, D.C. Courts, and D.C. Public Defenders Service, all of whom can be impacted by this current federal shutdown.
Unlike much of the other activities of this current Congress, this bill has been guaranteed signature by the President, with Senator Mitch McConnell indicating that he had spoken with the President and determined that he would sign the bill without question. However, Senator Tim Kaine reiterated that Senate must not adjourn for the session without first passing the bill and guaranteeing federal workers get paid.
With such full support, it is anticipated that this will be passed into law promptly. This bit of bipartisan action is always received well by the public as it is a particularly tumultuous period in the U.S. Congress.
However, not all of the introduced bills and measures cause conflict, debate or unfavorable reactions. As is the case with the final bill co-sponsored by Senator Casey, along with all other United States Senators.
On January 10, 2019, the Senate Floor Activity record noted a fairly busy schedule. The day began at 10 AM with opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. Legislative business included introduction of several bits of legislation, including S.1 by Senator Rubio of Florida, S.24 (the compensation for Federal workers looked at above) by Senator Cardin, and a Senate Resolution by Senator Graham “commending the Clemson University Tigers football team for winning the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship”. The latter was considered and agreed to by unanimous consent. At the end of the day came S.Res. 16: A resolution relative to the death of John Chester Culver, former United States Senator for the State of Iowa.
Presented by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, it was a bipartisan recognition of the late Senator Culver’s many years of service. A Harvard graduate and member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1958, he had practiced law in Iowa until being elected to Congress for four consecutive terms (between 1965 and 1975). He was then elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and served out a full term before returning to his legal practice, in Maryland. He died on December 26, 2018.
The text of the resolution is quite moving and featured full Senate sponsorship. The closing resolution reads, “Whereas John Chester Culver was known for his hard work and independence; Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate has heard with profound sorrow and deep regret the announcement of the death of the Honorable John Chester Culver, former member of the United States Senate.
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate communicate these resolutions to the House of Representatives and transmit an enrolled copy thereof to the family of the deceased.
Resolved, That when the Senate adjourns today, it stand adjourned as a further mark of respect to the memory of the Honorable John Chester Culver.”
The resolution was agreed to without amendment and by unanimous consent, with adjournment at 5:59 PM that day.
Now that Senator Casey has started his third term, it will be interesting to see what his efforts will help accomplish. When asked about his top legislative achievements in his second term, he points towards:
- The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act – Lead by the Senator it was signed into law in 2013 and regulations to implement the law took effect in 2015.
- The Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Live Experience (ABLE) Act – This is legislation championed by the Senator and was passed into law in late 2014. Additionally, “portions of the ABLE Act were incorporated into Title I of Division B of H.R.5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, which became Public Law 113-295 on December 19, 2014.”
- 2015 Education Reform Efforts – A senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Casey was a major player in the creation of the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA in 2015. He followed up by ensuring passage of bills he created as part of ESSA, including S.528, S.643, S.671, s.672, and S.882 – all of which were education related bills.
- 2015 Business Tax and Growth Incentives – Sitting on the Senate Finance Committee, which is the Senate’s main tax-writing committee, Senator Casey worked hard to design and implement tax policies essential to job creation and growth in his home state. The 2015 PATH Act was one such act as well as the Depreciation Fairness Act and the Small Business Tax Certainty and Growth Act.
- 1887 Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act – This is anti-ISIS legislation that restricts the import of cultural property and antiquity removed illegally from Syria, thereby ending much of ISIS’ financial support.
Clearly an active member of Congress, it will be interesting to revisit his top five accomplishments at the end of Senator Casey’s, current, third term in the Senate.