Jim Howard

Washington correspondent

Howard covers news from Washington, D.C., of importance to the St. Louis region.  His beat includes following the legislative activities of area lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as developments from The White House, Supreme Court and numerous federal agencies and departments.  Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he was a longtime newscaster and producer at NPR in Washington.  Howard also has deep roots in the Midwest.  Earlier in his career, he was statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio, where he directed news coverage of state government and politics for a 13-station network.

school lunch - can't use more than 300 pixels wide
U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, Mo., is sponsoring legislation she says will allow some school districts to avoid a federal requirement to increase the cost of student lunches. The National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helps students who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunches to get a good meal, but the program requires participating schools to charge at least a threshold price of $2.70. 

Jefferson Barracks cemetery
Mary Delach Leonard I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated with McCaskill's letter - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill says St. Louis County should approve the sale of adjacent park land to keep the cemetery operating for several more decades. In a letter to the County Council, McCaskill urges the members to sell 38 acres of Sylvan Springs Park to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The county’s Historic Buildings Commission opposes the parkland sale.

U.S. Army soldiers used Humvees in Iraq.
Photographers Mate 3rd Class Shawn Hussong | U.S. Navy | Wikipedia

The Pentagon is asking Missouri to retrieve two Humvees from Ferguson. The reason for the request is an apparent discrepancy in documentation over how many Humvees are on the books for Ferguson. The Missouri Department of Public Safety says its records show four Humvees in Ferguson, but the Pentagon’s records reportedly only show two assigned to the city.

Remko van Dokkum | Flickr

It will be this fall at the earliest before Congress begins negotiating provisions in a cyber-security bill. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says he’s disappointed a bill wasn’t ready to be debated next week, before senators leave town for their month-long August break. The House left Wednesday night.

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, is appointing Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, to the House Natural Resources Committee.  “Since my earliest days in the U.S. House, I’ve been a dedicated advocate for cleaning up contaminated sites, stronger clean air and water standards, and protecting our precious forests, coastlines and wilderness refuges,” Clay said, in a statement released from his office.

U.S. Capitol
Phil Roeder | Flickr

(Updated 1:45 p.m. with vote) 

The Senate voted on two different highway bills today. The first vote, which passed, was to approve its own six-year plan with three years of funding and language re-authorizing the now closed Export-Import Bank. The second bill is the House-passed, three-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which keeps federal road dollars flowing to the states. The Senate approved it 91-4.

Lawmakers in both chambers have pledged to work on a multi-year plan when they return from their August break.

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:05 p.m. July 29 with House vote - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have voted to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund operating until at least Oct. 29. In the same bill, lawmakers also approved an additional $3.4 billion to help the Department of Veterans Affairs fill a budget gap.  

The Senate is expected to approve the extension, even as it continues to work on its six-year highway bill. Leaders in both chambers say they will use this extension to work toward a multi-year bill when they return from break.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Senate Republicans plan to vote on legislation next week stripping nearly $540 million from Planned Parenthood following the release of undercover videos that appear to show organization officials talking casually about selling fetal tissue and organs. Those videos, released by an anti-abortion group, have outraged abortion opponents and ignited a swift response on Capitol Hill.

Gen. Paul Selva, left, and Gen. Darren McDew
Air Force photographs

The U.S. Senate Monday confirmed Gen. Paul Selva to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Selva has been the commander of the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base since April 2014. Senators also confirmed Gen Darren McDew to replace Selva as the next commander of the U.S. Transportation Command.

mortgage money flickr
TaxRebate.org.uk | flickr

Banks with $1 billion or more in assets would see dividend payments received for putting their money into the Federal Reserve’s bank, reduced to 1.5 percent from 6 percent as part of the Senate plan to pay for three years of road work in its six-year highway bill.  

Bank groups are opposing the plan and have been joined by mortgage lenders. 

Sen. Roy Blunt talked with the media early last week. july 2015
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate gave overwhelming approval to a plan to re-authorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, as part of its six-year highway bill.  The bank’s charter expired in June.  All four U.S. senators from Missouri and Illinois voted for the plan, backed by Democrats and mainstream Republicans. Tea Party Republicans have long opposed the bank, calling it “corporate welfare” for big business. Supporters disagree and say the bank helps businesses of all sizes.

Sen. McCaskill's Flickr Page

While it’s being called the “highway bill,” the U.S. Senate's plan has far more than funding for road and bridge projects. Among the provisions not specifically related to the six-year highway plan and its three years of guaranteed funding for maintenance and construction projects are two backed by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has promised to help get a contribution limit measure on next year's ballot. But other Democratic officials have promised such a move and haven't delivered.
Courtesy of Claire McCaskill's Flickr

You’ve planned the perfect vacation and painstakingly searched for the best on-line deal for a hotel room. After making your reservations you head out, confident that you’ve got a handle on your planned expenses, but once you arrive at your destination, you are confronted with a long list of “hotel fees” that weren’t disclosed on the website when you did your search.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says that’s a form of fraud. “To me that is deceptive, to me that is inappropriate and I believe that we need to take a look at this practice.”

Construction on I-70
Missouri Department of Transportation

It was only a few weeks after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, establishing the Interstate Highway System, that Missouri awarded the first contract in the nation for road work to begin on what was then a section of U.S. Route 40 — now, I-70, in St. Charles County.

Unless lawmakers act by the end of July, the 59th anniversary of that contract will be celebrated on Aug. 2, with the flow of federal dollars being shut off to Missouri, and other states, for needed maintenance, repair and reconstruction projects.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin
Official photo

Two committees of the Republican-led House of Representatives will look into whether a clip of video shows an official with Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of human organs from aborted fetuses.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, is one of several lawmakers asking both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate allegations made by an anti-abortion group.

Gen. Paul Selva, left, and Gen. Darren McDew
Air Force photographs

Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and all of the groups that follow the ideology of Al Qaeda from 2001 to the present are threats Air Force Gen. Paul Selva sees facing the United States -- and in that order. He also says the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration present “a direct threat to the morale of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who deserve the best maintained and the best equipment available to fight the threats that face this nation.”

FortLeonardWood.net

Plans by the Army to reduce overall strength by 40,000 troops will mean 774 fewer uniformed positions at Fort Leonard Wood by September 2017. The announcement comes as Senate Democrats continue to refuse to debate Republican budget bills, insisting that lawmakers first negotiate an end to mandatory spending caps. The connection to the two issues is a Republican plan to boost the Pentagon’s budget in what Democrats say is a “budget gimmick” designed to avoid hitting spending caps.

teacher in classroom
U.S. Department of Education

Both of Missouri’s U.S. senators like the idea of shifting more control over elementary and secondary education back to the states and away from the federal government. A Senate education bill being debated this week does just that, but the degree to which state and local officials may reclaim control over their schools will depend on a wide-range of amendments being offered and whether Republicans and Democrats are able to compromise on some divisive issues.

Cuba has a population of approximately 11 million. At the closest point it is 93 miles from the island to the United States.
Wikipedia

President Barack Obama’s move to re-establish full diplomatic ties with Cuba, including last week’s announcement that the two countries plan to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, is intensifying congressional debate over the best way forward: continued isolation by the U.S. or engagement, with increased trade with the Castro government.

Rice in Missouri is grown mostly in the Bootheel.
USDA

A rice farmer from Dexter, Mo., asked his U.S. representative a question more than 15 years ago that launched two Missouri lawmakers into the first successful effort to open Cuba to U.S. trade since the embargo in the early 1960s.

The change came with restrictions that the Obama administration is now trying to remove, but it was the first crack in that trade wall.

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