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.

Housing units across from a community center in the Clinton-Peabody public housing complex on the near south side of St. Louis.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

For those who see nothing but divisiveness in Congress, Tuesday’s vote backing the most significant changes in public housing policy in decades may be a refreshing surprise.

The bill, HR 3700, sponsored Missouri Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, reforms “19 areas and 65 to 70 provisions” of existing law, under the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Housing Service.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, is strongly backing efforts to curb cities' ability to take in traffic fine revenue.
Provided by Cleaver's office

Kansas City Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver says there are real commitments from leaders on both sides of the aisle to pass a package of criminal justice reforms this year.

He says one provision will likely require the appointment of a special prosecutor when a grand jury considers indicting a police officer or possibly even a political figure.

Standing from left: U.S. Rodney Davis, John and Kimberly Wade, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Seated: Jacky Wade
Provided by the Wade family

Two sets of parents who lost sons to brain cancer last year were in the House chamber for the State of the Union speech when President Barack Obama announced his “new moonshot” effort to cure cancer.

One family’s pain and grief was well known to millions, the other’s heartache was known to a small, close-knit Illinois community a few miles north of St. Louis, a growing number of supporters on Facebook and their local congressman.

Chris McDaniel | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

While U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., clearly has his philosophical and political differences with the president, last night he praised Barack Obama’s plan to embark on a major effort to cure cancer and boost medical research. The president is putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of what he calls “mission control” of that effort.

Last year, after losing his son Beau to brain cancer, the vice president said that with a “new moonshot” America could cure cancer. The president agrees and made boosting medical research one of the biggest proposals in his speech.  

Jonny Wade is to the left of Rep. Rodney Davis. Jonny's twin brother, Jacky Wade, is on the right in the striped shirt.
Rep.Rodney Davis' office

While the most prominent seat at Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech is likely to be the one left vacant in First Lady Michelle Obama’s guest box to remember victims of gun violence, several area lawmakers have invited constituents to join them for the historic event.

12.12 Law enforcement officers were present outside the Thomas F. Eagleton US Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:28 p.m. Jan. 8 with announcement from Homeland Security- The regulatory clock is now ticking loudly for state lawmakers in Jefferson City, Mo., and Springfield, Ill., to ensure that residents of both states can use their state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards as proper forms of identification to board commercial airliners.

ID checks might be more difficult for residents of Missouri, Illinois and two other states.
Department of Homeland Security

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder may have put U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in a difficult position with his harsh comments about a law Blunt originally co-sponsored when he served in the U.S. House.

The law establishes federal standards for issuing driver’s licenses. Residents of a few states, including Missouri and Illinois, whose licenses don’t comply could be denied access to federal facilities or commercial airplanes. Passports will work if federal agencies say those licenses are no longer acceptable government issued identification.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Senator Blunt | Flickr

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says boosting investments in health care research now will be good for Missouri.

The $1.1 trillion federal spending plan approved earlier this month includes about a 7 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. Blunt chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees NIH. He says the increase will raise NIH funding to $32 billion for next year.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois' 12th congressional district talks to 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Feb. 19, 2015, at St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis.
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio

Shortly after arriving on Capitol Hill last year, Illinois Congressman Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, told a story about how he and his new colleagues were told that for the first few weeks they might be asking themselves the question, "How did I get here?” At the time, he also said, they were told that after a few weeks the question they’d be asking themselves would likely change slightly, to “How did they get here?”

Rep. Lacy Clay, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver
Provided by the office of Rep. Clay

Rep. Lacy Clay, D- University City, says he hopes 2016 will see more progress in Congress on legislation that grew out of the shooting death of Michael Brown. 

 

2015 began with the events of Ferguson fresh in the minds of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  Many, including Clay, introduced bills to address everything from police access to - and use of - surplus military-type equipment, calls for more body cameras and increased training for law enforcement officers.

 

Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

 

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, is sponsoring what he calls the biggest “reform” to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in more than 50 years.

 

The legislation addresses long-standing issues in public housing across the U.S.

 

“What we’ve done with this bill is open up 19 different sections of the law, somewhere between 65 and 70 provisions that we believe make some significant changes in the way HUD operates,” Luetkemeyer told St. Louis Public Radio.

 

Provided by Boeing

While Senate Republicans had hoped to consider 12 separate appropriations bills to fund the government after winning the majority this year, lawmakers are once again dealing with a massive government funding package. The $1.1 trillion bill is expected to win final congressional approval Friday, but just in case a last-minute snag develops, President Obama has already signed a stop-gap funding measure to keep the government operating until next Tuesday.

internet shopping
Screen capture

Consumers may like the ability to shop online and avoid paying state and local sales taxes, and many online retailers may like the competitive advantage the arrangement provides them over “bricks and mortar” businesses across the country, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. says the situation has a significant price.

“It’s really not fair to say to that store down the block that’s paying rent and paying property taxes and collecting sales tax (that) we’re going to put them at a disadvantage to their Internet counterparts.”

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, tied the 13th amendment celebration to his boyhood observances of Juneteenth with his grandfathers.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln saw his home state of Illinois become the first to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, banning slavery. He’d also live to see the end of the Civil War, in which he had declared slaves in Southern states, free under the Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier, but he wouldn’t live to see the amendment itself become law, upon the vote of Georgia state lawmakers on Dec. 9, 1865.

Judy Baxter, via Flickr

There isn’t much difference in the titles of the old and new federal education acts — from No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds. But the bi-partisan bill  approved by the Senate on a vote of 85-12 and sent to President Barack Obama on Wednesday represents more than the end of a system whose name is usually mentioned with disdain.

A-B InBev CEO Carlos Brito testifies before a Senate committee Tuesday morning.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 9:13 a.m. Dec. 8 with Brito testimony - A-B InBev’s Brito defends acquisition of SABMiller, and says it should not alter domestic beer market.

AB InBev CEO, Carlos Brito says the company’s planned purchase of SABMiller is about expanding “the reach of iconic American brands such as Budweiser” to new markets around the world, “particularly in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.”

Office of Sen. Durbin

WASHINGTON - Just days after Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy stepped down, as part of the fallout from the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate the police department’s “policies and practices.” 

gas prices, Missouri's gas prices
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

Even with Congress backing a $305 billion transportation bill, Missouri could lose out if state lawmakers don’t find matching funds to maximize the opportunity being presented in the five-year bill — a first since 2005.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar at a press conference Thursday, Sept.4
File photo by Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Are police throughout the country holding back on law enforcement in the wake of demonstrations that started with the shooting death of Michael Brown? A recent Senate hearing and a conversation with St. Louis County Police chief Jon Belmar gave a variety of perspectives.

road construction
Paul Sableman | Flickr

If you drive a rental car, travel by rail, or need to turn on the AC on a hot summer day, you will be affected by provisions Missouri’s two U.S. senators have worked to get into a highway funding bill, likely to win congressional approval in the next few days.

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

It might be hard to imagine that less than a month ago, House Republicans were in turmoil; sharply divided over their future and what they were looking for in a new leader. They were so divided that there were serious questions as to whether any one person could bring all of their internal factions together.

All that animosity and anger seems to be a distant memory, at least from the outside looking in, and based on conversations with several House Republicans.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner talks with reporters in O'Fallon, Illinois. Rauner expressed enthusastic support for bringing the NGA headquarters to the Metro East.
File photo | Katelyn Petrin I St. Louis Public Radio

Even as Republican lawmakers from Missouri, Illinois and elsewhere across the U.S., speak out against allowing Syrian refugees into their states, St. Louis is seen as a community that welcomes those most in need of finding a new home, according to Audrey Singer, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. “St. Louis is a place that definitely sees refugees and immigrants as assets and as members of the community, members of the work force, and members of the (city’s) future workforce.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

For those old enough to remember the classic Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how a bill becomes a law, advancing legislation on Capitol Hill might seem relatively simple. What’s missing from that animated civics lesson is the hardball reality of Washington, where lawmakers not only work to advance their own bills, but also try to kill opposing measures that could undermine their legislative objectives.

Flickr/e-MagineArt.com

When Turning Pharmaceuticals acquired the drug Daraprim, used for decades to treat and prevent infections, it boosted the price from $13.50 to $700 a tablet. That caught the attention of medical professionals and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Now, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the Senate Special Committee on Aging will investigate this and other similar price increases that followed recent acquisitions.

stream is constricted by hard rock
Linda Lockhart | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is one of only three Democrats who have signed onto a bill that would scrap a new rule governing the Clean Water Act. Republicans have assailed the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule as Obama administration “regulatory overreach,” a quickly emerging theme for GOP campaigns in next year’s elections.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. are upset with two national umbrella organizations for sororities and fraternities for backing legislation the senators say will leave students vulnerable to potentially dangerous individuals on campus. The legislation also would discourage victims from reporting sexual assaults and would keep schools from moving quickly to protect students, the senators say.

U.S. Capitol
Phil Roeder | Flickr

Area House Republicans split their votes on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, designed to protect against a federal government shutdown prior to next year’s elections. The compromise, negotiated in secret between the White House and congressional leaders ahead of Speaker John Boehner’s planned departure this week, passed largely on Democratic votes: 266 to 167.

Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon | File photo

The 2014 farm bill included a negotiated rate of return of 14 percent for companies providing federally subsidized crop insurance to farmers. The budget compromise between congressional leaders and the White House unveiled this week would re-open that five-year agreement and reduce the rate of return to 8.9 percent. This would save approximately $3 billion over the next 10 years, but may cost the budget deal some support.

papalars | flickr

The two-year budget compromise bill unveiled earlier this week by congressional leaders and the White House to stave-off a government shutdown until after next year’s election contains a provision U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., calls “repugnant.”

McCaskill told reporters Wednesday morning that, while she will probably vote for the compromise bill, she’s not too happy about the idea of the federal government getting into the business of making robocalls.

Charles McClelland, Houston police chief, at the podium
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

The push for criminal justice reform did not start with the shooting death of Michael Brown, but the events in Ferguson and elsewhere appear to have created momentum for change. More than 100 police chiefs from across the U.S. are in Washington, D.C., this week to push Congress and the White House to make “common sense” changes in criminal laws and sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders.

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