Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

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.

Missouri farmers grow rice mostly in the state's Boo theel.
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.

Tear gas was used in Ferguson. Nov. 24 2014
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The four regional law enforcement agencies that responded to the events in Ferguson last year in the first 17 days after Michael Brown’s death lacked protocols, consistent training and policing philosophies, according to a draft summary of a Justice Department report.

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

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a few good directors, actually more than a few. System wide the department has been dealing with a lack of qualified candidates to run its beleaguered health-care facilities. In St. Louis, the top job has been posted seven times since 2013.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the “majority of the time they posted this position, they got no applicants.” To remedy that shortage of qualified applicants, McCaskill is introducing legislation today to allow VA facilities to increase pay for directors.

National Human Genome Research Institute

The National Institutes of Health would see its largest increase in funding in more than a decade under a plan being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. It is set to take up a $153 billion spending plan approved earlier this week by the subcommittee that oversees funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.  That plan includes a $2 billion  increase for NIH.

What needs to change about STEM education in the United States?
Dominick | Flickr

The U.S. House Tuesday night gave overwhelming approval to legislation changing the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews and evaluates potentially toxic and dangerous chemicals used in commerce. On a vote of 398 to 1, the House supported the measure, HR 2576, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, written in 1976, is seen as a failure by many business and environmental organizations that, along with members of Congress, say it has built-in weaknesses and unnecessary complexities that prevent the EPA from doing its job.

File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Missouri and Illinois are cosponsoring legislation to make labeling of genetically modified foods voluntary as a national standard and to block individuals states from adopting their own laws.

Barring a federal law to circumvent it or court action to block its implementation, beginning next year, a Vermont law requires companies to label genetically engineered food.

Blunt – Flickr/Gage Skidmore; McCaskill – Flickr/SenatorMcCaskill

A group of about a dozen U.S. senators, including Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are proposing to create a new agency to help local and state governments leverage private dollars for critical infrastructure projects. The bill is called the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment.

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

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who’s up for re-election next year, is getting some national exposure by delivering this week’s Republican Address.  The platform gives Blunt a chance to be seen going head to head with President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats on federal spending priorities as lawmakers craft a budget.

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

Last year the Consumer Protection Division of the Missouri attorney general’s office received 57,000 complaints about a wide variety of scams and fraud, ranging from illegal debt collecting practices to identity theft, according to Deputy Attorney General Joe Dandurand. 

“However, the No. 1 complaint of Missourians – by a significant margin – is about unwanted and illegal telemarketing calls,” Missouri's Deputy Attorney General Joe Dandurand told the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging today.

Sen. Dick Durbin
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is pointing to recently released filings from Swiss agricultural giant Syngenta as proof that Monsanto is looking to move its “tax address” out of the United States in a move known as a “corporate inversion” in which U.S. companies move their headquarters out of the U.S. — on paper at least — to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Ina Bass and Elsie Shemin-Roth, the daughters of World War I Sgt. William Shemin, accept the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated from the ceremony - WASHINGTON - It took nearly 100 years, approval from Congress and the decades-long determination of an admiring daughter, but Tuesday, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Army Sgt. William Shemin, a World War I veteran who had been overlooked at the time to receive the nation’s highest military honor for multiple acts of bravery in 1918, because he was Jewish.

Consumer groups claim measures of the Illinois Statehouse could mean the end of traditional landline service. AT&T says it's part of the ongoing shift to modern technology, which is reliable.
tylerdurden1 | Flickr

Updated 9:30 p.m. May 31 - WASHINGTON- The clock has run out on the government’s authority to collect bulk phone records and other information on Americans. The Senate adjourned Sunday night without approving a measure to either extend the existing law or replace it with a House bill containing what advocates said were reforms designed to address concerns over the bulk collection law, first exposed by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has been a leading critic of regulations proposed by the Obama administration.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Last Thursday, just as members of Congress and Americans across the country were getting ready to begin the Memorial Day weekend, the White House quietly announced that new rules to reduce carbon emissions from new, modified and existing electric power plants would not be finalized until August, at the earliest. The rules require fossil-fuel burning power plants, most notably coal-fired plants, to reduce emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels over the next 15 years.

John A Cochran hospital
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo

It has been two years since the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis has had a permanent director. In that time, at least seven acting directors have filled the top spot on short-term rotations of about 120 days, according to Marcena Gunter, the public affairs manager with the VA in St. Louis.

That, combined with a recent report from the Department’s Inspector General’s Office identifying 45 problems at the facility including, expired medications, unsanitary conditions in patient care areas and improper storage of oxygen tanks and other supplies, has prompted both of Missouri’s U.S. senators to urge VA Secretary Robert McDonald, to move quickly in hiring a new director.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, wears a bracelet made to raise awareness of human sex trafficking.
St. Louis Public Radio file photo

WASHINGTON - The House Tuesday gave overwhelming approval to an anti-human trafficking bill, containing provisions sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. The measure won final approval on a vote of 420 to 3.

John Cochran hospital
File photo

Missouri’s U.S. senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, say they are concerned with the latest findings in a review of operations, at the VA’s St. Louis Health Care System.

The review makes 45 recommendations for improvements, ranging from sanitation to management inconsistencies. In a letter to the acting director of the facility, Patricia Ten Haaf, the senators ask to be kept informed of her plans to address the findings and “specific corrective actions. ... Our veterans have earned and deserve the very best in treatment and services,” both write.

A police line in Ferguson Aug. 13, 2014
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

President Barack Obama announced a ban Monday on the federal government providing some military-style equipment to local police agencies. The New York Times reports the ban will apply to “tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition and camouflage uniforms.”

Office of Sen. Durbin

The day after Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a proposal to give the president fast-track trade authority, a compromise has apparently been reached. This in turn would clear the way for a new Asian pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said the Senate is scheduled to take up the first part of an apparent compromise Thursday. 

pond, lake, water
Rishabh Mishra | Flickr

The House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday evening requiring the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to scrap a proposed rule defining “Waters of the United States.”  At issue is what bodies of water are subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

Agricultural interests have especially expressed concern that the rules would cover ponds and ditches that do not reach navigable water or wells, forcing the landowner to get federal permits for actions that could affect the water.

Sen. Dick Durbin
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Farmers, biofuel producers and, now, several U.S. senators who back the production of renewable fuels say the Environmental Protection Agency is putting the renewable fuels industry in a state of uncertainty.

With news reports that Monsanto may be looking to acquire Swiss Company Syngenta AG, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the number two Democrat in the Senate, is urging the St. Louis area company not to move its tax address overseas, in a practice known as “inversion.”

300 pixel elderly health care
National Institutes for Health

Technology is extending the amount of time aging Americans can live in the familiar surroundings of their own home, rather than be placed in a care facility. Marjorie Skubic, director of the University of Missouri’s Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology, told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging Wednesday, about an automated in-home health monitoring system that may allow seniors to stay in their own homes for nearly two years longer than they might otherwise be able to.

A farm pond in southern Illinois
Deb Rednour

Sometime in the next several weeks, the Obama administration is expected to put in place an administrative rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act and federal government’s regulatory reach to so-called “waters of the United States.” The rule will specify just how far the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers may go in asserting jurisdiction over waters across the U.S. to enforce the act.

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