Current Issues

This webpage serves as a resource of information for current issues being debated in the United States Senate, as well as information about where Senator James Lankford stands on the issue. This webpage will be updated on a regular basis as the Senate debates important topics.

 

Federal Budget and Spending Background

  • The fiscal year for the federal government begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.
  • Each fiscal year, the federal government is required by law to pass a congressional budget, use that budget to put together 12 separate appropriations (spending) bills, and pass those 12 bills in some form.
  • That process has only worked four times since the legislation put in place that requires it was enacted in 1974. That’s four times in 44 years. 
  • CLICK HERE to listen to Senator Lankford’s recent podcast on the broken budget and spending process.
  • Under the proper process, in February each year, the President offers his budget (which is never passed in Congress, but is simply used as a suggested proposal)and Congress (both the Senate and House or sometimes just one or the other) is supposed to follow suit and present a budget proposal and pass it to provide top-line numbers for the Appropriations Committees to begin work on setting the actual dollar values to fund all federal departments and agencies. However, even that process is broken since even agreeing on a budget (the first step in the process)  has been difficult for Washington over the years.
  • Next, both the Senate and House have corresponding subcommittees in the full Appropriations Committee to work through each of the 12 appropriations bills.
  • The 12 appropriations bill names originate from the federal agencies and departments they fund.  Some are combined with other agencies and some are separate. The 12 bills and their commonly used “Inside-the-Beltway” names are:
    • Agriculture (“Ag”)
    • Commerce, Justice, Science (“CJS”)
    • Defense (“DOD”)
    • Energy & Water
    • Financial Services and General Government (“FSGG”)
    • Homeland Security (“DHS”)
    • Interior
    • Labor-Health & Human Services-Education (“Labor-HHS-Ed”)
    • Legislative Branch (“Leg. Branch”)
    • Military Construction-VA (“Milcon-VA”)
    • State & Foreign Operations (“SFOPS”)
    • Transportation-Housing & Urban Development (“T-HUD”)
  • Senator Lankford serves on the Senate Committee on Appropriations and on six of its subcommittees including: CJS; Energy & Water; DHS; Labor-HHS-Ed, and SFOPS. He also serves as the Chairman of the FSGG Subcommittee.
  • Frustratingly often, Congress uses stop-gap funding mechanisms known as continuing resolutions (or “CRs”) to fund the government at the most recently approved appropriations or at previous levels. The process of using CRs to fund the government shirks Congress’ duty to budget and appropriate.  Most recently, Congress has increasingly leaned on CRs for short-term extensions while larger spending bills are finalized.  But the process of funding the government in this manner is unnecessary if Congress does its job and passes a budget and all of the appropriations bills in a timely manner.
  • As the Budget and Appropriations Committees members work on the budget and the 12 spending bills, individual Senators and Members of Congress are theoretically supposed to work on legislation that eliminates waste and reforms federal programs to save taxpayer dollars.
  • Senator Lankford continues to work to cut examples of wasteful federal spendinghighlight and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse of federal tax dollars, and improve our broken budget and appropriations process

End-of-Year 2018 Funding Details

  • Earlier this year, the House and Senate successfully passed and the President signed into law 5 of 12 annual appropriations bills required to fund the federal government. (Leg. Branch, Energy & Water, Labor-HHS-Ed, DOD, and Milcon-VA).
  • Currently, the House and Senate are in the final stages of negotiating the remaining appropriations package to approve the final 7 appropriations bills: T-HUD, FSGG, Ag,, Interior, SFOPS, DHS, and CJS.
  • On September 28th, President Trump signed a partial CR  to fund the government through December 7th.
  • In early December, the House and Senate  agreed to a another partial two-week continuing resolution to fund the government through December 21, 2018.
  • On December 19, 2018, the Senate reluctantly passed by a voice vote a CR to fund the government through February 8, 2018, which unfortunately did not contain additional funding for border security. Senator Lankford was extremely disappointed that the Senate resorted  to a CR without a border security agreement. You can read his remarks on the CR vote HERE.
  • On December 20, 2018, House leadership visited the White House and were told the President would not sign the bill.
  •  Later that day, the House passed a continuing resolution to fund the government that included $5 billion to fund border security on our southern border.
  • Senator Lankford remains engaged in the ongoing negotiations and stands ready to consider legislation to fund the government and provide effective border security (wall/fence/barrier at the southern border), if the House, Senate, and White House can come to an agreement.
First Step Act to Address Federal Criminal Justice Reform
  • On December 18th, the Senate passed the First Step Act in a vote of 87-12. The House passed the bill on December 20th in a vote of 358-36. The bill now goes to the President for him to sign into law.
  • The bill provides modest reforms to our federal criminal justice system to help make our prisons safer and our prisoners more equipped to leave crime behind when they leave prison.
  • The bill includes important human rights provisions like prohibiting the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners (with safety exceptions) and limiting the use of solitary confinement of juveniles. That particular provision is modeled on the bipartisan MERCY Act, which Senator Lankford sponsored along with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
  • Despite some misinformation being circulated, the First Step Act’s recidivism reduction programdoes not shorten sentences, even for those with good behavior. In fact, earned time that could be used at the end of a sentence to transition to lower-security facilities is unavailable to inmates who present a medium or high risk to recidivate.
  • The bill also classifies numerous heinous crimes as ineligible from using earned time credits for this purpose. For example, those ineligible include traffickers of fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine.
  • The First Step Act restores congressional intent regarding “good time” credits, which are current law and allow a prisoner who has displayed exemplary compliance with prison discipline rules and who has also made satisfactory progress toward an educational degree to earn 54 days per year toward reducing his or her sentence.
  • Senator Lankford offered an amendment, which passed by voice vote, to the First Step Act to allow faith-based groups to provide job training, social and family development to our prison population the same as non-faith-based groups. The amendment ensures that faith-based communities can engage with prison communities but prevents federal funds from being used for overtly “religious” activities.
  • To read a summary of the First Step Act, pleaseCLICK HERE.
  • To learn more about the First Step Act and why I supported it when it passed the Senate, pleaseCLICK HERE.
Migrant Family Separation at the Border:
  • This is a very complicated matter. It will not be solved quickly. Senator Lankford believes it should be U.S. policy to keep families together as much as possible.
  • A policy known as the Flores Settlement Agreement led to the Departments of Homeland Security or Justice to be unable to keep children in custody with their parents for an extended period of time IF the parents are charged with a crime for crossing the border illegally. This agreement is the result of the 1997 Flores v. Reno court case, and subsequent interpretations by federal courts, about how to handle Unaccompanied Alien Children and family units who have crossed our border illegally.
  • On June 19, Senator Lankford sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for a halt of family separation while Congress works on a legislative fix.
  • On June 20, Senator Lankford co-sponsored a bill (the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act) that would keep families together while ensuring the integrity and enforceability of our immigration laws. I appreciate that the President took action with an Executive Order, but I believe that legislation is still needed to withstand legal criticism, and also codify this policy into permanent law.

Tax Reform:

  • Throughout 2017, the President and the Congress made tax reform a priority. 
  • On November 9, 2017 the Senate Republican leadership also introduced a tax reform proposal (Tax Cuts & Jobs Act). The Senate passed an amended version of this bill on December 2, 2017. CLICK HERE to read Senator Lankford's statement in support of the bill. 
  • On December 15, a joint House-Senate Conference Committee merged the two bills. CLICK HERE to read a summary of the Senate-House tax conference bill. 
  • On December 19, the House passed the Senate-House tax conference bill, and the Senate passed it on December 20. CLICK HERE to read Senator Lankford's statement. CLICK HERE to view a special edition e-newsletter and video about the tax bill from Senator Lankford.