13 min read

20 problems, 20 solutions from this week in Washington

The House passed bipartisan bills on climate change and border security this week, and almost no one noticed.
20 problems, 20 solutions from this week in Washington
(Illustration by DALL-E)

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 3, 2024. Election Day is 186 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

If it’s Friday, it’s time to look at what your elected officials in Washington got done over the past week.

This week, I want to focus on a simple theme: Problems and solutions. I’ll introduce you to a problem — not always a huge problem, but one that’s affecting some substantial number of Americans nonetheless — and then I’ll tell you what bipartisan solution was advanced in Washington this week, whether it’s a new proposal introduced by lawmakers or a bill that passed the House or Senate.

Let’s get right to it:

Online child safety.

Problem: Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received more than 36 million reports of online child sexual exploitation — a 115% increase since 2019. Online platforms are required to preserve the material in such reports for 90 days before deleting it; with so many tips, that’s often not enough time for investigators to follow up and prosecute criminal activity.

Solution: The House unanimously passed the REPORT Act, which would require platforms to preserve child sexual abuse material for one year (and give them the option to preserve it longer for the purposes of ensuring prosecution). The bill would also require that online platforms report apparent incidents of child sex trafficking and child enticement to the NCMEC, which refers them to the proper law enforcement agencies. (Platforms are already required to report other forms of online child sexual abuse.) The fines for failing to report any of these forms of abuse would be increased from $150,000-$300,000 to $600,000-$1 million.

Problem: Child victims of online sexual abuse — or their parents — can sometimes be open to criminal liability for reporting child sexual abuse material to NCMEC, even if they only possess such material with the intention of reporting it.

Solution: The REPORT Act would make child victims and parents acting on their behalf immune from such liability (with exceptions for genuine misconduct). The bipartisan bill has already passed the Senate, so it is now headed to President Biden’s desk.

Problem: Young people across the country are suffering from a clear mental health crisis, which some experts have tied to use of social media.

Solution: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Kids Off Social Media Act, which would prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media platforms; prohibit social media companies from using algorithms to target content to users under the age of 17; and gives schools increased ability to block access to social media during school hours.

Climate change.

Problem: Across the U.S., there is estimated to be as many as 3 million “orphaned wells,” which are old oil and gas wells that have been abandoned by fossil fuel companies. If left unplugged, these wells can emit a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. According to an EPA estimate, in 2018, “orphaned wells” in the U.S. emitted the “climate-damage equivalent of consuming about 16 million barrels of crude oil,” per Reuters. There are also health effects to living near one, which millions of Americans do.

Solution: The House approved a bill that authorizes $163 million that will go towards Energy Department efforts to develop technologies and strategies to identify these wells, increase the efficiency of plugging them, and mitigate their environmental impact. The measure passed 333-75.

Problem: Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. One technique for reducing emissions is “carbon sequestration,” the practice of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground. To date, most federal research on this technique has concentrated around storing carbon in geologic formations — but the National Academies estimates that there is potential for soil to store up to 13% of the U.S.’ annual carbon emissions. More research needs to be conducted before such soil carbon sequestration (also known as “carbon farming”) can be conducted on a wider scale, however.

Solution: The House passed the Carbon Sequestration Collaboration Act, which would require the Energy Department to establish a research initiative to study soil carbon sequestration. In addition to the climate impacts, soil carbon sequestration could also benefit farmers: the world’s cultivated soils are believed to have lost as much as 70% of their original carbon, which these practices would help reverse. The measure was approved in a 364-44 vote.

Uranium imports.

Problem: The U.S. has sought to cut down on Russian imports since the country invaded Ukraine — including a ban on Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal — but Russia remains America’s No. 1 foreign supplier of enriched uranium. According to the Energy Department, 24% of enriched uranium in the U.S. comes from Russia, fueling America’s commercial nuclear reactors. That gives Moscow considerable leverage over the U.S. and, in 2023 alone, resulted in the U.S. nuclear industry sending $800 million to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation, indirectly aiding their war effort. Meanwhile, only 27% of enriched uranium in the U.S. comes from domestic sources.

Solution: The Senate unanimously passed a bill banning U.S. imports of Russian uranium through 2040. (The legislation allows for the Energy Department, until 2028, to issue waivers if “no alternative viable source” of uranium is available to sustain the operation of a U.S. reactor.) The measure would also unlock $2.7 billion in funding to boost domestic uranium production. The House has already passed the measure, so it now heads to President Biden’s desk.


Problem: Veterans make up nearly a quarter of U.S. suicide deaths. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), on average, 16.8 veterans died of suicide each day in 2020 — a rate that was 57% greater than the suicide rate for non-veteran adults, even after adjusting for age and sex differences.

Solution: The House unanimously approved a bill that would create a joint VA-Defense Department (DOD) pilot program to counsel servicemembers about mental health before they leave the Armed Forces, with a specific focus on the challenges that can come with transitioning to civilian life. (Suicide rates for veterans are particularly high in the first year after they leave the service.)

Prior to their discharge, servicemembers in the pilot program would meet as a group with VA staff, who would discuss the mental health challenges of the transition and the resources available to them. They would also meet one-on-one with a VA nurse or social worker, who would conduct a mental health assessment of the servicemember and help coordinate further support if needed. The VA and DOD will then report on the impact of the program, with an eye towards possible expansion.

Problem: If a veteran uses their GI Bill benefits at a university that ends up being fraudulent, they currently have no way to recoup the benefits to use them elsewhere. At least 60,000 veterans are estimated to face this issue.

Solution: In a 406-6 vote, the House approved a bill that would allow the VA to refund GI Bill benefits for any veterans who have been scammed out of them. The chamber also unanimously approved a bill that would offer refunds for veterans defrauded out of their disability benefits.

Problem: The authority that allows the VA to bury spouses and children of active duty servicemembers in the national cemetery that the servicemember will eventually be buried in is set to expire on October 1.

Solution: The Senate unanimously passed the Keeping Military Families Together Act, which would permanently give the VA that authority.

Border security.

Problem: Currently, the maritime components of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are only allowed to go within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. coastline, which can put their vessels at a disadvantage and sometimes lead to drug smugglers and human traffickers escaping law enforcement.

Solution: The House voted 402-6 for a bill to extend CBP’s authority to intercept drug and human traffickers within 24 nautical miles of the coastline.

Countering antisemitism.

Problem: According to Hillel International, there have been nearly 1,400 reported antisemitic incidents on college campuses since October 7, a 700% increase compared to last year.

Solution: The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act in a 320-91 vote. The bill would require the Education Department to “take into consideration” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism when investigating potential Civil Rights Act violations at federally funded schools and universities.

Although this bill passed with bipartisan support, it was also controversial on both sides of the aisle — on the left because the IHRA definition includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” as an example of antisemitism and on the right because it includes “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis” as another.

A quick note: This is a case where reading the bill in question can be useful: it’s only six pages. Of course, there are valid critiques of the IHRA definition (including from its own author!) and valid reasons to oppose the bill on those grounds. But claims from the left that the bill would “basically makes criticism of Israel illegal” or from the right that it would “convict Christians...for believing the Gospel” both lack basis in the text. The bill deals with Education Department investigations, not prosecutions. And it only directs the agency to take the IHRA definition “into consideration” — which it has already done since 2018. “Nothing in this Act shall be construed...to alter the standards pursuant to which the Department of Education makes a determination that harassing conduct amounts to actionable discrimination,” the measure states. To be clear, that opens the bill up to yet another critique — that it won’t really change much to address antisemitism — but I think it’s important context to consider.

Aviation safety.

Problem: The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization is set to expire on May 10. If the authorization lapses, the FAA would no longer be able to collect airline taxes, which the agency uses to fund airport maintenance and improvement projects. All ongoing projects would be halted, the construction workers would be furloughed, and the FAA could lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue that it might never get back.

Solution: Committee leaders from both the House and Senate introduced a $105 billion bipartisan deal to extend the FAA’s authorization for five more years. The Senate advanced the bill in a sweeping 89-10 vote.

Problem: Aircraft “Near-misses” — incidents in which two planes almost crash into each other — have been “happening, on average, multiple times a week,” according to the New York Times, including recent high-profile examples at Reagan and JFK airports.

Solution: The bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill would require the agency to hire the maximum number of air traffic controllers that its training academy can accommodate — opening the door for thousands more controllers to be hired, addressing an urgent shortage. The measure would also require the FAA to install the most up-to-date situational awareness technology at more airport runways; currently only three dozen U.S. airports have the technology, which has been credited with catching near-misses in the past.

Menopause awareness.

Problem: In a recent survey, only 31% of U.S. OB/GYN residency programs said they offered a formal curriculum on menopause, despite the fact that half of the country’s population will eventually experience it.

Solution: A bipartisan group of female senators introduced a $275 million bill to boost federal research on menopause, establish a national menopause awareness program, and fund increased health worker training on the condition. (Actress Halle Berry joined a Capitol Hill press conference to unveil the bill, shouting “I’m in menopause, OK?” as she took the stage.)

Weather forecasts.

Problem: Weather forecasts have gotten much more accurate in recent years — but they can still make mistakes, including not always predicting extreme weather events in enough time for a community to fully prepare.

Solution: The House approved a bill that would modernize forecasting for “hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other severe weather events,” support research into the “next generation of radar” technology, increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ability to contract with the private sector to obtain commercial weather data, and take steps to integrate “social, behavioral, risk, communication, and economic sciences” into severe weather watches, warnings, and other communications. The measure passed, 394-19.

Congressional operations.

Problem: It is sometimes legally ambiguous whether the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — Congress’ in-house number-crunchers — has the authority to access confidential data from executive branch agencies. Because of this ambiguity, CBO sometimes fails to receive data it needs to produce analyses for lawmakers, or has to jump through several hoops to obtain the data. CBO was created to give lawmakers budget analysis independent from the executive branch — as a counter-balance to check numbers being given by the White House — and this issue can sometimes prevent the agency from fulfilling that mission.

Solution: The House unanimously passed a bill to resolve the ambiguity by affirming that CBO can obtain such data as long as CBO maintains the same level of confidentiality for the data as the agency that provides it.

Problem: Every 10 years, the Library of Congress is legally required to print 4,870 copies of a hardbound version of the Constitution (known as “CONAN”) that includes updated annotations explaining Supreme Court interpretations of each section. Editions of “CONAN” regularly run more than 2,000 pages; the 2012 version cost $1 million to print, despite the fact that the whole thing can now be found online, updated regularly. (You can also find the latest printed version as a PDF here, or you can buy the hard copy here for $239.)

Solution: The House Administration Committee unanimously approved a bill that would end the required printing of “CONAN,” meaning that considerable taxpayer funds will no longer need to be decennially devoted to printing something that can easily be accessed (and updated more frequently) on the internet.

Hair discrimination.

Problem: In a recent survey, one-fifth of Black women between the ages of 25 and 34 said they had been sent home from work because of their hair. 25% of Black women said they believed they had been denied a job interview because of their hair. The study also found that Black women’s hair was two-and-a-half times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.

Solution: Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and federal programs on the basis of “hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin (including a hairstyle in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros).”

Native land.

Problem: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used eminent domain to seize about 1,600 acres of land from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska in the 1970s. The public recreation area that the government was supposed to establish on the land never materialized — but the government has held onto the land, unused, ever since.

Solution: The Senate Indian Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill that would transfer the land back to the Winnebago. The measure has already passed the House.

Small businesses.

Problem: Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) are privately owned funds licensed and regulated by the Small Business Administration (SBA) which use both private capital and government funds to invest in small businesses. Intended to be an alternative for small businesses to raise money without having to go through traditional venture capital funds, SBICs have created or sustained 15.5 million jobs since 2000, according to the SBA. However, studies have found that only 20% of SBIC investments reach low- to middle-income communities.

Solution: Currently, each individual SBIC is allowed to have up to $175 million in financing. The House unanimously passed the Investing in All of America Act, which would make it so dollars invested in low and midlde-income cmmunities don’t count againt that cap, incentivizing SBICs to pour more money into underserved areas.

The chamber also unanimously approved bills encouraging federal agencies to award more contracts to small businesses, commissioning a report on the challenges faced by entrepreneurs with disabilities, and requiring federal contracts to be written in plain language so small businesses — not just larger firms with more legal support — can understand them and submit bids.

A quick note.

A lot of news outlets tell you about these problems. My goal is to tell you about the solutions — about the substantive legislation actions that often goes un-reported and under-the-radar.

For example, I bet you read a lot this week about various issues the two parties disagree on — but did you read anywhere else that the House managed to pass bipartisan bills on climate change and border security? I’m not saying the disagreement and dysfunction aren’t important to report on — but, if they are, surely examples of function are important to call out as well. After all, if government function isn’t highlighted, how else can we expect it to increase?

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More news to know.

The day ahead.

President Biden will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation’s highest civilian honor) to 19 recipients, including several of his top Democratic allies. Recipients will include former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of Biden’s biggest campaign donors; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), his most influential endorser; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who shepherded much of his legislative agenda. Biden will also give the award to two former Democratic presidential nominees, 2000’s Al Gore and 2004’s John Kerry (who also recently left the Biden administration as cliamte envoy).

Other recipients will include Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky; actress Michelle Yeoh; civil rights activist Clarence Jones; Juneteenth advocate Opal Lee; Elizabeth Dole, the widow of former Sen. Bob Dole; Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard; and (posthomiusly) civil rights activist Medgar Evers, former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe.

Later today, he will travel to Wilmington, Delaware, where he will spend the weekend.

Vice President Harris will attend the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.

The House and Senate are both out for the week.

Before I go...

Here’s another (admittedly pointed) example of congressional bipartisanship this week: Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), and Susan Wild (D-PA) launched the Congressional Dog Lovers Caucus.

The caucus will be an “informal, bipartisan group of Members and staff dedicated to their shared love of dogs for the companionship, friendship, family, and health benefits that they provide,” the lawmakers told Axios.

I’m guessing a certain former congresswoman from South Dakota won’t be invited to join.

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— Gabe